Brand Report 2018: Manufacturers contend with shifting marketing variables - Nov 2018

By Beth Miller

Right now, the marketing landscape is shifting. As younger generations with progressive buying habits start to buy and own homes, the ways in which flooring manufacturers communicate with consumers is shifting away from more traditional methods of brand building. It is no secret that the Internet is the predominant medium of promotion for flooring producers who manage today’s leading flooring brands. But what needs to be discussed is the difficulty and level of complexity that comes with brand-building in an age where the process used by consumers as they research, shop and buy flooring is evolving.

Floor Focus reached out to the leading flooring industry consumer brands to find out just how they are building mindshare with homeowners. The group-Karastan, Anderson Tuftex, Armstrong, Shaw, Coretec, Daltile, Pergo, Mannington, Mohawk and Stainmaster-spans a wide spectrum when it comes to target consumer demographics, product portfolio and brand marketing strategies. Despite these differences, they all have one thing in common: they seek to send the right message to the right place at the right time.

According to Ebeth Pitman, director of brand marketing, Armstrong, a traditionally residential-focused brand, has decided to ramp up its commercial marketing strategy. “Armstrong is very focused on a number of commercial-oriented audiences, specifically architects, designers, end-users and facility managers,” says Pitman. The brand promise, “Let the buyer have faith,” is at the core of how the brand conducts it business and runs in tandem to the core values of integrity, safety, quality and community. Currently, the brand is working to revitalize what it is deeming a legacy category. The new commercial VCT program seeks to reach the architecture and design community by promoting VCT’s flexibility and inspirational side.

To kick off the program, Armstrong partnered with Candice Held, a textile and fashion designer, to renovate one of Held’s boutique stores using only Armstrong VCT flooring. The company is launching a nationwide design contest asking designers to submit their own VCT flooring designs for a chance to win a trip to Palm Springs, Florida for Modernism Week in February. Designers will get a chance to visit Howell’s boutique, also located in Palm Springs, and see the installation.

Additionally, Armstrong is launching a program that is a game changer for the A&D community. Via a strategic partnership with Material Bank-a sample delivery company-designers can now have flooring samples delivered overnight. The only requirement is that orders are placed by midnight to be received by the next morning at 10:00 a.m.

Each company is working on developing or has developed an infrastructure for its portfolio of brands that breaks down each brand based on various criteria, such as multi- or single-channel, multi- or single-surface, brand awareness and even the target consumer. By understanding its own brands, each company can then move on to researching and identifying its audience and working to build and maintain its brand identity.

Mohawk Industries is working to create an infrastructure to help organize its family of brands. Mohawk has what it calls master brands-comprised of the Karastan, Mohawk and Pergo brands-which are multi-channel or multi-surface categories. Its IVC, Quick-Step and Godfrey Hirst brands are in what Mohawk is deeming its category brands. These are single-channel or single-category, low-consumer brand awareness brands. “These are very important to us as we use them tactically in our portfolio,” says Karen Mendelsohn, senior vice president of marketing with Mohawk.

The Mohawk brand is the company’s universally distributed brand that is designed for the established, “sensible” homeowner. Moving forward in 2019, the plan is to place a great deal of emphasis on digital marketing and social media with its new campaign, “More moments are made on Mohawk.” The plan encompasses a number of its product innovations by taking the campaign slogan and attaching it to the specific product. Mendelsohn explains, “We take the campaign idea for all three of our master brands and play it out across all of our different product collections and surfaces.” For example: More scratch-free moments with RevWood; More dent-free moments with SolidTech; and More colorful moments with ColorMax-a new color innovation technology.

For veteran brands like Karastan, which is currently in its 90th year, its target demographic remains largely unchanged-the discerning homeowner ranging in age from 45 to 65. According to Mendelsohn, Godfrey Hirst-the recently acquired Australian carpet mill-was added to Mohawk’s portfolio as a complementary brand to Karastan. Karastan has limited distribution, and Godfrey Hirst is a premium brand that is widely distributed. “Approaching the retailer with another premium broadloom brand does not disrupt the Karastan brand,” explains Mendelsohn. The campaign slogan is simple, “Karastan: Live beautifully.” And just like the Mohawk campaign, it is spread out over the Karastan products: “Live beautifully with Karastan ColorMax,” etc. Toward the end of 2019, Karastan will launch a new product and new category to the line. Intrigue is a rigid LVT product that will offer high-end wood visuals.

