|EXTREME ADVERTISING MAKE-OVER
The Future Of Your Business Depends On Reaching
The 20-40 Year Old Home Furnishings Customer.
By Leo Levinson
Too many of today's home furnishings retailers have been lulled into a baby-boomer-centric stupor. For years, there has been little reason to dilute ones focus by targeting other groups. Their population and buying power were no match for the boomer generation. Currently, baby-boomers are empty nesters, second home buyers, instant gratifiers, who shop their little hearts out buying dream furniture for their dream rooms . . . just because they want it and have lots of money to spend. And we furniture retailers have been quite satisfied, thank you very much, to direct our best efforts toward this mammoth market alone.
But there is change in the air. The next generation is coming on strong, while the boomers are showing signs of becoming all shopped out, when it comes to home furnishings. Boomers have started to plateau or even reduce their spending in a number of categories including home furnishings, a trend that will continue downward. True, baby boomers still have an extraordinary amount of buying power, but they are shifting their interest to other things - retirement, savings, traveling to see things while they can still enjoy them, pursuing a healthy lifestyle, and other interests that take their attention away from buying home furnishings.
While this boomer buying bonanza had been going on, the next generation, people 20-40 years old have been quietly settling down, getting married, buying homes, and raising families. They are already spending lots of money on home furnishings, and growing every year. Research by American Express indicates that today's 30 year old already has almost as much wealth as today's baby boomer.
Today's softness in the conventional home furnishings industry may have less to do with gas prices and global turmoil than it is the
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beginning of a dramatic generational shift in consumer buying power and control.
This next generation is different from the boomers in many ways. But too many of today's conventional furniture retailers have devoted little time nor effort to learn about them. They are the proverbial ostrich hiding with its head in the sand. Conventional furniture retailers are using outmoded strategies, messages, media, and even merchandising, strategies that might have worked well attracting the baby boomers but have little hope of impressing the next generation. Most furniture retailers are currently using media plans that are well over two or three years old, which means that their message is probably unseen by most of the 20 to 40 year olds in the market.
It is time to take this next generation seriously because they are both the present AND future of your business. We have observed that because most of the owners of home furnishings stores happen to be members of the baby boomer group and older, they still look upon this next generation as "kids." To begin marketing successfully to 20 and 30 year olds, we need to stop looking at this generation from a parent's perspective ("Oh those crazy kids, what do they know?") and start looking at them as customers. This next generation is now taking the consumer driver's seat and as good retailers, we need to embrace their wants and needs and figure out how to satisfy them.
This "parent" perspective colors the way many people look at this generation. Even the media works hard to disparage 20 and 30 year olds as being shiftless slackers and belittles their styles, music, clothing, etc. as childish. This characterization is grossly inaccurate.
In fact, this next generation is the one that grew up during the divorce explosion of the 70's and 80's, combined with the working parents phenomenon. Together this lifestyle has forced this generation to entertain themselves and make decisions on their own. They are quite independent and confident about what they want. Home is very important to them now, because growing up, home was not so stable. In many ways, they are even more conservative than their parents in their saving and spending habits. Many have observed their parents
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obsession with work and reacted, opting for a more balanced lifestyle where home and family are higher priorities.
They view home is their "hive" not as a "cocoon." It is very important to them as a place to hang-out and entertain close friends. Most view décor in a casual way. They don't need to replicate the perfect Country French room. They do need to furnish a comfortable place to relax or entertain friends. Matching styles is less important than eclectically demonstrating their own personal vision of style. Advertising messages need to reflect this outlook.
This generation likes to feel that they have discovered things on their own. They often reject the "everybody's doing it" theme that many advertising messages have. Because they are an extraordinarily diverse generation, they are comfortable with people, styles, and ideas from groups other than their own.
Time and convenience are major factors in this group's decision-making process. They put a high value on saving time that can often override saving money. Instant information. Immediate product availability. In-store information and self-help materials. Convenient delivery on nights & weekends. All of these advantages are a must, and can prevail over a discount. The retailer who promotes these in advertising will attract the attention of this generation.
20 and 30 year olds approach the world with a cynical eye. Having grown up in an aggressive marketing environment, they dislike being "sold" and have a keen ability to judge a message or visual as being hype or not. They laugh at companies that try too hard to be "cool."
Conventional retail advertising messages that promote a commodity-like finance deal or "discounts" of 30%, 40%, 50% and more off fall on deaf ears. More effective messages tell them how your store saves them time, helps them, is fair, treats them with respect, and offers an interesting selection that caters to their lifestyle. Urgency is important, too, but remember, this is the customer that walks into a store like IKEA and often pays full retail, because they simply like what they see and want it now.
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Don't get us wrong, this generation does like a good sale, but they aren't necessarily shopping for sales. They are shopping as entertainment. And they'll buy what fits their vision of style, even if it's not on sale, This consumer loves an interesting selection combined with merchandising and layouts that are frequently changing. They like stores as diverse as Urban Outfitters to Costco because they're interesting. They never know what they will have on their floors and when it changes. Shrewd merchandising creates urgency. A recent "Domino" magazine study found that over 50% of today's 20-40 year olds shop for home furnishings monthly! They're not waiting to "do a room." Conventional retailers who keep their same floor plan for months (if not years) at a time is boring for this generation - been there done that. This generation also has no patience waiting 8-12 weeks for a custom order because someone, somewhere has something close enough, in-stock and ready for immediate delivery.
