Every year, visitors to the Kitchen & Bath and International Builders Show shop 1,500 exhibits across 570,000 square feet of space. Competitors sneak peeks at other’s new releases and marketing materials. Designers go from booth to booth seeking inspiration. Observations incubate in the minds of over 80,000 attendees, then germinate to become the next industry trends and breakthroughs.
Observations also germinate on what could be more effective strategies to accelerate business growth to drive year-over-year increases in sales for those “in the business.” Here are six, from over twenty years studying companies with longevity as well as newer ones doing well despite tough odds:
ONE: The Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Reality are not just trends, they’re accelerators.
From compelling virtual home tours to the security of visually monitoring one’s home (or what’s in the fridge) when miles away, technology is being applied to address homeowner needs. But for the marketer, technology’s value includes speeding up shopping, speeding up decision-making, speeding up sales.
Take selecting a paint color. It’s famously paralyzing for people. While there have long been apps to help, none are as emotionally rewarding and functionally helpful as the Color Snap® Visualizer from Sherwin-Williams. Want to match the color of a flower or fabric you love? Take its picture and the app will automatically produce the perfect “paint chip” as well as complementary colors. Take a photo of your living room and the app will automatically translate your selected color to the walls so you can test the look and make a decision.
Integrating technology with one’s marketing to architects, builders, designers and consumers can result in a trifecta of mutual benefits: more access to better info, more convenient shopping, more confident decision-making. These are things that create brand preference, drive switching behavior, grow sales and share.
Have you explored all the ways IoT, AI and VR could accelerate decision-making in your brand’s favor?
TWO: Prevention and wellness aren’t just for health care entities.
Toto has long claimed unparalleled cleanliness as its leading benefit. Several years ago Formica launched antimicrobial laminates at IBS (engaging actors posing as germs to run the aisles). In 2016, Sherwin-Williams launched microbicidal interior latex paint for commercial use. (Of course, moms then coveted it for nurseries, bathrooms and kitchens, too.) The latest addition to “healthy” wall coverings are shower and bath panels that inhibit mold and mildew.
Yet, while today’s consumer is well-sensitized to the havoc microorganisms can wreak on family life and their biggest asset—their home—innovations focused on prevention and wellness still seem largely untapped in many product categories. How about flooring for the homes of pet owners? How about disinfecting stations in various rooms for the two biggest carriers of germs into our homes—shoes and mobile phones?
In what way could your brand innovate in service to better health?
THREE: The future belongs to those who enable “generationless” living.
The Baby Boomer demographic is attuned to living longer, in better health and in their own home, so they’re looking for more and more aging-in-place products. Consequently, walk-in tub and shower offerings are expanding rapidly. Some originally created for the rigors of hospitals and nursing homes argue they are functionally superior to residential-only brands. But their aesthetics are not as appealing as their functionality. That’s unfortunate. Just because a consumer is aging or less mobile doesn’t mean they lose a desire for tasteful décor and maintaining their home’s resale value.
Kohler understands this. Their new walk-in tubs and showers are both functional and attractive to people of all ages. That’s smart because medical breakthroughs mean more people are destined to live longer, live outside of institutions, recuperate at home or in the same home with family members of different generations. So bathrooms need to work for equally well for grandparents and toddlers, parents and handicapped children, spouses of those with a torn rotator cuff, a broken leg or a new knee.
This means that the future belongs to those who incorporate beauty into a generationless functionality of their products.
In what way could you apply greater aesthetics and universal design to products, décor and home plans?
FOUR: Functional products now do double—even triple—duty.
Today, technology and a creative mind allow any company to say, “As long as we’re going to be doing this anyway, why don’t we also ________?” (Fill in the blank.)
Consider that Formica launched laminates which, like chalkboards, serve as writing surfaces to message the family. (“Please let the dog out when you get home.” “Reminder: Pack lunch for tomorrow!”) Broan-NuTone launched lights for the deck and yard that also repel mosquitos within a 10 square foot radius. These are perfect examples of “breakthrough thinking:” Filling multiple needs with one solution.
Can you find an advantage by concepting products and services that do multiple things at once?
Don’t limit your thinking to features and functionality. Consider mixing and matching what research has now proven to be 10 powerful areas to combine for breakthroughs. Combining three or more in a single offering is now well-proven to accelerate growth, and create barriers to entry by competitors.
FIVE: Distinguish your brand not just from competitors, but from its former self.
A growing economy is the best time to capture sales and share. Yet architects, builders, designers and homeowners specify over and over again only what they know. They avoid brands for which they have some anxiety or prejudice. So it is important to identify what perceptions are holding you back, then innovate sufficiently to be able to argue “We’re not what you thought we were.”
The most successful cases for reconsideration include innovations so surprising they make people question what they thought they knew about a brand. Ideally, this means innovations so relevant to the needs of today’s marketplace that in your offerings, architects, builders and designers see a chance to accelerate the growth of their own companies. Have you spent time considering what new product or service you could offer which, if you really could deliver on it, would help them capture share and margin?
