• Blog
  • May 02, 2022
  • By Cam Sivesind
Using Data to Increase Marketing Performance for a Bustling Furniture Business
Justin on Mud Island

Justin in front of the Memphis sign on Mud Island along the Mississippi River. Downtown Memphis is in the background

People + Data = Better

An occasional series profiling an agency or enterprise marketer doing good with data

Justin Bowen analyzes marketing data to create comfort and function, just like the furniture The Great American Home Store sells

Inspiration. As the ecommerce manager for a 5-store furniture retailer in the Memphis, Tennessee region, Justin Bowen says seeing The Great American Home Store  provide inspiration to customers is something he gets a kick out of every day.

How the 18-year-old company provides that inspiration continues to change. While designing eye-catching displays of living rooms and bedroom sets in stores to showcase furniture products and accessories is still important, the company is now using 3D modeling to create digital renderings online to provide virtual inspiration to customers looking to upgrade their home interiors.

“Inspiration is one of the biggest reasons people are going to the store,” Justin said. “It’s not discounts, or salesman; it’s wanting help and inspiration. We can start doing that with technologies, like 3D renderings on our website where we can build a whole room out. Wayfair and Overstock and other big sites have been doing it; now we can do it at a smaller business level. We can build a room, curate products, and make it a shoppable experience. That’s only been a dream for some time, and now it’s totally possible.”

Marketing Analytics/Attribution Measure Business Impact

Are those virtual furniture displays really impacting business? Unequivocally yes, Justin says. And that’s where marketing analytics, specifically marketing attribution, comes in. You want to know if a marketing channel, new creative or, in this case, if a new way of marketing is working? Measure it.

Per Justin: Current data shows a 65% average increase to product click-throughs on-site for a 30-day average, with some increases as high as 350%. This is comparing two 60-day periods, December-January and February-March. The GAHS is also seeing an average 46% increase to sales dollars for the same time period for products displayed using the Live Furnish imagery.

“Overall sales have either been relatively flat or down in this period, with the exception of comparing December-January, so that’s a pretty big number when sales have not been going up much,” he said. “Most of these items also did not have significant change prices.”

It’s nice to be able to link the new 3D imagery to the 46% sales dollar increase. “I think that it’s just more visually appealing,” Justin said. “It’s that ‘inspiration’ idea just like people getting inspired when they come in the store.”

Justin and The Great American Home Store have been using the LeadsRx multi-touch attribution (MTA) solution for a couple of years now. He uses it to measure the business’ marketing effectiveness – from its TV and radio ads to paid digital to organic search, social media ads, and more. Any touchpoint used to market the business – it gets measured.

Justin and GAHS were the subject of a LeadsRx case study in 2021 in which he talked about how the business survived the 2020-21 pandemic, using attribution data to understand and measure how its growing digital presence provided valuable exposure when the store shuttered.

He continues to use marketing analytics to impartially measure all of the GAHS marketing campaigns. Every channel, every device, every TV and radio campaign – down to each spot timing and creative – is measured equally, without bias. If it works, they’ll do more of it; if it doesn’t, they adjust spend away from what’s not working.

“We try to give everything at least 90 days,” Justin said. “If it didn’t produce the results we want, before discarding it, we ask, ‘What is the data showing about this, why it didn’t work? Why didn’t people like it/engage with it? Or why didn’t it motivate people to buy?,” Justin clarified. “Usually it takes several iterations of an ad to find one that resonates with the audience well. Once we find it, that’s what we amp up the money on. But if we consistently see similar results over time despite iteration, we’ll move that money to where it’s being more effective.”

Podcast: Justin talks more about his career and the GAHS marketing journey.

Justin and his wife, Katherine, in Vienna.

Justin and his wife, Katherine, in Vienna, Austria.

A Long Way from the Days of Dial-up

How Justin came to be the ecommerce manager for a sizeable regional Southeastern furniture retailer starts when he was 7 and his dad set him up on an old computer, complete with dial-up and Microsoft Office. He dabbled in Publisher and tinkered with printed documents and websites. He had a knack for computers, which he perfected while being homeschooled from third grade on.

At 13, his dad purchased a camcorder and the first editing software to document a Disney vacation. His dad started his own software company that provided tools for Auto Cad after working for years at an architectural firm.

Camcorder in hand, Justin began video editing, mostly music videos and game footage, and he worked as a freelance videographer for about 10 years, majoring in video at college. After college, he realized quickly that the industry had changed with Adobe taking over the video editing market. Video jobs were limited.

Justin married his wife, Katherine, and got married the day he graduated from the University of Memphis. So instead of going to graduation, he and his new bride went on their honeymoon. In need of jobs and money, Justin contacted a friend who worked at a ServiceMaster call center, where he manned the phones for 9 months.

“The trainer realized I was good with computers, and they needed someone for a CRM project, moving it off an old platform,” Justin recalls. “I was on that project for two and a half years. They killed the project, but I learned a lot, mostly about software QA, CRMs, training teams, software development and implementation cycles, and project management.”

The next evolution was taking Justin’s experience with process flows and inserting him as the middleman between Infosys developers and the business. He started training new testers, then became a lead resource writing test cases and scenarios, and he was given related responsibilities for other departments, including marketing.

As an aside, Katherine is an award-winning and amazon bestselling indie fantasy author (her pen name is Katherine D. Graham), as well as the owner of Starry Ink Press, a small, fantasy and sci-fi hybrid publishing press targeting indie authors. She is an editor for AutoCrit, which is a software used to provide automated genre-specific corrections for books.

