By Shawna Kulpa
Editor’s Note: For consumers used to shopping for jewelry out of a retail case, the concept of custom jewelry (and the near endless possibilities it offers) can seem pretty abstract. And for jewelers, communicating that concept—and getting customers to understand it and buy in—can be daunting, to say the least. To help, we’re starting a new periodic column, “Custom Communication,” with case studies showing how some custom jewelers have met this challenge head on and succeeded. This month we check in with Mark Loren, the owner of Mark Loren Designs in Fort Myers, Florida.
When it comes to promoting custom de-sign, Mark Loren believes that a picture, or rather, two pictures, are worth a thousand words.
A firm believer that customers respond well to visuals, he has long relied on showcasing before-and-after pictures to convey the concept of custom to prospective customers. The practice began more than a decade ago, when he launched a before-and-after marketing campaign showcasing dual images: One image showing a pile of old, worn jewelry brought in by a customer, and the second image showing the shiny, new jewelry piece created from the remains.
“We’ve always pushed photos,” says Loren. “And the before/after ones can be pretty dramatic. It gives people a sense of what’s possible, and it can be a real eye-opener for them.”
When photographing the old jewelry, Loren and his team always make it a point to remove all of the gemstones first. “It looks more crude that way,” he explains. “It’s a little more graphic when you see the skeletal remains in a little pile.”
That first year, in addition to using the before-and-after images in the store’s usual marketing materials and on local billboards, Loren also created a direct mail campaign using lenticular postcards to showcase the dramatic images. (Lenticular printing allows images to change or move when viewed from different angles.)
The postcard campaign proved particularly successful. “We got the best response from it, more than any other campaign,” says Loren. “We were doing great…until the market crashed in 2008.”
To convey the concept of custom design, Mark Loren Designs showcases before-and-after photos of previous custom projects.
When the Great Recession hit, Loren pulled back on the company’s marketing efforts. In the years since, he’s been slowly rolling out a digital marketing campaign that’s focused on e-mails, social media, and the company’s website. He has looked into doing direct mail again, but worries that it’s time may have passed.
“You can do a lot of cool stuff on postcards now, but with everyone always looking at their phones, it’s easier to send videos,” he says. “We probably will go back into direct mail a little to see what type of response we get.”
Regardless of the marketing medium, his before/after campaign remains a central part of his promotion. The company has been spending a lot of time updating its website over the last few years, and Loren has been working with interns from a local university to take advantage of new technology.
“I send them before-and-after photos, and they can merge them so that they ap-pear to transform from one to the other,” he explains. “It’s really cool.” Eventually he’d like to do something similar on digital LED billboards if and when they become available in his area.
Loren has also set up flat-screens throughout his store, showcasing before-and-after projects. He’ll even take customers for a tour of the shop so they get a better sense of what he and his team can do for them.
“It often leads to custom work,” he says. “A week later, they’re bringing in all of their gold and wanting to have stuff made.”
Tracking Word of Mouth
While promoting the custom aspect of his business has never been a problem for Loren, he attributes another recent business endeavor to helping drive even more custom business his way.
The company signed up for Podium (podium.com), a dashboard that businesses can subscribe to that puts all of the online review platforms (such as Yelp, Facebook, and Google) in one place. “It allows us to track and manage reviews as they come in,” says Loren.
In addition to allowing the company to respond immediately to online reviews (whether it’s to thank someone for posting a review or to address an issue that was raised), the system works with the company’s POS so that during every transaction, the company is prompted to ask the customer if they can send her a link to give them a review. “Ninety percent of the time, they say yes,” he says. If the customer agrees, a link will be sent to her cellphone or e-mail.
“Podium gives us organization and a system to ask for reviews in a courteous way,” explains Loren. “To be able to ask in an organized manner makes a big difference. You can’t manage something until you can measure it.”
One of the reasons he feels so strongly about the importance of online reviews is because of the sense of community it offers: If customers see that others in their community have good things to say about you, that builds trust.
“When people look at you online, all of those reviews are like a valid conversation about why you’re good at what you do,” he says. “It gives them a safer sense to come walking in the door.
“We just had a custom engagement ring that happened just like that,” he continues. “A young couple...went online to look at jewelers. We had so many more reviews than other jewelers in the area, they said they had to come in to check us out.”