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Marketing online: Optimizing visual platforms

November 9/16; Volume 30/Number 11

By Nadia Ramlakhan

Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 4.51.34 PMThe Internet has forced a change in the retail landscape, whether flooring dealers are willing to accept it or not. With most consumers conducting research online before visiting a brick-and-mortar store, it is critical for dealers to reach their target audience where they spend the most time. Furthermore, retailers have found that successful online marketing is no longer just about having an online presence; instead they need to incorporate high quality images and videos into their regularly updated campaigns.

“It is important to use visual platforms because that is where the consumer is today,” said Laura Bartley, marketing communications manager for Mohawk Flooring. “Our target demographic is using those platforms every single day. Instead of waiting for the consumer to come to you, you have to meet her where she is. Photos tell a story and, in a time where people will only pay attention to a few words, sometimes pictures really say the most. With some photos you can actually see the plushness, thickness and softness of carpet; the same goes for textures in hardwood.”

Visual platforms that focus on photographs—particularly Pinterest, Instagram and Houzz—serve as design resources for the average consumer looking to buy flooring. “Visual platforms like Pinterest and Instagram continue to grow, especially for home products, because visualization is the key to the customer’s journey,” said Eric Demaree, president of Carpet One Floor & Home. “We find these to be particularly effective in the inspiration stage of the shopping process. Getting the Carpet One Floor & Home name out there before the customer even starts searching for flooring is important to building our brand.”

Demaree suggests sharing room scenes to provide inspiration as well as photos of completed jobs with homeowners to personalize the buying process and make it “more enjoyable.”

Mary Ann Gore, sales support at Bridgeport Carpets in Alpharetta, Ga., thinks about what piques her interest before posting to social media. “Personally if I was going to redo my living room in my house I would look at what other people have done to get ideas,” she said. “Just because the color works on the [store’s] website doesn’t mean it is going to work in my home. I love to post pictures of customers’ houses so people can see what the outcome looks like in the real world.”

Gore said these platforms also help connect members of her community, which assists in finding the styles and designs that are trending locally. “They see what’s trending around here. They see photos and think, ‘Right now this is what my neighbors are doing,’ or, ‘This is a really great idea; maybe I should check this place out, too.’”

In addition to offering a starting point for the consumer’s design process, retailers can make sure they remain part of the buying process by highlighting what is available in terms of product options and skill set. Photos like before-and-afters that illustrate a business’ strong points will let consumers know its areas of expertise. “It is extremely important for people to see what is available,” Gore continued. “Otherwise they’ll never know what’s out there. One of the things I posted recently was a bathroom design one of our salespeople came up with on his own. Any time a consumer can see something like that and know it is possible it leads her toward our store.”

Visuals help catch a consumer’s eye, which is why they should be attached to advertisements to help create more of an impact. “If I put an ad on Facebook or Twitter for carpet pad installation, it won’t grab attention,” said Jamie Jordan, owner of Jordan’s Flooring in Martinsburg, W. Va. “But if I attach a photo to it, potential customers will see quality products and the ad will draw more eyes.” Jordan explained that flooring is no different from anything else on social media; photos are what people stop for when they are browsing. “If I see something that says, ‘Marine saves 45 people’ and it actually shows a photo of a Marine pulling someone out of a fire, I’m more likely to read it. People connect with images.”

The first step for dealers who want to take advantage of online visual platforms is devising a plan. “The most important consideration is to develop a strategy on how you plan to use each platform and create a content calendar so you know what content you want to share to engage with your audience,” said Frank Chiera, senior vice president of marketing, Flooring America. At Flooring America, the F.A.S.T. (Flooring America Social Tools) automated social media program provides members with advanced functionality including a more powerful and robust operating tool, enhanced reporting and tracking, and improved flexibility and control over publishing content.

Social media campaigns continue to prove to be effective, often improving sales through building customer relationships. Dealers shouldn’t treat these platforms as an opportunity for direct sales. Instead, they should foster relationships and provide information or entertainment for free. “Social media offers a brand the opportunity to engage with consumers like never before,” Chiera said. “If you are sharing content—whether it’s photos, videos or blog posts—of interest to your audience, you will see your engagement increase.”

Some platforms such as Pinterest and Houzz provide more direct results because customers are specifically looking for ideas and information. Oftentimes they reach out via Facebook to ask questions, schedule appointments and find a store. Other apps like Instagram are better for brand building. Retailers can determine and quantify their reach through programs such as Promoboxx, a brand-to-retail marketing platform that allows large entities, such as flooring manufacturers, to launch co-branded online campaigns with retailers.