Wood Cuts: The hardwood industry is investing in a consumer-facing marketing campaign to reverse share loss – July 2023
By Michael Martin
For more than two decades, wood flooring has been losing marketshare to wood-look products. It is something I heard when I first joined the National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA) as its CEO more than a decade ago, and it is still true today.
What I did not know then that I do now is how bad that loss has been. As I have gotten to know other association executives in both the flooring and lumber industries, I have learned that flooring is not the only category to suffer these losses. The same is true in the furniture industry, cabinet industry, moldings industry and more.
A look at U.S. hardwood lumber sales illustrates this. In 1999, consumption of U.S. hardwood lumber was about 6.5 billion board feet. Last year, consumption dropped below two billion board feet, according to the January 2023 Hardwood Market Report. That is a loss of more than two thirds in about a generation. If this trend continues for another generation, the losses would be catastrophic for the hardwood industry.
This is not a new problem, nor is it one that has been ignored. Several associations have attempted to address this issue on their own over the years, including the NWFA, but the truth is that none of us can do it on our own. We simply do not have the manpower or the budgets. Which is why the NWFA partnered with numerous other lumber-based associations to combine efforts through the Real American Hardwood Coalition (RAHC).
The coalition is a voluntary, industry-wide domestic-promotion initiative for trademarked Real American Hardwood products, led by 30+ national, regional and state hardwood association executives. The group, which launched in late 2019, is a 501(c)(3) that was established with a mission to increase consumer awareness, market stability and industry sales of Real American Hardwood products through consumer outreach and marketing campaigns.
This is important because producers of non-wood consumer goods have been luring consumers for decades by promoting their products as being environmentally friendly, more affordable and more convenient than real wood products. Terms like “waterproof,” “more durable” and “maintenance-free” have been used to present their wood-look products as being better than real wood products.
Clearly, there is a need to educate consumers about the uses and benefits of real wood products, including real wood floors, but never before has the hardwood industry come together to share its resources, expertise and budgets to accomplish a common goal. That is exactly what is happening now, and working collaboratively, RAHC has already accomplished a great deal in a short period of time.
Nationwide research has been conducted to understand consumer perceptions of real wood products. This is important because while the hardwood industry thought we knew what was important to them, our research showed that our perceptions were not top of mind for consumers. Nationwide research has also been conducted to understand architect and designer perceptions of real wood products. Overwhelmingly, real wood is their first choice, but our research showed that these professionals have very little influence over consumer buying habits. Many say their customers already have a plan in mind when they hire them and come to their first consultation with photos in hand saying, “I want this.”
As a result of this research, key marketing messages were identified based on what consumers said influenced their preference for real wood products: appearance, durability, value, home health and sustainability. A detailed go-to-market playbook was developed to effectively reach consumers to reinforce these attributes and dispel any mistruths about wood-lookalike products.
Working with a professional marketing company, we developed a Real American Hardwood logo and trademarked it. This logo is being utilized by hardwood producers to identify their products as being made using Real American Hardwood species.
While we developed brand messaging and a related campaign strategy, we also built an industry-focused website (realamericanhardwood.org) to communicate the program to industry stakeholders. A video was produced to introduce the plan to the hardwood industry (tinyurl.com/SecuringOurFuture), and the founding associations presented the program at numerous industry trade shows to start raising funds for the campaign.
Press releases and articles were distributed to trade and consumer publications to promote the program, and to promote real wood. One release was a direct response to the train derailment in Ohio earlier this year that released toxic chemicals into the environment, some of which are used to make wood-lookalike products, including vinyl flooring.
Social media accounts were created on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube. One social post (tinyurl.com/AdamJonesReel) featuring a woodworking social media influencer who talked about the health benefits of real wood floors received nearly 150,000 views, reached 80,000+ people, had 1,000+ click-throughs to the coalition’s website and resulted in a 526% increase in website traffic.
A consumer-facing website (realamericanhardwood.com), was launched educating consumers about the uses and benefits of real wood products in ways that make emotional connections. Interactive modules engage consumers and compare the attributes of real wood products to wood-look alternatives. The site also serves as a hub for project ideas, maintenance tips and environmental facts, and explores how hardwood is influencing lifestyles and culture in the modern world.
