When it comes to marketing at direct-to-consumer furniture brand Article, the medium is the message. A world of constant online communication means retailers can reach customers in their inbox, on social media and everywhere else they virtually wander.
While online platforms and communities helped many digitally native brands spark their initial round of growth, some are now turning away from the lure of social media and returning to more tangible methods of communication.
Catalogs, for one thing, have stuck around over the years, despite a broader shift to digital marketing. That's in part because they've become more personal than any marketing a brand can do online.
"Everyone knows that it costs effectively nothing to send an email, and so it says really nothing about your brand and the confidence that you have in your brand that you send an email to me," Article's Director of Marketing Duncan Blair told Retail Dive in an interview over the summer. "However, if you're applying TV or taking time to send me a catalog or a billboard in Times Square or whatever, it transmits all kinds of additional information about the brand and the confidence that we have in ourselves and, in turn, that our customers have in us."
Confident marketing mediums
In search of channels that project the appropriate amount of confidence, Article has experimented with several, including a print catalog, which launched in March and has gone "decently well" so far, Blair said. Search and social have in the past been key channels for Article, but the brand also began testing TV near the end of 2017, he noted, and podcasts have become another particularly effective avenue for the brand to reach customers.
Podcasts have more generally become a popular medium for companies to use, from Trader Joe's to intimates brand Knix, in part because they're so popular with consumers today. However, part of the rationale for investing in the medium is tied to the unique benefits it has to offer. In Blair's thinking, podcasts are intimate, encourage intent listening, and often create the feeling of a close relationship between host and listener.
"They're like an imagination medium," he said, admitting that he had originally thought Article's furniture offerings would be more successful on visual platforms. "The process of imagining as the host describes the furniture they've used or they've gotten from us is super intimate and I think a super compelling way to present the product — and maybe counterintuitively. That's my working theory. I'm not sure if it's accurate, but that's the hypothesis I'm working on."
Of course, thinking about podcasts leads easily to thinking about radio, but so far, the brand doesn't have plans to break into the older auditory format. Why? In podcasts, Article is using host reads for its ads, which Blair says creates content that feels more like a part of the show and less like an advertising break. That's harder to achieve on radio, according to Blair, and listeners of radio may not feel the same attentiveness or intimacy that they do with podcasts.
However, much the same could be said of TV, and Article is actively experimenting with advertising there. Television advertising has been on the decline lately, with retailers spending 3% less on that channel during the 2018 holiday season, according to a Kantar report. However, a recent report from Media Radar found that across the retail industry, TV ad spend topped $400 million in the first two weeks of November 2019, a 5% increase from the year prior. The channel also still accounts for over half of all ad spend, even with younger shoppers turning to streaming services in lieu of cable television.
"I think we tend to fall into a trap of, 'If I don't do it and none of my friends do it, then nobody does it,'" Blair said of Article's decision to advertise through the channel. "It's super easy to live in that bubble of, 'Nobody has TV anymore. No one has cable TV anymore.' But there certainly are a lot of people still watching cable television and I don't necessarily think those people are distinct from the people we're reaching online."
Turning acquisition into loyalty
At this stage in its life, Article has primarily focused on customer acquisition, which is why Blair has emphasized diversifying the number of channels the brand advertises through — that is, to ensure it isn't too heavily reliant on finding customers in one place. Of course, acquiring customers is only half the battle: The next step is ensuring loyalty, which isn't an easy task, especially in a high-ticket space with less frequent purchases.
To oversimplify, the brand's approach to loyalty comes down to controlling what can be controlled. In this case: the first time they purchase from Article. The DTC brand is obsessive about owning the entire customer journey, to the point where the company has created its own delivery team and rolled it out to key markets.
The theory here is that the best way to secure future loyalty is to create a stellar first-time experience, and hopefully secure some word-of-mouth referrals as a result. To that end, Blair noted that 85% of Article customers have told one friend or more about their purchase. The average consumer may not purchase again for a year, two years or five years, but Article's OK with that.
"I think the way a lot of brands talk about loyalty is a fantasy."
Director of Marketing at Article
"We're realistic in the way that we approach loyalty," Blair said. The brand has no "gimmicky" point-based loyalty programs — Article has consciously avoided a loyalty program — and doesn't expect customers to buy every few months.
Retailers that have refreshed their loyalty programs lately would likely argue that there's nothing gimmicky about them if they offer the right type of rewards. However, the pinnacle of loyalty programs has moved away from purely point-based systems with cash discounts to offering exclusive experiences or other perhaps more worthwhile benefits.
One need look only as far as the Nike Live members-only store concept or Lululemon's $128 per year paid pilot membership program to see the direction loyalty is moving in the broader retail industry. Even retailers with well-loved programs, like beauty retailers Sephora and Ulta, have been active about updating their offerings to include crave-worthy rewards. Granted, these sectors of retail are vastly different than home, which includes primarily big-ticket items.
Article also pulls from a base of interior designers and trade customers that purchase from the brand on a regular (and frequent) basis. When it comes to the average customer, though, creating a high-quality experience remains the principle method of ensuring future business.
"I think the way a lot of brands talk about loyalty is a fantasy," Blair said. "Furniture is such a personal style decision, people are going to incorporate all kinds of weird and wonderful things, whether it's vintage pieces or other brands, it doesn't really matter. That's the reality. If we're able to deliver that remarkably better and delightful experience, then we have a better chance of you shopping again with us in the future."