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The Code That Unlocks Customers’ Hearts & Wallets - Part 2

Furniture World Magazine


Part 2: How to apply the Codes, so that you can sell more furniture.

In the last issue of FURNITURE WORLD Magazine anthropologist Dr. Clotaire Rapaille was introduced. His recent book, The Culture Code, has revolutionized the way many Fortune 500 companies market their products. Rapaille determined that focus groups were getting the wrong answers because they were asking the wrong questions. The secret of Rapaille’s success is that he conducts focus groups in a unique way, penetrating through the socially acceptable polite deceit of participants to get to the visceral feelings that really drive their decisions. Rapaille’s Culture Code formula is predicated upon the fact that the urge to buy does not come from the logical cortex of the brain—it springs from what Rapaille calls the reptilian part. Deep rooted feelings and passions operate below the surface in the reptilian brain and drive your customers’ buying decisions. Once you know the code that can unlock these deep feelings you can relate to and engage authentic buying motives.

Rapaille’s penetrating focus groups stimulate a flood of memories that bring joy, and sometimes even tears to participants. When it comes to the home, and what that means to people, powerful and rich emotions are triggered. These feelings have nothing to do with a flood of look-alike furniture flyers or hot prices. Nor do they rely on a circus-like atmosphere (although this is preferable to the dreary environment of too many independents). Deep emotions are triggered by “imprints” that were made in the minds of participants long, long ago.


How do you light the emotional fire of a prospective customer? You learn the codes and how to apply them. Among the issues that Rapaille discovered in his focus groups are several that can help furniture marketers who are looking for fresh ideas. The term “home” resonates in the American heart and is intertwined in our psyche. Perhaps no industry should pay more attention to Rapaille’s research than the home furnishings industry.

The bottom line is: “There’s no place like home.” And the take-home message in our last article is that when Americans think of home, the primary recollections that come to mind are related to the family coming together and eating together. We are now going to apply the Culture Code to the art of selling home furnishings and show several ways to apply Dr. Rapaille’s Culture Code ideas to lift home furnishings advertising and point-of-purchase efforts to new levels of cost-effectiveness. If you did not read the first article of this series, it would be a good idea to do so before attempting to put Rapaille’s Culture Code findings to work. The article is posted to the www.furninfo.com website in the “Marketing Article” archive.

Get Sales Consultants to Think “Home” not Furniture. A guest in your store may be planning a purchase of several thousand dollars. She will hopefully be greeted by a professional-looking sales consultant who has a passionate interest in helping her create a more beautiful and comfortable home. This is a requisite that must take place early in the furniture shopping experience. Every time.

Train sales consultants to put themselves into the mindset of the guest. Her need is not for products displayed in the store. Her need is to create a more beautiful, comfortable, and functional home. She is only interested in things such as dining tables or sofas to the degree that they relate to her need to create a more gorgeous and comfortable place to live. She is not simply interested in her home, she is passionately interested in her home. Train sales consultants to shift their focus from your furniture to her home. When a sales consultant communicates this interest to her, and gives evidence of his or her expertise and desire to help the customer create better living spaces, she will welcome their attention.

The sales consultant’s first task is to build trust and help guests understand all the ways your products can enhance their home environment. Prospective customers have been inundated with special offers, such as no interest or payment for five years. But they probably have never met a furniture sales consultant who wants to help them acquire exactly the products they need to create a gorgeous home environment. This is the outcome they want from their shopping experience. The reason so many customers walk is that they do not find anyone interested in helping them achieve that goal.

Re-Create YOUR Customer’s Shopping Experience

First walk-through your store, and try to see it from your customer’s perspective. The customer is your guest. The shopping experience begins with the first sight of the store, and the experience of finding a parking place. One very fine store I know had a horrible parking lot, with pot holes everywhere. The owner was surprised to learn about the condition of his lot, because he never had to park there. Another owner took great pride in his main store, but his outlet was not so impressive. It had a typical outlet appearance, but had features such as a ladies room sporting the look and feel of a low-end gas station. Land mines such as these will destroy the customer’s shopping experience. Remember, the customer is a guest. Do a preliminary walk through and get the feel of the customers’ experience as it is now. What do you see? What do you hear and smell. Above all, are you getting the sights and sounds and sensual experiences that you associate with a lovely, inviting home?

