27 May 2024, 00:36
By Furniture News Dec 26, 2021

Pandemic marketing strategies

From our personal interactions to how we work, the pandemic has become a byword for change – yet how much of that change is likely to be permanent? Acknowledging that it is crucial for businesses to reach out – often from behind closed doors, of late – Furniture News asked various retailers and suppliers how their marketing strategies have been affected by Covid-19 …  

In June's issue, Bill McLoughlin, editor in chief of US trade paper Furniture Today, wrote about the tendency to hold back on marketing when times get tough – and pointed out how counter-intuitive this approach could be. 

Yet businesses could be forgiven for not knowing which way to turn. In the UK, we’ve seen a curious marriage of high demand, curtailed supply, greater online adoption and rising costs. The pandemic’s initial disruption halted many operations and saw swathes of staff furloughed – but as time went on, it became clear where the opportunities lay, and the flexibility and determination required to seize them.

With trade shows halted, travel and personal contact limited, and much of the audience migrating online through repeated lockdowns, many recognised that a revised marketing strategy was imperative – but as ‘normality’ returns, would more traditional approaches be reasserted?

Mike Murray, Land of Beds: Our business marketing strategy has always been important to us, but now more than ever it is important to highlight our strong family heritage as a business. People across the country have chosen to show their support for local, family-run businesses throughout the pandemic. British consumers have come out with strong support for British manufacturers throughout the pandemic, which has helped in supporting the British economy. 

Adam Ashborn, Reborn Marketing & Design: From a marketing company perspective, I always advise my clients to tackle the marketing objective/plan in the same way as they would have before lockdown. The ultimate goal from marketing and design is to get reaction that then translates into either a sale or brand awareness/exposure. The ‘how to achieve’ should be handled by the agency team, who will then need to find the creative solutions on how to deliver the end results that don’t breach lockdown rules.

If a business is going to consider developing an ecommerce website for example, we outline/advise our clients to consider the fulfilment and management of the site to maintain a good customer experience. It is easy to rush ahead and commission someone to build an ecommerce website, but if the infrastructure is not put in place properly then it could fail and leave a bad impression on the consumer. 

Primark is a good example of a business who have repeatably been asked why they haven’t invested in online sales during the pandemic – but they understand they don’t have the right infrastructure in place to make it work smoothly, so to avoid customer disappointment they have opted to lose sales in return for maintaining a good customer relationship.

Marketing and design agents like us are accustomed to tackling problems – that is the nature of the industry we are in. Lockdown restrictions have, in fact, allowed customers the opportunity to consider new marketing opportunities that previously didn’t seem as viable, and stepping away from the industry norm is becoming more popular. Online retail experience, virtual spaces, CGI product imagery, social media and embedded marketing are becoming more familiar to the furniture industry than ever before.

Gavin Boden, Rhenus Home Delivery (UK): I think that companies and the management within them will change, now that they know that meetings can be arranged and completed over video calls – but a lot of things will return to normal.

Peter Harding, Fairway Furniture: The turmoil of the past year has meant that the need for good relationships with media suppliers has been greater than ever. Working with them, we have managed to defer committed spend, look at new options and react quickly as and when restrictions changed. 

We have accelerated planned digital investment to improve our online service offering, as well as launching a video shopping service which I believe will play an important role long after restrictions are lifted.

Dids Macdonald OBE, ACID: I am hopeful that using the additional skills and know-how that we have experienced through this lamentable pandemic will be positive so, no, I don’t think this will be permanent – I think we will emerge stronger, more versatile and with greater resilience. At ACID, we have learned a lot, which can only benefit our operational efficiency.

Lee Ness, Global Upholstery Solutions: I think some changes will be permanent. The time during the pandemic gave us time to review, but not the requirement – we just took an opportunity to do it. So, it was indirect change, really.

Steve Adams, Mattress Online: We have used the pandemic to strengthen our consumer reach, pushing the boundaries with our TV advertising and continuing our growth of digital marketing spend. We do feel the changes, as a result of the pandemic, are largely permanent. We have witnessed a mindset shift in consumer purchasing – they have far more confidence in online shopping. If I had to put a number on it, I would say Covid-19 has accelerated the shift to online shopping by five years.

Emma Leeke, Leekes Retail: It has accelerated the gradual move from traditional marketing (use of TV, radio and print) to digital marketing, and whilst there will be a rebalancing, digital spend will continue to increase and traditional media to decrease.

Henrik Pontoppidan, S2U Design Containers: Whilst on the sourcing side, my business probably has a net advantage due to the nature of the business, on the selling and marketing side, it would have been hard to imagine before Covid-19 how to generate and maintain business with no ability to travel, since we are on the supply side. 

So, sales and marketing has become an exercise from the office. As it turns out, it’s perfectly doable, because it applies to the whole world – but I doubt it would be doable ongoing, when we get back to normality at some point. 

The personal interaction and the learning and inspiration that comes from travelling and meeting customers (and suppliers) is very important in order to build relationships and to fully understand the needs and wants of customers – and to develop fresh ideas. So I don’t think the changes will be permanent. 

I believe those who wish to continue to operate from a bubble will develop myopia and will lose the ability to make the best decisions for their business. 

Royce Clark, Grampian Furnishers: In the first lockdown we did great business via our Facebook page, but it was not so significant during later closures.

Mike & Karen Rowley, Core Products: We all look forward to personal interaction again, so there will always be a need for customer visits and shows. However, there is no question that the day-to-day way we deal with each other is changing.

This article was originally published in the July 2021 issue of Furniture News magazine.

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