Nearly three years ago, an idea surfaced among stone industry professionals to create a platform to promote the use and benefits of natural stone above all alternative building materials. The concept soon flourished into a well-driven campaign, which is now recognized worldwide.
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 designed 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 gained momentum. 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.
HOW IT GOT STARTED
“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?” said Jim Hieb, CAE, CEO of The Natural Stone Institute. “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.”
Since its inception, the campaign has successfully taken off. “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,” said Hieb. “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.”
All along, the mission of the Use Natural Stone campaign has remained focused. “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,” explained Hieb. “How we achieve this goal has definitely morphed over time as we learn more about our audience and discover new tools to reach them.”
According to Hieb, on average, there are between 500,000 and 750,000 impressions on the Use Natural Stone website each month. “November and December 2017 were definitely a high point, as we hit one million impressions in each of those months,” he said. “We believe that we’ll see those numbers again.”
Currently, more than 100 articles have been 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,” said Hieb. “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.”
BACKED BY THE INDUSTRY
Industry members are also very grateful and enthusiastic about the Use Natural Stone campaign. “The Use Natural Stone promotional campaign is exactly what the stone industry needs to spread awareness about natural stone as the leading sustainable building material, with the lowest carbon footprint,” said Daniel Wood of Lurvey Supply in Volo, IL, a member of The Natural Stone Institute and 2017 president of the Building Stone Institute. “In the built environment, if we want to minimize our environmental footprint and help the planet, then we need to be incorporating more stone into projects. It is timeless, durable, takes very little energy to produce — in comparison with other building materials — and can come in a multitude of colors and production techniques, so that every project can have natural stone on it.
“In addition, natural stone is one of the primal elements/materials along with wood, fire and water,” Wood went on to say. “I think that we have a deep connection to these elements and that it benefits us to have them be a part of our lives. Through the Use Natural Stone promotional campaign, people’s awareness about natural stone is increasing and that is affecting usage. At Lurveys, natural stone has risen to be our largest product line and is continuing to grow. As we continue to educate the design community on the benefits of natural stone our relationships increase and strengthen, and we can be grateful that we are helping to make the world a better place.”
David Carnevale, president of Carnevale & Lohr, Inc. in Bell Gardens, CA, and current president of The Natural Stone Institute, stresses the importance of education. “There is a huge misunderstanding consumers have about artificial stone,” he said. “Because of the way it is marketed, they believe it is the same as natural stone. When they are educated to the difference, they choose natural stone as they really want that connection to an unaltered natural product. The Use Natural Stone campaign and content is one of the best tools for this education. I quite often pass on the articles to clients who I have just made aware of the differences between the two materials.”
With such a positive reaction from industry members, it seems the Use Natural Stone campaign will continue to grow stronger. “We are so optimistic about the future of this program,” said Hieb. “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.
“There are several different ways that stone companies can get involved,” Hieb went on to say. “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!”