Five-Sense Your Shopping Experience

After you walk through your store you will have some ideas for improvements. But the walk-through is just the beginning. The next step is to brainstorm and five-sense ways to improve the shopping experience. Select several people from your staff to be on the team. It is best to choose an inclusive lineup that has representatives from all areas, including sales, office, warehouse, etc. The fewer executives, the better. There are only a few rules for effective brainstorming, but you must follow them faithfully and without exception. (See the sidebar for more information on brainstorming.)

The five-sensing technique was developed by Walt Disney several decades ago. He used it to create and improve his theme parks. An interesting side light to five-sensing is its origin. It was the brain-child of an 11 year-old boy who worked for Disney in the early days. Disney hired this youth on a part-time basis to get a young perspective of the various issues that came up about the original Disneyland theme park in California. The youth was so creative that he was paid a handsome salary for a couple of days a week.
One day during a brain-storming session someone asked the boy how he came up with so many fresh ideas for improving the theme park. The youth answered, “Well, I think in five senses.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, say we were working on improving the park at Christmastime. Instead of just trying to think of things randomly, I would ask myself: How will we improve the park for Christmas in sight? In sound? In taste? In touch? In smell? That way I get lots more ideas.” This five-sensing technique was adopted for all Disney brainstorming sessions. Over the years I have embellished this idea with an additional technique I call “People Media.”

People Media are the most powerful media of all. A huge part of the guest’s experience in your store will be communicated by your associates. Not simply by what they say, but also by their appearance, body language and attitudes. I touched on the sales consultants’ tasks early on in this article. However, people media includes every associate in the store. And it all begins with you. What do you communicate to your managers and staff? What do they communicate to each other? To your guests? To your vendors?

And what do these guests and vendors communicate to the community you serve? In this article we will integrate these two methods—five-sensing and people media, to help revolutionize your store along the lines of giving it an atmosphere that will stimulate the deep home-loving emotions of your customers. The space of this article doesn’t permit the full exploration of these ideas, but you can brainstorm with your team and see what creative ideas you can come up with. If you come up with some really good ones, please send them to lmullins@furninfo.com for inclusion in future articles.

Five-sense the guest’s experience. Think in terms of Rapaille’s Culture Code formula. The urge to buy does not come from the logical cortex of the brain—it springs from what Rapaille calls the reptilian part of the brain. Feelings and passions operate below the surface and drive your guests’ buying decisions. Now, one of the most important findings of Rapaille is that the central room in the American home is the kitchen. Modern homes create a traffic flow around the kitchen. Make no mistake, the memories of home and family persist in the American heart. The concept of gathering together in the essential family circle is definitely “on code.” This finding might be quickly discarded by a furniture entrepreneur who thinks that having a kitchen in a furniture store is out of the question. This attitude would be a huge mistake.

We are not trying to duplicate an American kitchen. What we want to capture are the sights, sounds and the total sensual and social experience of the American kitchen ... and ultimately, the American home. This may be more doable than you imagine. Let’s five-sense the issue and see what we can discover. First of all, while we can hardly duplicate the kitchen of a typical home, we can still create the essentials of a central gathering place. Keep in mind that Barnes & Noble and Borders revolutionized the marketing of books by creating just such a central gathering enclave in the store. Keep the discussion on SIGHT; what would a central gathering place look like in your store? Where would it be? Imagine a place with several conversation areas, a place to relax, to watch large screen HDTV and talk about the home and close sales. A home away from home for adults, because you have provided a different supervised area for the children.


How can you improve the shopping experience with sound? Music should be a pleasant, soft background, not an intrusive annoyance. Most stores use a speaker system to make announcements. Can your messages be improved? Compare the typical: “George, you have a customer in the bedding department” with this: Mr. Bradley, you have a guest in the bedding department.” Likewise, it is much more professional to address associates on the sales floor with the more formal: “Miss Wright, could you give us some assistance?” These may be seen as trifles. However, “Trifles make perfection and perfection is no trifle.” Brainstorm with your team and see what you can come up with.

