Residential Lighting: Why is digital marketing so important?
John Arnold: Around one-third of all consumer media time is spent on the Internet, according to most of the studies I’ve seen. A telling study came from Google — 56 percent of Internet-using newspaper readers research products they see in the newspaper on the Internet. And according to Nielson, only 6 percent of U.S. consumers have never made a purchase online. So, if you’re not online, you’re missing the other 94 percent.
RL: Where do we begin?
JA: First, you need a Web presence, and not just a Web site that functions as an online brochure. A good Web presence includes visibility on search engines, informative and promotional content, links to other Web sites and a social media presence. It ensures that people can find you.
Second, you need a contact management tool so you can send e-mails, text messages or other preferred direct marketing messages. You need to stay top-of-mind after someone visits your lighting showroom or Web site by sending follow-up communications. You can hope they see your next newspaper or television ad, but that’s a lot more expensive than sending e-mails or text messages.
RL: How do we balance these programs and make them work?
JA: You need to align your marketing media with your customer’s buying-decision cycle. Getting interested people to take action and make repeat purchases is where digital marketing is most effective, because it’s a low-cost way to display and deliver multiple targeted messages to a specific audience. It’s harder to use digital media for awareness and basic interest, however, because strangers aren’t likely to visit your Web site until they have first seen an advertisement, and consumers don’t like receiving e-mails from businesses if they haven’t subscribed to receive them or they aren’t already interested in the business. In short, traditional media has its place for acquiring new customers, and digital media — while it also has the ability to acquire new customers through search-engine marketing — can cost-effectively take over once a prospect is interested.
RL: That sounds pretty complicated for a busy retailer.
JA: For most lighting showrooms, it pays to hire an expert to draw up a strategic plan. Many small business owners spend money on Web design and search engine advertising without an overall strategy. That leads to great-looking Web sites and visitors who don’t buy anything. So, start by making sure your Web site copy is strong in three areas: educating visitors, collecting contact information and asking for the sale. You have to get away from focusing only on content that shows what products you offer, where you’re located and how much they’ll save if they “buy it now.”
The next step is to place some of your educational content on blogs, on social media sites, in press releases, in articles on other Web sites, in YouTube videos and anywhere people might be looking for lighting products and services. You also need a plan to collect contact information so you can send multiple targeted communications. Whether your showroom is big or small, I recommend ConstantContact.com for that. Again, if you need some help, outsource some or all of your communication strategy to an expert.
RL: How much do experts charge?
JA: Expect to pay $75 per hour for somebody to do Web marketing plans; $150 to $200 per hour for someone who has written books and is more high-profile.
RL: How much do Web sites cost?
JA: The main cost is not the technology or the platform, but the man-hours and the expertise behind it. You can have a fully blown e-commerce Web site through Network Solutions for $100 a month, if you do it yourself. The expense comes with managing the site. Many put up an e-commerce Web site and soon realize they need a customer service department. Somebody tries to buy something and the Web form rejects them because they’re on Safari 3 instead of Safari 4, and they call your showroom to find out what to do.
That’s why you need to build a platform that’s manageable for your business. If you have 50 employees, then you can make it somebody’s job. If you have five employees, then you’re going to have to manage it yourself. Network Solutions can add functionality and do some programming, but they won’t manage your Web site. You might need a custom solution.
RL: What about a Web site that’s not e-commerce enabled?
JA: That would be an “online brochure,” which costs little but suggests that customers have never heard of you before. That’s not the way you want to run a Web marketing strategy. You want a Web site that nurtures your prospects through the entire buying cycle. What do you have to do to get the visitor educated and inspired and active and ready to buy? You have to communicate, and if it’s not your Web site doing it, then what is your communications strategy? If it’s more newspaper ads, television ads and postcards, then it will be expensive to keep your showroom top of mind. But, if your Web site is active, and it’s a place where you share your expertise, post press releases, get people talking, set appointments and drive traffic to your showroom, then it becomes this living organism that draws people and attracts people back for visits.
An online brochure by itself won’t get the job done. A better strategy is to place content all over the Web so that you have a presence in lots of different places where people are looking. Would you put up a Web site on some platform where nobody can find it, or on Facebook where 50 million people look every day for all kinds of things? It makes more sense to be where audiences are. So, if you want to share your tips on how to install a ceiling fan, then putting a video on YouTube makes more sense than putting a video on your Web site where there is no traffic.
It’s the “be everywhere” approach. You can liken it to traditional marketing. You want them to finish watching a television advertisement and then, when they read the newspaper, see you again, and when they drive to work, see your sign on a building. To get marketing done, you need multiple messages. Well, it’s no different online. They leave your Web site and go to YouTube, and there you are. They go to Facebook, and there you are. They check their e-mail, and there you are again.
RL: Are there any retailers that we should try to emulate?
JA: The top five Internet retailers, last time I checked, are Amazon, Staples, Dell, Office Depot and Apple. Whether you get a postcard in the mail, see a television ad, visit a Web site or receive an e-mail from one of the big guys, ask yourself what the main message is and whether you think they’re trying to drive awareness, interest or action. If you pay attention, you’ll notice some common approaches and tactics you can apply to your showroom.
RL: Any Final thoughts?
JA: Keep it simple. Don’t focus on where technology will be in five years. Where are you today? Do you have an online brochure and need to expand your Web presence? Take the next step. Don’t look at Amazon and say, “I need all of this stuff.” Just take it one step at a time. I also suggest that you test and then invest. Don’t abandon your e-mail marketing strategy to do text messaging on cell phones because that’s cool and innovative. Try texting to 5 percent of your customer base and see how it goes. If you get better results, then make it a bigger part of your strategy. Don’t take giant leaps. It’s evolution, not revolution.