Dear Design Doctor
We are a top-end kitchen showroom, designing and manufacturing for a small numbers of clients each year, and we are looking for information on how to target our typical client base.
Have you got any marketing tips for design businesses that sell to the consumer?
A lot of marketing material I see tends to give lots of tips on how to gain more business from other businesses, but not much on how to find clients directly so I thought I would ask about yours.
Patricia van den Akker, Director of The Design Trust, responds to this real life question:
‘You are so right! Most marketing advice (including mine!) indeed deals more with marketing to other businesses (b2b) than with consumers (b2c). I think it is a great question, and I am very happy you asked!
Although the advice below is aimed at marketing high end kitchen design to consumers, many of these questions and tips can help other high-end product and design companies such as furniture designers, jewellers, fashion and accessories designers, graphic and web designers, photographers etc too.
If you are looking to get specific marketing advice and support from Patricia, then check out The Design Trust Get Clients Now! Coaching programme.
Marketing high end kitchen design is very challenging for various reasons:
- One of the toughest aspects of your design business is that it is a (very) high value purchase decision, and I assume that most of your clients only get their kitchen designed once in their lifetime. So getting repeat business (the life line for most small businesses) is harder to achieve. Although referrals can help here, and they should play a big part in your marketing (see below for more on this).
- You are marketing both a (design) service and a product (the kitchen). Marketing services is a challenge as these are more intangible than a product. You will need to get the trust from potential clients that you can deliver to their specifications, on time and on budget. Continuously building on your credibility is essential for your service-based business.
- Identifying specific potential consumers is harder than identifying businesses or people with job titles.
So, those are your major marketing challenges as a high end kitchen design and manufacturing business!
I will first start with some fundamental marketing questions to really focus on your business and client types, and only then will I give some more specific marketing suggestions to promote your business to consumers.
These major marketing questions apply to any creative business, regardless of your product or service, or if you want to market to consumers or trade. I hope I give some good ideas of the kind of questions that you need to ask yourself so that you can use them in your own creative business too.
Marketing step 1: Identify your niche
You specialise in bespoke traditional and contemporary kitchen design and installation. That is fairly specific, but I would go a bit deeper than that and look at what you as a company really stand for.
- Which projects are you most proud of?
- What are you really good at? What are your strengths as a company?
- What kitchen problems do you love to solve? Which solutions are you particularly good at?
- What projects, materials or spaces are you passionate about?
- What size are your dream projects (both in metres, but also in £)?
- What kind of clients do you love working for the most?
- What type of houses/extensions/interior styles are your favourites?
- What do you want to be known for? What do you want people to say about you?
- What is the best compliment a client ever gave to you?
- Why would a client come specifically to your business and not another kitchen designer?
Really start digging a bit deeper about what you want to achieve with your design and end product. What your values as a company are, what is really important to you, what really irritates you?
Work on these questions by yourself first. Some might resonate immediately, others might need a bit more work. Then encourage your colleagues across your business to add their own descriptive words too. There might be some interesting discussions about how you all see the business, and what it is about!
Finally try to aim for a list with about 10 descriptive words – be as specific as possible.
Are your quality designs about spaciousness, luxury, long lasting or eye for detail?
Are your bespoke designs about creating designs for the next 20 years, designs for quirky or difficult spaces, or fulfilling the foodies or host’s longstanding dream kitchen?
For now, just work towards a list that really starts to sum up what you as a company are about.
Later on this list can be your branding guide for your website (text and images!), but also all other promotional material and even introductions, to really sum up what you are about both in writing and visually.
Marketing step 2: Who is your ideal customer?
Some of the questions above where already aimed at identifying your ideal customer.
- Who are they?
- What age are they?
- Is it a couple or family with kids? What age are the kids?
- What kind of house do they live?
- Where do they live (country side, town or city, how local are they to you)?
- What jobs/interests have they got?
- What budget have they got?
- What is important to them about a kitchen?
- What do they want from their new kitchen? Is it about entertaining space, creating a fabulous family space, being a foodie and wine lover, or adding value to their house?
