Interview with David Blair
The most powerful
way for any home furnishings company to define an experience, says
David Blair, is in emotional terms.
This installment in Furniture World’s series on advertising presents
David Blair’s thoughts about how retailers can attract and serve
customers by re-framing their messaging in terms of emotion.
Blair is a brand strategist and founder of Welcome Ideas, LLC, an agency
specializing in helping companies determine what they need to say, how
to say it, and with whom they should be speaking. He formerly served as
Director of Strategic Services at Emisare, a company that has provided
strategic and creative leadership to a broad range of clients, including
the High Point Market Authority.
Getting Messaging Right
Furniture World asked Blair to explain why the emotional content of
branding messages should be a major consideration for retailers. “To get
your retail experience right,” he replied, the first step is to define
the experience you want to deliver. The most powerful way for any home
furnishings company to do this is to define its brand in emotional
In this edition of Furniture World, you will find a number of next big
things I believe are worth your attention and consideration.
“Just about every memorable experience people have involves their
emotions. That’s why everything you do and say as a retailer should be
framed in terms of the delivery of an emotion.
“Most home furnishings brands focus on delivering messages about service
and quality,” Blair continued. “These have become cliches that don’t
deliver any emotional value. Instead, retailers can benefit by thinking
about their brands in terms of words like joyful, happy, cozy,
comforted, relieved, inspired, thrilled or secure. These are the kinds
of attributes that some of the most successful retail brands inspire.
"Most home furnishings brands focus on delivering messages about
service and quality. These have become cliches that don’t deliver any
“Once defined, an emotional message that describes what a brand is about
can be matched to a targeted group of people.”
Blair explained a process companies can undertake to get a sense of
which messages will be effective at motivating certain customer groups.
“A 35-year-old man,” he observed, “will most likely be inspired by
different emotional messaging than a 50-year-old woman. So, a good way
to start to match up a customer group you want to inspire with your
messaging is to create wanted posters with each group represented by a
Create “Most Wanted” Posters
The Customer Wanted posters David Blair describes are similar to those
romanticized in the American west, distributed to law enforcement and
put on display in post offices, complete with a photo and information to
aid in their capture.
“Identify them by age, gender, income and marital status,” he continued.
“Do they have children? Do they live in an apartment, a small
free-standing home or a large one? In what zip code ranges might they be
found? What preferences might they share with their neighbors?
“Avoid making each wanted poster a word cloud or outline. Instead, use
photos of real people. Add images of what the customers’ homes might
look like. This should give you and your staff a visual sense of who
each person is. Additional photos of their neighborhood, family rooms,
entertaining areas and outdoor spaces can provide a way to visualize how
they live and the context for how your brand will enter into and improve
Define Emotional Content
Blair observed that it doesn’t matter if a retailer’s messaging is
delivered via digital advertising, strategic placement of billboards,
radio, microtargeted direct mail, social media, broadcast TV or
programmatic cable advertising. The value of delivering the right
emotional brand message to the right target audience cannot be
When asked how furniture retailers might choose the best emotional
message to deliver to a specific group of customers, he replied, “It has
to do with what you believe your target customer wants and what you are
comfortable with and capable of delivering. If your messaging is
directed to busy professionals, keep in mind that they may view spending
the better part of a Saturday morning shopping for furniture as, at
best, drudgery, and, at worst, robbing them of their time. Instead,
think about how making their path to purchase more effortless, more
productive and faster will make them feel, and define that emotion.
“If you are a discount operation, then my advice is to ask yourself,
what emotion do customers feel when they get the best possible price?
Figure that out, and you can craft a series of messages. An example is
‘Joe’s Discount Furniture, Where You Always Win.’ Then you can build on
this theme by adding that the customer wins in every selection,
negotiation, delivery, etc. If you’re the discount guy, be the discount
“What positive emotion might a retailer want to convey to a customer
with poor credit who is concerned about financing a furniture purchase?
