Designer Marketplace - WILLIAMS-SONOMA, INC.

Marketing Magic for Interior Designers

By Jay Johnson

Is there really a marketing formula that works better for designers? In a way, yes!


Now that headline is a good example of bad false advertising—but it did get your attention, right? I wanted to see if there was such a thing as a magic formula for successful designer marketing, so I went to Robin Sanders and Suzanne Sokolov, founders of BoostMarketing NYC, a multi-service Manhattan marketing firm dedicated to designing programs that "boost an interior designer's visibility and profitability." Their advice—and then some feet-on-the-street marketing philosophy from my design partner Irwin Weiner ASID—follows.

Formula for Success. According to Robin, "There is no quick fix, but if design is your life's work and passion, surely it deserves some nurturing? A business guru once summed success up this simply: Success happens when opportunity meets preparation."

Preparation. Suzanne elaborated: "Don't ever underestimate preparation. We get calls all the time from interior designers believing they are in need of our PR services and hoping for instant success." But surely that's what PR firms do. Right? Wrong. "PR is a powerful marketing tool—sometimes the key that turns on the engine—but it's only one piece of the pie. PR is the shaping or crafting of your special story and the careful nurturing of your image and reputation." So there's essentially nothing to nurture or grow if you don't start to prepare your business properly.

Own Who You Are. Robin said, "A marketing professional can help you craft your story and define your unique selling proposition, but it's something that you can and should try to shape yourself." Bradley Thiergartner Interiors came to BoostMarketing NYC with that work already done, referring to themselves as "Tailored Traditionalists." Their existing marketing materials were branded "Notable Interiors & Tailored Design," and Robin said, "As publicists, we can now better craft their story and place it where it will appeal to those seeking their design aesthetic."

What's So Special About You? You could go to a PR or marketing firm specializing in interior design and ask for a pitch, expecting the aforementioned magic formula for success. "Pitches are about what you can do for clients. Prospective interior design clients often approach the process with a great deal of trepidation. One firm, a software development and training specialist firm, PC Therapy, sought our help in defining their unique selling proposition. Their clients were overwhelmed and anxious at the prospect of learning new software. Our client's teachers were gifted at distilling only as much information necessary for users to do their jobs well. So the slogan was born: 'PC Therapy. Know what you need to know.'" Robin and Suzanne believe that you should ask yourself, "What's special about the way you do business or design?"

So I turned to Irwin, my design partner, and asked him this question—to put him to the test, so to speak. "Yes, it's vital to tell your unique story to potential clients. There are fabulous websites and retailers that offer amazing home goods at terrific prices, and they're nipping at any designer's heels. But my clients will want to work with me because I'm not just selling products; I'm offering a highly-educated, finely-tuned service. Beautiful rooms are ten a penny, and most designers can pull off a lovely end product. Your approach to design might not be what sets you apart from other designers. But ask your current and past clients what made you stand out as someone they enjoyed working with, and you'll start to get more pieces of your official story."

Attend to Your Ducks. After solidifying what your brand is, Robin said, "Next, get your ducks in line. These ducks don't have to be fancy ducks, but they are your ducks and they should look like you and walk like you." How so?

  • Business cards are still a must. Keep them simple, informative, and reflective of your brand.
  • The same applies to your website. Less is usually more. Show only your best work. Your website is your new doorstep.
  • Do your homework, study publications, and track your competition.
  • Learn where your target customers shop, play, and live, and what they read and you will have a better idea of how to craft a story about your business that has "curb appeal."
  • There is nothing wrong with catchy headlines...but you better be able to deliver! You have to be who you say you are to clients.

In our design business, Irwin and I have learned how vital it is to nurture and protect our firm's professional reputation, and that's the foundation for building a successful marketing and PR program. Prospective clients will call you because your existing clients tell them that you promptly returned their phone calls, you're trustworthy, they liked your good-humored nature, you were always available to them, your work showed great talent, and you and your staff gave them good service. First, distill your reputation and your special services into a clear branded message, and then call in the marketing and PR experts. (And remember that your firm's success will happen when opportunity meets preparation.)

In November 2006, Manhattan-based blogger Jay Johnson and his partner Irwin Weiner, ASID applied the popularity of watching videos on the Internet to the house-and-garden arena. The idea forDesign2Share was born. On D2S, they share their insight, tips, and strong opinions about how people design and decorate their homes, entertaining over 300,000 visitors a year; their syndicated original videos had over 22 million video views in 2010.




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