Digital Marketing: Retail—Flooring retailers look toward the future of digital marketing - July 2017

By Beth Miller

Digital marketing continues to evolve with the influx of Millennials into decision-making roles in the flooring industry, bringing with them new technologies and marketing strategies. In order for flooring retailers to foster new end-user relationships as well as maintain the current customer base established by previous generations, a blend of traditional marketing and digital marketing methods continue to be employed while keeping a watchful eye on the e-commerce horizon.

It would seem that social media is at the forefront of the Millennial marketing charge with numerous sites to choose from, like Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Pinterest and Instagram, with more options being created. However, there are many more elements that make up the digital marketing strategy: a dynamic website, search engine optimization (SEO), pay-per-click advertising (PPC), search retargeting, online reviews, visualization tools and directory registration. Floor Focus spoke with three industry retailers and a leading advisor on this subject to get a feel for the current approach to digital marketing strategies-what works and what does not. According to them, compiling a list is not that simple.

WEBSITES: MARKETING STRATEGY FOUNDATIONS
“But this is the way we’ve always done it” is oftentimes the response when previous generations are faced with adapting to new technologies. Tyler Levi of Levi’s 4 Floors in Columbus, Ohio admits he has heard that statement more than once and that he was handed the digital marketing responsibilities since “he’s the youngest”-growing up in the Millennial generation. While Levi makes light of his generational inclination toward technology, his role as manager is the result of his ability to combine the business knowledge that he gained from his father and grandfather with his knowledge of technology. For the past 11 years, Levi, along with the internal marketing department, have been pushing to ramp up Levi’s 4 Floors’ marketing strategy to meet the demands of the younger tech-savvy consumer, while continuing to maintain its established customer base. According to Levi, “The flooring industry is going through such a big change right now, especially on the digital side.” Levi’s 4 Floors is embracing these changes and has deemed its efforts the 2020 Initiative.

The 2020 Initiative is a holistic approach that focuses not only on Levi’s 4 Floors’ online presence but also on the elements that contribute to the consumers’ shopping experience in its retail stores. Levi explains, “That’s everything from the way a consumer wants to shop the flooring showroom in the digital age down to how they’re researching a flooring company online.” The starting point, according to Levi, is the website.

Jay Flynn, vice president of sales and marketing for Bridgeway Interactive and Creating Your Space-one of the industry’s long standing service providers in the area of digital marketing-agrees that the website is the foundation of a digital marketing strategy and offers up tips on how to build a successful site. “The website has to represent their business, their brand, their message, their value proposition and has to be able to show product,” he notes. In addition to this, he explains, “The website has got to be engaging. People have to be able to find your website.” This is where the other digital elements come into play.

Melissa Carson, social media director at Mill Creek Carpet & Tile in Tulsa, Oklahoma, agrees that the website is first on the list. An engaging and dynamic site that offers various flooring resources and visualization tools is necessary to keep consumers coming back; however, a website alone is not enough. Carson explains, “You have a great website, but how are people going to find it? You have to have your SEO and search retargeting put into place in order for people to be able to find your website.” According to Levi, as for the importance of each component of an online presence, they “are important at different stages of a consumers’ buying path. Directory registration is tied to SEO; that’s something that is constantly being updated.” He adds, “Search retargeting, whether it’s the flooring industry or any industry out there, is an incredible tool to have-just for the fact that you are more targeted to your consumer or your potential consumer. Online reviews are extremely important; they are your online reputation management.” Echoing Levi on the importance of each digital component, Carson notes, “With our website in the middle, everything else is driving people there. You take out one piece, and it doesn’t seem to flow right.”

Conversely, according to Levi, if a large portion of a marketing budget is going toward SEO, PPC, search retargeting and directory registration in an effort to increase website traffic, and the consumer is led to a poorly designed website, “you are wasting all of your other marketing dollars.” Flynn describes an example of a bad website as a “brochure website” where “it’s just a couple of pages, a pic of the store. It doesn’t show product. It doesn’t have anything that engages the customer.”

How often a business revamps a website is just as important as what is offered on the site. Levi recommends overhauling a retail website every two to three years. When it comes to Mill Creek’s approach to its website revitalization frequency, Carson says, “Our entire website was revamped within the last three years. There are pages within our site that are updated on a monthly basis to keep the content fresh, to keep something new in front of people.”