Justin and his dad at Star Wars trilogy theatrical cut.

Justin and his dad at a showing of the theatrical cut of the original Star Wars trilogy.

Taking on a Role at the GAHS

It was 2013, a friend working at the GAHS told him they were creating an in-house marketing team. They had an opening for a part-time social media product person, which meant less hours and less pay. With his wife doing well as (at the time) a swim instructor for a large sports complex, he took the job. Five months in, his friend quit and Justin became a full-time employee to manage a project integrating the website with its point-of-sale system. It was just him and the marketing director.

“I had no web background, and my pitch to them was ‘I have a Facebook account,’” he said. “They literally sat me in front of a computer and said enter these SKUs, and I knew nothing about the furniture industry. After 6 months, I became full time and we brought on a video production specialist. There were just 3 of us for a few years, then a fourth was brought on to handle content and social stuff. I did social, product, advertising, data, reporting; I had to figure it all out.”

Having his hands in a little bit of everything gave Justin a well-rounded viewpoint of the business, and he was soon running reports for marketing and the operations side of the business, including sales and merchandising.

Justin and his grandmother

Justin and his grandmother, who passed away in February 2022 at the age of 97.

People + Data = Better

“I am very curious about things like data points in general, trying to understand how all the business pieces fit together,” Justin said. “I was a go-to person for pulling a lot of reports; so when trying to understand customers and trends, they had me do the research on that, augment customer data and connect it to marketing data and sales data, and what is the actual reality.

“Everyone has their assumptions, but you have to have a wide data set, and you need someone who is a bit removed to help bring it together. But it still needs interpretation.”

With attribution data in hand, Justin shared it with key individuals within the business, all with varying perspectives and knowledge of the business. The team was able to interpret the data and develop insights to really help marketing help the business. Measuring the impact of the company’s TV ads provided incredible context and showed Justin how marketing channels work together to improve the company brand overall.

“For me, the thing that was an ah-ha! was the signature curve with TV,” he said. “I could see between all the stations, and the signature curve was almost the same. There’s a consistent pattern that occurs when something airs; and I can isolate it down to this section, this spot, this creative, and use that as a means of comparison.”

Seeing how all the touchpoints are connected is powerful and seeing just how many conversion paths – unique customer journeys – there are is eye-opening.

“That’s what I like about LeadsRx,” Justin said. “If you want to zone into one channel, that gives you a way to do it. Facebook does not tell you the whole story; the reality is it is a very interdependent marketing environment.”

Justin and his son

Justin and his oldest of his two sons.

More Data Shows Business is Good

The Great American Home Store had an 8% increase in revenue in 2021 over the prior year, with both years being impacted by the pandemic. “We saw tremendous traffic growth and demand that did not abate pretty much all year. It only teetered off right after

Cyber Monday, when it took a nosedive.”

Despite a worsened economy, market share is holding and business is still within reach of projected budgets. The GAHS measures up well against competitors in the Memphis region market. Geofence data shows the business has the most shopped store in the area.

“We are running surveys on our site (67% of site shoppers have seen our TV ads; thought it’s not necessarily what drove them there), but it has very good reach,” Justin says. “And that’s what we want, for people to see us and come to us. They are literally starting with Great American when they go to Google and they type our name in some variation before they go to anyone else. We are one of the first two stores furniture shoppers visit. Loyal customers have made 3-plus purchases.”

Watching the competition is very important. Measuring foot traffic is a great place to start.

“We’re doing competitive geo-fencing; drawing fences around these other store locations and tracking it down to a unique device identifier and matching back to 60-80% of devices and de-duped,” he said, adding that about 45% of the business’ online shoppers look for the GAHS by searching the company name. “We have varying levels of reach depending on the medium, but it’s pretty safe to say we are able to reach pretty much the entire market in some way between all the mediums we use.”

Other marketing tactics in the works but not yet implemented include email and SMS, alerting customers who opt in to let them know that an out-of-stock item or items they were interested in are now back in stock. The GAHS will first test it out via email to see if customers react well to receiving details that will allow them to complete that bedroom set missing end tables, or perhaps add end tables from a different set to complete their ensemble.

What’s the Future Hold?

Justin is enjoying pushing cutting edge technology for a business in a primarily conservative industry where technology has not been embraced. The industry mirrors Memphis, somewhat, which has an aging population (census data says the median age in Memphis has gone from 33.1 in 2011 to 34 in 2019) – an issue Justin and the business know they need to address. Customers at the GAHS are much older than the median age.

“We’ve got kind of a platform now and a technology base where we want to develop more content, products, and improve the brand and brand recognition,” he said. “Part of it is shifting our reach to a younger demographic. We need our average (customer) age to go down about 10 years.”

Since speaking with LeadsRx, Justin has this update:

“We’ve analyzed our foot traffic, and comparing it to data from June of 2020, it looks much more like the typical furniture shopper age-wise in Memphis, almost mirroring it, which is encouraging,” he said. “We’ve seen particular growth with shoppers in their 30s and even 20s. I attribute this to the shift we made in January 2021 of making our marketing budget 50/50 traditional/digital.”

“We don’t have all the answers, but we are trying to find them,” he adds.

Data, with human insights from folks like Justin and other business stakeholders, will lead the way.