Maybe it’s confident, comforted or relieved. Retailers often address the
fear of being turned down with advertising messages such as, ‘good
credit, bad credit, no problem,’ which positively addresses a potential
Delivering The Emotion
Once a retailer has a sense of the emotions they want to deliver, it’s
time to make a list of media, such as digital advertising, billboards,
newspapers, TV and radio. “You are ready,” Blair said, ”to determine,
for each platform selected, the best ways to deliver the emotion that
defines your brand.
“Bear in mind that it is rare to find a clever headline that works
better than a good picture. To the extent that an emotion can be
presented visually, it’s usually the best way to go, especially when
trying to deliver emotional content in smaller spaces, such as digital
ads viewed on mobile devices.
“When text is needed to describe product images, explain what isn’t
obvious. For example, if you present a photo of a beautiful traditional
sofa with three cushions in a floral print, there’s no need to restate
the obvious. If the customer looks at it and doesn’t think it’s
beautiful, telling them it’s beautiful isn’t going to change their mind.
If they look at it and say, ‘oh yeah, that’s what I’m looking for,’ they
don’t need to know it’s a traditional style.
“It’s much better to mention that the sofa is stain resistant and can be
placed in a sunlit room without worrying about fading. Orient the copy
to convey emotional content, such as, ‘Relax, this sofa is
stain-resistant, won’t fade and will give your active family years of
“Likewise, rather than throwing an available low percentage financing
rate at them in big numbers, consider leading with text that reads ‘We
have lots of comfortable financing options. Just ask.’ Again, in this
example, the messaging is built around delivering an emotion of comfort.
Even the call to action should make it easy for them to take the next
step. ‘Want to know more? Just call us at 888-888-8888. Want to see it
in person? Make an appointment. We’ll tell you everything you want to
know. Want more options? Make an appointment with one of our design
Move Customers Forward
An important idea to keep in mind at this point in the process is that
in addition to just delivering the emotion, retailers need to continue
to move customers forward. “Remember, that this is supposed to be a
customer journey and you need to get them to the other side of the cash
register,” Blair reminded us. “So, the other question to ask yourself
after ‘How can I deliver the emotion I want to deliver,’ is ‘How can I
get them to the next step, click on a digital ad and go to a website
where further engagement and follow up can occur?’”
Is It Working?
“Here’s where retailers need to watch their analytics to determine where
things aren’t working,” Blair suggested. “If you’re investing
substantial dollars in advertising, getting good exposure but achieving
too few website clicks, your advertising messaging isn’t working.
Fortunately, the great thing about digital advertising is that you can
A/B test different types of messages to determine what works better.
“If you are getting good traffic to your website but people are not
taking the next steps that lead to a sale, the problem is with your
website. Take a step back and think about creating a website experience
that’s more intuitive, straightforward, uncluttered and consistent with
the emotional messaging you want to deliver to your most wanted
“Here’s how this might work. Let’s say you’ve decided that your retail
furnishings brand is about making customers feel cared for and comforted
in every interaction with your business, leading to comfortable living
as the end result.”
The Target: “You’ve determined that a key target is
married, 35- to 44-years old, has a couple of kids and probably a dog.
Their annual household income is in the $150,000 range. Also,” Blair
said, “these customers see themselves as people who live a casual,
informal lifestyle, and they might start their shopping experience by
googling the words, ‘casual furniture near me.’ They assume that the
results will match their style preference, unaware that the furniture
industry considers casual furniture to be outdoor furniture.”
The Message: “Having invested in the appropriate search
term, your targets see your message on the first page just below ads for
the national brands. It reads, ‘Casual Furniture for Active
Families—Henry’s Home Furnishings.’ Underneath that, a message of
comfort appears in the meta description, something like, ‘Relax, Henry’s
is here to make sure you get the right styles at the right prices,
delivered to your door and professionally installed.’”
The Result: “The shopper clicks on the ad and is
directed to a website that’s easy to navigate and visually pleasing with
images of families in comfortable settings, enjoying their homes.
Everyone looks relaxed. Kids are playing with toys on the floor and
there’s a magazine thrown across a coffee table in a way that reflects
the casual perception of their lifestyles.
