Interior Designer: Target Markets & Marketing Strategy

Customers are Ignoring You
Customers are Ignoring You (Photo credit: ronploof)

Whether you are a new Interior Designer or an accomplished Interior Designer of repute and long standing there is always a need to know who your target customers are. In fact, if you don’t really know your target customers then, unless you are lucky, you will not stay in business long.

Times change. Remember what was a great target market in the boom times might not be if things get tough, you should look at your target markets annually.

There are broadly two types of customer; residential, and commercial. The former would be characterised by an individual or household decision making unit whereas the latter would be characterised as an organisation, potentially an organisation can be very difficult to deal with as it can be more complex with decision makers, buyers, specifiers, influencers and many people involved in the decision making processes.

A potential, residential customer could be a friend, relation, someone down the road, a referral. Essentially someone who wants to ‘do’ their living space.

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A potential commercial customer could be a hotel chain, your local restaurant, the office where someone you know works; often it will be a ‘workplace’ of some sorts but it could also include a large property developer/builder building an apartment block or a private aircraft or yacht manufacturer/designer.

What is NOT a target market. Green design is NOT a target market. Kitchen design is NOT a target market. You must always phrase the target market in terms of the customer. So the preceding examples become: People who are environmentally conscious in their interiors purchasing decisions; and People who are replacing their kitchen.
Remember. There are a LOT of people in this world. There are a LOT of workplaces in this world. So you will probably need several criteria to precisely specify your target market.
And here is where it gets tricky.
You can use criteria like:  Age; Location; Gender; Income level; Education level; Marital or family status;  Occupation; and Ethnic background. But then, really, how meaningful is that for your marketing? If one of your criteria is “educational level” then, for example, ‘graduate’ may well describe all of your previous customers BUT how useful is that criteria in seeking out new customers? Will you really vet everyone that comes to you to see if they have a degree? Will you assume that all graduates are intelligent (very many are not, trust me!)? Will you assume that all graduates are wealthier? In  your marketing how exactly can you target graduates? If you use alumni magazines for advertising then I admit that would be a great route to graduates but really alumni magazines!? With the advent of Facebook advertising you CAN specify that adverts are only shown to graduates…so assuming that the Facebook user is telling the truth about themselves then OK I accept that would be reasonable. Think it through, whatever you decide.
So what you are trying to achieve with your target markets is a level of manageable clarity. Clarity in the sense that it becomes clear who your customers are going to (hopefully) be. You can see how your marketing efforts will be focussed towards them. Manageable in the sense that there are enough that you can ‘easily’ target them with the money, time and manpower you have available for marketing.
Do not fall into the trap of saying that your target market is “People who buy my type of service”. That won’t really help you! despite it being obviously true.
Once you properly know your target markets (which might require some research) you will be able to work out how big they are. You will be able to see how easily you can get your message to them. You will be able to assess if they can afford your services. Much of your marketing will ‘fall into place’ relatively straightforwardly once you have figured out what you are selling and who you are selling it to.
Remember that there are LOTS of people out there trying to get the same business that you are. So you have to be smart. The obvious market may well be obvious to 100 other interior designers and your basic design service the same as the one offered by those 100 other designers. Often it is good to aim for a less crowded market with a relatively unique offering that is suited precisely to that market. Easier “said”, than “done”, of course.
Here are some suggestions:
Commercial Interiors
  • Hospitality & Leisure
  • Marine
  • Medical
  • Aerospace
Residential Interiors
  • Age
  • Location
  • Gender
  • Income level
  • Education level
  • Marital or family status
  • Occupation
  • Ethnic background
  • Eco-buyers
  • Buy to let
  • New builders
  • Renovators
  • Landlords
  • Tech savvy
  • Time poor family
  • Friends
  • Networks/ past client networks

If the target user of your service is someone you might not directly contact and you have to go through someone else (usually an organisation). then that organisation becomes your channel to market.

Examples here include;

If you have any additions to suggest please add them via a comment below. I will put them into this list.

There are links below to more related and detailed stuff. Here are some of the posts I previously wrote or you can find them all in one go by <clicking here>
Related articles

Interior Design Marketing Strategy – Business Strategies & Plan for Designers 2012

New Target Market
New Target Market (Photo credit: Intersection Consulting)

Interior design professionals, designers with shops, freelance designers, decorators and in-house interior design teams from international architecture practices all share the need to plan all aspects of their businesses. The larger the organisation, the more there is the tendency to do the planning ‘properly’. The larger the organisation, the higher the tendency to stick to plans where possible and the lower the ability to react quickly to unexpected opportunities.

A small design practice might have had several successful years and yet each year did not follow the plan that was set at the start of that year.

A large in-house design team’s manager might bemoan the amount of time s/he has to put aside to planning and budgeting each year.

