Tips to help the right message get to the right target in the next millennium.
We are about to enter one of the most exhilarating periods of our careers. It is the one time when what we do today will dictate what will become of us tomorrow. Yesterday we were in our youth, carefree and willing to take the chances of the naive. Today we are adults hoping that we have learned enough from our elders to take advantage of the future as we see it. Because tomorrow is what we make of today.
During the next few years, home furnishings will enter it's most critical phase. Up until this point, we survived because of the post Second World War population explosion and an upward trending economy. We prospered because we were smarter than the rest and able to take advantage of every nuance in business. We survived because there was no other alternative. But that does not mean that we can continue to survive as we enter the new Millennium.
Today, we must begin to once again direct our selling efforts to the "need" of the target audience... the consumer who could, would or should buy our products. Yes these products have to be inviting and fresh, alive with innovation of design and fashion. Yes the presentation of the product must be such that it appeals to the target customer when she enters the store. Yes the product must be attractively priced so that she can feel as though she can afford the product without mortgaging her future. And yes, the product and the service must be guaranteed against defects and faulty delivery. That is what the target expects. That is what the target demands. However, as we continue headlong into the remainder of the decade determined to give the product away with no payments and no interest until the year 1999, there won't be a target who will not have the product when we try to sell it to her in the year 2000!
We have to go back and begin all over again. We have to go back and note how to sell... how to sell to the "need"... not just the ability to enjoy the product tonight, at no cost to the target. And to do this we must first dedicate ourselves to create new and exciting advertising. And second, we must demand of ourselves a dedication to the art of selling, including on-going sales education and sales training of our sales staffs.
This task is not just the responsibility of the retailer. The manufacturer must insist that they have an opportunity to assist in these training efforts. After all, nobody knows the product better then the people who made the product. Many manufacturers provide this service to their retailers. Retailers should use this service (see Peter A. Marino's article in the November issue of FURNITURE WORLD). And not just at Saturday morning sales meetings. However, too many manufacturers do not provide this service. It should be mandatory that if you sell a product to a retailer, you should provide sales education and sales training along with that product. It should be every manufacturer's policy to follow-up with a sales education call at least twice each year. With the large turnover in staffs these days, good manufacturer's sales reps should demand pre-set dates for such efforts when retailers order new product. Setting the sales education and sales training dates at Market is also a good idea.
But what about advertising? Keep It Simple, Stupid. If it's upholstery, advertise comfort and style. These satisfy your customers' needs. If its casegoods, again, advertise the features and functions which you believe best satisfy your customers' needs. The more creative you become, the better chance you have to break through the clutter to reach the target audience with your message.
But again, remember to sell the "need". From the "need" we can sell the "want". The automotive industry has been selling the "need" and then the "want" for decades. And their selling success has steamrolled their messages to the target audience. Perhaps the most unique creative message in automotive this year has been Nissan's extraordinary campaign featuring the smiling older gentleman who says, "Life is but a journey." And during each commercial, a sign appears that simply states "smile"
In one brilliant bit of creative, they have sold both the "need"...you need a car to go and partake in the journey of life...and "want"...you want to buy this car because it makes you smile. And if you don't buy into one or the other, you will at least consider Nissan during your next purchase. But maybe Saturn has taken it even a step further. In their homey style, Saturn features people who collectively consider themselves as commercials, an older lady from the West calls her Saturn dealer. In order to get to the dealer to buy a car, she has to take an airplane. In one of the best lines of the year, she says: "I don't know how I would have gotten back home if I didn't like the car". Talk about selling "need" and "want". But first, she needed a car. She didn't even have a car to go down to the dealer, located in another State, and buy a new one. She had to fly there.
Where are all of the great furniture commercials? Where are all of the furniture commercials selling "need"? Where are all of the great furniture commercials selling "want"?
Perhaps we think that "No No" is building need. Perhaps we think that "No No" is building want. Perhaps we are not thinking.
Of course, a dealer told me that "No No" is what sells. "I need to move my product. I need to make sales. I need to keep the lights on," he said. To that I said, "And you need to make money".
Too often, chasing the "No No" trail is leading us into selling finances...not furniture. We are becoming the Second National Bank of Your Hometown. And very few of us are qualified to run a bank. That is the scary part of this whole endeavor. And, the second scary part is that we are doing nothing to promote the "need" of furniture. We are doing very little to sell the "want" of owning furniture. We are only filling the customer's credit ability and we are taking them out of the buying cycle for the next three years. That is bad business. The best customer we have is a former customer. And if we can't sell them for another three years, we have to hope that there are enough like them to fill the void while we have just taken our best prospect out of the buying cycle.
It is "need" ladies and gentlemen, that will fuel the true growth of our industry. It is "need" that will shape our futures. And how we attack that creatively is our biggest task in front of us. That is why the next four years are so important to all of us in this industry.
Yes, it's harder to be a little creative. Yes it takes guts to test the waters with original ideas. Yes it can scare the heck out of you when you begin to educate and demand more out of your sales staff. But that is what business is all about. It takes courage. It takes intelligence. It takes fortitude. It takes desire. It takes a strong constitution. But when it works, it is magic. It is magic because you helped create it. It is magic not just because you sold a product that your manufacturing partner made. It is magic because it was your customer, and you actually made a good margin on the sale because you created a "need" and then a "want".
Business is all about handling problems. The problem we must continue to address through the year 2000 is that we are not selling furniture. We are not selling the "need". Let's begin right now.
And remember, when you are contemplating your advertising budget: People don't read the newspaper anymore!
Lance G. Hanish is the President of Lance Benefield & Co., Inc. Worldwide, a leading marketing communications firm serving home furnishings retailers. Questions on any aspect of television media management or production can be direct to Mr. Hanish care of FURNITURE WORLD Magazine at firstname.lastname@example.org.