Williams-Sonoma is one of the best-known, high-end kitchenware companies. While big box stores such as Bed, Bath & Beyond and Pier 1 Imports, as well as smaller boutique stores such as Sur La Table, struggled last year around the holidays, Williams-Sonoma had a 10.4% increase in the fourth quarter. All of these stores are well-known, and most of their target audience (25-50 years old, middle-high income household food lovers and connoisseurs) could tell you the general location of one if not all of those stores in their area. Arguably, Williams-Sonoma has a more expensive product, so why were they so successful?
They’re #winning the all-around jackpot in content marketing.
Traditionally a company built on catalog sales, Williams-Sonoma has adapted to the digital world and become one of the most effective multi-channel marketing retailers. Their own Chief Executive, Laura Alber, coined the company “marketing maniacs.” While their fall/holiday catalog is still in existence and does drive consistent sales, they’ve created an online presence to be reckoned with. Not only is their website rich with content and user friendly, their social media presence and activity is exceptional, and they’ve gone above and beyond with their blog, Taste.
Their blog has eight distinct categories that any person who entertains guests relates with: recipes, cook, drink, entertain, make, learn, meet and live. Within these sections there are a myriad of articles, posts, videos, detailed how-to explanations and so much more. Each has visually-rich imagery. Even their Instagram account is linked to the blog in seamless fashion.
But what they truly mastered was strategically partnering with other companies and professionals that complement their brand. More and more brands are turning to “lifestyle” marketing, which means you want to be known by your target audience as the brand to turn to for their lifestyle. At Williams-Sonoma they call it the food-lover lifestyle. But how can they cover EVERYTHING their customers want? There are two options:
- Expand products and services and try to be a one-stop-shop for anything and everything for cooking and entertaining.
- Stick with what you’re GREAT at and create mutually beneficial partnerships.
Clearly Williams-Sonoma picked the latter. There’s something to be said about knowing your craft or brand and being the best at it. Why dabble in other areas and confuse your brand identity when you can partner with the best of the best in other categories and not battle over market share? (Unless, of course, your company goal is to take over the world.)
Partnering where it makes sense gives additional value and experience to customers as well. Readers get expert advice, special offers and excellent content. One partnership Williams-Sonoma made was with Karen Mordecai, founder of communal cooking school Sunday Suppers. Not only does the blog feature an interview with Karen (see video below), but several other posts involve her, including the Friendsgiving with Sunday Suppers post and video. Posts like these give customers the ideas of how to set a great table and set a mood, something that you can’t buy in a store.
Another partnership angle was how the Williams-Sonoma Cooking School started. Most of the stores across the United States offer cooking classes. The store brings in a local chef to teach their technique, junior chef or general cooking classes. They even have a Cookbook Club where students learn several recipes from a specific cookbook. Sometimes it’s even the author teaching. It’s a win-win for both Williams-Sonoma stores – customers come in person and see the cook using their products, and the chef teaching gains validity and can promote his or her book, local business or restaurant.
The one takeaway that every company can learn from Williams-Sonoma content marketing is to find partners with shared interests that works well with your business. You can start small with trading blog posts for cross-recognition with each other’s audience. Eventually you may create a partnership in which cross-promotion leads to increased sales and company growth.