HIGH POINT, N.C. – New design, technology and regulatory trends have dramatically impacted the responsibilities of home furnishings marketers over the past year. Executives who want to optimize their performance in this new business landscape will gather in Asheville, N.C., June 27-29 for an annual conference dedicated to building their knowledge and skills.

Sponsored by the American Home Furnishings Alliance, this educational and networking conference will be held at the Hilton Asheville Biltmore Park and is open to all industry marketing executives.

The educational program opens at 8 a.m. June 28 with an in-depth look at color, material and lifestyle trends influencing product design for 2012.

“The speed with which consumer trends impact product development and marketing has accelerated,” notes Jackie Hirschhaut, AHFA Vice President of Marketing. “We’ve entered the era of ‘just-in-time’ marketing – by the time a color, design or lifestyle trend is identified, it is already influencing advertising, social media and all forms of visual merchandising.”

Per Nimer, director of Akzo Nobel’s trend research group, Analogue, will present color, material and trend inspirations. He is followed by Erika Woelfel, color marketing director for BEHR paints, who will explore how lifestyle and design trends influence color forecasts.

In a world where marketing communications are sometimes described as “viral,” thanks to the swift and surreptitious manner in which messages can spread, home furnishings marketers need a high-speed connection to market intelligence. Rick Babick, founder of Design Research Reports, will explain how design tracking can produce insights into consumer behavior that help companies quickly and efficiently manage their brands in an ever-changing marketplace.

Also on the June 28 agenda is another issue challenging today’s marketing executives: crisis communications. In March, the Consumer Product Safety Commission launched a public database of consumer product safety concerns. But the database almost immediately began serving as a public forum for consumers to air product performance and quality complaints – with millions of people listening in, including customers, competitors and attorneys.

“If marketing executives do not develop an efficient internal response protocol for addressing these public consumer complaints, they will be relinquishing control of the company’s brand communications,” Hirschhaut warns.

Meghan Gross, senior vice president with MSL Boston, a corporate communications and reputation management firm, will arm marketing executives with an action plan for handling complaints posted in the CPSC database.

Addressing a critical change that is sweeping sales in the home furnishings industry, Ron Goswell, CEO of ayr1, a leading provider of virtual stores, will showcase a multimedia presentation of Web marketing trends. His talk will document the dawn of widespread use of furniture demonstration videos to the latest techniques in search optimization.

And with over 70 million members spending nearly $200 billion a year, Generation Y cannot be ignored. Michael Parrish DuDell, senior editor of Ecorazzi.com, will offer insights in marketing to a consumer demographic that, frankly, doesn’t wish to be marketed to! His talk, entitled, “Take Two and TEXT Me in the Morning,” will show how to activate and engage this illustrious group of high-achieving, communication-obsessed social extroverts.

On Wednesday, June 29, the program tackles another marketing challenge causing many executives to lose sleep: social media marketing. “Customizing Your Social Media Portfolio to Match Your Brand” is the topic Crystalyn Stuart will address to open the day. Stuart is vice president of social marketing for IMRE, a full-service marketing agency with a business unit dedicated to the home and building industries.

Stuart will be followed by a panel presentation featuring two marketing executives who have created successful online strategies: Kim Shaver, vice president of marketing communications for Hooker Furniture, and Laura Holland, director of marketing services for Hickory Chair.

The on-line strategy session will continue with a profile of one of the hottest merchants, with 220 “stores,” each dedicated to a different product category. Donna Faust, director of marketing for Omaha, Neb.-based Hayneedle, will document the rise of one of the fastest-growing online retail companies that’s also been cited on the Best Places to Work roster.

Closing the program on Wednesday afternoon are two “eco-friendly” sessions. The first is an exclusive first look at this year’s “EcoPulse,” an annual baseline survey of consumer perceptions of “green” products and marketing conducted by the Shelton Group. Karen Barnes, director of insight, will present the results, including which “green” products and attributes are most appealing to consumers and how sustainable initiatives are impacting corporate image.

The second is an inside glimpse into the housewares industry, where the high-profile Cuisinart brand has developed its GreenGourmet line of non-stick cookware. Mary Rodgers, director of marketing communications, will share how Cuisinart responded to more and more home cooks embracing an eco-conscious lifestyle.

A wine tasting hosted by Biltmore For Your Home will open the event at 6 p.m. Monday, June 27. A group dinner buffet will follow the wine-tasting.

Rooms at the Hilton Asheville Biltmore Park are available at a discounted rate of $149 a night. Make reservations at www.hilton.com, or call 828/209-2700 and mention the AHFA marketing meeting to receive the group discount. The cutoff for room reservations at the group rate is Friday, June 3.

Registration for the two day meeting, including breakfast and lunch June 28 and 29, as well as the opening reception and dinner June 27, is $599 for AHFA members and $900 for non-members. Register on-line at www.ahfa.us under EVENTS.

The American Home Furnishings Alliance, based in High Point, N.C., is the largest association of home furnishings companies in the world and represents more than 200 leading furniture manufacturers and distributors, plus about 150 suppliers to the furniture industry worldwide.

SOURCE: American Home Furnishings Alliance

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