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Panel at High Point University touts value of online content

Alex Lemonde-Gray -- Furniture Today, March 29, 2012

 Taking part in a panel on leveraging the power of online marketing are Matt Targett, left, of La-Z-Boy, Trisha Long of Furniture Caddy in Kannapolis, N.C., Robert Williams of Houston’s Gallery Furniture and Charlotte, N.C., interior designer Wanda Horton.Taking part in a panel on leveraging the power of online marketing are Matt Targett, left, of La-Z-Boy, Trisha Long of Furniture Caddy in Kannapolis, N.C., Robert Williams of Houston’s Gallery Furniture and Charlotte, N.C., interior designer Wanda Horton.

HIGH POINT — Providing free online content that doesn't sound like an advertisement can help build a company's brand by making its website an information hub, increasing customer interaction and trust, according to speakers at the third annual Knabusch Shoemaker Seminar here.

About 100 home furnishings industry professionals and students attended the March 21 seminar at High Point University.

The free event, sponsored by the Knabusch-Shoemaker International School of Furnishings, focused on increasing company revenues in a world where online advertising, social media and company websites are becoming effective ways to reach consumers.

A diverse mix of home furnishings retailers, manufacturers, designers and suppliers were present, as well as HPU students who sat in between classes.

Keynote speaker Kristine Kennedy, editorial director of online home furnishings retailer Wayfair - formerly CSN - gave an overview of how Wayfair is implementing a brand strategy focused on creating inspirational content to build customer loyalty and purchase likelihood.

Wayfair.com offers 4.5 million items from 5,000 vendors.

Kennedy, the former East Coast editor of Better Homes and Gardens, said she doesn't like marketing - so much so that her family doesn't have cable television, to keep her two children from seeing commercials. At Wayfair, Kennedy said she sees herself as a content marketer or someone who "gives customers something they value for free."

Wayfair provides website visitors with design and style tips and product suggestions in blog and story form, Kennedy said.

To garner website visitor interest, companies should specialize in content demonstrating their specialization and take it "where the connection happens," she said. This means determining which social media site to use to spread your content, based on which one your target consumer uses most.

Christine Pierpoint, vice president of emerging media at communications firm IMRE, gave a presentation on measuring return on investment of online marketing through analysis.

She spoke on how to measure the effectiveness of online marketing by offering what she called the "three truths" of ROI in the online arena: You need to understand what counts as return, the Internet is everywhere so there's no excuse for missing your target audience, and content is money because it builds brand recognition and loyalty.

"The value of content marketing is in providing a unique point of view that is valuable to your customer," Piepoint said.

She cited Southwest Airlines' use of its blog and Facebook page as avenues for fun content that project the company's culture without directly trying to sell something. Southwest has more than 2 million "likes" on Facebook and more than 1 million followers on Twitter.

Pierpoint stressed that evaluating ROI is something companies should do on an ongoing basis and that digital avenues are at the heart of all companies' communications.

Kim Shaver, vice president of marketing communications at Hooker Furniture, moderated a panel discussion titled "Leveraging the Power of Online Marketing: Retail & Interior Designer Case Studies." Panel members included Robert Williams, director of fun marketing, e-commerce and social media at Gallery Furniture in Houston; Matt Targett, director, interactive with La-Z-Boy; interior designer Wanda Horton of Interior Concepts by Wanda, based in Charlotte, N.C.; and Trisha Long of Furniture Caddy in Kannapolis, N.C.

Panel members detailed a number of initiatives they've undertaken or plan to use online. Targett and Williams highlighted their use of YouTube as an interest-garnering tool and their belief that Pinterest will be a big traffic driver in the near future.

The conference also featured four breakout sessions, "Keeping it Simple - Tactics to manage your time for the most effective return and customer engagement in social media marketing," by Scott Dickson, Dickson Interactive; "Pinterest: How to get started with the online design pinboard" by Cheminne Taylor-Smith, High Point Market Authority; "The Emerging Power of Online Platforms Like Living Social and Groupon," by Mitch Mile, 26.2 Group; and "Understanding the Business Model around QR Codes," by Florian Vollmer, senior vice president and principal of Info Retail.

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