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Friday, June 19, 2009

Flooring The Consumer: Case Study

This case study explores Flooring The Consumer, my personal business marketing blog about the retail experience and marketing to women, launched on June 27, 2006.

Situation:
Solutia entered into bankruptcy in December 2003, shortly after I joined the Wear-Dated carpet fiber group, and didn't emerge until February 2008.

No surprise, all budgets - including marketing budgets - were under intense scrutiny. This wasn't anything new for me as ever since joining Monsanto/Solutia each calendar year started with us being 'in contingency' mode and having to make smart decisions about extremely limited funds. Not only did I learn how to be creative in my marketing expenditures, but I also realized very quickly that hiding out and waiting for bankruptcy [or contingency mode] to go away wasn't a viable option. Now more than ever, we needed to be in front of customers promoting our brand and how we added value to their business and marketplace.

From my Wear-Dated Upholstery Fabrics experience, I brought a passion for marketing to women and the retail experience - topics that I had featured during the residential furniture market yearly summits that I organized and hosted. Given the shared consumer, they seemed equally relevant to the residential carpet market.

Problem:
The job here was to create buzz for the Wear-Dated brand and do it by discussing marketing to women and the retail experience. I had no money or marketing budget available and I personally was an unknown with no visibility in the floor covering industry, that is to say with carpet mills, carpet retailers, carpet retail salespeople and trade press, as there was no overlap with the furniture marketplace other than at the consumer level.

So what could I do with no money, yet still satisfy the business' requirement of product and personal visibility and keep the brand alive?

Solution:
The solution was two-fold:

1. Promote a relevant message: marketing to women and the retail experience;
2. Develop a communications platform: using new and inexpensive social media tools which include blogs.

With cutting-edge marketing information about marketing to women and how to tailor and customize the retail experience - all of which was and should have been of interest to our audience [i.e., the people mentioned above] - I was able to keep the Wear-Dated brand alive and in the hearts and minds of the distribution chain through talks, presentations and finally, in 2006, my first blog, Flooring The Consumer, all while spending no conventional marketing dollars.

How I reached this place was a journey in itself...

It started in February 2004, when I participated in a panel discussion at Surfaces about consumer trends. In preparation, I gathered information about the consumer marketplace and women consumers in particular from which I created a presentation titled "Marketing To Women - It's a Business Thing!" that I began to share with retailers.

In early summer 2005, Floor Covering Weekly interviewed me about marketing to women. In late summer 2005, I pitched Surfaces for a consumer focused presentation. The result was a 3 hour workshop on "Appealing to Different Consumer Segments by Creating Amazing Buying Experiences" in February 2006. This coincided with Floor Covering Weekly inviting me to contribute articles on the consumer retail experience.

I was creating momentum, but was frustrated with the pace [i.e., FCW published 3-4 articles per year].

At the same time, I was increasingly skeptical of the effectiveness of traditional marketing. I had had success with communication tools like newsletters in the upholstery business; they allowed us to tell our brand story and promote thought-leadership. Unfortunately, newsletters were becoming cost prohibitive, in terms of printing and postage costs.

I noticed early signs that marketing was evolving via digital tools - like blogs - and proceeded to learn as much as possible about them, reading, experimenting, attending online MarketingProfs seminars... As the idea of a self-publishing platform became increasingly appropriate, I researched the tools available for online publishing, identified a theme for my platform and topics worth developing, and developed a strategy and preliminary publishing schedule.

After attending the Columbia Business School Innovative Marketing Conference in June 2006 - and realizing that everyone in the room was not only a cutting-edge marketer and thought-leader, but also actively blogging - I launched my blog, Flooring The Consumer, on June 27, 2006.

I focused, then, on establishing a 'voice' for the blog and creating a publishing rhythm to gain visibility and attract subscribers -- all done outside of business hours.

Two months after launching, I began to actively promote the blog: internally to Wear-Dated management and externally. Not only did I want to encourage awareness, but I also wanted to promote this valuable communication tool to our Wear-Dated Representatives [our field force], to retailers and to our direct carpet mill customers.
  • I encouraged our representatives to identify retailers demonstrating retail experience best practices so I could feature them. I welcomed guest posts from them, too.
  • After any retail presentation, I referred my audience to Flooring The Consumer for more relevant information. I developed business cards featuring the blog url and added the url to my Outlook signature.
  • After significant milestones, I promoted the blog in press releases.
All of this while spending no funds whatsoever.

Results:

Flooring The Consumer enhanced traditional Wear-Dated marketplace activities: I showcased admirable flooring retailers [i.e, Stores That Floor and Flooring It Differently] and noteworthy flooring industry leaders [e.g., Women in Flooring]. I promoted Wear-Dated color forecasts and marketplace trends and invited others from within Wear-Dated/Solutia to contribute.

I increased brand value and visibility by making Wear-Dated relevant online through rich and frequent content. Opportunities to take part in interviews with other prominent bloggers meant that I could highlight and explain Wear-Dated’s participation in social media and digital marketing. More specifically, Flooring The Consumer is included:
I have actively participated in the yearly Bathroom Blogfest. Started in 2006, it takes place in late October to draw attention to the role that bathrooms and other forgotten places play in ensuring an extraordinary retail experience particularly for women consumers. The Blogfest engages other prominent bloggers [mostly women] and generates valuable word-of-mouth awareness.

My experience with Flooring The Consumer led to a white paper titled “A Firsthand Tale of Adopting Web 2.0 Technology to Build Brand” in Perform: The Marketing 2.0 Authority by Montgomery Research.

I also contributed a chapter each to the Age of Conversation and Age of Conversation 2 – Why Don’t They Get It?, two unique global collaborative books to benefit Variety, the children’s charity. [My chapters are titled “The Age of Conversation – Enabled” and “Don’t Be Myopic About Social Media!”] Both books are available on Amazon.

Some statistics - as of 6/18/09, Flooring The Consumer has:
  • Connected with 1,065 subscribers
  • Achieved a Technorati rank of 93,812 [Technorati, in its 2008 State of the Blogosphere, refers to 7.4 million blogs having posted within a 120 day period. A lower rank is definitely better.] and authority of 55 [Authority is the number of blogs linking to a website in the last 6 months. The higher the number, the more Authority the blog has.].
  • Published 436 blogposts
The knowledge enabled me to successfully launch The Carpetology Blog, the redesigned Wear-Dated website and my newest blog projects - Simple Marketing Blog and The Carpet and Rug Institute Blog.


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