TRADITIONAL VS. DIGITAL MARKETING
While it would seem that traditional marketing is being superseded by digital marketing methods, that simply isn’t the case. According to Flynn, “The most successful retailers recognize that digital makes traditional much more effective.” Flynn explains how traditional and digital marketing work together by starting with a billboard. Every day, people drive by the billboard with the flooring retailer ad displayed, then use their cell phone to look up the website. If the website is optimized properly, it will be at the top of the list. The potential customer clicks on the site and is now shopping for flooring via a digital method based on what they viewed via a traditional method-a billboard.

Keith Carlson with Century Tile & Carpet in Chicago says that traditional and digital marketing are used to round out Century Tile’s marketing strategy, noting, “In the last couple of years, we have really tried to reorganize in terms of how we market our advertising to be more streamlined along the digital side of things. The old traditional methods of communication-the radio and/or TV-are still the horses that are driving the actual percentage of people that we are trying to capture.” Carlson handles the digital side of Century Tile’s marketing and admits that both marketing approaches are necessary. “We try to drive both sides cohesively,” he says. “We still see that TV for us is the biggest nut that’s out there in terms of exposure. But that being said, we are pushing in other directions in terms of where we can go and what else we can do.” In terms of Century Tile’s website, Carlson admits that they put as much content on it as possible, consisting of products, sales and promotions. This is supplemented with social media-more specifically, YouTube. Carlson has found YouTube commercials to be very beneficial. Concerning social media, Levi adds, “Social media is where the eyes are, but it also ties into reviews, and it ties into word-of-mouth; it’s the New Age word-of-mouth.”
Carlson admits that a disadvantage of traditional marketing is that there is no way to track the method by which the customer learned about the products and services or any sort of customer data. With digital marketing, everything can be tracked all the way down to the zip code where the customer resides.

Another downside of traditional media in the absence of social media, according to Millcreek’s Carson, is that consumers “are not necessarily seeing the personal interaction side of your business.” In other words, customers are missing out on interacting with not only those driving the business but also with other customers who can provide feedback, negative as well as positive, concerning products and services. She adds, “Social media and online reviews almost seem to go hand-in-hand because consumers are more apt to trust what other people say about your business and how you present yourself. They are looking for a more unbiased, honest opinion.”

When it comes to social media and advertising, Carson reports seeing “a big shift toward native advertising-businesses trying to be more creative, more personal, more targeted with their ad photos and their ad content.” She continues, “You want people to get to your website, and you don’t want to trick them into getting there, but you do want something to capture their attention and arouse their curiosity.” Carson admits that the best social media platforms to deliver something that requires a more visual form are Pinterest, Instagram and even Facebook, despite the fact that it is not solely made up of images. “When people are on Pinterest they are looking for ideas,” she says. “When you can show them a project you have done, that could be exactly what they’re looking for.”

The benefits of digital marketing span a wide spectrum. Levi points to Levi’s 4 Floors’ ability to adapt quickly when one strategy is found to be inadequate, adding, “The ability that we have in digital marketing is to change [the marketing objective] at the drop of a hat. The objective is just like any other marketing to consumers-getting business. But how we do that can change.” Another benefit of digital versus traditional marketing is that a wide variety of resources and information can be accessed at any time from anywhere by consumers, allowing retailers the opportunity to gather pertinent data that assist them in developing and restructuring their marketing strategies.

Levi’s 4 Floors offers visualization tools on its site that require a consumer to log in with an email address. According to Levi, “Visualization tools are something to market. I know the consumer is on the Internet looking for information, and I want to do anything I can to get them to my site and capture their email address.” Levi then takes the email address and turns it into another method of marketing to consumers. “I’m a big fan of email marketing,” he adds. “It’s a way of staying in front of existing customers. It’s a way of communicating with potential customers.”

Carlson offers up the methods by which Century Tile gathers consumer email addresses, admitting it, too, is a blend of traditional and digital. “There’s a lot of ways to submit questions on our site-requesting samples or an estimate for a product,” he says. “When they submit these forms, they’re submitting their email address.” The other way is through the brick-and-mortar stores, he says, adding, “When people come in to place an order or are interested in products, we will ask for their email at that time.” The two email lists are then combined to continue growing Century Tile’s consumer email list. Both Levi and Carlson admit that buying email lists does not yield enough of a return to offset the amount spent on the list, but the organic methods are more efficient and have proven successful.

