20 April 2024, 08:57
By Furniture News Dec 05, 2018

La-Z-Boy takes the initiative

Are you sitting comfortably? As furniture brands go, few are more recognisable than La-Z-Boy – but despite being a household name in the US, it has to date largely failed to resonate with UK consumers. However, a new advertising campaign, developed in line with extensive research by the brand’s new owners, is already going some way towards changing that situation, explains UK marketing director Mark Draper … 

Founded in 1927 in Monroe, Michigan, La-Z-Boy Inc was instrumental in the creation of the recliner chair, and now employs some 6300 employees in the US, and operates from five manufacturing plants, six distribution centres and 142 of its own stores (and enjoying distribution in many more). 

It may be big in America (its fame further fuelled by an appearance on the sitcom, Friends), but La-Z-Boy’s UK activity has been a different story – for a long time the brand has failed to gain significant traction with consumers.

However, after eight years of national exposure through UK and RoI sales and distribution partner Furnico, the brand’s parent company bought back the licence at the outset of 2017, forming La-Z-Boy UK, and heralding a new era for the comfort specialist.

That year, under the guidance of MD Keith Wilson, La-Z-Boy UK launched a new collection (Originals) and a fresh website, before embarking on the brand’s most significant national advertising campaign to date in October 2017 – Connoisseurs of Comfort.

Developed in line with findings from detailed consumer research, Connoisseurs of Comfort – which rolled out in print, online and on TV – features a selection of characters which reflect various aspects of the brand’s appeal. From a young family to a pet kitten – and not forgetting its existing demographics – the connoisseurs helped deliver La-Z-Boy’s message to a largely-untapped market, paving the way for a premium collection (Urban Attitudes) and a bed and mattress launch this year.

Furniture News asked La-Z-Boy UK’s marketing director, Mark Draper, to explain the thinking behind the Connoisseurs of Comfort ad campaign and its likely future – could this be the turning point for the brand’s recognition on this side of the pond?

New directions

"Before we launched the campaign, other than in retailers, the La-Z-Boy brand wasn’t really visible in the media," says Mark. "There had been no historic TV, press or digital advertising in the UK and the online presence was basic, so while the brand was known, it wasn’t being pushed into the marketplace.  

"From our research, we established that the brand resonated with those who watched Friends, and those walking into one of our retailers’ stores. Once people were prompted with the brand’s name they were generally familiar with it, but it didn’t immediately spring to mind.

"Those who were familiar with the brand generally associated it with its American roots and its focus on comfort, and believed it was male-oriented.

"We realised the need for a new direction – that it was important to create a more positive, aspirational engagement between consumers and La-Z-Boy in the UK, and establish a clear niche in the marketplace.

"We wanted to inject warmth and personality into the brand, and convey the message that our furniture is for all the family and a wide range of consumer tastes.  

"Connoisseurs of Comfort centres on the idea that furniture is a part of making memories and relaxing, and that La-Z-Boy understands that better than anyone else.  

"The advertising is designed to create an emotional attachment with the brand that leaves consumers feeling positive and uplifted and gives depth to our brand ethos. It’s also targeting a much wider consumer group than was identified in our consumer research – so it’s broadening our appeal with female purchase decisionmakers and a younger age bracket.

Right on target

"Our key customer groups were generally males who preferred comfort over styling and had a slightly older age bias. They usually considered La-Z-Boy products for themselves only – as a place to chill out rather than a family purchase – and comfort was their number-one purchasing factor.

"So, with our advertising, we didn’t want to alienate those consumers – hence our Jerry character, who enjoys listening to music in his recliner – but we wanted to broaden our appeal towards families, younger couples and other areas of the market. It also meant our choice of media would be crucial to ensure our carefully crafted messages were reaching the right audiences.

"The research went hand in hand with the planning and design of the campaign. It was a significant investment, so it was crucial that we act on the facts we uncovered and respond to the results of the research, rather than any preconceptions we may have held personally about who was buying our products.

"We wanted to embrace a much wider female consumer group, a younger demographic and customers who were style and design focused (as well as comfort oriented).  

