Online Marketing: Digital marketing is a powerful tool that requires investment and intention – April 2022
By Jessica Chevalier
Among flooring retailers, there are miles between how the best are using online marketing to woo customers and close sales and how the bulk are proceeding. Unlike the days of old, when running a weekly newspaper ad or broadcasting a commercial during the local evening news reached a specific sect of buyers in a particular market, seeking to produce a specific result, online marketing is a dynamic and ever-evolving medium, demanding that users change with it or be left in the dust. With the right use, online marketing can be a targeted and productive resource, though half-hearted efforts will leave retailers frustrated and fruitless.
TOOLS THAT NEED INTENTION
As Floor Focus contributor Irene Williams likes to remind readers, a productive online marketing program is not simply tapping the youngest member of your staff to post on social media every once in a while. A mature online marketing strategy involves establishing metrics and conducting frequent audits.
The flooring retailers who are invested in online marketing aren’t going it alone. They have an agency or multiple agencies that they hire to oversee and implement their strategies. Massachusetts-based A.J. Rose Carpets & Flooring has vendors that specialize in digital marketing, traditional marketing and social media. The key to success with these, however, isn’t simply writing a check and handing off the job; collaboration is key.
“If you don’t have your hands on it,” says Kevin Frazier of Knoxville, Tennessee-based Frazier’s Carpet One, “your agencies will drift on you. A floorcovering offering isn’t what they are used to advertising-it’s turnkey goods versus consumer goods [with which they are more familiar]. You have to have a sense for what the turnkey customer is looking for and how best to market it.” Since 2003, Frazier has been meeting with his online marketing partner once weekly for 45 minutes each time. At these meetings, the rep provides Frazier with a digital scorecard of about two dozen bullet points that detail things like: How much did YouTube impressions cost? How was traffic to the website? How did the digital leads platform perform? This includes Carpet One-supplied data about his website performance.
“I am always very involved in the vision and the big picture calendar,” says Frazier. “That keeps me abreast of what’s going on and the changes. [My rep] and I started drilling down on digital spend in 2015. I want proof that something works.”
CALL TO ACTION IS KEY
Of course, hiring agencies means financial investment. In addition to paying his agency, Frazier commits 4% of his sales to marketing, with an increasing portion of that going to online marketing. That includes a $2,700/month spend on Google and Facebook advertising and another $1,200/month on YouTube and Spotify ads-with three-quarters of that going to YouTube. In addition, Frazier’s spends about $700/month on content produced by his advertising agency.
Patrick Molyneaux, co-owner of Pennsylvania-based Molyneaux Tile Wood Carpet, devotes 40% to 50% of his total marketing budget to online outreach, which is used for various strategies that change as needed. “Our digital marketing team is constantly experimenting and testing various ways of engagement,” says Molyneaux. “The beauty of digital marketing is that ROI (return on investment) can be measured.”
Measuring success for online marketing, as with all marketing, is about compelling the consumer to take desired action. The desired action may change from one company to the next but it should be something concrete, not something as amorphous as “brand recognition.”
Sam Locher, vice president of business development and marketing for A.J. Rose, says, “Most of our goal with online marketing is to drive consumers to our website to fill out a lead submission form. Of course, ultimately our goal is to drive traffic into the stores and to get contact information to follow up.”
In addition to its online lead submission form, A.J. Rose offers the opportunity for consumers to text the company and receive nearly immediate feedback. Locher fields these texts. “Some people are more willing to text than to fill out a whole submission form,” he says. “And those that do want immediate gratification.” Locher receives about ten texts a day and disseminates them as needed to the company’s team. He laughs, noting that many are painfully vague, saying things like “I am looking for carpet,” but even that is an opening that may lead to a sale.
Frazier believes that a call to action is an imperative component of online marketing. He says, “Even as a retailer focused on quality and the longest-standing provider in our market, in our online ads you hear ‘sale, free financing, free in-home shopping, free in-home estimates.’ They have nothing to do with our 70 years in business or the fact that we have the largest selection around and beautiful galleries. Those are points of affirmation. Often, people want to emphasize those factors most in digital marketing, but if you are spending money on top-of-mind messages, you will get top-of-mind, not action.”
