Furniture or Technology?

Positioning new product technology.

One of the next big questions in office furniture is: "How to win the blurring of technology and furniture?" Companies are taking different approaches to this question: Integrating the technology into the furniture (Stir Kinetic Desk), creating technology agnostic furniture (Gesture by Steelcase), or creating new proprietary technology solutions (Bluescape by Haworth). While there is no perfect product strategy, the ultimate winner will have solved product development challenges and brand communication challenges.

The technology trend is foundationally different from past office furniture trends – ergonomics, open plan or collaborative spaces. Past trends either added new features to existing furniture or reframed existing furniture for new experiences. The blurring of technology and furniture is not that simple. It is more than a product line extension; it is moving into a new market – with significant implications to using old, furniture-centric paradigms for product messaging.

Stir Kinetic Desk, Steelcase Gesture, Haworth Bluescape
Stir Kinetic Desk, Steelcase Gesture, Haworth Bluescape

For example, when launching a new chair or desk, furniture providers can start a product conversation with a known brand, in a known product category. The next generation of technology-office furniture does not have this luxury but requires more customer education and different communication paradigm. Leveraging existing content or resurfacing brochures is not enough. How can companies succeed in painting the vision for the product and connecting with customers?

Journey to Customer Loyalty

Here are three ways to reconsider brand communication challenges for furniture companies when entering the technology landscape.

1. Clarify positioning priorities

Is this furniture or technology? Too often, companies claim that a product is both furniture and technology. A lack of clarity to this question gets amplified as a product goes to market. Teetering on the "technology or furniture" fence will position the brand and the product as a dabbling in a new market. The disconnect happens when the communication and user experience imply lack of conviction, especially if the product is positioned and priced for the high-end of the market.

2. Embrace a new mindset

The biggest opportunity (and tension) with the next generation of technology-based furniture comes from accessing a new market – Information Technology. Ignoring technology influencers, buyers and users leave untapped opportunity and also puts the burden of communicating new ideas onto independent sellers with an older value proposition. Connecting with IT is a two-fold problem. First, they don't know the brand or the value proposition because they live in a different market. Second, they need information on their terms, in their language – moving past traditional furniture models like space planning, human factors, or interior design.

3. Empower loyalists

Technology-based furniture puts stress on the long-time furniture loyalist – A&D, Dealers, Facility Managers. This product shift forces traditional sellers to become technology experts. The traditional channel may not embrace the risk of the unknown, and making technology recommendations. Instead, think systematically through new tactics and messages, designed specifically to help traditional loyalists speak intelligently to the technology features.

Brand, marketing and communication are critical (and often missing) in overcoming early hurdles in new product adoption. The first step to creating meaningful early-stage communication is better understanding the behaviors and goals of your new customer group. This knowledge will allow for better alignment of new messages and experiences that are authentic to the product, inspiring to a new audience, and reassuring to the loyalist.

Winning this technology-furniture race will require letting go of traditional models, creating new ways of communicating, and enabling people to embrace the change.