Pergo, which originated in Sweden, and was purchased by Mohawk in early 2013 has primarily been focused on laminate flooring sold at Home Depot and Lowes in the U.S. but now the firm is changing that strategy. Moving forward, Mohawk is positioning its Pergo brand as one designed for self-reliant folks who live on their floors and as a worry-free solution that doesn’t expect the consumer to compromise. It targets a younger audience, specifically young families. The brand’s promise is, “With Pergo worry-free flooring, there are no compromises.” Pergo intends to move into the specialty retail space this winter with its new Pergo Extreme LVT product and the slogan: “Go hard with Pergo Extreme.”

While Mohawk owns the Dal-Tile Corporation, it operates the Daltile brand on a very different level when it comes to product marketing and brand management. Dal-Tile was acquired in 2001, and according to Paij Thorn-Brooks, vice president of marketing, it was purchased to fill a consumer need and to enhance its brand portfolio. Daltile services all segments from builder to commercial to residential, adding another level of complexity to its marketing strategy. Thorn-Brooks admits that the process is complex for both the consumer and the manufacturer and in order to reach a consumer in today’s market, “You can’t take a broad stroke approach to your customer base anymore.”

Shaw Industries encompasses three core brands: Shaw, Anderson Tuftex and Coretec. Each brand is managed with its own brand promise and targets completely different audiences, albeit with some overlap. Shaw is the company’s master brand, focusing on the brand promise of “Designing for real life” for a wide range of consumers, emphasizing innovation, style and design.

Shaw recently released its 2019 Color of the Year palette: Whisper. The palette is made up of five hushed neutrals that span both hard and soft surface categories. The purpose behind the launch of a color palette each year is to inspire consumers to update their homes or rooms with a new look. Even with such a broad consumer base, Shaw works to further identify shopping personas by studying shopping behaviors that focus on lifestyle and home projects. This, in turn, provides insight on ways to formulate a brand message.

In the late 1990s, Shaw purchased Queen Carpet, based in Dalton, Georgia. This merger provided Shaw with access to West Coast manufacturing via Queen’s Los Angeles-based Tuftex division. In 2007, Anderson Hardwood was acquired. In January 2018, Shaw merged the two brands to form Anderson Tuftex-a premium line of hardwood and carpet products that are designed to complement each other. Just shy of one year, the young brand has managed to form a strong brand identity in a short amount of time. Already donning a brand promise, “Designed with intention. Crafted with care,” Anderson Tuftex has accomplished a significant amount of new research combined with a previous two-year study performed by the Shaw brand to produce this niche brand.

The results indicate that the target consumer is a primarily female audience, labeled “The Pursuer” with an average age range of 45 to 48. The Pursuer is defined as someone who will not compromise on aesthetics to get a cheaper price. There is also “The Achiever,” which is primarily a male audience, oftentimes married to The Pursuer. They are typically teamed up through the floor buying process, and The Achiever helps narrow down products based on quality and assists in the final decision. Moving forward in 2019, Anderson Tuftex will be launching a new collection called Unleashed. The Stainmaster Pet Protect line will be paired with two hardwood products. Kensington and Buckingham will be domestically made, are sawn face and will come in five SKUs each.

Shaw acquired US Floors and the Coretec brand in 2016 at a time when the rigid LVT category was exploding off the shelves. Kathy Young, vice president, marketing, for US Floors and Coretec, says, “Our team had to build the brand from the ground up.” She continues, “It had no website, and no position identification had been established at this point.” Just like Anderson Tuftex, no time was wasted determining a target demographic. The mission statement, “We are disrupters and innovators and a little bit of troublemakers,” appeals to Millennials and Gen Xers. This demographic is doing their own research and owning their projects from dream to end, according to Young. At the one-year anniversary of the launch, Young reports that 30% of the web traffic is its target demographic while 21% is from Baby Boomers.

Going strong for 32 years, the Stainmaster brand continues to be one of the most widely recognized flooring brands among conumers. Stainmaster’s brand promise centers on: “Helping you live more comfortably in your home.” Says Lisa Connolly, senior director, marketing, “Stainmaster is a brand consumers already trust. We’ll continue to play on that over time.” While the brand recognizes that women are driving the buying decisions when it comes to flooring, males have become increasingly involved in the shopping and ultimately the buying process. Stainmaster has decided to take a different approach to marketing and reach out to the dads in the audience as well. It has partnered with Scary Mommy-a website that focuses on the modern mom-to create a series of videos targeting parents. Connolly reports that this marketing strategy has already yielded 11 million social media followers and 15 million unique monthly visitors to the website.