When it comes to the marketing budget, nailing down an exact percentage is difficult in an ever-changing environment that requires retailers to evolve at a rate that is no longer on an annual scope but rather on a month-to-month basis. Levi admits his marketing budget continues to go up. In terms of Mill Creek’s budgetary approach, Carson says, “The power and the reach of digital marketing is continuing to grow and so our budget is pretty fluid as far as what we spend. It will vary from month to month based on what needs we see in our market and where the demand is coming from at that time. The last thing you want to do is get stuck in a rut and keep throwing money at something that’s losing popularity. We are constantly watching the market to see what’s working and what’s not working.”

According to Flynn, “For today’s flooring dealers and any retail business, having a website doesn’t mean you’re a digital marketer. Today being a digital marketer means you’ve got a website; you’re doing optimization of the site to get higher rankings in Google searches; you’re doing pay-per-click with Google AdWords; you are active on social media; you implement retargeting campaigns to stay engaged with consumers interested in you; you are driving consumer online reviews; and you are producing and delivering custom email marketing campaigns. There are unique tools required to accomplish each of these.”

He continues, “For these flooring retailers active in digital marketing, on average it is about a third of their total advertising budget, and, for many, digital marketing consumes 50% or more of that budget. Successful retailers report that they’re spending 5% to 6% of their revenue overall on advertising inclusive of digital and traditional-TV, radio, magazines, etc.”

THE FUTURE OF E-COMMERCE
With Millennials entering the mix as targeted consumers, the trend is now shifting toward e-commerce, causing flooring retailers to scratch their heads on how to market a traditionally tactile experience, but the reality is e-commerce is coming. Retailers are beginning to lose business to those that have embraced e-commerce. Flynn admits that these online stores do not make up a huge part of the industry; however, the online stores’ impact on the market is significant enough to cause brick-and-mortar retailers to begin looking at implementing a new marketing strategy and to decide if e-commerce is the way to go. Flynn adds, “The way I look at e-commerce is it’s a different business than a typical retail flooring store. The products you sell, the margins you sell on that, the expectations for service are all different.”

Carson says, “There has been a lot of talk about e-commerce in the flooring industry. Have we talked about it? Absolutely. You always have to be looking on the horizon to see what’s next.” Mill Creek’s focus, for now, remains on the personalized one-on-one experience. “We have designers on staff and people who [consumers] can work with to narrow down ideas or maybe bring in new ideas,” Carson adds.

Levi’s 4 Floors admits it is easing into e-commerce with its 2020 Initiative. It’s looking at retailers like Lumber Liquidators that are selling hard surface online, but admits that selling carpet online is different due to the customers’ need for the tactile experience. Further complicating the decision to move toward an e-commerce site is the potential to overspend on setting up a site only to see very little return on the investment. Then there is the issue of how to establish a product delivery system-how much do retailers charge for shipping costs when stores like Lowe’s offer free delivery and installation? How do independent flooring retailers compete? And how can retailers offer installation beyond their normal service area? In order to be successful, retailers must recognize the difference in a brick-and-mortar store and an e-commerce site, and the various marketing logistics required to support both. Traditionally, flooring has always been viewed as a product that consumers want to touch; however, when it comes to how consumers want to purchase products, the bottom line, according to Flynn, is “all about what consumers are comfortable with.”

As flooring retailers work on ways to remain successful, says Flynn, retailers must maintain “a complete online marketing program-not just having a website and optimizing it to be found on Google, but driving traffic to it and having tools that help turn that traffic into sales.” In order to accomplish a complete online marketing program, it must include, for now, a blend of traditional and digital marketing methods while looking toward a future that includes e-commerce.


RETAILERS WORK WITH IN-HOUSE AGENCIES AND CONSULTANTS
Mill Creek’s Carson reports that its in-house agency produces the majority of its ad content due to the personal aspect, noting, “When you know the company and the salespeople and you’re right here in the showroom and see the customer interaction on the showroom floor, you can put a more personal spin on the content that you’re posting, as opposed to an advertising agency that’s not seeing all the behind the scenes.” While Mill Creek does work with an ad agency to assist with its marketing strategy workload, its bigger role is to help read the market.

Levi’s 4 Floors’s in-house agency works to produce the majority of the content for its traditional and digital marketing campaigns. Levi points out that the advantage to having an in-house agency is the speed and efficiency at which they can work to modify content when needed.

As for other elements of digital marketing such as PPC, Levi works with consultants. “I work with them on up and coming things,” says Levi about Creating Your Space. “We’ll do tests together. They manage some of our Facebook ads that we do throughout the year.” However, other tasks, like the Facebook page’s weekly updates, are done in-house.



Copyright 2017 Floor Focus