Adds Molyneaux, “We try to get consumers to set an in-home or in-store appointment with our online, real-time calendar. Those leads are assigned to a specific design consultant. This also allows us to capture the lead in our CRM (customer resource management) tool and measure closing ratios, which is why so many of our design consultants make our $100,000 per year, which is a great income for Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.”
Between 2006 and 2014, Frazier closely watched digital marketing activity to see if it was driving a “full-bodied, complete response from the customer” for turnkey goods. Even amid those years, when the answer was “no,” the company was investing around $1,000/month in online marketing to build a base for when the tide turned. Frazier adds, “In 2014, we began to seriously notice the shift, and as we did, I began to reach out to other folks who I knew were good business owners to pick their brain about best practices. We all came to the same conclusion: This is a real thing, but what’s the best way to use it?”
He continues, “We put our foot on the accelerator in 2014 with free digital media (Facebook and Instagram) but paying someone to post. We asked ourselves, how much can we impact Google reviews with these? If we can, we have a metaphor for traffic. We learned a lot of best practices in that time, but what we learned more than anything is that you want to make sure you are creating a message tone that feels organic and relational but managing the execution as if it were just data.”
At the same time, of course, Frazier was watching how other providers of turnkey goods were utilizing online marketing and he noticed that beautiful, highly designed content wasn’t necessarily translating into traffic. “I am fine with top-of-mind as long as it’s part of the traffic equation,” he says. “We get lots of top-of-mind from radio, but we wouldn’t buy it only for that. While we know relational, organic-feeling content is very important, you can’t measure by feelings or top-of-mind or intangibles. You can celebrate those. But you can’t measure them.”
In a world where anyone can be behind a computer pretending to be anyone else, authenticity has become very important to consumers. There are a few ways that flooring retailers build a feeling of authenticity into the hollow void of the Internet, and one of those ways is through consistency. This means that while content may vary, the tone and feel remain constant.
If one person oversees all online marketing platforms, this is simple. But in cases where that person leaves or those in which many team members are creating marketing content, this can be more challenging.
Frazier’s daughter runs his Instagram page and does a great job with it, becoming something of an influencer in the area through her consistent approach. But next year, she will get married and move to South Carolina. What then?
Creating a set of bullet points that outlines the business’ social media persona is a good way to make sure that content continues feeling organic and consistent. All those within and hired by a company also create content on the business’ behalf should review and abide by them.
Another great way to build authenticity is through online reviews. A.J. Rose requests an online review from every customer, along with images of jobs it is particularly proud of. Good reviews paired with installation images are the most impactful online marketing fodder for A.J. Rose, says Locher. “They have the authenticity factor,” he notes. Customers post reviews across all different forums-on Facebook, Google and Yelp, to name a few-and it is important that retailers read these frequently and set out to “right” any “wrongs” aired within them.
Molyneaux promotes his company’s high (4.8/5) Google review score on his website landing page.
FEEDING THE ALGORITHM
Staying atop the way in which social media algorithms prioritize content is a maddening yet necessary pursuit. And that’s why working with professionals in the field is so important.
Between 2019 and 2020, Frazier’s used Facebook Messenger to promote sales and received “a private sale-esque response on a $3,000 spend,” recalls Frazier. But in December 2020, the Messenger algorithm changed. “We did a campaign in April, and it went fine. By summer, it was crickets. Zero response.”
That didn’t stop Frazier’s. The company changed strategies, increased its spend and continued to evaluate and re-evaluate.
Similarly, Locher reports that, at A.J. Rose, “We try to do a little of everything and gauge whether there is a response. Some of it is branding, so we know the response isn’t really possible to gauge. But we try to keep as many tentacles out as we can.”
Pay-per-click has been a consistently effective format for engaging Molyneaux’s target audience, but the retailer notes that the cost-per-lead has increased significantly.
Frazier has been particularly happy with the traffic he’s seen generated through YouTube, for relatively low cost. “Last month, we paid $900 to get 7,000 full watches on YouTube, compared to the $6,000/month we pay for a four-day TV broadcast,” he says. “I know that we are getting more eyes through YouTube. You don’t pay if an ad is fast-forwarded or skipped. We have our jingle in the first seconds, so we are getting a lot of impressions for free.”
The entrepreneur adds, “I encourage retailers to become involved in digital if they aren’t. It drives traffic by itself. But you have to hold it to the same standard that you would traditional media.”
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