Founded in 1915, Mannington Mills goes to market under its Mannington Residential, Mannington Commercial, Amtico and Burke brands. Its unique selling proposition states that it is the style leader in hard surface. The brand promise targets a more universal audience: “Our floors are designed to be lived on; they are high style that will be stunning for years.” Leaning heavily on its family-owned, U.S.-based company history, Mannington’s mission statement is simply: To be the best people to do business with in the flooring industry.

Flooring manufacturer acquisitions are always a strategic move, designed to enhance a brand portfolio-strengthening a weak category or filling a nonexistent one. Understanding how each brand reaches consumers is always shifting and companies strive to stay on top through product innovation and laser-focused consumer marketing. But how do these companies maintain a brand’s identity once they have acquired it?

In the case of Shaw Industries, it all depends on the brand it is acquiring. For instance, in 2016 Shaw acquired US Floors and its hugely popular Coretec WPC. According to Coretec’s Kathy Young, “It was an acquisition, based on a niche profitable category, that Shaw did not want to change.” The Coretec brand was on the ascent-it still is-and Shaw wanted to maintain that brand identity as much as possible. When the two divisions, Shaw and US Floors, converge in meetings, there is a symbiotic relationship where both parties learn from each other. “We do share information that can be valuable and help elevate all brands, but how it is presented is in line with that specific brand strategy,” says Young.

Bringing together Anderson and Tuftex a year ago was a very different scenario. Both Anderson and Tuftex came to Shaw via acquisitions several years ago, and both are well established in the market. Each brand, just like Coretec, was purchased for what it brought to the Shaw table. Anderson is known for its high-quality engineered hardwood-it was the first firm to make engineered hardwood in the U.S.-and Tuftex has distinguished itself as a higher end, high-quality carpet mill. Both of their brands have run autonomously from the Shaw brand.

However, as consumer needs shifted, Shaw saw an opportunity to bring these two divisions together to form one strong, niche brand with its own unique consumer base, doubling down on the brand equity.

In the sea of sameness, how does a flooring product manufacturer differentiate itself from others? It goes without saying that product innovation is a necessary component of any lasting brand. Researching the market to uncover unmet needs that yield innovation can take time. Learning from consumers and retailers requires manufacturers to wade through a complex strategic marketing equation made up of constantly shifting variables.

The consumer shopping journey is reported by Shaw’s Young to be 149 days while others are seeing that process to be half that. Regardless, the window of opportunity for a flooring brand to hook a consumer is small. Young warns, “We as an industry and we as retailers, when trying to reach our consumer, are sometimes looking at the stories we think are most important, the innovations we think need to come forward, and we are very impatient; we want to see that consumer make a decision and buy a floor.” According to Young, consumers are doing a great deal of research before making a decision, drawing out the buying process. Ultimately, that is what a manufacturer’s marketing strategy is looking at to help determine the right time to interject with nurturing campaigns-the delivery of timed and targeted information to help guide consumers through the buying process, which have been shown to help consumers make decisions in less time, and follow-up emails, asking if the consumer has questions that need answering to further the process and secure buy-in.

Part of what helps a consumer make a decision is a simplification of products and product language. If what a consumer sees online doesn’t match what is in the store, the mixed messaging further complicates the buying process and ultimately drives the consumer to a brand that is connecting the dots for them. Flooring manufacturers recognize the need to simplify the language as well as the information that accompanies a product description. Katie Ford, director of brand strategy with Anderson Tuftex, says, “The floorcovering landscape is confusing for most consumers and even for some of our customers with all the different types of products. We do want to keep things simple, streamlined and thoughtful.” All of the manufacturers interviewed indicated they were stepping away from the use of industry terminology when addressing the consumer. Heather Yamada, director of retail marketing for Shaw, says, “We want to talk to the consumer in a way that is relatable to them and how the product can benefit them, rather than the details of how it’s built.”

Simplifying the language is the first step, defining the numerous acronyms as well as the ever-changing hard surface category definitions that only serve to blur the lines. “In a category of SPC, WPC, rigid core, LVT, there are so many acronyms that can be misconstrued and misunderstood,” says Young. “When we’re talking to our customers, we talk simply and try not to overcomplicate it.”

Yamada adds, “It is important that we connect the dots for the consumer online, in-store, through our marketing materials, product descriptions, and via advertising and press releases. It all must tie back to the brand with no mixed messages.”

