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The power of online marketing PDF Print E-mail
Written by Joe Carroll   

ImageA decade ago popular opinion said furniture would never be sold in great amounts by mail order. This was believed for two reasons. The consumer would also need to physically see, touch, sit in or lay down on a piece of furniture before making the purchase decision. Secondly, conventional wisdom held the typical consumer would not make a large financial commitment sight unseen. These notions have long since been disproved.

Catalogue companies like Frontgate, Ballard Designs and Pierre Deux, among others, have seen sales soar by offering easy shopping, unique looks, quick, dependable delivery and guaranteed satisfaction. Although we in the industry know the furniture on offer was usually not a bargain price-wise, the consumer didn't. Catalogue sales of furniture have grown into a multi-billion dollar range in just a few years.

Then along came the internet and its companion concept, e-commerce. Ignoring the success of catalogue companies as furniture merchants, many opined that while consumers might purchase accessories or small occasional pieces under $300, she wouldn't order large purchases of furniture via the internet. Once again, the industry's conventional wisdom was mistaken. One internet-based retailer of my acquaintance reports selling at least one $4,000 sofa a week!

I recently attended an all-day conference at High Point University whose theme was marketing furniture online. The keynote speaker was Kristine Kennedy, the editorial director of Wayfair (www.Wayfair.com), formerly known as CSNstores.com. (As an aside, they ship to Canada.)

Why was an editor, rather than a marketing person giving a speech on how to sell furniture online? Kennedy came from Better Homes & Gardens, one of America's leading shelter magazines. She worked there 17 years, the last eight as east coast editor. She made it clear at the beginning of her presentation that she was hired as a writer, not as a sales person.

Wayfair realized the key to differentiating itself from the competition was content, she explained. Kennedy strongly believes content is the currency of online influence. As the site's editor, her role is to provide content by offering ideas and advice that provide a service to the consumer and connect her with Wayfair.

Today, 78% of Americans use some form of social media. I don't have the statistics on hand, but I can't imagine they are all that different in Canada. Blogs continue to grow in both popularity and influence.

The first thing Kennedy did when she joined Wayfair was to review the copy on their website. It was fairly dull and did not appeal to women. She created a blog called My Way Fair which included articles on colour and decorating. She will soon introduce guest bloggers. She also invites writers to contribute blogs and pays them, just like a publication. There are many interior designers who like to blog. Kennedy calls them, "Our Wayfair homemakers."

Whether you are a manufacturer or a retailer, ask yourself: "What are we already doing that we can turn into content?" Content attracts both new and returning customers. Great content can be used to educate the consumer about the product, or the product category, increasing both interest and desire to own.

The consumer, in turn, uses the information you provide to build their confidence in purchasing the product; therefore, it's an effective way to overcome objections and reservations.

An editorial approach to content gives what appears to be an impartial endorsement to the product. This gives it personality, tells its "story" and even humanizes it. If done properly, great content creates a buzz and gives the consumer a reason to talk about your store as well as your decorating tips and ideas. This creates repeat visits even when the customer has no particular purchase in mind.

Here's a simple exercise: make a list of words that describe your company's philosophy.This becomes your brand's personality. Here are the words Wayfair came up with when creating its new content: down to earth; human; up-to-date; approachable; friendly; imperfect; comfortable; helpful; accessible; engaging; quirky, and personal. These words became the foundation of their brand. When you create yours, use them sparingly when writing about your product or company.

Everyone business owner and executive in our industry - from manufacturing and distribution to retail - needs to keep up with the latest forms of social media. These may broaden your audience. Pinterest (www.pinterest.com) is very hot right now. It allows both you and your customers to "pin" home furnishings pictures or suggestions on a web site. It is proving to be quite effective. Wayfair had some 1,400 pins posted when I heard Kennedy's presentation.

Here are four ways to create a desirable image for your brand

  • Flash sales. Very editorial in appearance, such as the Editor's Picks section common in many publications, but are really designed to promote luxury items (www.OneKingsLane.com).
  • Added value. Don't just ask your customer to buy a Le Creuset pot, throw in recipes and cooking ideas for free (www.Williams-Sonoma.com).
  • Stylish and entertaining (www.WestElm.com).
  • Special promotions and bargains (www.PotteryBarn.com).
The secret to success is differentiating your store from the competition. Give your customers something of value for free. Don't be afraid to be a bit wacky. Be original and entertaining. Most of all, constantly update your web page. Give your customers more than just a price deal to attract them to your home page regularly.

Joe Carroll, former publisher of Furniture/Today, is an international marketing consultant. He can be reached at .

 

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