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Advertising Strategies for 2021

Furniture World Magazine



Tips and advertising strategies for furniture and bedding retailers who want to grow market share in 2021 and beyond.

In this, the second installment of an ongoing series on retail advertising, Furniture World interviewed Imagine Advertising's VP of Sales Erika Sparrow and founder Flora Stopher. In business since 1998, the full-service agency works primarily in the furniture and bedding industry.

When asked how their furniture and bedding clients have reacted to business conditions this year, Stopher replied, “When the pandemic first hit, we definitely saw an increased focus on digital. Some customers felt like they needed to update their websites. They were in panic mode."

“Right now, though,” Sparrow added, “since inventory availability is an issue, retailers are not sure what they should do next. The retailers we work with are experiencing strong sales, but just because business is good doesn't mean that they don’t need to stay out front of customers who will need furniture and bedding products in the coming months.

“Many consumers have been busy with work and homeschooling. They are still trying to figure out how to set up their homes and aren’t sure what the next six months will look like.

"That’s why retailers need to consistently be out in front of their customers to remind them who they are and what they offer. Doing nothing is not a good business strategy.”

Importance of Targeting

“The first step for retailers before making any advertising decision is to define their retail business model and reconsider the value they offer to customers. Only then can they really focus on how to effectively get messages out in front of target customers with a good digital strategy, a good traditional strategy, and a good social strategy.”

Digital Strategy

“Many retailers don’t have a thorough understanding of digital advertising. I highly recommend that those retailers watch the Netflix documentary, ‘The Social Dilemma,’ which does a good job explaining today’s digital marketing environment. There is certainly some manipulation and Big Brother aspects to it, but at the end of the day, retailers need to be in front of their customer when she is shopping.

“Now more than ever before it’s possible to analyze data from digital campaigns, social media and websites to see what’s working, get the right mix, fine tune messages and stand out from the clutter,” added Sparrow. “Retailers need to develop a strategy to make sure their email isn’t just one more message in a customer’s inbox with a hundred others. They need to find ways to get people to follow and engage with their brands.

Let’s say a shopper starts by searching for a sofa on crateandbarrel.com. Programmatic advertising identifies her the moment she starts looking, then targets her with ads.

“Shoppers aren’t visiting four or five stores anymore. Now it’s typically one or two. That's why having an effective digital strategy is key.

“So, if a retailer doesn’t have a strategy to get in front of customers on their computers, mobile devices, or iPads, then that retailer is already in trouble because they will not be part of the conversation."

Focus on Analytics

Sample results of this process for one measured period before any changes to the process above were made can be found in Exhibit #1.

"A focus on website analytics is very important," Sparrow continued. “Every retailer should know some basics including how many people are visiting their website, what’s the bounce rate and how long are visitors staying on the site. Is the site performing or not? And then from there, with just that information, they can start to make adjustments.

"Beyond that," she said, “Retailers need to be able to log in and see their analytics in real-time. How many and what percentage of females are visiting the website? What is the age range and which products are being looked at in each category?

“A lot of retailers have moved away from print and direct mail because they believe it’s too hard to measure. But they actually can and should be measuring the effectiveness of their print and broadcast media. For example, any time we drop a circular for a retailer, there's a measurable spike in website traffic following the time that the circular dropped. Looking at the data retailers can discover what caused a spike in traffic and compare the effectiveness of various media.

“Sadly, most of the retailers we speak to aren't paying close attention. They don't realize that data they have at their fingertips can help them to make adjustments and quickly change messages being put in front of customers. Today, every direct mailer, TV or radio spot needs to drive customers to websites so that they can get the information they need, as well as a coupon or offer.”

Website Messaging

“Retailers should be very methodical about what they allow customers to see on their websites. Retailers wouldn't put a ‘dog’ on the showroom floor. Likewise, they shouldn't want shoppers to see poor sellers on their websites. They need to think about what is trending, and what's popular. It’s generally a mistake to dump every product known to man on a retail furniture store’s website."

