I’m always fascinated when friends ask me what they should do with their kitchens or baths. The questions they pose often surprise me, and remind me that it’s easy to get so close to our business that we lose sight of the consumer’s perspective.
Especially because kitchens and baths are such infrequent purchases, we forget how much education is necessary, whether someone is buying a replacement toilet or dishwasher, or redoing an entire bath or kitchen.
And we forget to talk in their language, defaulting all too quickly to our insider industry jargon.
A few cases in point:
A friend thinking of redoing her second-floor master bath asked if tile would be too heavy and whether she would need reinforcement for the floor. She also wondered whether she would have to clean the grout with a toothbrush after every shower.
Other friends discussing steam showers wondered whether they were bad for the bathroom, causing mold build up, and whether steam is good for you or not.
A friend was surprised when a kitchen designer politely declined to do a layout for her, because she had already engaged a contractor and ordered cabinetry. The designer, needless to say, couldn’t help at that point. But my friend didn’t understand why, since she was willing to pay “a few hundred dollars” for design time.
Another friend who needed to replace a toilet called to ask what the “rough in” dimension meant. Was it the distance from the wall to the back of the toilet tank?
I bring up all of these questions simply as a reminder of the importance of educating consumers who are contemplating a purchase. It’s vitally important to put yourself genuinely in their shoes, and not roll your eyes (even mentally) at their questions.
Michelle Miller, writing in The Soccer Mom Myth, points out, “The Web site or company that does the best job of answering [a woman’s] questions stands the best chance of getting her business. She gains confidence and trust, and you build rapport with her by being resourceful and helpful. Plus, she does not need to leave your site to find the information she needs. You provide her with everything she needs to feel comfortable and confident enough to make a purchase.”
The key is to answer her questions, not spout the benefits you want her to know. This is the temptation we have to guard against in our communications with prospective customers.
No wonder in marketing today, the buzz is all about creating “content,” that is, information that helps people buy. Marketing today goes well beyond reaching out and “interrupting” consumers with ads or relying on media to pick up your messages through PR. It’s more about being present with valuable information that helps customers when they are in the buying mode.
The good news is that you are the media today…your Web site, blog, Facebook page, Twitter postings, brochures, videos, podcasts, etc. You are the publisher.
“Advertising is a luxury but content is survival,” notes Joe Pulizzi, author of Get Content, Get Customers.
In their terrific guide to content marketing, Content Rules, Ann Hadley and C.C. Chapman explain that the process is about “creating and sharing relevant, valuable information that attracts people to you and creates trust, credibility and authority for your business and that ultimately converts visitors and browsers into buyers.”
To do that, you need to put yourself into your customers’ mindset.
With content, your marketing creates value for prospects. Is your Web site, blog or other marketing an encyclopedia of how to buy a kitchen or bath, or individual product? It should be.
Here are some tips from the authors on creating content:
Understand your customer’s problems, even if they are not what you want to talk about. For example, looking at questions on HGTV’s kitchen and bath discussion boards, the number one question when I was writing this column was about painting kitchen cabinets. (Incidentally, the same topic comes up fairly frequently on the Google AdWords keyword tool, under kitchen cabinets.)
Ugh, you say. I’m not in the business of painting kitchen cabinets. But, your prospects want to know about it. So can you create content that tells people the pros and cons of painting cabinets at home, explains factory finishes and why they are more durable?
A recent Google AdWords keyword tracker showed there were 246,000 Global Monthly Searches in the U.S. for kitchen remodeling, 1 million for kitchen design, 823,000 for kitchen designs and 368,000 for kitchen pictures. Are you fulfilling this need for information?
Other terms that come up frequently in searches are budget related, i.e. kitchen remodel costs, kitchen remodel cost, cost of kitchen remodel, and, sorry, cheap kitchen cabinets. Okay you say, I don’t sell cheap cabinets. But obviously budget is a major concern. And rather than bemoaning the fact that prospects may be unrealistic about budgets, you can guide them through budgeting, all the while building credibility for your business.
Another popular topic on HGTV kitchen and bath chat rooms is “small kitchens.” Are you addressing this concern with your content?
Think about your customer’s problems. What are they searching for, not just online but when you talk to them face to face in your showroom?
Use their vocabulary, not yours. They probably aren’t coming in to buy a lav. But they may well be searching for a bathroom sink or vanity. Avoid techno speak. How do customers describe what you are offering? Thermostatic shower valve? Probably not. “A shower that keeps me from getting scalded when the toilet flushes” may be more like it. Jetted tub or whirlpool bath?
“All too often the packaging of information fails to address the specific need, want or problem the customer is trying to solve. You have to understand how customers frame their questions,” Hadley and Chapman caution.
They recommend copy that emphasizes verbs and action-oriented words, which helps us imagine ourselves taking action.
Avoid buzzwords and marketing mumbo-jumbo. Have a personality and a point of view. Tell stories about how you designed a kitchen or bath for someone and how it solved their problem. “We remodeled this kitchen to include an informal dining table and now the whole family enjoys Sunday breakfast together.” Be conversational. Don’t be afraid to be informal.
And finally, know that creating content is an ongoing, regular activity. “The key to keeping them coming back is new, fresh and relevant content,” Hadley and Chapman stress. “The moment you stop publishing is the moment you start losing your community.”
Leslie Hart, based in New York, NY, is a partner with O’Reilly/DePalma, a full-service marketing communications agency serving the kitchen, bath and building industries. She can be reached at 212-989-4629 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.