If you read the MJSA Journal you might recognize some of my quotes that were used for that editorial. Here are my full responses to the interview I provided to the MJSA journalist.
Who are today's consumers?
Everyone is still buying jewelry. That will never change. People have been wearing jewelry since before recorded history. The real questions we should be asking ourselves are: What type of jewelry is being purchased, and why? Where are they getting it from? Is the independent retail jeweler simply suffering because they are holding to old trends? Does the store even appeal to the current generation of jewelry buyers or is the store's look outdated and uninviting? Is the jeweler still trying to cater to a class of customers that simply don't exist anymore, either in general or in their area?
Who is buying jewelry and how is the best way for a business to define who their customer is?
Jewelry is still worn to make a statement, except now people aren't interested in the expensive statement pieces, but rather, something that makes a statement to represent their personality. No longer are people showing off their latest expensive jewelry to their friends, instead they are proudly holding up their iPhone 11 or Galazy A20 to take a selfie, or they impress their friends with the latest high end gaming computer. Smartphones and laptops have a life expectancy of 2 years before technology advances enough to warrant a replacement. Adding a new set of jewelry to a wardrobe doesn't have the same effect as being able to take better photos to share around the world through social media or participate in live online gaming with your friends around the world. Priorities have changed for the 25-40 year old customers.
There's no shortage of new jewelry designers entering the industry. There are new graduates from jewelry design schools every year who are trying to figure out how to establish themselves. I've met several new designers at trade shows who used their entire savings and even borrowed money from family just to fill their trade show booth with live merchandise, only to be disappointed by the lack of reception by independent retail jewelers. Many designers who don't have the financial means to design high end jewelry are following their own desires of self expression by creating colorful and trendy jewelry with materials they can afford. In recent years I've seen a broad range of jewelry made from wood, lucite, reconstituted gemstone, rubber, leather, and even cement that have silver or gold accents on previous metal chains. This trendy jewelry is commonly found on the Etsy website, and it's exactly what resonates with others who are looking for a statement to represent their personality.
The new designers entering the industry understand the new generation of jewelry buyers better than the owners who have run their stores for 25+ years. Those new designers are making jewelry that's less expensive with the expectation that their pieces will only be worn for a few years, which is not a bad approach if you are really interested in the repeat customers.
I often spend a lot of time talking to those exhibiting in the New Designer Gallery area of the trade shows I attend. Those designers often report to me that store owners frequently say things like "this is nice, but it would never sell in my store." When I hear those mantras I always wonder if the store owners are not paying attention to the change in their own clientele.
Independent jewelers experiencing a decline in their sales need to rethink what they are selling and if their entire inventory and brand image even makes sense any more for their market. Communities are changing rapidly and the new generation is not interested in stores that have been in the same location, with the same look, and the same style merchandise since they were children. It's likely that the new generation passes right by those stores while on their way to the shiny shopping mall where they can find trendy accessories matching their personal style.
Diamonds aren't forever any more, tattoos are. If someone wants to spend a lot of money on something they will have for their entire life, they'll spend it on a $3,000 tattoo, not jewelry. Speaking of which, many in the industry have not caught up to the fact that the models they use in their ads must represent the modern customers. Tattoos which were once hidden away in places that could be covered with clothes are now prominently visible on forearms, legs, ankles, and necks. Politicians, police officers, and school teachers are now allowed to display them, but businesses that still cater to the baby boomers, like high end tourism, still mandate that their employees have no visible tattoos. If a store owner wants to refresh their branding to attract younger customers, they need to consider choosing models that represent their actual target audience. The point I'm trying to make here is that someone with a $3,000 sleeve tattoo would gladly spend $200 to $500 on jewelry that matches their body.
I haven't specifically said it yet, but according to The New York Times, Edahn Golan Diamond Research & Data, and the Pew Recearch Center the average yearly spend on jewelry today between $400 to $600. Remember that everyone is spending far more than that on other methods of personal expression and technology toys every year.
If you have a business that reaches all consumers and all types, how do you best reach all of them? For example marketing to Gen Z is far different than a baby boomer.
The simple answer to this question is to be wherever your customer are. This does require some research and trust in the demographics reported by each media outlet. The baby boomers still read the local newspaper while the younger generation will be attached to one of the social networks.
According to study by Pew Research Center in February 2019 the entire age range of 18 to 64 uses YouTube, Facebook users are mostly in the age range of 25 to 49, and Instagram comprises the 18 to 29 group. Although publishing to these social networks is free, the time it takes to create and publish content is not. I recommend that every store hire an in-house employee to manage their social media, preferably someone about 25 years old since that age group best understands why people spend so much time on those social networks. I don't recommend hiring a marketing agency to manage social media unless they will create unique content and manage the accounts daily. Those types of agencies charge at least $4,000 per month for properly managed social accounts.
I don't recommend direct mail unless it's some unusual size or a hand written address on an envelope. There's a lot of junk mail that ends up in the garbage without ever being read because no one wants to take the time to read random solicitations. Everyone has become so accustomed to doing a Google search for their immediate needs that no one wants to bother with snail mail solicitations any more.
Speaking of Google searches, the only way to be found in Google is to have a well thought out website with a lot of information. That information, called content, is in the form of online product catalogs, detailed product information, videos, and well written articles or blogs. Everyone of every age uses Google to begin their search for answers. The only way Google knows to match up consumer questions with a website is if the website has a matching answers. This is also a laborious process that can't be ignored.
Are billboards, radio, TV, magazine (old school) still viable?
Stores that are still using billboards should consider changing their methods and move away from thin elegant fonts and small photos that are hard to read while driving, and switch to larger photos with easier to read block lettering. Jewelry stores should follow the photography trends found on Instagram to get ideas of how to make their billboards look better. Close up images would create more interest than the typical photos of a whole engagement ring. Some of the recent Rolex Watch billboards are using a much better approach of showing a close up of only a portion of the watch face.