Programmatic Advertising

When asked about exciting advances in advertising that many retailers may not have considered yet, Stopher mentioned that “programmatic display has been working really well for our customers.”

“Yes, retailers should consider using programmatic display advertising, confirmed Sparrow. “Programmatic starts with defining a retailer’s target customer. This might include income level, the radius around a store and other parameters.

I highly recommend that those retailers watch the Netflix documentary, ‘The Social Dilemma,’ which does a good job explaining today’s digital marketing.

"Shoppers are not typically starting their shopping experience on Google. They may begin, for example, on Amazon, Wayfair or Hayneedle. Programmatic display advertising identifies customers when they are shopping for furniture online and delivers targeted banner advertising.

“Let’s say a shopper starts by searching for a sofa on crateandbarrel.com. Programmatic advertising identifies her the moment she starts looking, then targets her with ads. So, instead of retailers just putting ads out there for the whole world to see, they can target a shopper when she’s actively in the market for specific types of home furnishings.

“Later when she’s online playing solitaire or watching a movie she will see ads that reflect what she’s already shopping for.” These can be delivered by networks such as Google, in YouTube videos, as pop-ups, via influencers, social media, podcasts, apps and contextually in media that feature specific types of content. Using programmatics, retailers can get out in front of the right customer with the right ad at the right time.

Other Considerations

Encourage Brands To Have Useful Product Feeds: "Brands need to make sure that they're providing retailer partners with good content," explained Stopher. Only a handful of manufacturers really have good, up-to-date product feeds that web providers and advertising agencies like us can access for retail clients. If they're not providing that information, then they're not going to be represented properly on retailers’ websites. Product photography is critical. Whether it's featured on a website in an ad, digital display or social media it has to get customers excited about items and how they might be used. Retailers should also use professional photos of store interiors and exteriors consistent with their brand messaging.”

Check Websites Frequently: Erika Sparrow suggests that retailers go online and examine their websites frequently. “Make sure you don't have a Labor Day promotion on your site when it's almost November,” she said. “There are always small changes to be made that can keep customers’ attention and help them have a better shopping experience. Many retail websites are clunky and hard to navigate, outdated or don’t do a good job of collecting information. Often making small changes will make it easier for shoppers to choose you.”

Use Consistent Branding: "A lot of the stores we work with,” said Stopher, “are well known in their local communities. There are a lot of branding considerations for these retailers including making sure messaging is consistent across platforms and that websites reflect what customers see when they visit stores.”

Retailers wouldn't put a ‘dog’ on the showroom floor. Likewise, they shouldn't want poor sellers on their websites.

Focus on Accountability: “One thing we've suggested recently,” added Sparrow, “is to focus on accountability. For example, how might brand messaging reflect longer anticipated product wait-times during the pandemic so that customers’ expectations are adjusted? A number of our customers let shoppers know that they are welcome to visit the store for immediate style and selection—or to comfortably order online—but that there may be wait times. Customers need to know that retailers are doing the best they can.”

Consider the Overall Experience: Messaging needs to be tied together so that customers feel really good about the whole furniture and bedding buying experience.

"It’s important that retailers don't sit back on their heels," concluded Sparrow. “Get out in front of customers. Do some research and find out how they are getting their information. Owners and managers need to take some time to think about what kind of experience and responsiveness they themselves appreciate when shopping. Then, think about marketing and outreach from the customer’s point of view. Engage with website analytics. And, keep advertising because now is the time to really grab market share.”

Programmatic ad buying solutions and unlimited behavioral targeting prioritize audiences as well as layers in targeting profiles to focus digital ads on ideal customers. Pictured at left are components of this process, reproduced with permission from Imagine Advertising.

Russell Bienenstock is Editor-in-Chief of Furniture World Magazine, founded 1870. Comments can be directed to him at editor@furninfo.com.