“Build it and they will come.” For decades, this was the mantra of commercial product designers and the companies that backed them. Products – and their features and benefits – were everything. But this “build it” philosophy is no longer viable; a product-centric marketing strategy isn’t effective on its own.
The commercial building and interiors marketplace, like so many other industries, is crowded and commoditized. To stand out amongst competitors, connect with potential customers and grow business, brands need differentiation. Thought leadership is that differentiator.For more meaningful impact, promote more than products; position the knowledge, stories and experts behind them, too.Click To Tweet
Nearly 20 years ago, when I first started in this business collaborating with designers and manufacturers of contract furnishings, our prep for NeoCon Chicago (the largest exposition and conference for commercial interiors in the U.S.) would go something like this: We’d compile [paper] press kits chock-full of beautiful images and create award entries that touted the features and benefits of a company’s latest product introductions. Customer case studies and installations highlighted the problem-solving power of products. Editorial meetings focused on product demos were a cornerstone of our communication efforts. You could draw a straight line between media and advertising initiatives and sales.
Of course, all of this is still important. But to make a bigger, more meaningful and lasting impact today, you must promote more than products. You need to strongly position the knowledge, stories and experts behind them, too.
Four questions to help reach commercial interior designers
As you put your 2017 communications plan to work and begin strategizing for NeoCon and other industry tradeshows, make thought leadership – loosely defined as brand differentiation and authority steeped in ideas and solutions – a priority. Consider these questions:
- Beyond products and services, what value does your company offer to customers? Identify your audiences’ 2-3 most pressing challenges and then mobilize around them. How do you help your audiences make sense of things? Are your customers struggling to comply with LEED requirements? How are your health care customers using design to support healthy behaviors? Are your clients designing for an increasingly technological and mobile workforce? Assess your knowledge base and available assets to address these challenges. Think about the counsel your experts give to customers to help them prepare and respond to changes in the future of work. This perspective could make for a standout white paper or byline article.
- Do key messages establish and reinforce the meaning and value of your experience over your products and services? Smart, well-crafted key messages establish your brand’s position in the marketplace, define and strengthen its voice and ensure it gets heard by those who matter most. Ask yourself: is our messaging set for too narrow of an audience? Will it be appeal to a wider network? Take a pulse check of your current brand messages. If your key messages are weak, your content will be too. No one wants to spread ideas they can’t get behind.
- How can you strengthen your voice? Where can you make an impact outside of your industry? Trade publications and major tradeshows are important places for designers and manufacturers to have a voice. But you could be missing out on a number of opportunities – and new business – by putting all of your resources there. Consider non-traditional publications your key audiences are reading or the unexpected places they are gathering. Are you doing more business with heads of sustainability? Consider attending or speaking at a conference like Sustainable Brands. Are you finding key purchasing decisions are coming from the very top? Think about how your research and expertise could find a place in business media read by C-level executives.
Beautifully designed products will always be a driver in the design industry. But without a thought leadership strategy, at the end of the day that’s all you’ll have – beautiful products. Today’s customers buy into ideas, knowledge and reputation. Thought leadership is key to building trust, fueling demand and changing perception. This year, rise above the noise and get heard by those who matter most.