Experts shed light on the ins and outs of kitchen and bath lighting.
By Phil Zaleon
However, some kitchen and bath dealers and designers are still hesitant to commit to using technology in their marketing plans. Some don't fully understand it; others are unwilling to commit to something so "new" even though the newness is what gives early adopters of technology such a powerful marketing edge. Still others worry about the cost.
In fact, one of the biggest objections people frequently voice to using technology is that they believe it's "too expensive."
Technology certainly can be expensive, yet there are plenty of ways to utilize technology to market a kitchen or bath firm without breaking the bank.
In today's high-tech world, there are marketing channels that fit almost any budget. Some are obvious, others are less so, and still others require little more than some imagination and vision to be coaxed into reality. The beauty is, there is no wrong way to put technology to work. Anything is possible, it's only a matter of time and resources.
The first thing most people think of when they hear the word "technology" is the Internet, and their position on it.
One of the industry's earlier adopters of Internet marketing is Bill Camp, CKD, whose Triangle Design Kitchens is located in the technology-rich region of North Carolina's Research Triangle Park. Bill went online in 1996 with a basic site.
"All of our traditional advertising points to our Web site," he explains. "Our customers are Web-savvy. They want to shop online first, then come in to touch and feel product in the showroom. We have always used our Web site as a 24-hour, 7-day-a-week showroom, selling for us while we cannot be in the showroom. Our site provides details about the staff, testimonials and plenty of big pictures of jobs. People want to feel like they know us and our capabilities before they hire us and our Web site lets that happen."
Web sites can be as varied as personalities, and they should be. They act as extensions of the showroom, the owner and the business. Each day, Web technology seems to take another leap forward, offering something new to add to the Web site. Each new technology bring its own positives and negatives and it's up to the individual kitchen and bath professional to weigh the options and decide the best approach.
Flash is one of the most popular software programs for creating Web-based content. It allows users to combine text, animation, sounds, video, photography and one's imagination in one "TV-like" online presentation.
On the downside, search engines don't seem to like Flash. They cannot read into the Flash content to find sites. However, a savvy Web designer/marketer will combine flash with HTML (the code in which Web pages are written) to help minimize the problem.
Another potential down side is that Flash requires the end user to have a Flash plug-in installed on the computer in order to see the animation. While most new computers are equipped for this, consumers who use their computer primarily for fun may not upgrade their computers as quickly as businesses do, so consumers who don't upgrade frequently may not be able to access Web sites designed using Flash technology.
Viewpoint has a series of products that enhances Web viewing. Viewpoint offers, among other things, the ability to create a 3D environment, for example a kitchen. It can be used to render cabinets and countertops and allow visitors to take a virtual walk through a kitchen. It also provides the ability to display smooth real-time video.
In addition, Viewpoint licenses ZoomView, which allows kitchen and bath professionals to take high-resolution photographs of their work and display them in fine detail on the Web without a lot of download time. It also gives users the ability to zoom in to a specific area of the photo without losing any resolution.
The downside of Viewpoint is cost, both on the licensing side and the development side. ZoomView also takes up more server space than a traditional image, so users need to be sure they have a good Web hosting contract with plenty of space if they're going to use this technology. Like Flash, ZoomView requires the end user to have a plug-in player installed on their computer.
Paul McDonald, president of the Hillsborough, NJ-based Royal Cabinet Co., is a kitchen professional who uses ZoomView on his site (www.RoyalCabinet.com). He explains, "The success of our business hinges on details, and we need to show potential customers how well we execute various details in our high-end projects. Many people start their search for new cabinets on the Web, but conventional Web technology won't let you show much detail because of the limited resolution available for showing the pictures. ZoomView is a technology that enables prospects to see full kitchens on our Web site and then selectively zoom in to see any small detail of particular interest for example, a chamfer on a frame, or a carving, or even antiqued glass used in the doors. We were so happy with the enhanced viewing capabilities offered by ZoomView that we created a CD with a large portfolio of work for our dealers to share with their prospects."
Traditional audio and video can be added to Web sites to allow kitchen and bath dealers and designers to market themselves beyond the reach of their initial audience. For example, dealers and designers can add an existing radio or TV commercial or an HGTV or local show that features their showroom or design online to their Web site. In addition, dealers who market themselves through local seminars can tape them and offer them online either for free, as a way to attract new clients, or for sale as a way to generate additional income.
The downside of audio and video online is still bandwidth and quality. Utilizing Flash or Viewpoint to deliver the message may make the end product better, but it will also make the cost greater.
360° Panoramic View
QuickTime offers the technology of being able to view any scene in a 360° panoramic view. With this technology, Web site visitors can "virtually" stand in the center of a kitchen design or showroom and see that beautiful kitchen or showroom from almost any perspective. While this "virtual viewpoint" may not be as effective as seeing it live, it's certainly more effective than viewing ordinary pictures.
The downsides include additional production costs and photographs, and the visitor's need for a plug-in viewer to be able to utilize this feature.
While the Web provides a great opportunity to showcase visuals, it's not just about pictures. Equally important, the Web provides Web site owners with an opportunity to interact with visitors to the site.
Savvy kitchen and bath dealers or designers can use the Web to market themselves as industry experts, fielding questions from online visitors through the use of a discussion page, e-mail links or bulletin boards where anyone can chime in with their thoughts and opinions.