- What do they want to express with their kitchen? Do they want to show their unique interior style, their love of craftsmanship, do they want to show that they are rich?
- Do they want specific elements in their kitchen that generic kitchens won’t provide?
- Where do they find out about kitchen design? Who gives them advice? Where do they go to learn about kitchens?
- What newspapers, magazines, tv programmes or blogs do they read?
- What are their worries about getting their kitchen designed and renewed?
There are very like 3 – 5 different ‘ideal customers’.
It will be really helpful to create different mood boards for each of them, and identify for each of them what is really important to them about their new kitchen.
With a high end service like yours it is crucial to really ‘get into the head’ of your potential clients. This exercise can help you do that.
This second exercise can also help you with the first exercise, to specify more what you are really about. Maybe you are the best kitchen designer for semi-professional foodies who want bespoke wine cellars in South West England?
This exercise is also the start of a very targeted contact list of referral partners and PR contacts.
Marketing step 3: What are the features and benefits of your service and product?
You describe your business on your website as ‘bespoke, hand built, traditional and contemporary furniture’.
That’s a fairly factual way to describe your business.
What are the other facts about your business?
- How long have you been in business?
- How small or big is your team?
- Where are you based?
- What qualifications, certifications or awards have you got?
- Do you work with specialist crafts people for the woodwork and kitchen tops?
- Is all the work designed and manufactured in the UK?
- Are you a specialist in kitchens only, or do you also do kitchen furniture or stand alone kitchen islands?
It’s important to give a quick overview of the facts, easily communicated in an ‘about’ page or on your home page.
But … people don’t buy on the basis of facts.
They buy on the basis of their emotions, and the potential benefits to them.
It’s about what THEY want and what THEY need.
It’s not about YOU.
Identifying your client’s needs and benefits is crucial for good marketing.
- What are the benefits of your design services and end product to your clients?
- What kitchen problems will be solved? What will be better?
- How will they feel about using and sharing their kitchen with others?
- What do they say to you when you have finished installing the kitchen?
- What do they say 4 weeks after you have installed it (might be different than their first response!)?
- What will they say to their friends about their new kitchen?
Try and describe as specifically these needs as possible. For example saying ‘Our clients say they feel much more organised and in charge in their kitchen, and are proud to be holding dinner parties again’ is better than ‘we create functional designs’. That is talking in a language that your clients can really relate to.
You might want to check emails or letters that you received from previous clients to note the exact wording that they are commenting on. That will give you a great insight.
That can also really help you again with identifying what you are really good at (action 1).
If you have got a list of around 8 potential benefits, then start linking them to the features or facts about your services and business. How can your facts underpin the wants and needs of your ideal clients?
For example: ‘We have 15 years experience and work with the best crafts people and interior architects to solve your kitchen issues and turn awkward spaces into a bright, relaxing family space for you to enjoy.’
That is combining facts with emotions, talking in a language that attracts your ideal client and will make you the best company for them.
Marketing step 4: Practical competitor research
You can learn a great deal about yourself and the market by doing some practical competitor market research:
Start with identifying 8 – 10 close competitors. Maybe businesses that you have recently lost business to. Or businesses that are role models to you, that you look up to. The closer they are to what you want to do, the better.
Create a matrix with each of your competitors heading the columns of the first row. Then in the first column write the following questions in each row:
- What products and services do they offer?
- What are the key facts about them? E.g. location(s), size in employees and £
- Who are their specific clients?
- At what price/fee level do they deliver?
- What are their specific strengths? What are they really good at? What is their unique selling point (USP)? What makes them better than their competitors?
- Where and how do they sell/promote themselves? E.g. advertising in x, trade fair a, kitchen event y, …
- What can you learn from them?
Then spend a couple of hours researching this info for each of your competitors. Research online (of course), but you also might like to visit their showrooms or get their promotional info for example. You might even pretend to be a potential client and see how the process of booking a design appointment works.