Even our industry's cherished stereotypes, like the idea that "most furniture shoppers buy from conventional furniture stores", "80 percent of furniture decisions are made by women", "manufacturers' brands are important", and others need to be reexamined. For example, a 30 year old single man or woman might buy a $2500 massager/recliner at The Sharper Image at full retail just because he likes it. He might buy a promotional $229 entertainment wall unit at Circuit City when he buys his TV, because it looks good and it's convenient. He or she might buy a $2000 mattress set from 1-800-MATTRESS because it's easy, they can buy it at 2 a.m., and they'll deliver it whenever is convenient.
Today's couple is getting married later in life. They often blend furniture from two households together with hand-me-downs from parents and then look for a special piece or two to demonstrate their independence. Their vision is eclectic and diverse. Having that perfect 18th Century dining room suite is unimportant and old-fashioned. They also don't want to be precisely page 29 of the Pottery Barn catalog either. They will remember a look they saw in a TV show about celebrity's home or a layout in a bridal magazine and buy furnishings to fulfill their vision whenever they find them.
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Since shopping is entertainment, your advertising message must provide a glimpse of how entertaining it will be to take precious time to visit the store. Advertising must promise something interesting EVERY time they visit your store. Overall, advertising must help build a 24 hour retail brand, one that is seamless and consistent with your ads, Website, store interior, signage, sales presentation, store services, follow-up, and more. Otherwise, to this generation, it's just so much blah-blah-blah.
As important as your message is, where that message is seen or heard is critical to the success of your advertising campaign. If most of your current media plan is placed in conventional media, your message is probably invisible to most 20 to 40 year olds. Their media preferences are nearly completely different from those of the baby boomer generation.
The 20 to 40 year old is a generation that has grown up with the remote control, TIVO, computers, instant downloads, e-mail, and the Internet. They still watch television, but as the ultimate multi-taskers, members of this generation are often doing one or two additional things while the TV is on. If your commercial doesn't entertain them, they won't lift their head from the other things they are doing. This generation has no time for newspapers, although those who are interested, get their news from online newspapers. This is a very visual generation who pick up their information from photos and "sound bites."
Most radio is boring. They might wake up to radio but they also might wake up to the alarm on their cellular telephone. In the car, they have a choice of broadcast radio, satellite radio, Internet radio, mp3 players, and downloaded songs, most of which do not accept local advertising.
This generation has a "don't call us, we'll call you" attitude. The most effective advertising is out there 24 hours a day and ready whenever they turn to it. This is not the tearsheets taped to the front door generation. The successful ad campaign is organic in nature.
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Here are eight advertising options that must be included in your advertising plan designed to reach 20 to 40 year olds. Give your current program and budget an extreme makeover and throw out the outmoded deadwood media for good.
- WEBSITE. This is as crucial as having lights and heat. A good Website doesn't necessarily have to sell furniture, but it does have to sell your brand and company so that people are motivated to take the next step and put your store on their shopping list. Your Website should also provide enough information about selection and decorating to allow the searcher to begin to make some decisions or plan his or her furniture purchase at your store. Budget to update your Website to change frequently to give customers interesting reasons to return to it again and again.
- SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMIZATION. Where does your Website get listed when people search for "furniture" using search engine sites like Google, Yahoo, MSN, and others? Google commands about half of the total search engine ad traffic. Optimizing your Website, selecting key words, and actually paying money to secure higher positions on the page during searches are key to getting your store found when people are looking for furniture. This should be a major budget item.
- E-MAIL MARKETING. Every store should be collecting e-mail addresses from customers, together with an apparatus for gathering
e-mail addresses from people looking at your Website. Monthly e-mail blasts should be planned to make people aware of private sales, public sales, new introductions, and more. This is an important way to keep customers loyal and connected to your store.
- INTERNET ADVERTISING. The Internet is this generation's medium of choice. Advertising on it is a must. In addition to search engine optimization, you should find it valuable to place small ads or banners on key Websites that reach this target market. These ads usually click through to your Website or to a special offer page that then links to your Website.
- DIRECT MAIL. This is one print medium that this group does pay attention to. But remember, they don't like to be "sold." Keep your
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message entertaining. Real savings like a coupon or exclusive discount are successful here.
- TELEVISION ADVERTISING. Because 20 to 40 year olds are so busy, advertising on TV can be dicey. This group is big on recording shows to watch them at a later time. They are the ultimate channel surfers. But it is one medium many watch in the mornings while getting ready for the day and at other key times. Because they tend to switch channels when they watch, high frequency strategies are best to use on broadcast TV and selected cable networks. Remember to keep your message entertaining or they will get bored and flip to something else.
- PUBLIC RELATIONS EVENTS. This group does like to become expert on a subject, especially when it comes to big ticket items. Many will be interested in "how to decorate" seminars and events, especially if combined with a special discount offer. Showcase your retail brand where this market won't expect to see it, like a concert, marathon run, or other event. They also like to shop at "good citizen" companies that become involved in community issues in a real way.
- CREATE AN ONLINE HOME DECORATING BLOG. A blog is a combination between a newsletter and a special interest forum where people can check in to find interesting links to stories, observations, and chat regarding home decorating. Your store's blog may be part of your Website or it may stand on its own. A blog takes a commitment to day-to-day management but when done well, it serves as a magnet drawing in interested potential customers on a frequent basis.
Reaching the 20 to 40 year old group is a lot like hitting a moving target. It is a very diverse group, one that is often busy and on the go. To succeed you must have your message available on a 24 hour basis so that your message is there when they are ready to "tune in."
There is a major demographic shift happening right now in home furnishings retailing as the next generation begins to overtake, in
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buying power, the previous one. This generation is very different from the baby boomers in outlook, attitude, motivators, shopping methods, and more. Give your advertising program an extreme makeover to make sure that your store is seen, considered, and shopped, or risk being invisible to them.
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©2009 OK World Corporation dba GroupLevinson