To ensure the messaging is clear for consumers, flooring manufacturers must collaborate with specialty retailers by providing them with access to all assets associated with each brand. Retailers are provided with landing pages on the manufacturer’s website as well as plug-and-play assets for their own local websites. According to Ford, it all starts with a well-educated sales team that is well-versed in the target consumer to work with retailers, starting at the beginning with “how the brand was designed; why it was designed; and which demographic(s) were considered when designing the website, imagery, merchandising and product.” It is important to note that consumers are doing a preliminary search online for the products they think they are interested in. Then, they visit a local retailer to continue their research. This is where simplifying the language and product descriptions, ensuring the imagery and descriptions match both the online and in-store experiences, and providing consumers with educated retailers to help guide them toward a product that meets their needs all comes together. This combination, if done properly, builds brand loyalty with both a consumer and a retailer. A relationship is formed, and trust is established.

This trust is further driven through communication. The channels by which manufacturers and retailers are reaching consumers have shifted drastically. It wasn’t too long ago that billboards, television ads, radio ads and magazine ads were the standard marketing channels. Digital has taken over, offering endless streams of data and information to help manufacturers and retailers understand how consumers shop, buy and search based on location, gender, socioeconomic factors and on and on. However, those still utilizing traditional methods alongside digital view them as simply more tools in the marketing arsenal. “There’s a time and place for all traditional mediums,” explains Thorn-Brooks. “It depends on the message we are delivering.” According to Thorn-Brooks, Daltile does a great deal of geotargeting in its key markets. This provides insight into the types of marketing mediums that are being utilized by consumers in that area. An example would be a city in Florida where the demographic is more mature, and where Daltile would consider making use of magazines and radio.

According to Paul Friederichsen, owner of BrandBiz-a consulting firm that helps businesses build and maintain brands-as the buying demographic continues to change, the tools with which manufacturers and retailers reach those demographics must also change. Traditional methods are not exactly going extinct. Instead, advertising has reached a point where there is a greater understanding of the purpose and reach of each type of advertising tool, whether it exists in the digital or traditional channel. Mohawk continues to use trade publications alongside its digital methods, while Coretec uses a mix of trade, in-store and even consumer outreach in conjunction with key retail partners. So, each manufacturer is determining which tools work best for its products and demographics and using them accordingly.

The bottom line for both manufacturers and retailers is profit. According to Ford, the Anderson Tuftex brand has managed to combine both quality and aesthetics to deliver a product that is both desirable and profitable for retailers.

As for Mohawk, Mendelsohn says, “You can’t be all things to all people and expect to get any kind return. Brands are assets, and you have to invest in them. You have to maintain them, and you have to make sure that they stay state-of-the-art. You can’t do that with 15 brands. That’s a quantity game, and that’s not the game we play when we think about return on investment. We play the game of quality, and we’re very discerning about where we invest our money to make sure that we and our retailers get the return.”

In the ever-changing world of Google algorithms, flooring manufacturers must work even harder to remain on top. As the industry evolves from using industry language to more consumer-friendly verbiage, so is search engine terminology transforming. In fact, today’s manufacturers are monitoring social media closely to pick up on the terminology used by consumers when they discuss flooring products, trends and projects.

Many flooring manufacturers, including Stainmaster and Dal-Tile, have a team of in-house experts that monitor these digital trends. Shaw has an internal team and also works with a third party to closely watch the changes Google makes regularly.

Coretec’s Kathy Young says that US Floors does not have unlimited funds to pay for search terms and must be very intentional with its decisions going forward. The top three searched terms in relation to the company are “Coretec,” “Coretec the original” and “Coretec flooring.” While the company wants to be number one in searches related to waterproof flooring, Young notes, “The consumer is not searching for the waterproof term just yet.”

All of the manufacturers we spoke with discussed the importance of selecting the “right” keywords. “Right” signifies an alignment between the content found on the manufacturer’s website with the keywords consumers are searching for. Stainmaster’s Connolly says, “As [consumers] become more knowledgeable, we have to go back and see what they’re searching for on our site and what they’re searching for on Google and make sure that’s matching up for a consistent experience.”

Copyright 2018 Floor Focus 

Related Topics:Shaw Industries Group, Inc., Karastan, Mannington Mills, Anderson Tuftex, Tuftex, Daltile, Armstrong Flooring, Mohawk Industries