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Marketing Online: Make the most of social networking

November 20/27, 2017: Volume 32, Issue 12

By Lindsay Baillie

 

Screen Shot 2017-11-27 at 10.43.18 AMMost retailers understand the importance of developing a digital marketing campaign and having a strong social media presence. However, simply being on social media is not enough. In order to social network on these platforms retailers have to create and engage in conversation. If used correctly, experts say, the online world provides multiple avenues for retailers to connect with potential and existing consumers and stay top of mind.

FCNews spoke with several digital marketing and social media experts to uncover how retailers can make the most of their social networking.

Connect your plan with your tools. Retailers should make sure their overall marketing plans align with specific social sites before jumping into all of them. As Lisbeth Calandrino, FCNews columnist and retail industry consultant, explains, “It’s one thing to have LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook, but if you don’t have a marketing plan to go with those tools—and you don’t use those tools with consistency—then you won’t see positive results.”

Aligning a company’s goals and marketing plan with social networking sites can also save retailers valuable time. “It’s really important for businesses to understand what the company’s goals are for being on social networks,” said Christine Whittemore, chief simplifier, Simple Marketing Now. “Is it just to promote your business? Is it to generate new leads? Is it to address questions people have? It may end up being a combination of all three because people hang out on networks and they may try to reach you there.”

Have a strong home base. While social networking generally occurs on social media sites and review sites, experts urge retailers to have a strong website as well. “It’s really important for retailers to make sure their home base (their website) is as strong as it can be,” Whittemore explained. “It’s a good idea to make sure the website is mobile friendly and has helpful information.”

The content on a retailer’s website can help influence the posts or conversations he or she has while social networking, Whittemore added.

Do a quick company Google search. Most retailers aim to have their website appear on the first page of a Google search. But what they often forget is other public profiles, including social media accounts and review sites, can also appear on that first page. Experts warn retailers to look at those other sites and make sure branding and key information about their company is consistent.

Whittemore suggests: “Do a Google search on your company name and find out what public profiles files exist about your company. There are a lot of profiles that will be created automatically by virtue of you having a business phone number and address, and you want to claim them.”

Adding pictures and logos, along with making sure the information about the business is consistent across all platforms, helps as well.

Be consistently active. Most experts agree a retailer cannot network socially unless he or she is “in the conversation” or active on key platforms. It is also crucial for retailers to find out where their customers are interacting online. In addition to having a presence on sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, Paul Friederichsen, marketing expert and owner of BrandBiz, suggest retailers explore LinkedIn. “[This platform] is vital for business to business, particularly if you’re a dealer who does or wants to do a lot of Main Street or commercial business. LinkedIn is probably best at facilitating networking within your community of decision makers. Facebook is best for residential/consumer networking.”

Part of being active on social media sites is creating and maintaining conversations. As Calandrino explains, “One way to do this is to pose a question on social media—find out what people think. The more people write and say, the more opportunities you have for connecting.”

Examine the analytics. Why post on multiple platforms if only one or two are delivering positive results? Cutting down the number of active social media sites to include only those with positive results can save a retailer time and potentially money. Retailers can determine which sites are crucial to their success by looking at weekly or monthly analytics.

“Analytics are what help you change your campaign,” Calandrino explained. “It’s very important retailers look at their analytics and take the time to really see what has been successful.”

Provide helpful information to consumers. While social media would appear to be the ideal place for highlighting new products and flooring specials, experts suggest retailers provide consumers with useful tips and resources instead.

“Retailers need to approach social media and social networking as being a local facilitator of home fashion ideas, solutions, advice, tips, resources and value from the flooring point of view,” Friederichsen said. “Social networking is not the place to hawk the latest special in wood flooring by [this brand or that brand]. It is the place, however, to convey advice on the best place to install that particular wood flooring, how best to care for it or link the advice to a blog article on the retailer’s website.”

Today’s selling environment, Friederichsen added, is all about relationship building and trust. “That’s the huge advantage the independent retailer has over chains and big boxes.”

Be human. Social networking is very similar to traditional networking in that it involves a conversation between two entities. However, a major difference is social networking often occurs between a customer’s personal page and a company’s business page. Unlike personal social media accounts, business pages can often feel cold or look exactly the same. According to experts, social networking is most effective when a company comes across as a person and not business. This can be achieved through the types of posts on a social media page and how a retailer chooses to engage with the customer.

As Whittemore explains, “The more you can be human, the more successful you will be with networking socially.”

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Marketing Online: 10 tips to help you create an effective social media strategy

March 27/April 3, 2017: Volume 31, Issue 21

By Lindsay Baillie

 

Screen Shot 2017-03-31 at 11.31.34 AMFor many retailers, jumping into social media is similar to exploring uncharted territory. It is unfamiliar, time consuming and poses the risk of failure/getting lost. However, now more than ever, social media has become a crucial part of the consumer’s search for products and services. If you are not maintaining your presence on social media, you run the risk of being buried by your competition, experts say.

FCNews recently spoke with three social media marketing experts to gather tips on how to create a social media strategy.

