When many people hear the words “interior design” the image that comes to mind is of lush cushions, stylish armchairs and exotic Bric-à-brac. Things purchased on Hollywood Road in Hong Kong and spacious flats in Sai Kung reported in the Sunday paper magazine “lifestyle” section.

That is not what comes to my mind when I hear the words.  In the early part of my career I, when I was still the teenage “computer consultant” that started it all off, I had the great pleasure to work for several interior design companies.

My memories are of Gantt charts for project planning printed on gigantic sheets of paper (of A1 or even A0 size) by huge pen plotters.  Of “specifications books” with a thousand pages detailing every different material in a design.  Many with pieces of fabric, or even tile, wood or stone stuck to the pages.  And project managers wearing hard hats when going “on-site” to supervise construction of their latest design.

Interior design at this scale meant room layouts for 5-star hotel towers, shopping malls and whole apartment complexes.

This experience gave me a great backgrounder when I worked closely with interior designers for large office renovations and relocations later in my career as a project manager.  Professional interior design companies certainly know about cushions, armchairs and Cloisonné objets d’art sitting on reclaimed teak wood tables.

However, their expertise is just as much about combining that aesthetic sense with hardcore project management, budgeting and implementation skills.  Knowing how long a container-load of Steelcase office furniture is going to take to ship to HK is as important as knowing where to source a distressed rosewood cabin trunk.

What their expertise may not include, however, is how online marketing has impacted their business, and the way their customer’s buying cycle has changed with the replacement of “word of mouth” with social media, and how targeting and Search Engines have changed what advertising means today.

Online marketing has become a crucial aspect for growing business and expanding customer base. And that particularly true for interior designers. The whole of the marketing mix is important but with online activity increasing, digital marketing has become a core component for businesses across the world, not just Hong Kong.

But it is an aspect that many interior designers are struggling with and it could be costing them business.

But why?

Stop for a moment and consider. When you want a service today, think about how you seek a professional that will meet your requirements. Online searching is the first stop on most purchasing journies.

When it comes to interior design, the digital world holds a huge amount of potential for design companies. People interested in selecting a design firm will do online research as part of their due-diligence before selecting a vendor, even when working from a recommendation or prior experience.

If a company is failing to build up an online presence as an interior designer they could be losing lucrative opportunities. It shouldn’t be an afterthought but a key part of a business strategy just as with any other type of marketing and promotion.

What is the problem with interior designers and digital marketing?

Despite it being a fundamental part of the business world today, interior designers seem to struggle with embedding online marketing into their operations.

Part of the problem stems from how they work.

While interior designers certainly understand the concept that things need to be functional as well as aesthetically pleasing, there is a problem that what is “functional” for online marketing is a lot less obvious than what look goods.

The upshot of this is that they may end up selecting online marketing options that only look good, as they obviously have more than an average ability to understand the visual design.  But can’t necessarily tell when a website design contains the key ingredients to be functional from an SEO and digital marketing perspective.

Words, and how they are presented technically, is still many times more important than graphical design when it comes to being an internet marketing success.

When you picture your current or dream website, for instance, you might be envisaging a design that’s slick, looks fantastic and instantly catches the eye.

Often this will mean using Adobe Flash technology for animations, video and layout. But these are deadly from an online marketing perspective.  The whole Flash technology, which seemed so promising 10 years ago, is now truly poison and discouraged by everybody from Apple (who always hated it) to Google and Microsoft.  But the tech was still popular with the more graphic oriented web designers just two or three years ago and so many recent websites are still stuck with this antiquated system. Our survey of HK Interior Design websites showed that a full 12% are still using Adobe Flash.

Customers that have your direct website will be able to access all the information they need but for prospects simply searching the web for an interior designer, it may be difficult for such companies to be found. People use online searching for convenience and you need to bear this in mind – they will choose the interior designer that is simple to connect with and meets their needs. Even if a company is a perfect match for the job, they won’t necessarily win the contract if the customer finds them hard to connect to or doubts their ability to be up-to-date technically.

