The silent revolution in interior design marketing and the role of AR/VR

Something curious has happened over the last (almost) decade. We call it social media marketing and think of all the platforms that come with it, from Twitter and Reddit to Facebook and LinkedIn. We think of long-form content, e-mail marketing, blog posts and user-generated content. We debate the length of videos and the right composition of headlines to gain more clicks, views, and retweets. We talk about influencers and word-of-mouth and the role of millennials in B2B. Our biggest worry is the customer journey and the role of marketing itself.

All these are valid concerns for most businesses and products.

In one industry however, one platform absolutely dominates the marketing scene and the conversation with end consumers and between firms alike: interior design and Instagram are a match made in heaven.

Leather tube shelf by Giorgetti

I have just returned from the greatest spectacle on Earth, the Salone del Mobile furniture and design show in Milan, Italy. Even if you are not a designer or just about to furnish your multi-million-dollar home, the massive exhibition of everything from lights to living rooms is an experience. If you have the budget for exorbitant hotel prices during the show of course. And patience to wait for a taxi. And have the stamina to walk an average of 15 km a day from booth to booth.

Follow Salone del Mobile IG

I digress. What I wanted to write about is the power of Instagram and visual marketing. The platform, owned by Facebook, has eclipsed its parent in terms of engagement and absolute numbers.

Instagram growth. Source: statista

I’ve touched on this phenomenon in my recent blog post Word of the Year, but my visit to Milan really brought home the power and influence of this platform not just for fans, influencers and end consumers, but also in a commercial B2B setting.

We think of Instagram as a platform to share your holiday photos and your food porn, and the place to follow celebrities. But since its humble beginnings and throughout its acquisition by Facebook (for far too much money, people thought back then), Instagram has had a profound impact on how certain industries market themselves, nowhere more so than in interior design.

Since I became head of global business development at AB Concept, one of the world’s leading interior design firms, my outlook on marketing, in particular social media marketing has shifted. I have always been aware of the power of images, but not before this visit to Milan and handshakes with over a hundred of my company’s suppliers and partners did I realize what an important productivity and marketing tool Instagram has become.

It happened at the Poltrona Frau exhibit at Rho Fiera when one of my firm’s designers asked a question about a new bed and the sales representative didn’t answer by fetching a catalogue or showing her an image on the website, but referred to an Instagram post, adding, “of course I can e-mail you the specs”.A bed by Poltrona Frau

The IG Account of Poltrona Frau, with its beautiful and inspiring images of the firm’s stunning designs, has over 151k followers at the time of writing. Designers and architects, furniture enthusiasts and FF&E managers from around the world peruse it to get the latest news about the company’s products.

The same is true for almost every design firm, architect, furniture manufacturer or visual artist in the world. Some don’t even bother with Facebook any longer, not to mention Twitter or LinkedIn or Reddit. While these platforms are strong in other industries (Twitter for technology, social issues, AI and finance for example, see my feed at twitter.com/mhiesboeck), in the world of fashion and design there is no way around Instagram.

My boss likes to speak of instagrammable moments and instagrammable designs. It’s not just about getting images to end customers however, it is also about B2B marketing on a grand scale. Our designers turn to Instagram for inspiration, but also use it like a catalogue to select products and get specs even. For this industry, IG isn’t just a marketing tool – it has become a business tool.

I then checked my own Instagram account. In the two short months since I joined ABConcept, my followers had grown from a few hundred during my time as a tech influencer to over 4K since I began my career in the hospitality and interior design industry.

Read: My Journey into Interior Design

Fabric selection cupboard at the Promemoria showroom

All the big brands use it, from Hermès (8m+ followers) to Gucci (33m+ followers). But also smaller, bespoke forms like Baxter (85k) or Gessi (21k+) for bathroom fixtures can no longer do marketing without the visual power and global reach of Instagram.

Faucet and basin design by Gessi

The fact is, due to the highly visual nature of interior design, what better way than to market yourself on a platform specifically created for images? It’s a no-brainer.

As the platform expands it may even add more functionality for B2B such as the uploading of catalogues, easier use of links in posts, pricing and ordering etc.

Instagrammable moments from Ceccotti Collezioni

The future of design marketing: AR and VR

But this blog is called Futurist and the future is my passion, so it is my duty to look towards the future of marketing – in this case of design marketing.

I see the greatest impact here not from 5G, AI or IoT, or any other of the many emerging technologies, but from virtual reality, in particular Augmented Reality or AR.

Imagine not having to queue or battle the masses to enter a showroom. Imagine saving the cost of air travel and hotels and experiencing the latest designs in a lifelike, interactive VR environments. Such as the Gucci Decor house for example.Gucci Decor showroom

Could it be that in a few years the masses visiting Milan for Salone del Mobile could dwindle due to the realistic representation of spaces in AR and VR? Certainly.

For a large number of designers, FF&E designers, architects, and especially for end customers, the promise of AR offers vast opportunities to engage with brands and experience their creations as if you were there, with product specs, product variants and perhaps pricing information incorporated into the virtual experience. In AR, customization is easy and the cost negligible. Try doing that with your tile samples!

Selecting fabrics and materials may change completely: rather than having cluttered shelves and unwieldy racks of product samples, designers will be able to select from a much larger quantity in virtual reality. Manufacturers will save costs by having to produce fewer samples, and through a virtual presence reach far more customers. (Although there is the problem of feel and touch when it comes to, e.g. textiles.)

End consumers will be able to match products better to existing spaces by selecting them from virtual shelves and placing them into VR representations of their own living room or hotel lobby, created by uploading drawings or photographs which will then be automatically turned into 360′ virtual environments by sophisticated software.

Architects will be able to visualize spaces, and real estate developers showcase more flexible variants of places without having to make physical changes.

Finally, platforms like Instagram will embrace AR on a grand scale, allowing you to create virtual showrooms and whole museums in the form of what is now clumsily called “stories“.

Through remote access to VR visualizations, the market for all things beautiful will further expand and even small businesses in remote locations will be able to reach customers and suppliers.

Lamps made from handblown glass by Lasvit

Collaborative tools will allow designers in different parts of the world to work together seamlessly – not through a videoconference as we do now, but by standing in a virtual room together and discussing changes which are then applied in real-time to the VR simulation.

Perhaps even the top managers of design firms will take advantage of AR-powered design marketing to decluttered their busy schedules.

But they will be missing out on three important things!

Firstly, a personal visit will always be preferable to industry insiders who need to network, visit suppliers, reinforce the personal relationships at the heart of doing business (especially in Italy!); to see and feel real things, and pay homage to the truly great designers and artists who make our homes, our hotels, and our lives more beautiful.

And then, you will also not be able to experience the fantastic food (e.g. at Paper Moon Giardino, a fabulous restaurant not entirely coincidentally designed by my company AB Concept) and the unique flair of this magnificent metropolis, Milan.

The Duomo at sunrise, shot on my way to work at AB Concept Milan. (C) Martin Hiesboeck

Follow us on Instagram today!

Dining room at the Paper Moon Giardino, designed by ABConcept

The writer is director of business development at ABConcept and a global hospitality and technology influencer.

Follow me on LinkedIn or Twitter and of course Instagram.