By David Gill
Along with reinventing the whole idea of staying in touch with other people, social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and MySpace have started a revolution in the marketing of consumer products, including home furnishings. Retailers such as Walmart, Target and ABC Carpet & Home; manufacturers such as Cuisinart, KitchenAid, Bodum, Fagor, Royal Copenhagen and Tailor Made; trade-show managers such as GLM; and even showroom buildings such as 230 Fifth Ave. and 7 W New York are all providing information and marketing themselves on these sites.
These pages on Facebook, Twitter and MySpace have created forums through which industry vendors, retailers and organizations can share information with consumers, and get feedback from those consumers.
“We want our customers to start talking to us and to each other,” said Katharina Klaus, marketing analyst for Royal Copenhagen. “Social networks have discussion forums and blogs where customers can post comments on our products and provide us with feedback—for example, what their favorite collection is and why, in which situations or occasions they use our dinnerware ... and they can discuss this with each other.”
This idea of two-way communication is beginning to transform home-furnishings marketing, according to Derek Miller, vice president-international for the International Housewares Association. “Social interaction between consumer and company, and consumer to consumer, has never been done on a mass scale before,” Miller said. “If you have a good product, you get favorable word-of-mouth buzz from your most dedicated followers. That can help you build your brand and increase your sales.”
Social networking sites have become so important to the tabletop and gift industries that permanent New York showroom building Forty One Madison Avenue recently co-hosted a seminar for its tenants about how to best position themselves for the future, including using social networking tools.
“We had a great seminar,” said Laurie Burns, director of Forty One Madison. “It exceeded my expectations in every way.
“I am sold on it,” she continued. “You have to be where your customers are. I think social networking is marketing 101. If you’re wise, you’re... going where you’re customers are. We’re all busy. You have to speak to our customers the way they want to be spoken to.”
Facebook and Twitter have distinct formats, but both foster a sense that vendors, retailers and consumers are part of a community. “On Facebook, you can start conversations and share content, and not just the content we create ourselves,” said Jennifer Park, marketing communications manager for Fagor America. “Our Twitter page is more about news and promotional items because of the 140-character limit.” (Messages or “tweets” on Twitter cannot exceed 140 characters.)
These new “communities” are now playing a role in the formulation of vendors’ marketing plans. “We do a lot of ‘listening’ online, which we will use to help us determine our strategy for 2010,” said Deb O’Connor, senior manager of brand experience for KitchenAid. O’Connor said that, thanks to the consumers who are interacting with KitchenAid in this way, the brand plans to include more content on product information, cooking and recipes on its Facebook page next year.
The fact that vendors are willing to heed consumers carries another key marketing benefit: building and enhancing the brand. “Being active on Facebook allows us to create a personal, in-depth relationship with our customers, which overall enhances our brand image,” said Thomas Perez, president of Bodum USA. “We are constantly engaging our fans in open dialogue, ultimately becoming a part of their daily routine.”
This works for retailers as well as manufacturers. Recent visits to the social-networking sites for Walmart, Target and ABC Carpet & Home found consumers dialoguing and tweeting with each other about new products they recently bought at these stores and requests for information about upcoming sales and store events. Both positive and negative posts about products are common on these sites.
Social networking’s influence has extended to the trade-show front as well. “We are using these pages to support the day-to-day marketing and communications outreach for our shows,” said Dorothy Belshaw, senior vice president of GLM. “These include daily tweeting about product introductions and specific exhibitor opportunities and news.”
GLM is exploring the creation of a single social-networking community to support all of its shows, Belshaw added.
“Twitter is a convenient and inexpensive way to get information about events and news out to a broader audience that we can’t each through e-mail blasts,” said Lucy Zhune, creative marketing director for the 230 Fifth Ave. showroom building in New York City. “By using Twitter, all of our followers can easily be informed without having their inboxes flooded with e-mails.”
In their nascent phase, social-networking sites have already begun to make a difference to companies that use them in their marketing. But industry watchers feel that their influence now is tiny compared to what it could be five years from now.
Home-furnishings vendors see social media increasing their impact on consumers’ purchasing decisions down the road. “Brands that can create positive messages, become known for listening to the consumer and can effectively carry out campaigns through social media will have a great advantage over those that do not,” said John Wilde, president and chief executive officer of Tailor Made Products, which produces the Curious Chef line of cooking utensils.
These sites also have the potential of increasing a brand’s presence not just here in the United States, but throughout the world. While Bodum’s current Facebook page is specifically for its U.S. unit, “we foresee developing a global social media presence allowing customers and fans worldwide to interact and participate in special promotions, incentives, games and giveaways,” Perez said.
Because social networking is still new to home furnishings, it’s difficult to gauge what social-media sites will produce for these brands in the years to come. Miller guessed that it will be another five years before social networking’s full impact on home furnishings will become apparent. “Social media will look entirely different in the next five years,” he said. “Retailers are starting to use social media to drive traffic, but this is evolving along with everything else about social media. It’ll be several years before it really comes into its own. Nobody has it truly figured out yet.”