In the world of commercial interiors, the product marketing mix must work hard to appeal to all the senses, celebrating not only the physicality of the product and its design credentials, but equally its functional attributes, compliance and sustainability features. So when it comes to engaging architects and designers, the physical showroom experience is pretty hard to beat to secure a specification. That’s why showrooms are the cornerstone across all areas of the business, sales and marketing included.
But as the shift to digital in virtually all forms of life has gathered pace, and been rapidly accelerated by the Covid pandemic, showrooms have had to start sharing the spotlight with digital experiences. And commercial interiors brands are suddenly being forced to see their websites in a whole new light.
Gone are the days when a website was just something nice for people to stumble across when they search for your brand on Google as a ‘shop window’ into your business. That’s still very important, of course, but now it needs to look, feel and function like a showroom in its own right.
While the ongoing problems caused by covid around the globe have catapulted the dilemma to the top of marketers’ agendas, this focus on thinking of your website as a digital showroom shouldn’t be a revolutionary approach.
Many studies have shown that architects and designers turn to online searches and websites first when starting the process of specifying a product, looking for information such as product specifications, technical sheets and CAD files. They will sometimes search for all of this before even stepping foot in a showroom.
Rivalling the physical experience
The challenge then, for commercial interiors brands, is to deliver a digital showroom experience that rivals the physical one. One that inspires and showcases the products in the most desirable way, but is also functional, resourceful and slick to give specifiers everything they need quickly and efficiently, to make their lives easier.
It might sound like a daunting task, but with the right research, planning, design and build approach, it can be done. It’s the journey we went on recently with luxury international bathroom specialists, Sanipex Group. Our digital strategy director, Sarah Lundy, talks us through how the team went about it. “When we started working with Sanipex, they knew their digital offering was quite fragmented” Sarah said.
“They had a number of websites, including a product site, a brochure-style showroom site and an e-commerce site. As often happens, these had come about in a piecemeal way over time, not necessarily aligned with the strategic direction of the business.
“Not surprisingly, this led to some real confusion over where they should be sending their customers, and what the journey and experience should be like when they get there. That was really our starting point for the new website.”
Sarah and the team began by auditing the existing websites, but ultimately came at the project with a clean slate and an open mind. Their first goal was to get under the skin of what Sanipex wanted to achieve with the website, who their audience was and how this would shape the digital experience.
“From our research and experience, we know members of the architect and design community thrive on creativity, so this needed to be reflected in all areas of the website, not only in its design but also through the prominence of case studies, visual inspiration and trends. “We also identified the importance of giving visitors the ability to source products and incorporate them into projects seamlessly, as well as access crucial information such as technical sheets and CAD files easily.
“Very quickly, we realised a traditional website just wouldn’t cut it.”
Building a digital showroom
The team set to work on building a digital showroom experience that would cater to architects and designers in every way, but crucially, underpinned by the expertise, passion and service that Sanipex has become known for.
“It was very important that the site embodied what makes Sanipex different from its competitors”, Sarah added. “It had to raise the bar.”
“This became even more important when the impact of covid forced physical showrooms to close. The website had to demonstrate that Sanipex is capable of offering the same level of service, even when showrooms are closed.
“One of the key ways we achieved this was by making the specification team available and accessible to recommend products or trends that are relevant to the customer, helping them to select the very best products for the job and create a specification in partnership together.”
As well as the obvious ways a digital showroom makes the experience more satisfying for visitors, it also has other advantages that benefit the business from a commercial sense. For example, the smart use of range promotion on the homepage enables Sanipex to put products that will likely be in high demand – such as touchless hygiene – right in front of specifiers as soon as they land on the site.
By creating a destination that curates the very best products in the sector, one that manufacturers would happily compete to be featured on, Sanipex is also able to leverage relationships with suppliers to create additional revenue streams from the website, as well as tap into them for content opportunities that keep the website fresh and keep visitors coming back for more.
“There can be a lot of complexity when it comes to building a digital showroom,” Sarah says, “but our job is to cut through this complexity and noise to produce an effective digital solution that gets a brand’s products on spec and keeps them on spec.”
Looking ahead, Sarah doesn’t see everything going back to how it once was even after covid is a distant memory. “Covid has brought about lots of changes to daily life that will stay with us, such as reduced travel and increased flexibility with regards to working from home. Commercial interiors brands need to ensure their digital showroom is ready and raring to go in order to capitalise on these opportunities and ensure they don’t get left behind.”