Design Is Community

To gain their business, you must first develop relationships with prospective décor clients.

Look around you. How many man-made objects and surfaces do you see? If you’re reading this somewhere on a backlit screen then you’re more than likely sitting in a chair, perhaps upholstered, at a desk or within a residential or commercial office space designed by someone, at some point in time. Unless, of course, you’re reading a print copy of Big Picture magazine off-grid in the middle of nowhere. Design impacts our day-to-day lives and is everywhere around us, whether or not we realize it.  

There are a multitude of disciplines under the “design” umbrella focusing on a wide range of skill sets and specialties: architecture, industrial, furniture, product, packaging, textile, pattern, surface, and, of course, interior design for commercial and residential markets. To successfully find print opportunities in the décor market, focus on understanding your prospective customer and why they find value in digital print. How exactly do you go about uncovering a deeper understanding of the design process, potential clients, and the industry? Begin by developing authentic relationships. The goal of good design goes beyond the basic principles such as “form and function.” Design is a cornerstone of community; design brings people and ideas together – and so should digital print.

The Designer Mentality

If you’ve been following Beyond Décor, you may remember an important topic mentioned in the June/July 2018 issue of Big Picture about learning the language of creatives and designers. Too often, we get caught up in the technical aspects of wide-format print instead of focusing on what décor customers desire. For example, we emphasize faster printer speeds, improved RIP software, better print durability, image quality, ink compatibility, and substrates. It seems natural to lead with these features and benefits, but creatives and designers have a much different point of view. In fact, designers call a similar decision-making process “materiality” or the study of materials. Materiality in design is the applied use of architectural materials within a space for both decorative and functional purposes. Because creatives and designers see through a different lens, they are more apt to make material (substrate and application) selections based on their perception of quality and their preferences like color, texture, and other aesthetics, as well as factors such as environmental impact and material content. As digital print technology progresses, so does the need for OEMs and substrate manufacturers to cross-collaborate with creatives and designers, beginning at the very early stages of research and development, in order to bridge this gap.

Be a Teammate 

For PSPs entering the décor market, crafting a unique value proposition tailored to a creative audience should be a top priority. Assess your current in-house capabilities and translate them into relatable terms your newly sought-after prospects will understand. Instead of focusing on the cost benefits of adhesive vinyl, as you would for a more traditional print customer, point out such things as durability or environmental attributes, which appeal more to a designer’s sensibilities. By doing so, you’ll establish trust and rapport, and you can attract the type of clientele you’re seeking. Your branding, positioning, presentation, and language all matter in this regard. Even if you consider yourself knowledgeable and creative, allot a portion of your day to keeping up with the ebb and flow of new trends and styles. Walk through a design or décor market show on a day open to the public, keep an organized library of new substrates, and seek new application ideas. Find a local creative to test new media and coatings so you can develop a case study for your business. Follow design influencers on social media platforms and don’t forget to leverage hashtags on Instagram.

After you’ve earmarked your go-to resources, set some goals and objectives. Make it a point to learn each step of your prospect’s creative process beginning with the conceptual development phase to final installation. Find out where they source inspiration, how mood boards are created, and if there are any preliminary mock-ups or prototypes required for client approvals. Their role may require them to have excellent presentation skills to gain client approval throughout different stages in a project. Keeping clients happy while ensuring the project moves forward is especially important to retain business. Depending on the relationship you’ve established and complexity of a project, you may be able to offer input about print substrates and applications early in the process. Ideally, your décor-prospect-turned-client will look to you as a resource for ideas for other projects in the pipeline. Once you’ve piqued their interest by showing the versatility of digital print, your craftsmanship, and ability to meet their tight deadlines, you’ll earn referrals and gain new business.

Connect, Connect, Connect

Success often happens when you step outside your comfort zone. If you can’t find a local event to build meaningful relationships with décor prospects, perhaps it’s time to start your own. I recently spoke with Jon Davis, marketing manager at Chicago-based Cushing, who explained how the 90-year-old print business came up with their own designer community. “As a city of Chicago-certified Women’s Business Enterprise (WBE), business-to-business professionals count on Cushing for print services that increase sales and enhance brand awareness,” Davis says. If there are commercial real estate firms with office space for lease, Cushing is the one to count on for signage in windows and building exteriors. “Environmental branding, signage, wall graphics, wayfinding, privacy film, floor graphics – we help companies extend their brand almost anywhere,” he adds. Cushing already has a strong breadth of products and services offered to its customers. To capture business outside a crowded commodity print market, they needed a better way to connect. The solution? Quarterly “Creative Coffee” meet-ups with designers from the local International Interior Design Association (IIDA) chapter. It became a multiple win-win-win: The coffee shop gained new customers; designers and IIDA chapter members discovered an additional resource; and, as members of IIDA, Cushing’s events landed on IIDA’s calendar. Ultimately, attending the meet-ups led to increased awareness among local designers about Cushing’s décor print services – while also feeding their pipeline for new leads.

Nicole Zack is a licensed architect and designer at Nelson, a global brand experience firm specializing in architecture, interior design, graphic design, branding, and consulting services. “Creative Coffee was a fantastic event to meet other industry professionals and engage in an open, honest dialogue about various topics. We all face similar challenges in our day to day as designers,” Zack says. “I found the event a good forum to brainstorm how to make a bigger impact on our industry and create meaningful spaces for our clients. I loved being able to meet similar professionals and kick-start our week over coffee.” Cushing also takes things a step further by offering continuing education courses through a program partnership teaching architects and designers about décor print applications. The courses are not just informative to attendees; architects and designers can earn an AIA Educational Credit Unit (ECU). As a result, class attendees who are also Cushing clients take what they’ve learned and implement new ideas in project presentations to their customers. Not only does this strategy create a sense of community, but it’s also a smart way to feed your sales channel. 

However, uncovering those business-to-business or even consumer décor opportunities doesn’t necessarily start or stop during in-person events. During the Wallcovering Association’s 2019 Annual Meeting hosted in Key Largo, Florida, keynote speaker Pamela McNally, VP of digital for Interior Design magazine, said 68 percent of designers surf the internet to specify wallpaper instead of searching through other traditional methods. Today, most people use voice search. It’s estimated that by 2020, 30 percent of online searches will be conducted through voice, meaning no typing. Which brings us back to the importance of connecting with your décor prospects through social media: Pinterest is where creatives and designers search the most. (I’m guilty of this, too.) It’s used as a visual search tool and it’s an optimal way of collecting and organizing new ideas. Additionally, it’s their preferred way of communicating to clients and used even more than Google for online search. 

You may have to switch up your sales and marketing tactics to attract a new type of client. If marketing your business directly to creatives and designers doesn’t fit your long-term vision, learn how to present printed solutions based on relevant design trends to keep your clients current. With nearly limitless combinations at our fingertips using today’s technologies – printers, inks, substrates, applications, and finishing options – gone are the days of solely relying on banner stands and display films to wow your audience. Connect with décor prospects and develop relationships – and create the opportunity if you can’t find it.

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