If you think this is unimportant, think again. According to Trends Magazine, December, 2006, the sense of smell is the most acute and powerful sense. It is powerful and fast because it is the only sense that goes directly to the emotional brain without intervention along the way. Trends wrote:

“…the sense of smell… is one of the most primitive forms of sensation, and it is intimately bound up with the emotion and memory formation in the brain. This explains why particular fragrances are so effective in taking us back to a time and place in memory.”
Trends points out that, in spite of these findings, 95 percent of Fortune 1000 companies focus their marketing on what we see and hear, not on what we smell. I imagine that about 100 percent of furniture stores do the same thing. Yet, it is a scientific fact that three quarters of our emotions arise from what we smell, not from what we see and hear. There are now companies that specialize in scent branding. One of the largest is ScentAir Technologies, based in Santa Barbara. Its client list includes Disneyworld, Nestlé, Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s, Coca-Cola, Sony, Pepsi and Nordstrom.

ScentAir came up with a butter cookie smell that was piped into model homes. Imagine if the actual cookies were also available in a comfortable room setting. Who could help but linger over them? But if you don’t have scent advertising in your budget, what scents can your brainstorming team improvise to capture the emotions that trigger feelings of home and warm gatherings for your guests and prospective customers? One of my favorite “home” smells is fresh, fragrant coffee. This should not be much of a problem. Another is the smell and taste of fresh baked cookies. Almost no one can resist these. And we have added another captivating sense: taste.

Every sales consultant knows, or should know, the importance of touch in the sales sequence. Smart consultants encourage guests to touch the home furnishing textures of leather, fabric, and wood during the selling sequences. The process of making a guest or prospective customer feel at home is one that should engage all the senses. As I suggested earlier, I can’t fully explore these issues in two brief articles. But, you get the idea, I’m sure. And a good brainstorming team will devise some excellent action items to improve the customer’s shopping experience in your store.

The Simple Rules That Make Brainstorming Work

  1. No criticizing of any idea.
  2. There are no stupid questions.
  3. “Plus” ideas... encourage the team members to add on to an idea... to build ideas with other ideas.
  4. “Sense” the question. “How can we improve the customer shopping experience and make them feel more at home? in sight? in sound? in taste? in smell? in touch?” (Once you get started, you will see that the energy of brainstorming carries your team along on a wave, and pushes them so intensely that they couldn’t possibly stop to have negative thoughts that discourage free association. When that contagious enthusiasm happens to a group, it’s a great emotional experience. Assign someone to record all the ideas that emerge. The question you are exploring: “How can we improve the customer shopping experience and make them feel more at home? in sight? in sound? in taste? in smell? in touch?” Always encourage out-of-the-box thinking.)
  5. Don't lead; rather, encourage. Think of yourself as a “facilitator.” A Brainstorming Leader should help to ease the act of self-expression to make it fun and easy— rather than to try to be a dictatorial leader or teacher.

  6. Go with the flow. To be an ideal leader requires a responsive attitude. The worst kind of leader is one who would impose his or her personality and ideas upon the group. The best is one who becomes a reflection of the group's thoughts and impressions. He or she is, in fact, the perfect reporter. At the same time, the leader is a kind of guide. Since such a huge quantity of ideas is emerging, and free association can go in so many different directions, the leader must be skillful in keeping the flow of ideas on the track of the original focus.
  7. Encourage those ideas which are easy to multiply. A test of a good idea is how spontaneously it proliferates. The leader can tell, by the rising enthusiasm of a group, that they are “on to something.”

How To Sort Out the Ideas and Develop Action Items

After a brainstorming session, thank the team and advise them that you will get back to them. Then, relax and mull over the ideas you have gathered.

  1. First, inventory all the ideas in the sequence in which they occurred.
  2. Next, without any great effort of will, browse through the list. You may do this several times. List the best ideas on a separate “Action Items” sheet. Use judgment and intuition to choose the best ideas. You should not allow yourself to be too analytical during this procedure, because the selection is also a creative process. Our intuition is always at work and will tell us when an idea deserves to be selected. This is the essential technique. Try it, and encourage other teams to try it. It's fun, exciting, and will generate great ideas and build terrific teamwork.
    You may wish to schedule more brainstorming sessions, focusing on the few “best ideas” you have selected. Remember that brainstorming is fun, loose, uncontrolled, and best conducted after, and clearly separate from, the more formal delegation and operational discussions.

Contributing Editor Larry Mullins has 30+ years experience in the front lines of furniture marketing. Over the past ten years he has developed a Visionary Management program that can impact the culture of an entire organization and bring it to life. He also produces state-of- the-art promotional advertising packages for everything from quick cash flow to complete exit strategies and store closings. Larry is the President of UltraSales, Inc..
Questions on any aspect of this article can be sent to Larry care of FURNITURE WORLD at mullins@furninfo.com.