Online Savvy Offers Marketing Advantage

The process of selling kitchen and bath design to today’s consumer has evolved dramatically over the past few years, with technology playing a growing role in the marketing process.

It all begins with research, and that research is increasingly being done online – on desktops, laptops or smart phones – before the client ever makes it into the showroom. In fact, the Internet is how many consumers discover their future kitchen and bath professional – often beginning their quest with a search engine.

Google is the most popular search engine, and the second most popular Web destination, just behind Facebook. As of this writing, Google received 64% of Internet searches, while Facebook has 9% of all Internet visits (according to the most recent figures at Hitwise.com). With that kind of traffic, Google has become the barometer of our collective conscience.

Through online tools, anyone can discover the latest trends simply by looking at keyword popularity. This has given rise to Google’s research department, which has coined a new phrase in the lexicon of marketing: “the Zero Moment of Truth” or ZMOT.

INTERPRETING ZMOT

ZMOT is derived from how consumers shop today. The concept is fully explained in a free book that should be on everyone’s mobile device: Winning the Zero Moment of Truth (available at www.zeromomentoftruth.com).

To explain it simply, in the traditional shopping paradigm there are three steps:

Stimulus: This is when something stimulates the consumer to want to make a purchase. Typically, that’s a commercial, ad or article in a magazine, or perhaps a neighbor’s new kitchen.

First Moment of Truth (shelf): We have all been in this situation. Perhaps it was as a child staring at cereal boxes (with the toys inside) in the grocery store, or, more recently, looking at dozens of televisions on the wall of an electronics store. You look at the picture quality, you speak with the salesperson, you read about the features, you recall what your friends had to say about their television, perhaps there’s a magazine review nearby – you finally make your decision and choose a television.

Second Moment of Truth (experience): The product belongs to you. Love it or hate it, good or bad, you will tell everyone you know about your experience. In the “old days,” it was Wilma and Betty talking over a stone fence or one of those reviews you read in the store; today it may be a blog, Facebook post or Tweet about your experience to your online neighbors.

In the new shopping paradigm, there’s a fourth step – ZMOT – falling into place between the Stimulus and the First Moment of Truth.

ZMOT sends consumers to their desktop, laptop or mobile device to research the item they’ve been stimulated to purchase. They “Google” it, download apps, check for Twitter hashtags, Facebook postings, blog mentions – anything they can find to help them make an informed decision…nearly bypassing the First Moment of Truth altogether and moving the importance of the Second Moment of Truth to the forefront.

Often, by the time today’s consumers walk into your showroom, they have done their research and have come in to perform their final act of due diligence.

As Bob Lewis, founder and CEO of the Closet & Storage Concepts franchise puts it, “Consumers rely on the Internet now the way they used to rely on newspapers and the Yellow Pages. You need to have a presence in both search and content on the Internet, or you are invisible to today’s consumer.”

The sentiment is echoed by Gary Lichlyter, president /owner of Lemont Kitchen & Bath in Lemont, IL who adds, “People are using their mobile devices to shop. They want information quickly and they do not want to go searching for it. People are not waiting…they will move on if you’re not instantaneously accessible to them.”

ek•kitchens&design CEO Erica Kalkofen, MBA, DCC from Winter Park, CO says, “We market ourselves regularly with about 55% of our resources dedicated to online endeavors. Obviously the Web site and its SEO are important aspects of our marketing, and we have a Twitter account, a Facebook page and a YouTube channel – all of which need more of my attention.” She continues, “I’ve found that email blasts are very effective and that LinkedIn, especially my participation in the discussion groups, has helped me with business and marketing decisions.”

Let’s agree that the shopping paradigm has shifted to include ZMOT. As sellers of products and services, your marketing paradigm must also shift to ensure that you are found at that Zero Moment of Truth. You must be visible on mobile devices and easily found on laptops and desktops.

So, the next logical question is: “What will get us found?”

The short answer is, “as much as possible,” as every online or app listing is one more place to be discovered.

UNDERSTANDING SEO

The most common, and likely misunderstood, term is SEO or Search Engine Optimization. SEO is optimizing your Web site to improve your placement in search engine results when a consumer searches for a specific term. We all want to be the first in the list, or at least “above the fold.” Remember that there are no guarantees, and any company making those promises should be scrutinized carefully. After all, Google is a for-profit business, and if we could all be number one with our chosen keywords and key phrases, there would be no need for Google AdWords and other Search Engine Marketing (SEM) opportunities.

