Two years ago, what started as an idea among stone industry professionals has flourished into a well-driven campaign with a sole purpose – to promote the use and benefits of natural stone above all other alternative building materials. While members of the Natural Stone Institute sparked the initiative, the Use Natural Stone program was launched by the stone industry association itself, and it was specifically developed to target homeowners, designers, architects, builders and remodelers.
From the outset, the Use Natural Stone program included a new informational natural stone website, editorial development and targeted media campaigns. The website, www.usenaturalstone.org, was launched to serve as a comprehensive resource for sharing enlightening articles and inspirational photography about natural stone — along with a database to locate stone professionals.
Since its introduction in 2016, the Use Natural Stone campaign has picked up speed. It has been working feverishly to educate about what the stone industry is doing to ensure sustainability and best practices. As a means to accurately educate users and consumers about natural stone, the Natural Stone Institute is relying on its many years of industry expertise to address the issues and highlight the inherent benefits of natural stone, which includes granite, limestone, marble, sandstone, slate and onyx, among many others.
Homeowners, designers, builders and other professionals often turn to a range of natural stone varieties for their designs. Natural stone has proven to be a timeless and sustainable material, and an aesthetically pleasing choice for both indoor and outdoor applications. Through the Use Natural Stone campaign, the Natural Stone Institute has dedicated time to accurately promote natural stone to each of these audiences in order to dispel any negative myths and advocate its plentiful benefits, including the fact that stone is low-maintenance, durable and abundantly available in a wide range of unique colors and textures.
Contemporary Stone & Tile Design (CSTD) recently had the opportunity to ask Jim Hieb, CAE, CEO of the Natural Stone Institute, several specific questions about the Use Natural Stone campaign, including how it has grown since it began and where he projects it going in the future. The following is the account of our conversation:
CSTD: How did the idea of the usenaturalstone.com website/campaign first come about?
Hieb: It really started with Natural Stone Institute members, who saw that manmade materials were growing in market share, and asked a simple question: “What would happen if we came together to proactively promote the use of natural stone?” They realized that there is only so much that a single company can do, but that if the industry pooled its resources, we could accomplish something on a much larger scale. They entrusted this task to the Natural Stone Institute, and our website, www.usenaturalstone.org, was formed in early 2016.
CSTD: Since it began, it seems to really have taken off. Does the reception it has received surprise you at all? Why or why not?
Hieb: We’re thrilled with the reception we’ve had from our target audiences of consumers, architects and designers, and builders, as well as from within the stone industry. I would say that we are pleasantly surprised. We were hopeful starting out that our efforts would be well-received, and so far we have been incredibly fortunate in this arena. There is absolutely room for growth, and I believe we will continue to see that growth as our program expands and evolves.
CSTD: What was the primary objective of the campaign when it was first started? Has this goal changed at all? If so, how?
Hieb: Our primary objective is very straightforward, so it has stayed the same from day one: To promote the use of natural stone over manmade alternatives to consumers, architects and designers, and builders. How we achieve this goal has definitely morphed over time as we learn more about our audience and discover new tools to reach them.
CSTD: How many impressions does the website receive on a monthly basis?
Hieb: On average, we receive between 500,000 and 750,000 impressions on our website each month. November and December 2017 were definitely a high point, as we hit one million impressions in each of those months. We believe that we’ll see those numbers again.
CSTD: To date, how many articles have posted to the website?
Hieb: We currently have over 100 articles posted on the website. Articles are divided into three categories: Living with Stone, Working with Stone and Inspired by Stone. They are also searchable by keyword. Our goal is to publish content that can be helpful for homeowners and end users, as well as for stone companies who want to educate their customers about the product they’re choosing. We also seek to publish content that inspires readers to choose natural stone —articles that showcase the beauty and originality of the material, and show the myriad of ways in which it can be used, both in residential and commercial settings.
CSTD: What future plans do you have for the campaign?
Hieb: We are so optimistic about the future of this program. We hope to continue doing the things that are working: publishing articles on our site and working with the media to secure print, digital and televised placements for natural stone. We also hope to continue to grow our brand internationally by working with other trade groups and member companies throughout the world. In addition, we look forward to growing our brand recognition among influencers: kitchen and bath designers, architects and builders.
CSTD: How can stone industry professionals help?
Hieb: There are several different ways that stone companies can get involved. First of all, Use Natural Stone is a program that runs purely on donations made from the natural stone industry —it is for the industry and by the industry. We could not do this without the financial support of our members worldwide. Secondly, we need the stone industry to support the program by visiting the website, sharing the articles on social media and directing clients to the site. We also need stone companies to provide photography, videos and ideas for content. If someone would like to get involved in any of these ways, we ask them to reach out to us via email or phone. We would love to have them on board!