Only after you have filled in all the squares of your matrix with the details of each question for your competitors, start with answering all these questions for your business in relation to your competitors.
You can get more info about doing practical marketing research here.
This exercise can really help you to view the market you operate in from the perspective of potential clients, and it will help you to identify again more specific details about what makes your business different and stand out from others in your market.
You also might want to go back to the previous exercises and see if you can identify now even more specifically what you are about, who your ideal clients are, the features and benefits of your services and products.
At the end of this exercise you really need to be able to answer the question:
Why do people want to work with YOU instead of any other kitchen design businesses?
Marketing step 5: When do they commission?
In the previous questions we dealt with:
WHY: you exist as a business and why they should work with you instead of others
WHAT: you do in features and benefits
WHO: you ideally want to work with
Now we are focusing on: When do they commission? When do people (re-) design their kitchens?
- Is it when they are moving house?
- When they build an extension?
- When the kids are leaving home to go to university?
- When they retire and have more time to entertain or spend more time on cooking as a hobby?
The more specific you know when your ideal clients decide to change their kitchen the better it is, as it will become easier to identify other people like them. People with similar interest, at similar life stages as your clients.
Can you identify when your potential clients would decide to have their kitchen designed? This will be closely linked again with whom your ideal clients are, and the client benefits.
I have no doubt that your business will have suffered due to the recession, as less people are moving and therefore changing their kitchens. However, there is also now a trend that more people are staying in their current house and extending their house.
Being aware of these strategic, wider market trends is essential for any business, so that you can adapt to changes in purchasing patterns.
Marketing step 6: ‘People only buy from people they know, like or trust’
This is one of my marketing mantras since reading the book ‘Get Clients Now!’ by CJ Hayden, and I think it is very true for successfully marketing your business too.
Potential clients firstly need to know that you exist, that they can have their kitchen designed in the way they would like. You might be surprised that many people don’t actually know that that is an option open to them!
Then they need to like your designs, but also the way that you do business, the way they are treated on the phone or when they discuss their initial ideas.
And above all, they need to trust you, that you can deliver what they want, at the agreed budget and within the agreed time frame.
Bespoke kitchen design is (I assume) often a once in a life time decision. It’s a huge investment for potential clients both in terms of money, but also upheaval of building work etc. Clients are making (design) decisions that they will have to live with for many years to come.
How can you be as helpful to them as possible in this difficult decision making process?
It might be that your clients will be looking around for many years for potential designers to design their kitchens before they decide to go ahead. (They might keep pictures or articles of kitchen designs they like for years!)
It will be unlikely that your marketing efforts will generate quick results. It is essential that you start focussing on your niche market and ideal clients, and start to communicate consistently to them through a variety of ways. You will need to develop your profile with your niche audience, so that they will remember you when they are ready to make the decision that they want their kitchen redesigned.
You can build your profile:
- Press with fantastic images will be crucial for your business. Don’t just think here about kitchen or design press though, but go back to your list of ideal clients, what they like, what they read and when they purchase. An article in Saga magazine, The Observer Food Magazine, Waitrose magazine or local press might be worthwhile too! You can approach a selected group of journalists directly, or it might be worthwhile to deal with a specialist PR agency for a limited period.
- Don’t just think about print press (newspapers and magazines) but online blogs too. There are some great interior and kitchen bloggers out there, and also think about food blogs!
- Images in particular will sell your business! Always ensure that they show your skills at its best, and clearly communicate visually how the kitchen has been improved. Have large overall images, detailed maps explaining changes in functionality for example, but also detailed shots of beautiful thick round wooden doors.
- Can you participate in any kitchen design competitions or awards?
- Can you do talks, workshops or guest posts about kitchen designs for professional bodies? How can you become an expert in your niche?
- I am aware of some Twitter chats aimed at interior designers that sometimes include kitchen design experts. You might want to check out #kitchendesign and #IntDesignerChat. Twitter is great to increase your profile if you are aiming at a niche market. To learn how to get more and better design followers on Twitter read this blog post here.