Tip #1: Make it mandatory. “The first thing retailers have to realize is social media is no longer just an option—it is a necessity,” said Paul Friederichsen, marketing expert and owner of BrandBiz. Retailers have to “understand it is a part of their overall marketing strategy. It is just as important as advertising and public relations.”

Tip #2: Align your social media efforts with your business strategy. Christine Whittemore, chief simplifier, Simple Marketing Now, encourages dealers to ask themselves a few questions when developing a social media strategy. “Why are you doing this? It takes a lot of time and effort to do social media correctly—just like anything else does—and you want to make sure those resources deliver value to the business.”

Tip #3: Start with your customers. After fitting social media into your business strategy you have to decide what platforms to join. For this, Whittemore suggests talking to your customers. “Find out where they hang out online. Ask them what they do there. Where do they go to find inspiration? That can help guide content and the kind of relationship building you do.” According to Whittemore, the time you spend on digital media is similar to what you would spend networking in person, so you also want to uncover where the majority of your customers look for new products.

Screen Shot 2017-03-31 at 11.29.35 AMTip #4: Learn about each platform. According to Friederichsen, retailers should learn the best roles for each platform and what kinds of social etiquette are required for each. Bottom line: Retailers should have a pretty good understanding of what each platform does and what the environment is on those platforms before joining.

Whittemore calls this understanding the “nature of the network,” so you can show up with the right kind of content and know how to say what you want to say. “It’s not just about sales,” she explained. “It’s about providing helpful information.”

Tip #5: Be selective. After talking with customers and learning about the different platforms, take the time to be selective about which platforms you actually join. Whittemore suggests retailers stay away from joining every social media site. Instead, maintain a presence on heavily populated sites such as Facebook and where your customers hang out such as Pinterest. She also recommends regularly Googling your business to see if any listings—such as Yelp—show up. If they do, make sure to claim them.

Tip #6: Start with one and then add on. If you are worried about maintaining multiple sites, experts advise starting small and concentrating your efforts on one. “Start with one and work on it,” said Lisbeth Calandrino, FCNews columnist and retail industry consultant. “Get a lot of customers on your page so then when you have good sense of that [platform] and people are replying to you, you’re ready to go to the next one.”

After you have successfully grown one social media account, try branching off to another site; however, make sure you do not take on too much to handle. “Retailers should be on as many sites as they can do well,” Friederichsen noted. “It’s better to do a few things well than many things poorly.”

Tip #7: Engage your customer. “This is the age of the consumer, and the consumer needs to talk,” Calandrino said. “What better way to get a referral than to have your customer be online and talk about a job you’ve done? You have to figure out how to engage the customer.”

Along the same vein, Friederichsen explained it’s not the place to push out your message as you would in an advertisement. “It’s the sharing of ideas; it’s an engagement [with others]. A lot of dealers feel like that is really not selling, when in fact it is because it creates a much broader view of your store and your brand so that you can attract the kind of customers you want.”

Screen Shot 2017-03-31 at 11.29.41 AMTip #8: Create a blog. In addition to communicating with your customers, social media helps call attention to your website. While social media platforms provide ample opportunity for customers to visit your site, Calandrino recommends creating and maintaining a blog. “It’s likely that your website is stagnant. If every time I go to your website it’s exactly the same then I am less likely to return. If you have a blog and it is up to date—you decide to post every week or every day—then whoever signs up for [the blog] will see your site.” She recommends retailers build content around their personality and strengths instead of buying posts.

Tip #9: Let social media buffer your other marketing outlets. Social media is an interconnected form of marketing and can easily complement a retailer’s overall marketing campaign. Friederichsen suggest retailers use their social media accounts to share when sales are occurring, when new products come in or when any seasonal promotions are going on in the store, etc. “Like advertising and public relations, social media plays an important role. They don’t all play the same role but they complement one another.”

Calandrino agrees, adding: “A social media strategy doesn’t stand by itself. It is not an isolated strategy. Rather, you need to work it into whatever else you’re doing. If you’re doing a contest you should move it to your social media so people have to respond.”

Tip #10: Be patient. Developing and maintaining a social media strategy requires time, but probably not as much time as you think. In order to maintain a couple of social media sites, experts say retailers should spend anywhere from 30 minutes to one hour every day, as time and effort are equally important.

Friederichsen warned retailers that building followers on social media doesn’t happen overnight and followers should never be purchased. His recommendation: “Build a following over time with good content and consistent posts—with proper etiquette.”

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Marketing Online: Rock solid tips on connecting (virtually) with customers

This FCNews Marketing Online series, sponsored by 3M, is designed to help retailers build their social media presence and, by extension, strengthen the connection with consumers.

November 21/28, 2016: Volume 31, Number 12

By Leah Gross

screen-shot-2016-11-28-at-4-04-19-pmThere is no doubt that digital marketing is the new way of doing business. In order to be relevant in today’s crowded marketplace retailers must have a sound online marketing strategy. The rise of the online revolution has completely changed the way retailers run their stores and attract, connect with and maintain their customer base. How well retailers navigate the digital terrain will no doubt determine their future success.