That is a lot of progress for an industry that had never collaborated on a large scale before-but it is just the beginning. Earlier this year, the coalition signed an advertising contract with Magnolia Network, the lifestyle network owned by Chip and Joanna Gaines and entertainment conglomerate Warner Bros., to promote Real American Hardwood products on its programs.
Don’t know who Chip and Joanna Gaines are? Chances are the women in your life do. The Gaineses were the stars behind the extremely popular HGTV series “Fixer Upper,” which ran for five seasons and reached 16 million viewers each week. They left HGTV in 2018, at the height of the show’s fame, to focus on their family and other business ventures, but launched Magnolia Network in 2022, bringing with them their legions of fans from across the globe.
And they have a special connection to both the flooring and the hardwood industries: Chip’s parents own a flooring company, and Chip has been quoted as saying, “For me, there’s something about a hardwood floor that does something to my soul, in a positive way. I see those natural hardwood floors, and my heart jumps out of my chest.” The Gaineses regularly use real wood in their on-air home renovations and throughout much of Magnolia’s programming.
Television advertising is a first for the hardwood industry, and Magnolia Network provides a unique opportunity to reach an extremely targeted audience of home-renovation viewers and purchasers to teach them why real wood products should be part of their home build and renovation projects. Through this integrated partnership, RAHC will develop an advertising campaign that will reach millions of consumers who are homebuilding- and renovation-motivated, across a variety of media platforms.
Two 30-second ads will appear on a Real American Hardwood themed episode of “Restoration Road” hosted by woodworking personality Clint Harp-previously part of the Gaineses’ “Fixer Upper” cast-along with 15 ad spots leading up to the episode air date. Responsible for any woodworking projects on “Fixer Upper,” Harp has established his own consumer following based on his craftsmanship skills and his preference for using real wood species for the projects showcased on his show.
Ten taggable shorts incorporating the Real American Hardwood logo will be developed, along with 30-second ads that will follow the shorts. Additionally, 15-, 30- and 60-second ads will be developed to air on the HGTV and Magnolia Network TVEverywhere app, as well as the Discovery+ streaming service. Thirty-second interactive ads will be developed for connected TVs and devices that link to realamericanhardwood.com, and digital media ads will be developed to run on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and Google Search, in addition to Google Display ad partner websites. Micro-commercial ads will also be developed that will run on all viewing platforms.
The ads will be based on RAHC’s “Build Your World” campaign, which is designed to build a deep emotional connection with consumers by helping individuals envision their world-built specifically and uniquely for them-with Real American Hardwood flooring, cabinetry, furniture and millwork. And the word “world” offers flexibility, enabling the campaign to adjust messaging and make it relatable for specific audiences, cultural moments, situations and stages of life.
In all, RAHC ads and campaign messaging will reach a highly targeted audience of 92.8 million consumers. The ads will first appear on Magnolia programming starting on July 29.
However, consumers are not the coalition’s only target audience. Phase 2 of the RAHC campaign will include architects and designers. This initiative, currently in the development phase and scheduled to launch next year, will include a variety of elements relevant to these professionals:
• CEUs registered for professional certification credits with the American Institute of Architects, the International Design Continuing Education Council, and the United States Green Building Council Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design programs. These CEUs will provide detailed factual information about the benefits of real wood versus wood-lookalike products, as well as a variety of design and structural information.
• Design competitions with notable design school programs and established design professionals utilizing American hardwoods. These competitions will highlight domestic wood species, providing information about their availability, versatility, characteristics and uses.
• Participation by RAHC in A&D-focused trade shows to expose this professional community to the many uses and benefits of American hardwoods.
• Editorial content for architectural and design publications and digital platforms to educate these professionals about the uses, benefits and sustainability of hardwood in their projects.
• A website portal on the RAHC website curated specifically for architects and design professionals.
• The utilization of American hardwood in show homes and giveaways, including the HGTV Dream Home, Southern Living Idea House and more.
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