It was reported that, in 2010, Google made over 500 changes to its algorithms that determine placement in the search engine results. In 2012, Google has already made quite a few changes including adding weight to whether or not you have a Google+ page – Google’s “Facebook.” For those who like to follow these changes, visit http://www.seomoz.org/google-algorithm-change.

According to John Lang of Lang’s Kitchens & Baths in Newtown, PA, “My Web designer got my SEO started, but both he and I soon learned that it is a very specialized field. I did some research, hired an SEO company and ran a test with them, while my Web designer ‘rode shotgun.’ We were both impressed with the results. My listing is now reaching top billing in cities and with terms where I was once on page 10.”

Lang adds, “SEO is the life-blood of the new business walking through my door and is now the bulk of my marketing budget.”

Kalkofen notes, “We employ SEO quite a bit to gain top of page rankings and are always revamping the site based on the keywords that people use to find me online. This was quite the eye-opener and I’m now completely sold on the viability of SEO.”

Social Media

Social media sites, including Facebook, Twitter, Yelp and Google+, may be on the radar of kitchen and bath professionals, but many are struggling with how to effectively use them. Participation in these sites is beneficial on a number of levels, including SEO, creating a referral base, maintaining a relationship with your followers, driving traffic to your Web site and providing a smart phone and mobile destination for your firm.

The Nielsen Mobile Media Report Q3 2011 reports that 86% of iPhone users are on Facebook and 63% on Twitter, while 66% of Android users go to Facebook (Twitter does not register among Android users). The report shows that 47% of 35-54 year olds have smart phones, as do 25% of those 55+ – and that number is growing fast.

CheckFacebook.com, in its ongoing measurements of social media, reports that the U.S. Facebook audience numbers are close to 156 million, with 42% age 35 and older. Your customers are using social media – online and on the go.

Atlanta-based Tim Odom, Master Kitchen & Bath Designer at Kitchen + Bath Artisans adds, “Our business is still 100% referrals, but we employ today’s Web-based technologies to boost our ability to keep up with past clients. I’m connected with my clients on my company Facebook page and I use the Facebook updates and postings to drive traffic to my site.”

Kevin Telaak, v.p. of Buffalo-based Artisan Kitchens & Baths has taken full advantage of his Facebook page. “We drive traffic to our Facebook page in the same way we drive people to our Web site,” he says. “In addition, our other marketing and advertising sends people to Facebook where we have almost 1,400 followers. We maintain it almost daily with news, events, projects and other postings that ‘humanize’ our people and showroom. Last year we sold at least four projects that I know about as a direct result of our Facebook efforts.”

Lewis is a social media believer and states that “our number one source of new clients other than referral is the Internet (including SEO, pay per click, social media, etc.). Very often, someone sees a Facebook posting of either ours or a current customer’s and then calls us for new work. This happens on a regular basis.”

However, not everyone is on board with employing social media. Kristin and Scott Lauler, owners of Expect Perfection in Harmony, NJ are among those keeping their distance. “We have a Web site containing a gallery with both recent, completed projects and work-in-progress projects. However, we do not have a Twitter or Facebook account for the company, nor do we plan on using these forms of media. We hear feedback from clients who have interviewed multiple companies, and we were the only ones who bothered sending an actual card thanking them for their time and allowing us to discuss the project. We feel that using Facebook and Twitter would cheapen our image of a detailed, family owned, personal-attention company.”

Although still in its infancy, Google+ must be considered as an online marketing option, in addition to Facebook and Twitter. According to a number of recent articles and blog postings, a robust Google+ page can be an asset to your search engine results position.

YouTube

Video has also been rediscovered by today’s consumer. Since July 1, 1941 when the Bulova Watch Co. paid $9 for the world’s first TV commercial, video has been used as a marketing tool. The advent of low-cost cameras, desktop editing programs and YouTube has created a resurgence of the medium. Today, every kitchen and bath professional can create a personal channel on YouTube to broadcast their message throughout the world.

According to a 2011 Nielsen Media report, YouTube is the top online video destination with over 111,000 unique visitors each month. In an additional 2011 study, Nielsen reported that 31 million people viewed video on their smart phones, an increase of 35% over the previous year.