In addition, using a Web site to post weekly or monthly tips will draw traffic and help establish a reputation as an industry expert. Kitchen and bath dealers or designers can let consumers know what to expect during a remodeling project, how to choose cabinetry, or the best ways to use lighting all by posting information on a Web site.
This serves a number of purposes: It keeps the Web site fresh, it provides more keywords for search engines to find, it increases the owner's stature as an expert, and ultimately can help to bring in additional business.
The downside to this is the time commitment required to keep the tips fresh. Likewise, an online bulletin board requires monitoring to ensure undesirable comments are removed in a timely manner. However, this is a great and inexpensive way to connect with consumers by providing a valuable service that will enhance the owner's reputation and help to bring in business.
Everyone hates spam, so why would kitchen and bath professionals even consider using
e-mail to market themselves? The answer is simple: If done correctly, e-mailed marketing pieces aren't spam, they're a way to provide useful information. Of course, one person's useful information can be another person's spam. So it's important to ensure that you are only sending e-mail to those who wish to receive it.
E-mail campaigns can also be a great first step to creating a Web-based e-mail newsletter program. Kitchen and bath professionals can begin by sending a list of tips or other relevant material to clients, vendors and friends. They can then grow this list by having a "sign up" opportunity on line where the firm's tips are posted.
One of the most exciting aspects of marketing technology is that it provides the ability to mass communicate individually.
No business should be without a database, which should include as much information as possible. It's important to have more than just names, addresses and phone numbers. It's useful to track what clients purchase, how they make their decisions, whether the husband or wife takes the lead, etc.
Prospects will often reveal much of this information during the course of a conversation. When they leave, it's easy to make notations in a database.
With this information, dealers can set up a mail merge document that keeps them in touch with the Smith Family and Jones Family telling them different things, but letting the computer do all the work. Whether wishing clients a happy birthday, sending notices of special buys based on what they purchased previously or inviting them to wine tastings or open houses, simple programs on many of today's computers can keep communication lines open.
Even the latest kitchen management software takes this into account. President of The Kitchen Pond, Brian O'Rourke, CKD, says, "We took database marketing very seriously when determining features for our Kitchen Manager software. It allows the designer to track useful information about clients some we have predetermined, such as name, address,
e-mail, etc., but we also allow designers to create their own data fields. The program is easily used with common word processing programs, so creating mail merge style letters is simple."
In addition to database information, consider the following:
- While visiting your showroom, potential clients could be viewing a DVD of your firm's portfolio on an HDTV positioned in an entertainment unit (that they could buy). The production cost, which could include movement in all the photos, a music background, descriptive text on the screen and perhaps a voice-over, is a one-time investment, while the marketing benefits can continue for years. This production can be delivered to clients on DVD, video cassette or online.
- In addition, showroom visitors could be engaged by a kiosk or computer allowing them to learn more about the remodeling process, specific vendors and your firm's history (this information should be more extensive than what they've already seen on your Web site). This can be interactive, allowing each visitor to view what he or she wants, or it can continually provide information on a loop.
- As you sit with the client around a table, let technology enhance the experience. Use your computer to augment your discussion with information on a PowerPoint presentation. Clients can then be supplied with print outs to take home in a pocket folder, along with a copy of the DVD (or video) that was playing on the HDTV. Notes taken during this meeting can be used later for database marketing.
- When the potential client goes home, or you are ready to reconnect with a former client, let technology supplement your contact. The personalized approach of database marketing is an excellent beginning, but use your own experiences to dictate your next steps. Would you be more likely to read a post card, open a letter, watch a DVD or videocassette, or put a CD in your computer? Each has its own benefits and drawbacks. But, when selling a high ticket item with a long sell cycle, the more personalized the approach and the more high-end the experience, the better.
Today's technology also makes some tried-and-true marketing and advertising techniques more effective. For instance, our 500 channel world allows us to narrow a TV advertising focus to specific networks or cable stations that have finite geographic boundaries, or that cater to a specific interest area.
Radio today allows users to reach specific audiences based on genre and geography. Even Google now has the ability to let users advertise geographically, as well as by key word, utilizing this ever-changing technology.
There is still a place in the industry for business cards, letterhead, brochures and other printed collaterals, and each should contain a firm's e-mail and Web address. Television spots should have a Web address included right next to the physical address. Web addresses are also the perfect tool for radio commercials. While most people listen in their cars, they're hardly in a position to write down or remember a 7-10 digit phone number but a memorable Web address is easy to recall.
Technology is only a conduit allowing people to market to more people, faster. In and of itself, it won't make kitchen and bath professionals more effective communicators, nor will it craft a better message. The ability to effectively use the tools of technology and communication to market in the 21st century is still as personal and as hand-crafted as a lovingly designed kitchen. Using technology as an effective marketing tool requires, above all else, something kitchen designers possess in abundance creativity.
Philip D. Zaleon is founder and president of Chapel Hill-based Z promotion & design a full service integrated marketing and creative agency focusing on the kitchen and bath industry.
Prior to founding Z promotion & design in 1996, Phil held the position of v.p./research & development for a new technology-based communications firm.
He can be reached at Z promotion & design, P.O. Box 17291, Chapel Hill, NC 27516; Telephone: 919-932-4600; Fax: 919-932-4447; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; Web site: www.kitchenmarketing.com.