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Josh Ruff is the VP of revenue for Roomvo, a product visualization tool that’s delivering data and sales insights to the building materials brands that use it. We talked with him about how today’s manufacturers can take full advantage of visualization for their business.
Product Visualizers + Building Materials Brands
The construction industry has historically been slow to adopt technology, but that’s where Josh Ruff sees big opportunities for today’s building product brands. He’s spent a decade in the startup and tech industries, focusing on food delivery. But when the pandemic hit, he switched gears and began exploring the world of building materials.
Josh’s curiosity about construction and building led him to a product technology startup, Roomvo. “I had met the founder here in my previous role, and he asked if I was interested in another technology company outside of food,” he explains.
Roomvo is a product visualizer which allows customers to see the materials and products they want, in the context of their own space. “What we essentially do is allow a consumer to take a photo of their space, whether it be a living room, kitchen, whatever it might be, and visualize a manufacturer's product in that space,” Josh says.
We often talk to building materials companies about visualizers, configurators and product viewers, and how helpful these tools are — not just for their online audience, but their business’ bottom line. Josh confirmed that for us: “If someone visualizes a product in their space, they're five times more likely to make that purchase than if they did not look at a visualized product,” Josh explains.
Roomvo has gathered information about what types of visualizations are more effective than others. “There's one where you see a preset room scene, where there is this great inspirational room [where] you can change products. In those environments, we typically see someone look at four to six products on average,” Josh explains.
However, many of Roomvo’s users prefer to use their own designs as inspiration. “We see about 80% of users will actually upload a photo of their own room versus looking at those preset room scenes,” he explains. “And, we will see a user actually look at 16 to 20 products in a photo in their own space versus a preset room scene.”
Bringing More Tech Into the Sales Talk
The numbers that Josh brings up are promising, but we wanted to drill down why visualizers are such a great tool (and investment) for building product manufacturers.
The key to great visualizers is creating easy-to-use, personalized solutions for the user. “Let's make it as simple as possible [and] as user-friendly as possible,” says Josh. That means manufacturers should have options for buyers who want more visual inspiration, wherever they’re buying the product.
For example, Daltile makes ceramic tile products. “I can go look at their products and visualize them on their website, but I can't transact there,” explains Josh. “I have to go into a local retailer where I'm going to purchase that product, and so what we've actually done is extended our visualization service to the retail location.”
Josh points out that manufacturers need to consider the in-store experience for customers now that people are going to showrooms or trade shows again. “I'm actually interacting with a person when I go into a showroom in most instances,” he says. “So, what we've done is found a way to get the visualizer in the store, and we're investing in things like QR codes where I can scan this QR code of a product and see what it looks like in my space in the showroom.”
Roomvo works with retailers, as well, so that the path to purchase is clear for buyers. “So tell a customer [to] bring a photo of your space when you come into the showroom,” explains Josh. “And now, as an RSA, I can actually interact with that customer and show them different products and what it's going to look like in their home.”
Bringing in new technology has always been a challenge for the building industry, but Josh emphasizes the need for more tech education and training among manufacturers and retailers.
“I would say the appetite for adopting technology is a little bit different depending on where you are, and that comes from resources, from not only financial but just people … and educating [them on] what the possibilities are,” he says.
Adopting new technology makes building materials brands more competitive, and Josh points out that these are crucial conversations for marketers. “I think there has historically been a bit of a challenge where manufacturers want customers to go to their website, and so visualizers have lived on a manufacturer's site,” he explains. “The challenge there is, a retailer doesn't want to send a customer to a manufacturer's website because there's a dealer locator there, they can find local competition.”
“The conversations can be difficult because you know that the retailer wants the customer on their site — and the manufacturer spends a lot of money on marketing on their site,” says Josh. Ultimately, everyone in the supply chain can benefit from more visually-focused marketing tools.
“I think that's where it becomes challenging because you've got a bunch of people you need to train,” he says.
What Customers Want (And What That Means for Brands)
Manufacturers need to be able to showcase their products wherever their customers might be, and Josh emphasizes this. “The end consumer wants what's the easiest to use, where they can visualize the most amount of products, they want simplicity and they want to make an easy decision. And so, if I work this up through the chain here from retailer to manufacturer, there's implications in a few places here.”
“If I'm doing my house, I probably want to visualize the walls, and I probably want to visualize my backsplash,” says Josh. In other words, customers want to see all of their favorite products, all in one design space, which Roomvo supports. “There's more consumers using the tool—every manufacturer wants to play into that space.”
And we agree — building materials brands should want to play in the visualization space, especially because of how much data is delivered when you use these kinds of tools. “There is a lot more to it than just a photo,” says Josh. “I can think of a photo as a data point. What data can I take from this to help me with making a decision? So, that's another whole component there that is sometimes overlooked.”
Brands using Roomvo are discovering a lot of information about any products used in the visualizers, and they’re using it to deepen relationships with their customers. “They want to actually understand more about their customer … what products are being looked at, where, and what are your most popular colors in this region and what are people buying here,” explains Josh.
This kind of data can help brands discover a wealth of information about consumers and ultimately innovate their sales processes, but what does that mean for the future of sales — and product samples — in building materials?
Sales and The Future of Physical Samples
Josh helped us think more about the future of building materials sales. For many brands, physical samples have long been an important part of the customer sales process. Josh sees this shifting.
“You'll start to see more people buying online and looking for tools that can help them make that online purchase. And so when I think about that, I think of, and we debate this a lot, will the physical sample ever go away?” asks Josh.
He also mentions how other industries have progressed slowly — transitioning from in-store purchases to online purchases to in-store pickups. Eventually, the purchasing process will be a full ecommerce solution.
The process of sending samples can involve risk and cost for building materials brands, so an entire virtual solution for visualization provides solutions. “A lot of them just get sent, [and then] they disappear,” Josh says.
He’s optimistic about what this means for building product brands in the future, even if it means a change. “If we can find a solution where physical sampling can disappear and people can still purchase, but it doesn't have an impact on the orders that are coming in, I think that's win-win for everybody.”
Want Even More Insight?
Adopting new technology can be a hurdle for brands, but Josh sees an opportunity there for building materials. “I think it's been a pretty static industry in terms of how products are marketed. And so, in general, I think there's a lot of different, unique, compelling ways that you can capture your audience outside of the traditional methods. So, I think you need to think outside of the box,” says Josh.
Ultimately, it’s about meeting the customer where they are in the buying process. “I think it's understanding, ‘Hey, where do I meet my customer? Who is my new consumer and what's important to them?’”
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