You can build your credibility:
- Get introduced through referral partners. Think about professionals that could refer you business. Think about interior designers and architects, developers, extension builders, but also estate agents who can identify people moving into your area (and therefore more likely to build and extension or to redesign their kitchen). Could you organise a professional event or arrange appointments at your showroom to introduce them in detail to your business? How could you encourage regular trade referrals? Are there regional build or interior design events or networks that you can become part of?
- Get previous clients to refer you to their contacts. Previous clients who are very pleased with the result will be often very happy to recommend you to their friends and family. Stay in touch with clients, and let them know that you are happy to talk to their friends if they have got any questions about designing their kitchen.
- Include personal testimonials on your website from previous clients or interior designers, developers, other established people.
- Include any guarantees, awards, certificates etc on your website.
- Share and show your expertise. Tell people how long you have been in business for. Show images of your team and showroom to show you are a ‘real’ business. Invite people to your showroom and share your expertise.
- Use the FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) on your website better. These are often the most looked at pages for websites, and you can use them wisely to communicate that you understand your potential client’s worries. What are the questions that they would ask you at an initial meeting? Answer them here online for them in FAQ or create an e-book that they can get if they leave their email address.
- Video is increasingly popular on websites to promote businesses and tell their stories in a very direct way. Having a short intro video about you and your business, with some examples of your design skills and strengths will give you more credibility (if done professionally!) then images or text can do. Being able to see the founder of your business or Senior designer speak, or seeing a space 360degrees will make a very big difference.
- You can find some more ideas about how to build your credibility here.
You can build trust through:
- Include testimonials from previous clients on your website. Have ‘before’ and ‘after’ pictures on your site or portfolio. Share detailed stories or showcases of previous kitchen designs. Go in a bit more detail about what the kitchen problem was and how you solved it.
- Show the entire design process step by step, and explain in detail what happens at each stage and what you would do and what the client needs to take into account. Non designers don’t really understand the design process so you need to explain it to them. But also each designer works slightly different, so it helps to explain how you work and what makes you different.
- Include free measuring services and initial design consultations. Ask lots of specific questions of the potential client and explain that this is to really understand their particular needs to provide the best design solution.
- Work with referral partners – both trade and previous clients (as described above). If you are recommended by somebody who has worked with you, then the chances of you getting the work are much higher.
Marketing step 7: Selling is building a relationship – the 4 stages
Marketing your products and services is about building a relationship with clients. Especially in your case, where it is an expensive, often once-in-a-life-time expense, with long term impact on their home environment, your potential clients will need time to think and consider their purchase.
C.J. Hayden’s talks in her book Get Clients Now! about the 4 stages of selling, and it is good to be aware that all these stages are essential to be successful (find more details about the 4 selling stages here):
Stage 1: Filling the pipeline
Have you got enough people who have shown an interest or potential clients in your database? If not then you might want to check out this blog post on boosting your database.
It is harder to identify individual consumers who are interested (see marketing action no 7 for that), but it shouldn’t just be potential clients who are in your database. Think about the previous exercises we did and include referral partners, previous clients, relevant journalists and bloggers as well in your database.
Stage 2: Following up
This is the most essential marketing stage for your business, as it might take potential clients a long time between them showing an interest and actually potentially commissioning you. In the meantime you will need to keep in touch with them (without becoming a nuisance) so that when they are ready to make their purchasing decision that they will get in touch with you.
Can you organise regular talks or events to your showroom about kitchen design? Can your craftspeople show their skills at an event? Can you send 4 newsletters with recent commissions to your contact list? You will find more ideas about how to follow up in this blog post.
Potential clients will have plenty of worries about their decision to get their kitchen designed and installed. It will be expensive and possibly weeks of upheaval in their house.
What can you do to move them from stage 2 where they have shown an interest into stage 3 to have a meeting with you?
What can you do to help them overcome these worries and challenges?
How are you explaining the process to them?
How can you encourage them to express all their worries so that you can deal with them and provide a solution (and create trust in your company in the process!), instead of delaying their commission?