So, to secure more business and receive enquires from eager prospects, a company needs to blend interior design skills with some carefully crafted content that captures the essence of the business.

For someone who is focused on aesthetics, it can be a challenge to balance the two aspects but if you really want to take a business to the next level it is a must.

Many designers don’t realize that their outdated websites are shooting themselves in the foot.  With the ever-popular Google Chrome browser now refusing to display Flash in some situations, these websites become worse than useless.  Not only are the hard to find, but when a potential customer does arrive at the website they are sure to be unimpressed by the fact that even the website won’t display correctly.

How to boost your interior design marketing efforts

So, now that you understand the importance of online marketing, what steps should a company be taking? Making the company website and digital presence more effective does not have to be a complicated process, in fact, there are some simple steps that can be done for an instant boost.

And a simple and direct strategy for the long term can ensure that additional developments support and reinforce rather than damage the online reputation of the company.

These five key steps could be just what you need to get started with your new online marketing approach.

  • Understand the power of words on your website – This is a common area that many interior designers fall down on. Eager to show off their design skills and stunning projects, websites may be Flash-based, or even if using proper HTML5 they may have little written content compared to the visuals. But did you know that in order to be successful on Google your webpages needs more written words? Hundreds of words per page at least, and case studies or extended articles of thousands of words are now preferred. Without those vital words, the website will never be found, and then it won’t create customers regardless of how well or not it represents the company design ethos. If company website is currently image-focused to the detriment of textual content then now is the time to think about how you can update it in line with ranking requirements of search engines.
  • Make SEO part of your online presence – SEO, or search engine optimisation, is the strategy for generating more traffic to your website. It encompasses many different areas but again words are vital. If you haven’t already researched a vocabulary list used by your customer then, this should be one of your first tasks. Without being too tied down to “keywords” you do need to know how your customers describe things, which very often is not how you may refer to things internally. It is this customer vocabulary that needs to go onto your website so that Google will show your website to your potential customers. Subscribe to a monthly SEO service in HK so that your SEO efforts don’t stop but keep going regularly and are tied to how businesses work locally in Hong Kong.
  • Be mobile but don’t neglect office PCs – People used to connect to the internet via desktop PCs only but those days are over. With powerful smartphones, consumers expect to be able to source information when it is convenient for them, even when they are on the go. If company website has not considered mobile traffic and is unusable to these customers, they will quickly find a different interior designer’s website that they can easily navigate. Your website being mobile responsive plays a role in search engine rankings too. At the same time most corporate buying decisions happen in offices, on desktops, so working well on both mobile and office PCs is essential.
  • Use social media effectively – Did you know that almost eight in ten people in Hong Kong use social media to connect? If the company is not engaging with your customers through these platforms and connecting them to your website, the company is missing a huge potential. Social media is a great way to drum up interest in your business, share your latest projects, and establish a relationship with customers and prospects alike. Remember to create a balance between the written content you share and the visual. Videos and images are far more likely to be shared by your followers, so don’t underestimate their power. Social is the new “word of mouth” and can be the biggest refer of real new customers.
  • Use online directories – If you think directories have become outdated, think again – they have simply moved online. From small businesses to established global giants, adding your details to these directories, including Google My Business, and 852.com, is an important step that could see enquires soar.
  • Enlist the support of a professional – Design and marketing are two very different aspects to get your head around. Working closely with a professional that both understands your industry and how to achieve marketing results, can really propel your business to new heights.

When your interior design company needs some assistance with Digital Marketing talk to me about your needs. I’ll be delighted to work once again with designers, and will gladly lead you through the constantly changing world of online marketing and onto digital marketing success.

Raymond Lowe is an Internet Marketing Analyst at WL Media HK. He started using Microsoft Project when it was version 1.0 and still loves Gantt charts. Connect with him on LinkedIn for the latest on Internet Marketing and how it applies to Interior Designers in Hong Kong.

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