Social Networking: What Role Will It Play In Retail Sales for the Home Furnishings' Industry? Rohit Bhargava, senior vice president of strategy and marketing for Ogilvy 360 Digital Influence, tells Sales-Fax News that the right triggers will sell any product.

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The home furnishings' marketplace is looking for new ways to focus attention on its industry. Social Networking seems to be winning the day. Kim Shaver, vice president of marketing communications at Hooker Furniture says their social networking project "has surpassed expectations." Many echo Shaver's sentiments and are making social networking a priority, in their overall market strategy.

The real challenge is not to look at your market and say nobody is spending

In today's economy, there is a debate about what triggers someone to purchase a product. Rohit Bhargava, senior vice president of strategy and marketing for Ogilvy 360 Digital Influence believes the right triggers will sell any product.

"The real challenge is not to look at your market and say nobody is spending," says Bhargava, award-winning author of "Personality Not Included", a guide on how to use your personality to reinvent your marketing. "You need to ask yourself: How do I beat the other guy and get the consumer to spend on my product?"

For instance, in home furnishings, Bhargava points to Florida-based retailer, Rooms to Go. Although not one of Bhargava's clients, he agrees that the retailer's TV and print ads, "Buy the room, get the TV" are indicative of the message that if you offer something for free, you will attract buyers. Bhargava also sees peer influence through social networking sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, as important tools to get the message out.

Jackie Hirschhaut, vice president of public relations and marketing at American Home Furnishings Alliance, says during the past year, there has been a phenomenal move by manufacturers to reach the consumer directly with information on products, style and new brands. Hirschhaut says that Alliance members have made social media a top priority.

One of the most active companies in social networking within the home furnishings' field is Hooker Furniture. Kim Shaver, vice president of marketing communications, says her company has created a Facebook page, two blogs, a Twitter account and a branded YouTube channel to educate and inspire furniture shoppers, retailers and designers about home improvement decorating ideas and design trends. In little more than seven months, Shaver says the project has surpassed expectations. The Facebook page, with 1,800 fans, has as many as 100 interactions per week. The blogs are getting more than 3,000 page views per month, referred from Facebook and Twitter.

As for other media, Bhargava admits that although broadcast TV can be a good tool to evoke a homey feeling, he says the DVR's capability to fast forward through commercials is changing choices for advertisers. The important thing is to get the right mix, radio, TV, Internet and print, for your target audience. "Part of the challenge is not what to put in every (advertising) bucket, but what buckets to avoid," he says.

In the future, he sees new applications created for phones and interactive TV as tools. One good example is the color matching apps for Benjamin Moore and Sherwin Williams. "You can be walking down the street, take a picture of a color you like and the app tells what paint it matches," Bhargava says. "The app fits into the mobile lifestyle."

Bhargava reminds sellers that the human touch will win the sales game. "Advertising and marketing should be based on the entire experience, not just the product." -Charlyne Varkonyi Schaub

Ms. Schaub is a well-recognized design expert who has been writing about home furnishings for more than 20 years. The former Home Editor of the Baltimore Sun and former Home and Garden Editor of the South Florida Sun Sentinel, she is now a freelance writer. The winner of more than 125 awards, she has written stories for newspapers and magazines in Australia, Hong Kong, Canada and throughout the United States.

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