Stage 3: Have an appointment or meeting
This is the stage that they are actively looking to commission somebody to design and install their kitchen. They have got the money and want to go ahead.
Sometimes the gap between potential clients in stages 2 and 3 might be still a little vague. People want to go ahead, but actually they still have got some reservations and objections. You will need to ask some good probing questions prior to or during your meeting to distinguish between the ‘I-dont-know-yet-for-sure-clients’, the procrastinators, and even potential time wasters with the clients who are really ready and are looking to commission.
It’s really important that you explain how your design processes works (there are huge differences between similar design businesses!), how transparent and open you are about the requirements and deadlines etc, how you answer their questions and solve their kitchen problems. This really is getting back to the earlier questions about what makes your business better than others for this particular client.
How do you stand out from the competition?
What makes you a better provider than other kitchen design and installation companies, especially for their situation?
What are their concerns and how do you deal with them? For example could you provide finance options to spread the costs?
Yes, your design and problem solving skills will matter at this stage, but your people and management skills will be equally important. Clients will look at your entire business to see if they believe they can work with you and get the best solution for their kitchen.
Stage 4: Getting a commission
This is when the contract will be signed, when a design brief and quote will be negotiated, and when the work starts! The client might have selected you as their provider, but there are still things that can go wrong at this stage!
Marketing step 8: identifying and following up with individual consumers
At long last, this is about how to identify and approach individual clients. As I said already before this is harder than identifying businesses (just google them or find them on Linked In!). My suggestions to identify individuals is:
- Referral partners will be key for your business, and there should be a very strong emphasis on working with them. Keep them posted about what you do, refer clients to them and they will return the favour. They can tip you off on people who are about to commission a kitchen.
- Have a sign up box on your homepage for further details, a brochure or your free e-books. Use an email management provider such as MailChimp or aWeber to get their main contact details and to stay in touch with invites and newsletters.
- Anybody that visits the showroom or phones should be asked if they want to get further details, and ask them to leave contact details. Just name and email address is fine, but you might want to get some additional info such as their time frame or even budget. Make sure that these notes will be entered systematically into a database for following up.
- Organise regularly an event in your showroom such as a talk by a craftsman or designer, or give tips about ‘lighting for your kitchen’ or ‘how to make your kitchen brighter and more spacious’. People don’t like ‘being sold to, but they do like an invite’. With a talk or demonstration, and some catering or even a wine tasting event, you might get your contact’s attention. How can you get people to come to your showroom? How can you get previous clients to bring their friends? How can you make your showroom a friendly and ‘less scary/quiet place’ to enter?
- You might want to write some e-books or instructional videos with tips on the topics just mentioned. Include some great images of recent kitchens you have done. Let people on your database know and let them sign up online with their contact details before you give them access. Coming across as being very helpful in making their lives easier and more beautiful will help to turn them into clients.
- Can you run a workshop or talk at a national interior, kitchen or cookery show such as Grand Designs? You can get business cards or contact details from the audience (especially if you give them something special in return such as your presentation or ebook)
- When you are in the press make sure your contact details and web pages are clearly communicated. You might even consider to advertise. When interested people contact you by phone, online or by email, then see what you can do so that they are happy to provide you with their details. If you get great press don’t forget to circulate it to your referral partners and also maybe to your contact list.
And that’s it! Not a very short answer, I am aware of that, but I hope that there is plenty for you to think about, to ask yourself and your colleagues about, and loads of positive actions to do to promote your business effectively. Good luck with it.’
Want to get more clients & improve your marketing skills?
We regularly run small group training and online coaching sessions as part of the intensive 6-weeks Get Clients Now coaching programme that we have developed specifically for designers and makers. You will get two online workshops (so you can join us from anywhere in the UK or abroad!) to improve your marketing skills and learn how selling really works. And then you will create a specific marketing plan with practical weekly goals that are right for your and your business. Followed by 5 group coaching sessions to give you the accountability to get you into action.
Sounds good? Then you might like to join The Design Trust Get Clients Now! Coaching programme.