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Focussing initially on marketing, a design graduate might shy away from a financial plan when starting out in business. Only then to realise that the financial plan is really only what the bank is interested in when it comes to taking out a startup loan.

A fledgling business-owner might spend many nights worrying over the financial forecasts of cashflow and sales as those are what pay the mortgage, the salaries and office rent.

So we all come at business planning from a different perspective and we probably all agree that some degree of planning is necessary. You might just be a bit confused about the difference between a marketing strategy/plan and a business strategy/plan – as many people use those terms to mean the same thing.

Essentially what we want to know is how to allocate the resources we have; people, money and time. And then how to measure, monitor and control that allocation.

But what brings you here is probably that you want to know how to allocate your resources SMARTLY. And how others in your industry do it. You might want to just find a plan that someone else has already done that you can follow and copy to save a bit of time.

Well I think I will have a series of textbooks to write to answer all of those questions! And many plans to collate and link to in order to get the right one for all the readers of this.

So before we go any further let me just point out that there are some links to other materials at the end of the article and that the remainder of the article will just touch on a few aspects of marketing and business plans.

Plans and strategies (and goals for that matter).

A business goal is EXACTLY what you want to achieve and when you want to achieve it by. The business strategy is the method by which you want to achieve it. You might also have some longer term aspirational stuff set in missions, visions and values but I’ll leave that alone here.

So:

Goal: 10% growth in sales revenue this year at existing gross profit levels.

Strategy: By organic growth from existing customers.

This higher level stuff is important in the sense that it will determine what happens lower down in the organisation. For example the strategy I have just laid out might well require existing sales people to think of themselves as ACCOUNT MANAGERs and undergo the appropriate training rather than recruiting 10% more sales people. Or it might not! But you get the point hopefully.

So these goals and strategies will filter down to the various parts of your business. They will manifest themselves in various tactics when seen from the MD’s point of view. From within each department (if your business is large enough) your department head will be tasked to achieve these organisation tactics. It’s just that they will instead view them as their GOALS. So their departmental goals then require departmental strategies and tactics and so on, cascading down to the individual level.

THE MARKETING STRATEGY

What your marketing strategy needs to do is figure out all of this in terms of customers.

So one of the first things you will need to do is to work out who your target customers/markets are. You NEED to do this in terms of groups or types of customers. These groups are called MARKET SEGMENTS. You SEGMENT or divide up your entire market into distinct measurable groups. It’s important that these groups all behave in a similar fashion. This is because when you try to reach each segment you  will want to simplify the ways that you appropriately reach (market to) that segment.

For example:

Target markets: Buyers of new-build houses, buyers of house-to-flat conversions.

You are based in, say, Central London so you will need to narrow your market down by area, say Chelsea and Westminster and Islington or specific postcodes. Presumably also narrow it down by house value as well and so on.

To quantify your market segments you might then soon come to realise that you need to be looking at the website of your local council to look at planning approvals. Free information that will tell you exactly which building work will be started in 1-6 months time by postcode. It will probably also tell you the owner and architect/builder. Or you might decide to drive around your target postcodes and look at the building works already in progress. Usually the architect will have a board outside. Would you try to do show homes? (You might target varying sizes of construction company). Or you might try to tackle it further down the line at the estate agent level knowing that a buyer is going to spend money on interior design fairly immediately after buying a house, rather than in 6+ months time when construction starts? Of course the house buyer may well already have the interior designers/decorators sorted out at this stage or might simply be doing it themselves, it might be prudent to make contacts as early in the process as possible

And of course building firms and architects (and maybe estate agents) probably already have existing Interior Designer contacts or in-house capabilities. I never said this was going to be easy! But then again they may have been let down on the last project and could just be looking for your services.

But the point of all of this is to narrow your thinking down. Then to focus your efforts. The silly but obvious example is that if you had not chosen specific postcode target markets you could be driving around the whole of London for the next two months or spending many evenings trawling through London Borough Council websites. But of course if an ad-hoc opportunity comes your way you grasp it even if it is not in your target market (within reason).

Or you might have jumped straight in to building a web site saying what a great London Interior Designer you are and how good you are and where you were educated and so on. When the reality is that the people you are trying to reach might NEVER even look at the internet for an interior designer. Your target market might just use the internet to check you out after they have received a contact from you from some other (non-digital means.

So; for each target market you then need to think about the 4P’s of marketing: Product, Price, Promotion and Place.

