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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

How Do I Make Social Media Relevant To Categories Like Flooring?

Wordle "How Do I" by C.B. Whittemore
How Do I?How Do I Make Social Media Relevant to Categories Like Flooring?

Definitely a good question. It came up during my Four On The Floor About Social Media Marketing interviews with Dave Foster [Part III].

It also came up during Marketing In A Recession - September Update. More specifically, Paul Friederichsen asked the following question:

How relevant is social media to a category like floor covering with such a long purchasing cycle? If customers are in the market for a new floor on average every 5 – 7 years, what kind of dialog do I, as a dealer, have with customers and how does it result in additional business for me? Do I get a meaningful return for that effort.

My response - no surprise - is that social media is definitely relevant to a category like flooring which is complex, has a long repeat purchase cycle and represents a significant investment.

Not unlike plenty of other categories - like cars, roofs, appliances, computers, ... I bet you can think of plenty more.

You don't believe me? Stay with me.

There are three assumptions that I need to spell out. One is that you consider that your business is about more than just a one-time transaction. The other is that you really care about your customers and appreciate that your product or service fits into their bigger picture -- think home, lifestyle, community or general environment -- and enables them. [Isn't flooring a support base for living?] And, you must believe that loyalty is a driver of profitability.

Getting back to the relevance of social media to categories like flooring.

Complex products require education. What better way to educate than by using social media? Look at how WiseGrass uses its blog to conduct mini-seminars about lawn maintenance. Or how the Mayo Clinic uses video to communicate the expertise of its physicians and researchers and shares those via social media platforms.

Building relationships with customers uncovers opportunities. Despite the long repeat purchase cycle, how can any retailer know that a customer looking for one flooring solution doesn't have other flooring decisions waiting to be made? That was certainly the case for my Mother. She intended to redo more floors, but was so disgusted with her experience after re-flooring 3 rooms that she vowed never again to go through it. Imagine, though, had the retailer kept in better touch with her, asked questions about her experience, explored suggestions on how to improve her experience, and got her talking about her floors... At least one more sale would have ensued from her, not to mention sales to her friends. Traditional tools combined with social media tools like Google local ratings and rankings would help you hear about unhappy situations. By hearing about them, you have the opportunity to fix them. By sharing this information in a public forum, you communicate to future customers how seriously you take customer satisfaction! Blog comments offer a similar forum for communication. Or, invite customers to be part of your e-Newsletter list or Facebook page to communicate directly with them.

Flooring changes often trigger other purchases. What about assembling a network of related retailers to help with those needs? You could use social media - think blog or Facebook Fan Page with links to your network - to explain why you chose the service providers you did and promote success stories that you all contributed to. Not only would you generate goodwill, but also amazing word-of-mouth.

My favorite, though, has to do with maintenance. As complex and significant the investment, flooring rarely comes with detailed care instructions. And, in many cases, how a consumer maintains [or doesn't] her purchase may invalidate a warranty. Although you will find care information online, much of it is confusing and not always credible. Imagine the opportunity available for strengthening relationships and building loyalty by offering customers and visitors a wealth of reputable flooring care tips and recommendations for maximizing the original investment. This can be accomplished via your website, a blog, Facebook and also video clips [e.g., check out my video of Annette Smith demonstrating how best to remove a carpet stain].

There's more! Implementing a social media strategy for complex categories allows you to:

Learn from your customers, anticipate what they need, conduct research with them and enlist them for product development. Fiskateers comes immediately to mind.

Connect with customers you never realized were in the market for your products. Look at the innovation that museums are implementing to connect with customers.

So, do you believe me? Do you see how social media can be relevant to categories like flooring?

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