The building industry has been here before, facing a national crisis that leaves marketers struggling to find the right answers. If we look back at our recent history, we can learn how to stay on the path of financial security and peace of mind when business is not as usual.
Throughout the September 11 terrorist attacks and the 2007-2008 global financial crises and for 12 to 18 months afterward, Americans stayed inside and found security and comfort in and around their homes. Trend forecaster and marketing consultant Faith Popcorn labeled this behavior cocooning.
Cocooning is very real, and it’s happening again now. While we are only a few weeks into the new normal of working from home, homeschooling with online tools and, most importantly, self-quarantining, there are signs of cocooning taking place across the U.S.:
- Home centers like The Home Depot, Lowe’s and Menards are busy with consumers shopping for lawn and garden supplies, paint and building products for overdue home projects. Waiting an hour or more for paint has become the norm at many Sherwin-Williams paint stores recently.
- A building product manufacturer and True client reported home center sales up more than 20% in March. True believes this is another example of consumers using this time to tackle easy-to-do projects around the house right now.
- A cabinet manufacturer told True that despite realizing a slow-down in sales, website traffic continues to increase. Consumers are in planning mode. Maybe they aren’t ready to buy yet, but they are looking.
- Google Trends shows a five-year high for search terms like “how to, remodeling, home equity loan.” While this is encouraging for building product manufacturers, it’s important to note consumers may be looking for advice and knowledge to complete basic how-to projects on their own because they are concerned about money and aren’t comfortable hiring professional, skilled labor to do the work (or aren’t allowed to due to local virus-response restrictions).
- During a recent True team conference call, several team members shared that their families were working on home projects like laying gravel around an outdoor firepit, buying mulch for gardens and looking for paint for a home project.
So what does this mean to building product manufacturers as they prepare for what’s next with so much uncertainty? It’s time for building product marketers to shine. This is when we earn our stripes and show the C-suite how marketing contributes to the bottom line, especially now when companies need it most.
Consider your homeowner customers and what they are looking for right now. They are cocooning. Their world has changed dramatically, and the focus and the epicenter of their lives right now are at home. Think about it. Their children are now at home all day, every day. Many people are working from home. The health and safety of their families are their primary focus, which is why keeping everyone home is important.
While this may not seem like the time to promote remodeling a kitchen or building a new deck, there are cocooning behaviors taking place that building product manufacturers need to be aware of as they consider their marketing programs. We might all be establishing a new normal, but we are still doing what needs to be done around our homes while completing projects that make us happy.
Here are some thoughts and insights to consider:
- While consumers might be nervous about spending a lot of money on a home renovation project or hiring outside professionals to do work in their space, consumers are at home and are looking for ideas. Inspirational home images and remodeling ideas are a great topic to share right now. Homeowners are in planning mode and thinking, “What if we did this?” Help them by sharing your best photography on Instagram, Facebook, Houzz, and Pinterest. Consider a downloadable idea book for them to plan with from your website. Before-and-after photography works well here. You might not make a sale today, but with interest rates low right now, when consumer confidence returns, they’ll be ready to get started.
- Can your building material be used in a DIY project? While homeowners aren’t contacting remodelers to do the work, they are instead looking online to learn how to do it themselves. Consider the home improvement projects that utilize your products. Do you offer “how-to” guides? What about step-by-step videos on YouTube or other online video sharing platforms? Show them how to do it, and you become the brand that has the materials they need and the knowledge to do it.
- Do you have a social media influencer program in place? Now is the time to engage them and talk about what types of DIY projects they can show their followers using your products. Simple, easy and step-by-step instructions are important motivators right now and great shareable content.
- The coronavirus is showing us we can live online—so how is your website working? How is the user experience? Can website visitors find the product information they’re looking for quickly and easily? How much product information do you have available for download? How accurate is your store locator? Consumers will need to know where to pick up products or the nearest store to call for a delivery. Make sure your locations page is up-to-date with current phone numbers, email, etc.
- Knowing that consumers are at home and online, consider adding a chat function to your website. Remember that Millennials and Gen Z don’t always like using their phones to talk. Check your Google Analytics to see when users are most active on your website and staff up during peak times.
- Online customer service has never been more important. On social channels, quickly respond to consumer inquiries and continue the conversation with people who comment on posts; people are looking for engagement and to share their stories even more right now.
- Internet connection speed is becoming very important, with many internet providers reporting use up 50% or more in just the past few weeks. Consider upgrading your hosting for faster download speeds and better user experience.
- Be smart about your advertising dollars right now. We are not recommending cutting your advertising, but instead think about ways to connect your brand, product or service to what homeowners are searching for right now. For example, if your product is part of a DIY project featured on a YouTube video, consider advertising at the beginning or during the video. The viewer is learning how to do the project and about your product at the same time. That’s a smart use of your advertising funds.
- Can your product be ordered online and delivered? If it can be, share this with current and potential customers. Personal safety is very important right now, and many homeowners can’t or don’t want to leave their homes. If they can order your product online or by phone and have it delivered, you are providing them not only with the product they need but doing it safely too.
- While attention is currently on indoor projects like painting and quick fixes, spring is almost here; with temperatures warming and with everyone stuck indoors, home improvement will be headed outside soon. Decking products, pavers, concrete, caulk, paint and stain, patio furniture, gardening equipment, and other outdoor products will likely be in demand.
- What’s the competition doing right now? I know you would expect a digital marketing agency to recommend not cutting your media budgets right now, but there is a lot of supporting research that demonstrates brands that continued spending throughout a crisis or recession did better than brands that cut back. At the very least, watch what your competitors are doing and benchmark against them. If they are still spending on digital advertising, we recommend you do the same. Right now, provided your messages and products are relevant, your marketing (paid, earned and owned) can really stand out in the marketplace.
- Do you have an e-newsletter or email program for your customers and prospects? Make sure the content is relevant to what homeowners are experiencing and thinking about today. For example, don’t use photography showing large groups of people or topics like “planning for your next party,” considering social distancing is an important part of minimizing the effect of the coronavirus.
While the business climate seems to be changing daily in the U.S., many states are closing nonessential businesses to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Fortunately most (not all) states are classifying hardware stores, home centers, and building products supply retailers as essential businesses. (https://lbmjournal.com/nahb-map-highlights-covid-19-related-construction-exemptions)
True Digital Communications is here to help you weather this storm. If you’d like to talk more about how to adjust your marketing strategy or if you have more ideas to share, please contact me. We are offering free, 30-60 minute ideation sessions to discuss marketing strategy and tactics to help you thrive during these turbulent times. We’ll get through this together.
More to come,