Profiting in Today's New Digital Age

Like it or not, ready or not, a New Digital Age is dawning on the kitchen and bath industry. Its impact is likely to be felt for decades, with emerging new technologies – especially the proliferation of online social networks – significantly changing the way kitchen/bath product marketers interact with the design trade.

That should come as no surprise to anyone who’s been touched by the social media networking phenomenon. And who hasn’t?

Global memberships in social networking sites continue to soar. Currently, there are more than 500 million Facebook users, 50% of whom log on daily. LinkedIn has some 75 million users, including executives from all Fortune 500 companies. More than half of Twitter users actively follow product brands.

But social media networking use is not merely proliferating. More than ever, it’s becoming a way for businesses to establish customer relationships, build brands and grow profits.

Even though most marketers are still learning how best to use social media tools, surveys reveal that social media marketing will play an increasing role in acquiring and engaging customers in the future. Other surveys note that businesses are employing different social media tools, from tweeting and establishing a corporate page on a social networking site to maintaining a blog and building a network.

All that was obvious at April’s Kitchen & Bath Industry Show in Las Vegas, where social media standbys Facebook, Twitter and YouTube each played key roles in exhibitors’ efforts to promote their presence at the annual show (see Social Services).

KBIS saw a veritable explosion of smart phone applications for mobile devices – including iPhones, Androids and Blackberries – that enabled exhibitors to connect with users. Exhibitors were able to upload product information onto mobile devices. Twitter and Facebook were used to invite KBIS attendees to visit booths. Virtual booth tours and live show updates were posted on YouTube. Printed material employed QR Codes, which, when scanned by a smart phone, automatically directed the scanner to a Web site or video featuring information about products.

And savvy manufacturers, it’s clear, are going far beyond KBIS as they expand their use of social media. A growing number, for example, are using YouTube and Facebook to promote stories and testimonials about their products, spotlight instructional videos and publicize corporate news. Some are providing design bloggers with content. Others are working with their customers to devise social media strategies that enable integration with the networks of designers, showrooms, distributors and other retail entities.

All of this hints at exciting new opportunities for product marketers. But how successfully will companies leverage the emerging digital technology? How willingly will they embrace new developments?

Clearly, that remains to be seen.

According to analysts, when cutting-edge communications products reach a market, companies typically react in one of three ways: they implement the new technology instantly; they adopt it over time, often later than they should have; or they ignore it and hope it will go away.

In the case of social media networking, ignoring the phenomenon is not a viable option.

Companies serving the kitchen/bath market – on all levels of the supply chain – need to consider embracing social media networking as part of a strategic plan to reach targeted customers. They need to do their homework.

They need to rely on experts. And they need to ask questions: What do I want to achieve? Who do I want to reach? How much should I invest? Which social media channels are the best for getting my message out? How should I measure ROI?

Profiting in the New Digital Age will present rich new opportunities. But success won’t be an accident. And it won’t come from hiding your head in the sand.