"Above all, we wanted to appeal to a customer who appreciated quality and was willing to invest in a well-made product that they could have confidence in for years to come.

"As well as the campaign’s design, we targeted our media buying to encompass popular daytime TV shows as well as home and living programmes. We also had ad slots during Friends as a nod to our more traditional consumer, and to create awareness with the new generation of the show’s viewers (Friends is actually now the UK’s most popular digital streaming show, and more recently we’ve partnered as an official supplier to FriendsFest, a fan experience touring the UK).

"Digital advertising was crucial as well, as this could be even more targeted to consumers’ lifestyles and demographics.

"We learnt that it is critical to target the shows that are watched by the people who matter – no matter how much that costs. It’s worth spending extra to get a better spread and quality of exposure, rather than having the vanity of more TV slots that miss our key demographics.  

"We knew we needed a strong call to action, and that has driven us to improve the website even further since it was relaunched last year. Next time we run TV ads it will be even quicker for consumers to get to the product they want to buy. We have altered the navigation and expanded the retailers on the website to include those stocking exclusive ranges.  

"It was also a testbed to advertise in February – which traditionally wouldn’t be a peak time to advertise sofas, but gave us an excellent starting point for a more strategically timed campaign.

Mixed media

"To date, our print advertising has been focused on national newspaper magazines, but we’re planning on extending this to high-quality home and lifestyle magazines. 

"Our print campaign features stills of the various characters in the TV advert. We decided to utilise the characters across all platforms to ensure a consistent message.

"When it comes to our new bed line, while we haven’t started above-the-line marketing as yet, we anticipate this to be easy as it will be based on the same consumer targeting.  

"We have employed the brand strapline ‘Live life comfortably’ – and extended this with ‘night and day’, so the consumer can easily link the comfort they get from their sofa to their sleep cycle, and having that same experience during the night.  

"There’s also synergy in that customers can choose any of our upholstery fabrics and leathers for their bed frame.

"Of course, the marketing is different in the US, mainly due to the fact that La-Z-Boy is one of the most recognised brands in the country, so theirs focuses on new product launches, store openings and the like – it goes without saying what the brand stands for.

"What’s fantastic is that although our targeting is different, the La-Z-Boy Inc board loved our TV commercial – and while it’s not appropriate for their market, they would like to use it in other parts of the world. They also admired our ‘night and day’ message, which we launched at the Manchester Furniture Show.

"Since my early days as a marketeer in the DIY category, the importance of a brand has always been vital to any TV or marketing campaign. If a consumer is familiar with your brand and your ethos, it overcomes a host of purchase barriers when looking to sell any type of product, so it’s worth investment.

"I’ve also learnt it’s critical to ensure your products are in the right locations to tie in with a well-targeted campaign, allowing people to purchase with ease.

Commercial sense

"I find a lot of furniture marketing very safe. Are they really driving their consumers to their stockists with those adverts? In the current market, I can’t think of anyone else that has advertised on TV or digitally as a manufacturing brand – a lot of it is being left to the retailers to pay for, and that shouldn’t be the case. Brands should give retailers a reason to stock their products and be proud to invest in their own proactive marketing.  

"However, I don’t make it my business to take too much time analysing what other companies are doing, as we’re taking our own route, and the market is big enough for competition.  

"I’m impressed by the Compare the Meerkat campaign, which is a huge success story. It took something that could be considered boring and average and, by creating characters, transformed the product into something with personality, longevity and memorability.

"When planning the Connoisseurs of Comfort campaign, I had in mind the Lloyds Bank adverts, with the black horse and poignant music, which creates a strong emotional attachment between the end user and the brand. That’s what we are aiming to do at La-Z-Boy UK – create an emotional association by encouraging people to identify with the characters in the adverts.

"Going into 2019 there will be exciting changes and developments coming through, as well as a continued and improved focus on digital, and an expansion of our press campaign. 

"There is still plenty of life in the Connoisseurs of Comfort campaign and we’ll be looking to extend this – but I don’t want to give too much away!"

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