Your brand is not what you say it is. Your brand is what others say about you. For the audiovisual industry, identifying what others say about your organization is easier to know now than it has ever been thanks in large part to social media and online comment streams. In each vertical market, there exist groups of users and pundits who will share their experiences and opinions with anyone who will listen.
The difficulty of brand management is not in capturing the sentiment of what others think of your brand but in establishing how your brand is perceived by both potential buyers and existing customers within vertical markets. As always, I focus here on rAVe on the house of worship market as one of the vertical segments spending millions of dollars annually on the technology and services for audio, video and lighting (AVL). It is from this perspective that I provide helpful insight, though the principles and basic truths of human behavior well apply to other vertical segments, too.
The reputation of a brand is, as the old saying goes, as good as your last gig. Manufacturers, systems integrators and consultants alike must work endlessly to deliver quality and add value. Brand reputation can only ever be managed over time since the consistency of technical performance, ease of use and delivery of quality outcomes is the truest test of longevity and good design. So why focus so much on a thing that is more or less in the hands of those not on your payroll? Because your brand’s ability to grow and survive is how you value the greatest common denominator: the client.
Back in the late 1990s, I worked on staff at a large church — one of the largest in the Shreveport/Bossier City, La. area. Being a mid-sized market, the church did not look to other local churches for technology examples, but instead headed west and toured larger churches in the Dallas/Fort Worth, Tex. metroplex. One of those churches was where I was on staff and had recently finished a new 3,000 seat auditorium complete with several hundred thousand dollars of AVL technology. It was during the tour of this church where the Louisiana church leaders offered me the opportunity to interview for the role of media pastor.
In the house of worship market, the clients are not only the technical operators but also the senior leaders of these local churches who generally only know enough to name the major components of their AVL systems. The senior leaders of the church I interviewed within Louisiana hired me and asked me for recommendations for technology upgrades in their venues. I’ll never forget the senior pastor remarking that he’d seen one particular high-end projector manufacturer’s name mentioned (and installed) in many of the largest churches they toured in Texas and suggested I get quotes on upgrading the church to that level of quality. The pastor only knew of the brand name, but that it was found in a majority of these other much larger churches carried a great deal of weight with him. In the end, the church did end up purchasing two of these projectors at around $80,000 each to significantly increase the quality of the projected image, at roughly eight times the cost of the previous projectors. This exponentially more expensive option was considered because of brand reputation alone.
Even today, I frequently hear questions from current church technical leaders and operators asking for brand recommendations for certain AVL technologies. The comments are rife with a plethora of responses and opinions, with even threaded comment strings exploring the nuances of performance between competing brands. The brand’s reputation is largely determined by user experience, which has a direct effect on the purchasing considerations of other churches. Interestingly, these discussions on forums and online Facebook groups typically boil down to just a few points of focus: reliability (uptime), value (sometimes further reduced to price) and support (training, help, break/fix). It is these three areas that I believe are critical for audiovisual firms to prioritize in order to shift (or enhance) your brand’s reputation.
“When it absolutely positively has to be there overnight.” This brand promise was used by FedEx from 1978 to 1983. It’s listed as one of the top 10 taglines of all time by Advertising Age and rightfully so: It exudes confidence and leaves no margin for anything less than 100 percent, guaranteed fulfillment.
A tagline, however, is not the point of brand reputation. Had FedEx achieved a stunning 95 percent success rate with overnight shipping, the tagline would have been meaningless to the 5 percent — and a vocal minority they would be! The value of the tagline was only as good as FedEx’s ability to deliver on the promise. It is this, the ability to meet or exceed your organization’s promise, that builds your firm’s reputation as a reliable vendor.
How can your firm stand behind your work with a promise or reliability? From manufacturers putting guarantees in place for technology uptime to systems integrators including performance guarantees to consultants standing behind their system designs, the ability to include a promise of uptime is of serious consequence to the house of worship market, where weekend services require the same level of high availability as a Network Operation Center. For multi-site churches that depend upon technology to carry the video recorded message, the stakes are even higher.
Reliability of the technology and systems is of paramount importance. In fact, it directly affects how much churches are willing to pay for greater reliability and guaranteed uptime, including the significant cost of redundancy in components. How your firm directly addresses the reliability of audiovisual system performance is directly correlated to your brand reputation.
In the house of worship market, there’s a funny axiom: “Sunday comes every seven days.” Therefore, while the consistency of operation is a very big deal indeed, breaking down the cost-of-ownership across a number of services per weekend/month/year is of ultimate importance when aligning the church leaders’ expectations with their budget. Cost-per-service values, which take the overall system cost and divides it by the number of total church services and events, are an attractive way to contextualize the return on investment value of AVL technology purchases.
Price is often a starting point churches tackle when comparing your technology offerings to your competitors. Price will invariably become the sticking point when the value proposition is not a part of your brand’s promise. When you speak primarily to the price you’re only talking about the short-term. But when you speak to the value proposition, you’re addressing the long run and helping the church to determine their investment threshold and commitment to leveraging technology.
It is critical for your organization to redirect price concerns to value discussions. Since reliability and uptime is critical in most church venues, the price will simply reflect the importance of reliable performance and continuous uptime. Your brand need not be ultra high-end to protect margins to ensure you can provide quality technology and superior support for church clients.
Customer support serves not only, well, customers, but also prospects. How? Because prospects are listening to other churches about how well you stood behind your brand promises with the support that exceeded the expectations of the client.
Are you doing everything you can to help church clients use your equipment with greater confidence and increased effectiveness up to, during, and after the sale? If your answer is, “well, that’s up to the church,” you’re only partially correct. How is your firm, whether you’re the manufacturer or the sales/integrator company, removing barriers to make it incredibly easy for these users to continually learn how to make the most out of the technology you’ve provided to them? How many church clients can you point to not only as a good venue for your technology but also highlight their operator/tech director as someone who represents the use of your technology — and your brand — as a shining example? For a number of reasons, I can say with a high level of confidence that many of the readers here would be hard pressed to list more than a single handful — if that.
What these buyers and end users want, though, is more than a limited warranty and a pat on the back after a brief hands-on training; they’re wanting (and needing) you to value and develop them as artists and technicians. They need your massive expertise and best practices to not only lower learning curves but to flatten out the obstacles on their path to professionalism.
The importance of taking care of customers who have invested into your brand is not to be underestimated. According to a CEI Survey, 86 percent of buyers will pay more for a better customer experience, but only 1 percent of customers feel that vendors consistently meet their expectations! 89 percent of consumers began doing business with a competitor following a poor customer experience. And 86 percent of buyers will pay more for a better customer experience.
Brand management isn’t about a new tagline, a spiffy new logo or a shiny new product; it’s about how well, often and hard your organization works on reliability, value and support. How can your brand do better in these three key areas?