“As shoppers follow the website journey, there are opportunities to
click, chat, call, leave contact information or schedule an appointment
with a design associate. Everywhere the navigation is clear,
uncluttered, and guides them via images, narrowing their choices along
the way. They don’t have to read a lot or figure anything out. They just
look at a picture and say, ‘Oh, I like that,’ then click.”
In-Store: “When the shopper engages with sales and
customer service people who answer the phone, respond to emails,
converse via chat or visit the store, the brand promise of comfort
continues. Nobody appears to be rushed or annoyed. Store personnel are
trained to under-promise and over-deliver in every small interaction so
the process remains comfortable all the way to delivery scheduling and
first-time perfect delivery.”
Blair concluded by advising that matching up the customer and the
service with the proper messaging is critical. “Messaging can change
based on the particular service or audience; however, marketers should
consistently deliver the same positive emotion—such as joyful, warm,
cozy, comforted, relieved, inspired, thrilled. Then build the whole
customer journey around that. One of the best ways for furniture
retailers to optimize their customers’ journey is to focus on what they
want them to feel and make sure they feel that at every point of
More Ideas From David Blair
Search Terms: One of the first things I learned
when I started working in the furniture industry is that we don’t
sell couches; we sell sofas. But when a customer searches for a
sofa, they may be thinking about and do a google search for a big
comfy couch. One of the best ways to identify appropriate search
terms is to be observant. Write down how your customers describe
items when they speak to sales associates.
Test Messaging: One of the good things about
digital advertising is that messages can be affordably tested.
It’s easy to allocate some dollars for different messages and
measure the results. If it doesn’t play out, it doesn’t play out.
Frequency: It’s important to reach targets as
often as you can when they’re not looking for furniture, which is
most of the time. When people are ready to purchase, they often
start shopping at the store with the most familiar name. It’s the
one they drive by all the time, whose name keeps showing up on
their social media feeds or when they are searching the internet.
If you define a target customer as somebody who eats out
frequently, there’s an opportunity to reach them on local
restaurant sites or perhaps while driving by local restaurants.
Social Media Content Management: Facebook and
Instagram are excellent platforms for directing ads to the
demographic sets you identify based on location, age and the
attributes of followers who interact with your store’s social
media platforms. At least some of a retailer’s targeted customer
groups—their ideal customers—will always be interested in things
they can do to make their home spaces more attractive, livable,
fun and usable. Even though customers won’t always be looking to
make a major furniture purchase, they may be interested in
accessory items, candles, towels, Christmas decorations or other
items to make their homes a little nicer. Furniture World readers
should continue to use their social media feeds to present
followers with solid nuts and bolts of interior decorating and
advice relevant to their core assortment. They should also
consider addressing all the little items that can be used to
simply make followers’ homes a little fresher. This can include
promoting other product categories for sale and sharing
interesting content from non-competitive resources that are
consistent with an emotional feeling associated with their brand
YouTube: Consider purchasing six-second info
spots on YouTube videos that fit well with the interests of your
target customers. These ads come and go so fast that most people
don’t have time to click the skip ads button. It’s a really good
way to deliver short emotional messages that give people a good
feeling about your brand. Your intention with YouTube
advertisements should always be to make them interesting, engaging
and creative enough so that people won’t hit the skip ads button.
If you want to keep viewers’ attention for 15 seconds, make it
worth their while. Just throwing up an ad that reads “Joe’s
Furniture President’s Day Sale” won’t necessarily do a lot for
you. Good brand-building is about creating relationships, not
necessarily being so transactional with people.
It’s Not Always About Furniture: The message
doesn’t always need to be explicitly about furniture. I work with
a car care company in Chapel Hill that sponsors a UNC football
coaches show every Monday morning during game season called the
‘Drive Happy Drive of the Game.’ It’s just one of the many things
this company does to spread ‘drive happy’ messages to make their
most wanted customers feel good about their brand. And it’s an
effective alternative to promoting a generic oil change for
See their very happy Facebook page.
Questions about the branding topics covered in this interview with
David Blair can be directed to David care of