The Day the AVL Industry Changed

featured-future-howOne need not envision a distant future of me-too products and companies vying for market sales when considering the future of the AVL industry. Our future is upon us and the end of features and benefits has already slipped past, like a buoy fading with the Doppler effect of time on the sea of sameness.

Whether it was at NAB back in the late ’90s when “convergence” was the buzzword or AES when “making the right connections” was the promise or even when InfoComm and LDI seemingly merged from a vendor booth standpoint in the early 2000s, the present has slowly been revealed as the future has unfolded. Today, there’s a blurring of technological battle lines, with large technology applications and various vertical markets to be conquered. Ironically, it has been technology that has flipped the tables: Buyers now have the largest voice and make you come to them instead of assuming the funnel of leads would naturally flow into the valleys of trade show aisles.

The First Step Is Admitting the Old Rules Are Out

If it’s true that the first step to solving a problem is admitting the problem is real and you are ready to address it, then the hope for change be articulated into a strategic plan where the old sales and marketing rules are gone. In his book “The New Rules of Marketing and PR,” author David Meerman Scott suggests that the four Ps of marketing (Product, Price, Place and Promotion) have been replaced by the digital Ps of marketing (Personas, Participation, Publishing and PageRank). This shift is important for the AVL industry.

I’ve had the privilege of working with many manufacturers over the years, from smaller niche companies like NewTek, FSR and LynTec to juggernauts like Barco, ETC, Sony and Audio Technica, and all of them were prone to limiting their innovation to their products and not to vertical markets. I list some of those names here because no matter which portion of the AVL marketspace you’re in, the lessons to be learned from both big and small companies is the same: Addressing vertical markets really is about relating to the Personas, Participating in Social Media, Publishing (both content creation and content curation) and PageRank (landing pages that focus on Personas for better ROI conversions). Said another way, if a juggernaut can learn about a vertical market like the house of worship market and re-think their marketing strategies, then small guys can do it too.

Change is always bad and it’s always hard — in the short term. For some of you reading this, the change is less dramatic because you can simply adapt to these principles and flex your strategies as you change one set of methods out for a new way of thinking. Yet other readers will see this as a huge red-tape battle upstream with “corporate” to fundamentally shift entire product and branding marketing strategies. In both instances, the goal is not change out of a reaction (or fear of the future), but a refocusing and retooling to properly wield the right technologies and systems to win more battles with greater efficiency.

Personal Personas and Publishing

Personas are not new to marketers. The personas of Audio Al, Projector Paul and Lighting Larry may still represent general groupings of your prospects, but individualization and specialization have never been more important. Granular data, via marketing automation tools, will allow for more targeted databases. If, during this change, you shift from one 10,000-person email blast per month to ten 1,000-person email blasts complemented by a bevy of social media channel communiques, blog sponsorships and highly contextualized copy, you’ll find your leads increasing through a specific, narrow points of ingress.

Guerilla small group tactics are far more effective if — and only if — you make the digital transition to automating your lead gathering processes into a marketing automation database with unique publishing content addressing not just vertical markets (an improvement that’s needed anyway), but sub-sets of vertical markets. Before your transition to the new rules of marketing and PR is over, your organization/division will find yourselves creating more content than ever, but tuning it to extremely narrow and focused subgroups of the vertical market subsets.

I’ve written about house of worship market personas before, so I’ll not repeat myself here. And yet, this simple truth has ramifications in every vertical market: Know thy audience. There has to be a huge landscape-altering shift for the would-be sales and marketing army generals: the unique value proposition, customized and articulated to a unique vertical market subset, is not the future of your increased sales and ROI; it is the current scenario being played out on a different plane than many (most?) of you guys are operating in today.

Participating in Dialogue, Not Pushing Propaganda

About 10 years ago, I sat down with the very top level brass of one of the largest manufacturers on the planet and listened to their engineers describe and demonstrate a prototype product they “just knew” was going to sell like crazy to churches. I’d been briefed over a very nice dinner the evening before by the senior VP that the engineers were very excited about this product and wanted to hear my input. The next day, I walked into the grand foyer of this prestigious company and was escorted to a private conference room where I spent about an hour listening to and asking questions of the engineers. At the end of the demonstration, I made the statement that I thought that it was not a niche product for the house of worship market, but that it would fit perfectly in the field with certain other industries. I presented my stats on the HOW market and described what I thought was a compelling argument for why this new product would be priced at least two times higher than the HOW market would likely pay and how the best aspect of the product — its portability — wasn’t going to be a need to the portion of the HOW clients that could afford it. I’ll never forget how nicely the senior VP spoke with me as he escorted me down to the lobby and had them call a limo to take me to the airport — half a day before I was scheduled to depart.

You see, on that day, what they desired was a stamp of approval from a company that has been on the right side of most technology battles over the years. They already had their pitch down before the prototype was even a product! Interestingly, months later at NAB, I stood in the company’s massive booth next to a church tech friend of mine watching a model/actress pitch the product to the masses. I sensed someone standing right behind me and turned to see that same kind senior VP smiling at me. He told me that one of the markets I told them to attack aggressively had two of the main players buying dozens of the units sight-unseen, but that they hadn’t seen any interest from churches.

You can have a great product and even great PR, but if it’s not following the new rules of marketing and PR, you could miss the best audience — the one actually willing to buy your products — if you’re pushing propaganda instead of participating in dialog. The voice of the publisher is firmly in the hands of the users. While this obviously means your marketing and sales teams will need to do a better job than ever of listening, it also means you can enter the conversation by inviting two-way dialog. See my rAVe column on “Turning Users Into Heroes”  for more on this subject.

Building Targeted Destinations

The quality of your leads will always trump the quantity of prospective buyers, yet much has been made about the importance of PageRank (made most famous by Google Analytics). Every marketer understands the basics of measuring hits, clicks, page length and goal conversions for Web properties, yet in the rush to get more screen time, the same marketing materials are copy-and-pasted from campaign to campaign, substituting one vertical market’s title and catch-phrases to match the assumed sentiment of vastly different client types. In a day and time when websites have been made the ultimate lead-capturing tool, the obvious miss is in everything else that leads up to a Web page click or a lead form submission.

The HOW market needs for you to show them how your products and services help them create, organize and/or manage experiences. As often as possible, tell stories, show pictures and share videos that highlight how what you’re selling adds to their desired outcome — typified by a worship service experience.

Practically, I’ve recommended for years that you create unique landing pages specific to the HOW market. When possible, I’ve also advocated for having home pages that invite the user to choose their application or market (churches as an option, for example). The key of these specialized online destinations is to write copy that speaks to the pain points, illustrates examples and offers a better future outcome and then also provides visual eye-candy of your technology in use by other churches in various venues. Complement this with a robust social media integration to allow sharing/liking/tweeting about your solutions at the user-level.

Going a step further, combining the personas, participation and publishing into unique landing pages (dozens or hundreds of them, if necessary) that build off of your marketing automation and online advertising, and you will begin to see the benefits of far better lead qualification and lead nurturing.

The day the AVL industry changes will largely be determined by how you engage users. Will you continue speaking at churches (or, worse, not at all) or begin to learn how to engage with churches in two-way dialog, curating stories and creating user-centric and user-specific content and destinations that speak to the value proposition of your products and services as they apply to the context of each unique church? The users have a voice. Will you embrace their chorus or continue to shout down from within your walled gardens?