If you can imagine and deliver on it, it would help you to charge more and increase your margin, too. But whatever your idea and case for reconsideration, it better be big. Research shows people won’t switch brands for what is seen as the promise of even a 10 or 20 percent improvement. So, to kick start some big thinking, ask yourself:
- What can we create that will disrupt the status quo to our advantage?
- If we can start over from scratch, what kind of business (and business model) will be right for the marketplace three years from now?
- What unmet needs—if we can deliver on one or more of them—will allow us to have a whole new value proposition
SIX: There’s a more effective way to accelerate growth than stressing a product’s features, functionality, promotions and price.
In visit after visit to the KBIS and Builder Shows, A&D Showrooms, Home Depot, Loews, or home appliance retailers, I experience brands leaving money and margin on the table. Why? because of weak or non-existent value propositions.
It happens by emphasizing how a brand will help the architect, designer, builder or home buyer be more of who they are or who they aspire to be.
Though largely outside of one’s consciousness, the pursuit of one’s self-concept is the greatest driver in brand preference. Yet most companies are oblivious to this reality. That’s because they assume people make decisions based on rational thinking. But decades of research now prove the brain doesn’t “think” as long believed. Rather, research shows humans first take in, implicitly and largely subconsciously, all kinds of info on a brand before they are even in the category to buy. They retain what seems attractive or relevant to their self-concept or aspirations, forming brand preferences and prejudices long before they’re realized by the conscious mind.
What’s more, extensive research shows that when trying to persuade people to prefer a brand, rational arguments (like features, functionality and price) are not very persuasive at all. Of course, when asked why they made a brand decision, people cite rational arguments because the real reasons are below their consciousness, in a part of the brain without language; that part of the brain driven by emotion.
Decades of longitudinal marketing data and case-based evidence now confirm that being famous for the emotional benefit a brand brings to people’s lives is what actually drives YOY increases in sales share, margin and brand strength. It is why the most successful homebuilding, appliance and décor brands identify an emotional benefit and leverage it in their ads and publicity, trade show or retail experience, merchandising and salesperson scripting.
Of course, a great price or promotion can trigger people to act IF they already having a preference for a brand. But trying to create brand preference via a list of features and functionality will not be productive. The brain is not engineered to file and recall great amounts of data. It is overwhelmed by lots of specs; quickly confused when trying to compare one brand’s details to those of competing brands. The brain’s software is not designed for making a decision based on multiple variables.
What the brain is designed to handle is an assessment of the emotional relevance of an offering.
Take Kohler. Their relevance is “gracious living.” It feeds an aspiration that’s universal in appeal. Timeless, too. And it’s a benefit not restricted to any one category of business, allowing Kohler a brand platform on which they can innovate to deliver on the promise of gracious living across resorts and fine chocolates as well as low price and luxury plumbing fixtures. This means that no matter the category in which Kohler competes, the features or functionality are not the reasons to buy per se, but rather, reasons to believe Kohler’s promise to elevate the quality of one’s life more than alternatives. And armed with such a compelling and credible value proposition, Kohler can thus charge a bit more than competitors, making not only the sale but a good margin.
Another company positioning itself to the self-concept of its target is Kolbe & Kolbe. Regardless of product line, features, functionality or price, Kolbe & Kolbe frames their brand as being “for the visionaries.” Of course, this feeds the self-concept of most every architect, custom builder and high-end homeowner. And by advertising heavily to become famous for it, Kolbe & Kolbe is gaining increased consideration.
In the same way, every company would find their marketing effectiveness improved if they first, identify a meaningful role they can play in helping the target be more of who they are or aspire to be, then work to become famous for it through advertising, PR, focused marketing materials, sales literature, trade show booths, merchandising, and the words and deeds of dealers, distributors and people on the showroom floor.
Appealing to people’s self-concept drives YOY increases in sales, share, margin and brand strength because it plays to how everyone’s mind processes info and makes decisions. It’s why great lawyers use it to win jury trials: They strategize what will create empathy and psychological appeal, organize all the facts under this premise as reasons to believe it, then stress it over and over again to speed up judgment, cementing decision-making in their favor.
So, any décor or home product brand who wants to accelerate their growth will want to ask:
- What does the ego of my target really desire? (What’s driving them below their level of consciousness?)
- How can we play to this by framing what we do with an emotional benefit so timeless it compels broad numbers of people to prefer what we’re selling today–but will still apply to offerings we’ve not yet imagined?
- How can all my communications convey this value proposition emotionally, using select features and functions as reasons to believe the self-affirmation we promise to deliver?
Then, if you want to add even more firepower to the above, ask yourself:
- In what way can technology enhance the ability of our target to experience first-hand our benefit (Insight one)?
- How can we capitalize on trends that can give our benefit maximum relevance (Insights two, three and four)?
- What’s holding us back (Insight five)?
These six insights are a great start to accelerate business growth, a year-over-year growth in sales, share, margin and brand strength. However, there’s even more marketers of décor, appliance and homebuilding products can do. Check them out.