Part 1: How Audio Advertising Is Failing in the HOW Market

FredAmpel Part1

At the end of last year (2019) in his December column, my well-regarded rAVe colleague, Anthony Coppedge, presented his eagerly awaited advertising analysis of the HOW market. Anthony cogently broke down how products and services are being sold/marketed and promoted to the house of worship market(s).

As is customary with Anthony’s analysis, it was spot-on. It would/could provide any likely advertiser a lot of useful advice and information (if only they would pay attention). Given the mediocre showing for most of the pro audio community’s major and even global brands, it would seem that they are not.

What struck me about his column was the limited number that hit the mark using Anthony’s criteria. It would seem from his analysis that lighting, video and several other categories did a far better job at hitting the key target points. What are those points? Here’s where Anthony and I diverge. I believe that the crucial elements for any successful promotional exercise must:

  • — Present the product or service as a solution to a problem
    — Ensure that the problem is one that is identified with by the potential buyer/end user
    — Define this solution in clear and precise terms
    — Offer a concise pledge of quality, reliability and long-term warranty/support in the field.

If these critical benchmarks are presented and accepted, then the message the product is trying to convey has a much better chance of being both heard and ultimately accepted.

A Surprising Lack of Connection

Two established facts come into play here. First, audio products and companies make up a substantial portion (60%+ percentage-wise) of all advertising to HOW customers. Second, any accurate analysis of small HOW AV budgets or spending will clearly show that audio represents at least 40% of the total allocation. It would, therefore, be logical to conclude that companies in that portion of the market (by far the most significant number overall in any single technology segment) would be focused on connecting to and establishing relationships with the 250K+ small HOWs in North America.

I won’t repeat the financial data here (see “A 500 Million Dollar Mistake”), so suffice it to say there are literally hundreds of millions of audio product dollars being spent in this small HOW market each year. Are the vast majority of the worlds’ pro audio companies so overwhelmed with incoming business that they don’t need this multimillion-dollar revenue stream? Based on the appallingly poor quality and lack of focus showcased in a significant portion of their advertising, the answer would appear to be a resounding YES!

Some Criteria

One of my favorite criteria in Anthony’s breakdown is WIIFM or “What’s in it For Me.” That is, do the ad copy and image(s) create a perception that the product or company has the HOW user/buyer/specifier clearly in mind with their presentation and content? Other than a few notable standouts, the answer is NO. And further, there is a lot of wasted energy here because a significant portion of the advertising is either not aimed correctly or worse, there is no segment identification in the approach being taken.

So, Who Got it Right?

The winner in hitting the vast majority of the vital target points and presenting itself clearly and in a highly focused manner was Sweetwater. The 41-year-old mega-national distributor/web sales/direct retailer’s “Equipped for Worship” ads drew the potential customers’ attention to a clear, concise message and a market-specific URL landing page link to showcase to HOW buyers that this distributor was paying attention to the needs of this market.

The Sweetwater ads hit the key points I and others have been pointing out for quite some time:

  • — Budget-friendly pricing and respectful attention to needs and wants
    — Fast shipping and service on orders
    — Top-notch and extensive tech support and helplines
    — Extended and fully supported warranties and guarantees
    — Plus, its copy and online promotional materials also covered and identified with those core elements I noted earlier in this column.

Accurately hitting all these critical business driving associations is particularly essential and vital to the ever-expanding DIY side of the HOW markets. Given that the small, DIY-focused HOW customer base is still struggling with finding a reliable supply chain (to fulfill their over half-billion in annual expenditures), anyone who delivers on the needed parameters is sitting on a potential cash flow of enormous power and size. (And one that will only continue to grow over the next decade at an annual rate of at least 3-5%.)

If you add up the calculated revenue streams for just the three most significant online pro audio sources/distributors, Sweetwater (over $725 million), Full Compass Systems (over $125 million) and Guitar Center (both online and brick-and-mortar locations combined estimated at $450 million), you get $1.3 billion in projected sales. Clearly, not all of that is to HOW buyers, but research and analysis of available data show that approximately 35% is. That would generate at a minimum $450-500 million in transactions, which correlates very accurately with the estimates we developed in the original $500 million mistake story.

Few and Far Between

With better than a half-billion dollars in revenue lying on the table for the taking, why, out of the literally thousands of print and online pages of advertising from hundreds of audio product companies, were so few on the mark? And why were so few in my and Anthony’s opinions successful at grabbing and holding the attention of HOW buyers users/specifiers. Frankly, I think we can break it down to one core factor: F-O-C-U-S!

The Problem

If you look at a representative sample of the ads, promotional materials, website content and other related contact points produced by the pro audio community, there is one overwhelming mistake that rapidly becomes obvious. That mistake is a lack of targeted content directly addressing the HOW buyer/end user, and in particular, the small HOW purchaser. This stems from a lack of internal commitment to people, written and online material, and solutions specifically focused on the needs, problems and required solutions for HOW purchasers. Generic pro audio or sound reinforcement content simply will not connect the HOW money to any company’s products because it doesn’t showcase a solution to a problem they have or believe they have.

Throwing the Marketing Budget Down the Drain

If you’re trying to sell into the HOW markets but don’t make an effort to fine-tune, adjust and yes — CREATE — content and materials that speak directly to them the money you are spending by putting a HOW-appropriate headline on a generic ad is wasted. It will not generate the leads, contacts, inquiries or potential sales you were expecting. If the HOW people cannot envision your products or solution in their building or within their worship service, then you have not initiated a viable link.

In Summary

If your current advertising/marketing/social media campaigns are not explicitly written for HOW, or if they don’t effectively communicate with ALL the various stakeholder groups within the house of worship market segment, the money you are investing is being thrown away. Do you really want to throw your money away on unproductive communications? Think about it and take the time to review your current plan and content. Remember that large pile representing more than $500 million in buying power. Think about it every night on your way home — somebody will get that business — will it be you?

Author’s Note: While the original column by A. Coppedge provided a very comprehensive overview of the topic from his perspective, I feel this issue deserves a lot more analysis and review. Therefore, I have broken this into three columns over the next few months, looking at the problem above from several angles.