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Direct Mail - Part 5 - Make It Meaningful

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Get the most return from your investment in direct mail.

How do you think a friend who is not in the furniture business would respond if you offered to lend them this magazine? Chances are, they would decline. This magazine's content, while highly interesting to people in the industry, is just not relevant to others.

The same holds true for advertising. Consumers read and respond to ads that are relevant to them - those that address their specific needs. This article, the fifth in a series on direct mail advertising, explores how to create relevant direct mail advertising messages in order to get the most from your advertising investment.

Find the Right Audience: The first step in ensuring that your direct mail advertising piece is relevant to its recipients is to target those consumers who are most likely to shop at your store. In fact, last months article, "Targeting Your Direct Mail Advertising Effectively and Efficiently," provided a detailed "how-to" for targeting. Options discussed included using your database, if you have one, to reach your customers individually or to target groups of consumers that "look" like your customers. If you don't have a customer database, but have a general feel for who your customer is, you can purchase data to identify where consumers who match your customers' "profile" live.

More than any other medium, direct mail allows you to target your advertising effectively and affordably. And, by using shared mail, in which your ad is combined with others for maximal postal savings, you can even further lower your cost per response.

Be There When They Need You: In order to influence consumers' behavior through advertising, you need to reach them when their search for furniture is underway. This is a challenge. Consumers shop for furniture relatively infrequently. In fact, a recent survey of over 1,000 furniture shoppers conducted by NPD's HTI Consumer Panel for ADVO, Inc., found that on average, consumers make a major furniture purchase only once every four years. So how can you increase the likelihood of reaching consumers when they are "in the market" for furniture? Here are a few suggestions:

Advertise Frequently: Distributing your advertisements frequently - ideally, weekly - accomplishes two important objectives. First, because our survey shows that the average furniture buyer takes 5 weeks to buy once they start looking, you can reach these primed prospects multiple times while they're most receptive. Multiple exposure is important for an advertiser. In fact, the Direct Marketing Association has found that consumer response rates to an ad increase significantly with each exposure. Second, for those consumers who are not currently in the market, having seen your repeated advertising will have created top of mind awareness for your store once they do start looking for that new dining room set.

Advertise More Heavily During Peak Periods: According to the Census Bureau, furniture spending peaks in August, November and December. You should consider supplementing your advertising program during these periods, as well as any other times that have proven to be strong for your store.

Target by Lifestage: Consumers are more likely to purchase furniture during particular lifestages, including when they buy a new home, have a baby, or become "empty nesters." You can purchase lists to target consumers at specific lifestages such as these.

Track Shoppers' Purchase Intentions: If you maintain a customer database, you should consider asking consumers what their next purchase is likely to be and when they intend to make it. You can then send follow-up communications regarding the specific items in which they expressed an interest.

Address Your Consumers' Needs: Once you've reached the right consumer at the right time, you also must make sure the content of your ad speaks to this consumer and his or her needs.

The best way to identify your consumers' needs is to ask them. You can do this with your own market research, including even using comment cards, or with secondary research. The important thing is to learn and respond to what your customers care about.

For example, our study found that 74.2% of consumers selected the store where they purchased simply because it had the item they wanted. However, furniture ads frequently focus only on price, with no mention of selection. Ads clearly conveying your breadth of selection and the range of styles you offer are most likely to help drive traffic to your store.

That is not to say that price is unimportant. Roughly half of consumers surveyed indicated that it is critical for a furniture retailer to offer the best price, and half report that they compare advertised prices to decide where to shop. Thus, your direct mail ads should communicate your price range and the value that you offer. To best communicate value to the consumer, previous ADVO studies have shown that specific "deal signals," such as "% off," or listing both the original and the sale price together, are most effective.

Interestingly, while the current trend in furniture promotion is to offer 0% financing and delayed payments, our survey showed that these incentives may have little impact among consumers. Only 14 percent of consumers listed delayed payments as the reason they selected a furniture store, while only 9 percent cited low financing rates.

Our survey also revealed that most furniture shoppers do not know what brand they want when they set out to shop. In fact, only 16 percent have a specific brand in mind, and 64 percent have no idea. Contrary to common practice, heavily advertising the brands you carry is just not meaningful to most consumers.

Consumers also stated that over half of furniture purchases are made to replace existing items, largely because they are worn. A creative message that speaks to this need may be particularly impactful. For example, your advertisement could contrast a picture of old, worn furniture with a photo of a roomful of beautiful, updated pieces.

In addition to addressing broad consumer needs, you can further enhance the relevance of your ads by sending different messages to different consumer groups, highlighting the specific needs of each. This is called "versioning." For example, our study showed that consumers under 35 are far less satisfied with their shopping experience and the treatment they received than their older counterparts. These younger consumers are also more price sensitive. To help attract these younger consumers, and keep them as long-term customers, you could target them with special ads that make them feel especially welcome and that focus on lower-priced furniture lines.

Build a Relationship: Furniture retailing is a relationship business. In fact, our study found that 57 percent of consumers made their last furniture purchase at a store where they had previously purchased. Your ads will be more relevant to your customers than ads from your competitors. Maintaining relationships with existing customers through frequent communication - both with general advertising and customer-specific messages - will pay huge dividends.

You should also establish relationships with consumers who are not yet your customers. Sending follow-up communications after a visit is a good way to start. This can also help convert the visit to a sale. On average, consumers buying furniture visit the store in which they make their final purchase 2.8 times, and visit 3.4 different retailers during their decision making process. Staying in touch with consumers throughout this process through direct mail could be the deciding factor in your favor to gain the sale and begin a rewarding long-term relationship.

Direct mail gives you the flexibility you need to truly make your advertising relevant to your consumers. No other medium enables you to affordably target the right customers, at the right time, with just the right message.


Sheila McCusker is Director, Strategic Business Development for ADVO, Inc., the nation's largest direct mail marketing company. In this capacity, she leads the Company's efforts to identify and leverage strategic growth opportunities within the media industry and the many retail and service industries ADVO serves. Questions on any aspect of direct mail marketing can be addressed to Ms. Mccusker care of FURNITURE WORLD at editor@furninfo.com.

 

Furniture World is the oldest, continuously published trade publication in the United States. It is published for the benefit of furniture retail executives. Print circulation of 20,000 is directed primarily to furniture retailers in the US and Canada.  In 1970, the magazine established and endowed the Bernice Bienenstock Furniture Library (www.furniturelibrary.com) in High Point, NC, now a public foundation containing more than 5,000 books on furniture and design dating from 1620. For more information contact editor@furninfo.com.