The good news is retailers have more control than ever before over their customer relationships—thanks to the power of digital marketing. “Online marketing is part of our overall strategy for reaching new customers and staying in touch with existing ones,” said Dean Howell, owner of Moda Floors & Interiors, Atlanta. “Online marketing can be cost-effective, tailored to a specific audience and easily changed when needed. Best of all, it can be tracked.”

Moda Floors & Interiors sends periodic newsletters to three separate audiences: clients, trade partners and local real estate agents. These communications often include information about sales, the company and its employees, as well as new product introductions. “We often include online links to articles they might find helpful,” Howell added. “If Moda has been mentioned or quoted in an article, we will also include that information.”

Other business-savvy retailers are also putting more emphasis on digital marketing. Eric Langan, president and owner of Carpetland USA, Davenport, Iowa, believes digital marketing is just as important—in terms of media platforms—as traditional outlets such as radio, print and direct mail. “It’s evident that individuals shop entirely different than they did a decade ago,” he said. “You must have an online presence and a strong website to engage the consumer. More times than not, the vast majority of the window shopping is done online prior to visiting the storefront.”

screen-shot-2016-11-28-at-4-04-09-pmThat’s not to say retailers should disregard the importance of designing a storefront that has great curb appeal. On the contrary, retailers should consider their website as the digital extension of their store and showroom, experts say. “No one can deny the importance of a beautiful storefront, but that lovely store only goes so far when your customers constantly tune into tiny, powerful devices that instantaneously deliver the information they need to live their lives,” said digital marketing guru Christine Whittemore, chief simplifier, Simple Marketing Now LLC. “The content on your website is the online equivalent of your salespeople. Its purpose is to initiate and carry on the trust building process between your business and your buyer. The content on your website should virtually pull people in and provide the hand-holding service that a professional would offer in your store.”

Many experts agree today’s consumers are trained to qualify a product or business online before ever going into a store. To that end, it is vital that a retailer’s website operate as an extension of the brand. “It should offer a voice that is consistent with the overall brand image of the brick and mortar store, and the content should be presented in a clear easy to navigate, visually appealing and educational format,” Whittemore explained.

Developing a cohesive, effective digital marketing strategy is particularly important when it comes to big-ticket purchases such as home improvement projects. Advocates cite statistics showing the more expensive the product the longer the buying process takes. “Not all customers come to your website or your store ready to buy the same day,” said Whittemore, who brings 23-plus years of experience with brand building in the flooring, home furnishings and apparel industries. “Flooring decisions can take up to six months, which is why having a sound digital marketing strategy to maintain a relationship with your customer throughout the process is critical. You must ensure your business remains at the top of the customer’s mind through the whole process. If you don’t, the months of time and money you invested in the customer may very well be lost.”

Back to basics
In most cases, when retailers ask where they should spend their online marketing budgets, their first response is in a rock-solid website. Email marketing and social media are important, according to Whittemore, but it is more important to start at the most critical element of your online program—your URL—and prioritize from there. She believes a retailer’s website represents an opportunity to augment credibility and enhance customer relationships. “Your digital storefront demands every bit of the TLC that you give to your store,” she said. “Not only should your website offer engaging content that attracts customers and brings them back for more, but it also must be mobile friendly so your customer has the same experience on your site no matter what type of device they are using.”

Therein lies the challenge for many retail web sites: updating platforms to ensure URLs are more “responsive,” meaning they render seamlessly on a variety of mobile devices. This is critical, experts say, as mobile readiness is also a key element of Google’s search rank algorithm. “So if you are not mobile-ready then you’re losing an opportunity to get higher search engine rankings and more engagement with your target customers,” Whittemore explained.

One of the most important features a retailer’s website should have is the ability to capture emails from people who visit. Experts stress the value of being able to continue communicating with prospective customers and keep the relationship going. “Remember, you want to keep that relationship going throughout the entire buying process,” Whittemore stated. “Email marketing campaigns are the Holy Grail because this is [the retailer’s] direct line of communications with the customers who come to your store. As wonderful as social media is, your ultimate goal is to get people to come to or back to your property. If you connect with them via email you can continue to talk to them.”

The email address of a consumer who is actively in the market to buy product is golden. “With this you can continue the romance, as they say,” Whittemore said. “These consumers volunteered their personal information because they are interested in your business, so you owe it to them and to your company to do something compelling.”

At the end of the day, a retailer’s email campaign is all about relationship building. To ensure retailers get the most out of their digital marketing efforts, Whittemore strongly encourages a little creativity. Rather than limiting online communications to selling floors, she suggests sending birthday greetings or coupons. Offering out-of-the-box opportunities is another idea. “Find things that consistently draw consumers back into your store,” she explained. “This gives you another opportunity to strengthen the relationship while giving the buyer the chance to see how competent your professionals are.”

One idea Whittemore shared was to invite an interior designer to the store for free consultations. She also suggested hosting a ‘Girls Night Out’ themed event. Above all, she said, don’t forget to promote these special events using digital marketing campaigns.

“If you do these events make sure to amplify them through your email campaign to create buzz so the next time your store hosts a special event even more people will be talking about it and coming to check it out.”

 

 

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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.