4P is easy to remember but not necessarily helpful so here’s what they are to you:

  • Product – really the service(s) you offer to EACH target market (they could be different or tailored)
  • Price – you got that one! (Here’s something I wrote earlier)
  • Promotion – the marketing/promotional/PR type activity you will be be using. (Here’s something I wrote earlier).
  • Place – or Distribution – or how you get to your true, end client. what MIDDLE MAN you use. eg the architect or estate agent in the above example. This ‘PLACE’ might not be  so important if you are going direct to your customer.
The links below will show you more comprehensively how you can structure a business plan.
If you are not the detailed planning type then another approach is to use the SOSTT 4M mini-planning model. Let’s say you are thinking about how to revamp the marketing you do from your shop or from your web site. You’ve got an idea of something you’d like to try. Normally you’d just go ahead and do it and perhaps not think through all the implications. Is that you? Then if so here, perhaps, is a quick way to checklistise what you are going to do
SOSTT +4m
  1. S – SITAUATION: What is the current state of play. The problems, opportunities, worries. What are you good at in this particular area?
  2. O – OBJECTIVES: Exactly what do you want to achieve? Use a SMART goal (Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-delimited). eg increase my awareness in a certain targetmarket by 5% by the end of the year, measured by XXX.
  3. S – STRATEGY: How are you going to achieve this? eg By increasing my online presence in social media
  4. T – TACTICS: How are you going to achieve this in a bit more detail?  focus on Twitter Restauranters and LinkedIn Restaurant Groups
  5. M – MANPOWER: Who exactly is going to do all the various activities. eg My partner
  6. M – MONEY: What will it cost. Probably very little in terms of cash.
  7. M – MINUTES: How long will it take? 2 days set up and then 2 hours every Sunday night.
  8. M _ MONITOR: How are you going to check how this is all working? You might have a special new web page that is the same as your homepage but called index2.htm. All your twitter activity and LinkedIn activity might point only to this new web page. That way you can track EXACTLY the hits you get from your new activity to see if it is working.
So that’s it. For a marketing plan for a small business, those are the things I would make sure you have covered before devoting a week to a fully detailed plan. If indeed you get that far!
There are links below to more related and detailed stuff.
Here are some of the posts I previously wrote or you can find them all in one go by <clicking here>

An Interior Designer Gets Lots of Web Visitors But Few Leads / Enquiries

This Is Not the Target Market
Image via Wikipedia

I talked to a friend a couple of weeks back and she bemoaned the fact that her Design Practice had spent quite a bit of time and money on creating and growing their web site but not much was coming from it in terms of genuine leads and sales in the very particular niche market that she was targeting much of her efforts towards.

So I quizzed her a bit more:

1. Was she creating engaging, frequently updated content for her target market? She said yes. I read her blog and had to agree.

2. Was she using the right keywords? She thought so. And although I’m not an expert in her particular target market I tended to agree.

3. Then she raised the point that Mr Google thought her PAGERANK was quite high. That was strange and surely not part of the problem?

4. We then looked through her Google AdWords campaign. And that too seemed broadly OK.

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5. There were quite a few backlinks from other sites to hers, so that wasn’t the problem either.

So what’s the problem? Other than she wasn’t getting any money back from the investment? And, er, that’s pretty important!

To cut a long story and quite a bit of research short, here’s what we thought the problem was (if you want to know what pagerank is there are links at the end of the article).

Well, although her pagerank was OK it wasn’t actually that relevant.

One problem with pagerank is that it just BROADLY shows how often your site is visited/how important your site is/how trusted yoru site is. It does NOT show you how often YOUR target customers visit your site…and that is the stat you really want.

So what was happening was that quite a lot of people were visiting the site from all the good links and good search engine positioning that she had paid for. A few of them read some of the stuff on her blog BUT VERY FEW went on to the next steps for converting them into customers. And that was because they weren’t interested in her services because her services were not RELEVANT to them…they just WERE NOT POTENTIAL CUSTOMERS.

So you could have the most visited website with the best page impressions, page views, clicks and all the rest of it. BUT THAT IS NO GOOD IF THE WRONG PEOPLE ARE VISITING YOUR SITE ! They won’t buy.

Her market was such a small market and relatively technically unsophisticated so, perhaps, blogs and search engines were not the best way to get to them.

Similarly, and a bit simplistically, if she had a pagerank of 8/10 (which would be excellent) it would not mean that she was excellent at targeting her customers…just excellent and targeting the whole population.

And the problem was compounded because the 3rd party, who was commissioned to get clicks and a higher pagerank and higher search engine positioning and all the rest of it, did just as they were asked. They weren’t asked to get leads! And didn’t!

Now it was not a total waste of time of course. Because pagerank IS IMPORTANT for google to give your site weighting when google produces search results.

And really the picture was not as bleak as I painted as she did experience an increase in leads for other services she was offering. Although they were more mass market services with lower levels of profit.

So what did she do?

A: Cut back a bit on 3rd party SEO services, focussing the remainder of the budget on the markets that had been successfully reached. With the marketing budget that she saved, she is now looking again at how best divert funds to more traditionally target the profitable niche market she originally set out to make money from.