Having worked in the food industry as long as I did, I got pretty familiar with consumer marketing – how to sell Maxwell House Coffee, Jell-O, Becel, Hellmann’s Mayo – but how do you flog a water heater? That lies within the purvue of Industrial Marketing and it’s quite different.

I thought about the differences lately when I had to get a new water heater at home. There were some clues of course on the company website but also on the appliance itself.

First of all the main customer for water heaters is not the consumer – it is the HVAC installation company. My installer’s logo was front and center on the tank – right next to the Energy Star label. So the industrial marketer keeps the installer happy.

Second, there’s branding. In consumer markets, branding is – well, basically everything. In industrial markets, not so much.

My new water heater is a Bradford-White. My old one was a GSW. Does that mean anything to you? Does the fact I now own a Bradford-White make me fulfilled as a consumer? I think it must be pretty tough to build brand awareness in this market.

Third, a marketer still has to differentiate his product from the competition – if only to sell the installer to feature his brand. How does Bradford-White do this?

It begins by wrapping itself in the flag – the fact that the units are US made is important to some – like The Donald, for instance. Next, the tank water entry system has an innovative mixing capability that reduces sediment, mixes cold water efficiently with the hot water that’s already there. This apparently means that the heater doesn’t have to work as hard or as long to keep a good supply of hot water on tap. This makes sense to me theoretically. Whether it’s of any practical significance we’ll see. Bradford-White has some interesting videos on its website in addition to the logo on the tank – but if I had that much crud in my hot water tank I’d have more problems than simply keeping it in suspension. The marketers at Bradford-White call this mixing system Hydrojet – which I think is a cool name. I don’t think it would motivate me to insist on a Bradford-White water tank – but maybe the installer appreciates it.

There are lots of other household items that need Industrial Marketing – furnaces, roof shingles, siding, gas fireplaces to name a few. You might even include toilets and sinks in the list – at least the ones that the builder selected for your house in the first place. All these have to be sold by somebody to somebody – and believe it or not, that takes Marketing.