Some have used IGTV to engage the audience in conversations with otherwise inaccessible personalities: like Cassina and its interviews with artists, thinkers and entrepreneurs, in the Out of the Box series with Patricia Urquiola. Others have used their range of designers to narrate products in more immediate formats: like Pedrali with the New Ideas series of video conversations, or Alessi with the podcasts Alessi Stories (the latter also involves the audience in the construction of the brand’s account with the initiatives of stories like #MyAlessi).
It is hard to find the watershed moment, the one in which companies began to understand that what has happened to their way of communicating during the pandemic was not a passing anomaly, but a new beginning. It probably happened when we began circulating freely once more, and realized that the world of webinars, of IGTV series, of Zoom lectures was not going to go away. In fact, from an experimental arena it has become a solid, well-reasoned and widespread practice. We have also realized that its big advantage is the possibility of listening and not just sending messages, of getting off our pedestals (always a big problem for design brands) and demonstrating, through posts, our own true creativity.
It sounds simple but it isn’t. For design companies that have made the ability to try things, to innovate and to conduct research their strong points, the use of preset formats and languages might seem counterproductive. Barbara Corti, marketing director of Flos in charge of the brand’s online and offline customer experience, would agree. “Getting obsessed with data insight can be dangerous. We know everything about traffic, single users, sessions (contents, imagery, tone of voice), and it is easy to succumb to the temptation to standardize messages and approaches, as a way of making a safe bet.” It is much better, in Corti’s view, to approach the digital in the same way one approaches product design: “To have an interesting story to tell, and to do it by experimenting with different languages; to know what the data say, but to conserve the force and originality of instinct. The difference, today, when we talk about design content, is between those who are able to make culture – in the most extensive, anthropological sense – and those who chase numbers and clicks. An overload of content doesn’t work; it is better to do a few things, and do them very well.”
What does that mean, at the content level? “Our stories, presented on the website, the social networks or in our magazine, start from the products but then expand the semantic dimension to include the world surrounding things: relationships, emotions, intimacy. We work with people, not influencers, we choose them for what they have to say, not for who they are. We are in a historical moment in which a certain type of audience has a bigger need for ideals than for ideas: and the digital channels offer exceptional opportunities to come into contact with these people, to continue to demonstrate the role of cultural activism of design, which has always brought beauty and culture into homes.”
Digital communication, however, is not just a tool for sending messages. “Its real value is to allow you to create a conversation, from which business ideas can emerge,” says Filippo Berto, owner of BertO. He knows this territory, since in ten years he has transformed a family business (boosting sales from 300,000 to 10 million euros) from a quality supplier to a brand, thanks to an almost intimate relationship established with the community of its blog, opened in almost a playful way in 2004. “BertoStory was the first corporate blog in the furniture industry. I wanted to narrate the meaning of crafts and design,” he says. The strong desire to share and the spontaneity of the messages attracted an increasingly large and attentive audience, open to new dialogues, always involving multiple players. “At that point came the business intuition: to sell without middlemen, to transform direct communication into customized service, in the store, on the phone, or on the web. The organization – the how – was complex, but in the end it has functioned well: people come to us because they know we are there. They know, just as on the blog, that we take direct responsibility, we are there for them.”
This way of working has also saved BertO during the pandemic. “When the lockdown began, we simply pushed the gas pedal on a system that was already totally in place, for online dialogue. When physical stores were closed, we boosted personalized web consulting, offered in different languages, with detailed design and real décor simulations.” The results: +300% in sales during the period of closure, and a phone call from Google. The Italian CEO of the American giant chose BertO as a testimonial for the Italia In Digitale project, which tells the stories of those who have wagered on digital channels and thus managed to flourish during the pandemic.
“It’s true that it is fundamental to put yourself in a condition to listen, and to know how to translate the intuitions that emerge from that listening in an immediate way: you have to try, to risk, without fear of making mistakes, and you can never stand still,” says Daniele Lago, CEO of the company that bears his surname and the man behind its transformation, in just a few years, from a local reality into a global brand with an enormous, active community (over a million followers on Facebook, more than 300,000 on Instagram, with 13,000 individual visitors per day at the website). “The force of our company is its people, its community,” Lago says. “We constructed it, before the term came into vogue, in the analog world, with the Lago Apartment, a self-managed, global creative hub. Then we moved into the digital realm.” During lockdown, when the stores were closed, the website lago.it had 600,000 visits, namely 80% more than in the same period last year. In spite of the fact that it does not offer e-commerce.
“Questioning the community, we learned that people want to get informed about products, to increase their knowledge on décor and furnishings. We used the seven weeks of closure to offer 50 hours of online training, and the response was unexpectedly strong: over 6000 people took part, including consumers and architects.” When the company reopened, there were so many orders that Lago Spa was forced to continue production throughout the month of August, to meet the demand. “In September we launched the option of video calls with décor consultants, starting from a simple click at the website. It is easy, in technical terms, but it sends a very strong signal to those who enter to browse the contents, the stories and other features (we are talking about 13,000 people per day): they want to know that we are really there, ready to answer their questions, and that we understand them. If there’s a match, the process moves on to an appointment in the store.”
To make digital channels function at their best, there should not be a mere transfer of what was previously done in the analog world; there has to be a widening of horizons, using tools to create new and dynamic relations of exchange. This also reflects the experience of Fiorella Villa, communication/marketing director of Minotti. “Paradoxically, the pandemic has led us to intensify and deepen our relationships with others in a more empathic way. At the start of the lockdown, we suddenly understood the need to reassure partners and dealers all over the world, and we did it in a professional way, but with a more human tone, considering the trauma of what was happening to all of us, as people first of all, in a sphere of crucial importance: that of health, prior to business. We have used all our digital channels, from the newsletter to the social networks, to speak to our audiences. Then, on this almost everyday basis, we have communicated with single-brand partners, clients and architects, through video calls and webinars. The message we wanted to send was: ‘We are here by your side.’” For the presentation of the collection, which traditionally happens at the Salone del Mobile, Minotti has created a video with multiple voices: the family and the designers, but also the managers and staff of the company.
“Changes frighten everyone, but when you explore uncharted territory you discover interesting things. The launch of the collection with this type of video, along with training sessions and workshops with clients, has allowed us to attract many more people, generating an involvement and an enthusiasm that went well beyond our most optimistic expectations. In the end, apart from the difficulties, it is clear that these new methods of communication offer brands many opportunities for more direct, democratic, fast and incisive interaction, which will certainly be beneficial over the long term.”