Marketing in the Natural Stone Sector
As an industry steeped in tradition and built around a material formed over millions of years, the natural stone sector has worked hard to ensure that its marketing is anything but old-fashioned.
I have spent the last 8 years handling the digital media and marketing for Stone Federation, the trade association for the natural stone industry. From this vantage point, I have noticed a number of shifts and trends within the marketing strategies of companies in the natural stone and wider construction industry.
For many companies, the biggest shift has been moving from a heavily print and exhibitions focussed marketing budget to engaging with the potential that digital platforms provide. Furthermore, I have seen a noticeable move from the traditional B2B marketing approach to a more blended style, drawing on some of the techniques more often found in B2C marketing.
Marketing experts generally agree that the main difference between B2B (business to business) and B2C (business to consumer) marketing is whether it is aimed at the head or the heart. A traditional understanding of B2B marketing would err on the side of logic-driven campaigns that promote time, money and resources saved.
More and more companies are choosing to change track from this well-trodden path and this move is best demonstrated by two key dynamics that I will go on to explore below.
The Power of the Personality
“Brands are trying to look like individuals and individuals look like brands.”
I tweeted this statement a few years back (on a now retired personal Twitter account) and while at the time, it was based on a specific Q&A at a marketing conference, it has proven to be just a true in today’s marketing climate.
Perhaps the greatest case in point would be Gary Vaynerchuk, social media guru, Snapchat aficionado and Bono-esque celebrity of the digital marketing world. What some might not know is that Gary is CEO of Vayner Media. In fact, the Twitter follower numbers show that 1809% fewer people know of Vayner Media than know about the man behind its helm.
Why is this interesting? Because it shows that people are more interested in people than brands.
In the bygone era of brands, marketing and celebrity personalities it was much simpler. Big companies were run by CEOs that the majority of their customers knew very little about. These brands would hire celebrities; a sportsperson, singer or actor to endorse their merchandise and ipso facto, product would shift and revenue increase.
Things have changed. Yes, some brands do still follow this formula, but the majority have realised that, like it or not, people are looking for the real personalities within the brand, not just an unrelated celebrity bolted on to tick the personality box.
Innocent Smoothies, Yorkshire Tea, Brew Dog and Nando’s. All are aiming towards the Everest summit of 21st-century marketing; for a brand to look like, sound like and be treated like a real person.
Within the natural stone sector, there is an increasing number of companies that are seeing the benefit of giving their sales team personal social media accounts. The main brand account can promote the products, services and events effectively, but the personal accounts are the place of the greatest interaction and valuable connection. Businesses have always been aware of the power of the relationships their sales team has with customers but not all have yet moved this online.
As a side note, sometimes the most valuable accounts to have engagement with are not the main ‘brand’ accounts of your clients, but the personal accounts of associates or company directors, so don’t assume that a high exposure tweet is necessarily reaping quality as well as quantity. A robust set up of tracking tools help to gauge which social media interactions lead to the highest value returns. It is this strategy and analytics-driven social marketing approach that separates the good from the best.
But back to the power of the personality.
A number of big money corporates that previously protected the style, tone and content of their marketing copy with military diligence now hand the reigns of their Twitter account over to an up-and-coming comedian with practically ‘carte blanche’ to push the boat out and engage in witty, sometimes close to the line ‘banter’ with customers.
While this may not be the path taken by many in the natural stone industry, the lessons of risk-taking still apply when giving sales teams their own company social media profiles. Companies that are fearful of the risks of trusting their team in this way will also miss out of the benefits of a more ‘human’ social media presence.
This whole shift is arguably just the latest iteration of the well-worn marketing adage that “people buy from people”.
The Power of the Story
“The most powerful person in the world is the storyteller. The storyteller sets the vision, values and agenda of an entire generation that is to come.” – Steve Jobs
Storytelling within marketing is nothing new however, there are a range of mediums available to marketers in 2020 that our predecessors did not have at their disposal.
More and more natural stone companies are taking advantage of the opportunity that video provides for storytelling. Gone are the days when project case studies would be a humble PDF with a few embedded images. Now companies are utilising high-res drone footage and slickly edited, multi-angle footage to showcase their materials and services.
Video has also helped companies bridge the gap between their B2B and B2C marketing. Many natural stone companies are now providing both commercial and domestic product offerings, and while some pieces of content will be specifically focussed on one of these markets, storytelling videos cover both bases. A B2B client will be drawn in by the details, the technical finesse, and the specification information whereas the B2C customer will enjoy the aspirational dynamic of seeing a stunning natural stone kitchen worktop or patio, for example.
In June, Stone Federation launched its #OpenForBusiness campaign, a promotional drive based around this very premise, that there is power in a story. Rather than just telling people that the natural stone sector was agile and resilient we wanted to show it through stories. Showing is always better than just telling. People are drawn to stories, not just information. These real-life examples of how companies dealt with the challenges of lockdown did a much better job of promoting the industry than just saying that we were agile and resilient.
The natural stone sector is getting better and better at marketing itself. The steady adoption of a ‘head and heart’, more human approach to marketing coupled with utilisation of the power of storytelling has raised the profile of the sector within the wider architectural and construction industries.
So, what’s next?
Even now, as many B2B brands laugh at the suggestion of engaging with TikTok or switch off at the mention of Voice Search Optimisation, there are those who are engaging, exploring, testing and learning. Ready to prove once again that the early adopter always gets the worm.
Digital Media Executive, Stone Federation Great Britain
Matt has almost a decade of experience within the world of marketing. While running his own business he worked with a wide variety of clients from leading travel companies and automotive brands through to local start-ups and design consultancies. The past 8 years have seen him managing the marketing and digital media for Stone Federation, the trade association for the natural stone industry.
He loves marketing analytics more than is healthy and has a deep-seated hatred for misplaced apostrophes.