Kalkofen is also engaged in YouTube and says, “I have a channel with my TV ad on there. I would like to develop this into a series of videos for people wanting more information on remodeling, including tips and tricks, product selection, color coordination and other fun topics. I think this will be the easiest way to connect to clients, with integration to mobile devices as well, including a QR code that goes right to an introductory video.”

Frank D. Edwards, CKD, CBD, CR, owner of KB Design & Remodeling in San Diego, CA is also a YouTube participant. “I have some Virtual Tours posted on YouTube and our local NKBA chapter has a channel with some of my videos, as well. Although I can’t tell you I’ve sold a project because of our videos, I find that it provides yet another way to be found in the seemingly ever-expanding Internet – and the price is right!”

Mobile Apps

Effectively marketing to the ZMOT is not just about a high search engine ranking, it’s about being found first – at the exact moment your goods and services are being sought. That may be a mom in the carpool lane picking up the kids after seeing her neighbor’s new kitchen. It may be the couple leaving one of your competitors where personalities clashed – wondering where to go next. It may be two friends discussing kitchen remodels over coffee.

Regardless, for today’s consumer, it likely involves a smart phone or other mobile device. According to Flurry.com, which measures app usage and downloads, as of June 2011, digital shoppers are now spending more time on apps than Web browsers – 81 minutes per day as compared to 74 per day respectively.

Kalkofen notes, “Employing mobile apps in my marketing makes sense. They’re so easy for consumers to use, it becomes a no-brainer to reach the tech-savvy client I like to work with.”

There are a number of apps and app/Eeb combinations available to the consumer looking for kitchen and bath remodeling ideas, including magazine and manufacturers’ apps, Houzz for ideabooks and product selection, and The Kitchen & Bath Channel for consumer research and locating professionals.

According to Paul McDonald, president of Royal Cabinet Co. in Hillsborough, NJ, “I was amazed when I entered a potential client’s home and she took out her iPad to show me her ideabook on Houzz. It was my first encounter with this Web-based and app-available tool. I am sold…it is a great tool for our customers to be able to explain what they’re looking for and for us, as professionals, to create portfolios of dozens of images to use as sales tools, both during visits and as consumers search Houzz for ideas.”

Larry Lowenthal, president of Gilmans Kitchens + Baths with multiple San Francisco Bay area locations, is part of the Kitchen & Bath Channel. He reports, “What I like is [how] consumers can find our locations from their smart phones while they’re out shopping.”

Phyllis Sussman, owner of the Kitchen & Bath People in Chapel Hill, NC found that the smart phone app for CraigsList.com was instrumental in reaching buyers. “We recently moved showrooms and wanted to sell our old displays. We initially went with a newspaper ad, which did nothing. Then it was suggested we run ads on CraigsList.com. Users have the apps programmed to ping them when specific keywords come up – we sold out in no time!”

Joyce Clegg, principal designer at Daydream Inc. in Denver, CO, believes that people need to get comfortable with social media marketing, stating, “Your customers are on there, so you should be as well.”

Of course that’s easier said than done for some kitchen and bath professionals. Frank Edwards suggests getting involved with peer marketing groups to share ideas of what works and doesn’t, noting, “LinkedIn might be a good first place to get started so you’re not sharing your ideas with your competitors,” though he adds, “face-to-face meetings with those in similar industries are helpful, too.”

The bottom line is that consumers have changed the way they shop. Today, we all buy according to this model. Google has defined it and refined it – our challenge is to be in a position to reach our next customer by stimulating that desire for a new kitchen or bath; by being first when the research begins (Zero Moment of Truth); by confirming what that research shows (First Moment of Truth), and by providing that customer with the best possible experience (Second Moment of Truth). Understanding technology and social media can help us to reach those goals.

In Lewis’ words, “Marketing needs to be a multi-faceted strategy that includes SEO, pay per click, social media, blogging, YouTube, email blasts and apps. Take a fresh look at your Web site and make sure that it’s built to attract customers looking for your products and services, and then make sure that you’re utilizing all of the pathways available to get consumers there.”

 

Philip D. Zaleon is the founder and president of Chapel Hill (NC)-based Z promotion & design, Inc. – a full service integrated marketing, advertising and creative agency specializing in providing services to the kitchen & bath industry. He is also the co-founder and partner of The Kitchen & Bath Channel, which provides industry professionals with consumer leads through marketing tools utilizing the latest technologies and techniques, designed to connect consumers with kitchen & bath professionals.

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