As for radio, I know the baby boomers are still listening to radio stations at home and in their cars, but the jeweler must consider if that target audience is still worth the expense of radio stations. On the other hand, moving that radio media buy to Pandora or Spotify would be a good idea. Spotify appeals more to the under 30 demographic while Pandora has listeners in every age group.
When it comes to magazines, I only recommend them for multi-store regional chains or for individual stores in tourist areas that have weekly free magazines targeted at tourists who have spending money and are looking for local artisanal jewelry to remember their trip by.
Or should it be all online marketing and social media or the blend of the two?
According to the US SBA if you want your business to thrive you should be allocating 7%-10% of your revenue on all your marketing. Stores with $25,000 or less of a marketing budget will have to carefully choose where they spend their money, in which case I would recommend concentrating on their website and Google search, which also includes SEO. I would also recommend assigning an employee to manage the social media accounts instead of hiring an agency.
Many jewelers don't want to give up on their traditional media buys because they've been doing them for so long and they assume that they are working without having any physical way of tracking them. I would ask those jewelers if their sales are dropping, maintaining, or increasing. If sales have been on a decline for a few years then it should be obvious that their current marketing isn't working. They need to take a chance and try something new by shifting their marketing budget to their website, social media, SEO, refreshing their store look, changing their product line, and thinking outside the box that they've become comfortable in.
How do you best define what social media platform to use? Facebook, spotify, etc.
Every social network has their own set of claimed demographics, just like every radio station and newspaper will claim who their listeners and readership are. When researching demographics I prefer to rely on studies from Pew Research Center or other reliable survey companies. These independent studies will break down the age, education, income, and frequency of use of each platform. Jewelry designers who cater to personal expression of the under 30 demographic are having a lot of success on Instagram while other jewelers have discovered that spending time engaging in two-way conversations on Facebook gains favor with the 25 to 49 age group.
Every jeweler must do their homework to see who they want as their audience and then enact a plan to manage it each and every day.
The new digital world of marketing doesn't have deadlines for submitting artwork like you do for a newspaper, magazine, or billboard. If you want social media to work you can't ignore it for a few days and hope no one notices. Each of these networks has their own way of doing things and they reward active users with more exposure to other active users. There are no deadlines in social media that you can push off for another day; social media engagement needs to be part of your daily work routine.
What about social media influencers? How do you approach them?
An influencer is anyone with a large following on social media whose recommendations could serve as a boost for any company they talk about. To capture the attention of an influencer you can post interesting and unusual photos on Twitter and Instagram along with the hashtags that influencers have used. It will take a bit of time to research influencers and their hashtags, but it is well worth it. You can also tag influencers in your own posts when you believe they will have a legitimate interest in what you're sharing. Additionally, you can comment on your own posts as a way to subtly introduce yourself. Avoid spammy sales pitches like "you might like my line of jewelry, take a look," and instead just make a natural comment on their post that adds value to the conversation.
Some influencers might contact you directly asking if you'd be willing to pay for them to mention you; avoid those offers because they invariably turn out to be worthless.
Discovering good influencers is also a tedious task. Start by identifying a few people from your target audience and look at who they follow, specifically looking for those with large amount of followers. For manufacturers those influencers will be jewelry industry journalist, industry consultants, and representatives of industry organizations, like MJSA. On the other hand, designers and jewelers need to think outside the jewelry industry, specifically to fashion magazine journalist or fashion bloggers who write for the consumer.
What about email lists?
Email still works, but the biggest challenge for any jeweler is collecting those customer email addresses. You can ask for email addresses at the point-of-sale in your store but it's usually easier for those with ecommerce websites to capture emails when customers make an online purchase. Those emails can then be used for occasional newsletter blasts or special offers. Even though many of the latest email programs are overzealous with how they tag and filter spam, email does get through to your customers when they recognize who you are. The second biggest challenge is getting people to read them without clicking Delete All and lumping you in with the other emails they won't read. You have maybe one chance to let them know you're worth reading for the second email, or especially the third.
How do you maintain repeat customers?
Up until about 10 years ago it was still commonly believed that you could gain a new customer with their first small jewelry purchase and hope to keep them as loyal customers over the years as they made self-purchases, then their engagement rings, wedding bands, anniversary gifts, and gifts for their family. The entire dynamic of gift giving has changed as technology gifts have replaced jewelry; jewelry stores are no longer at the top of the list when people think about gifts. We seem to be in a trend where people only think about jewelry stores when they are getting married or they need to have existing jewelry repaired.
To maintain repeat customers a jeweler needs to be more in-tune to the personal expression of their audience, and give them what they want. This goes back to the idea of refreshing the look of a store and carrying different trendy jewelry that may only be worn for a few years. Even though every jeweler I know wants to sell diamonds and wedding rings, concentrating on those items in your marketing leads consumers to believe that that's all you sell. Stores need to recapture the imagination of their audience and consider how young designers selling on Etsy are building their business simply by feeding their customer's desires.
Hosting trunk shows is an alternative way to introduce new speculative lines in a store, but a single trunk show on a single day doesn't carry enough marketing sizzle to get people in the door. Consider hosting several speculative trunk shows at the same time and create a large event out of it.
My final thought for gaining repeat customers would also generate a lot of word-of-mouth referrals, and that's custom design. The jewelers I know who have mastered their custom design work have transformed their business in recent years with the latest 3D printing and CAD programs. Many of the stores I know now pull in more than 50% of their revenue with custom design work. Mastering custom design also means you're able to become a master in understanding someone's need for self expression, because your customers will look at you as the person who can create whatever they want, in whatever material they want, to perfectly match who they are.