This column first appeared in Sound & Communications.
I was recently at the Stampede Vendor Summit in Buffalo, NY, and came across a familiar character. He was (oddly) all black-and-white, slouching low in a leather armchair, sunglasses on, facing a stereo system and being blown away. You’ve seen him: tie flying back, lampshade tipping, cocktail glass falling over. It’s the Maxell guy, from that iconic 1980s print ad for Maxell tapes.
It’s a compelling visual and a classic representation of what makes the AV industry so great. But as you’ll recall, it’s an ad for audio cassette tapes. And that’s okay; it’s what I love about the ad: Products and technologies come and go, but experiences are the enduring impact of audiovisual systems.
Which brings me to today – already into month two of 2017. InfoComm has been looking ahead for more than 18 months, as our Board of Directors and staff have gone through the exciting ritual of planning for the next three years. About three years ago, InfoComm made it part of its strategic plan to start emphasizing the fact that AV professionals are really in the business of creating experiences, not just selling products. We took the message to members all around the world, and watched as so many companies in our industry embraced the reality of it. Now it’s time to take the message to a wider audience.
Here’s the situation: AV has come to pervade all aspects of life and business. The technology has become so outstanding, and accessible, that it’s in high demand. InfoComm recently released its new 2016 Global Pro-AV Distribution Channel and Trends Report, which indicates that next year should see continued growth in solution sales, based on that growing demand.
At the same time, two other things have happened: AV technology has grown more commoditized (and consumerized), and it’s started to fall under the purview of information technology departments at more and more enterprises. Those enterprises now understand the business benefits of AV systems, and they want them to be part of their overall technology strategy.
At first blush, this may sound like unwelcome change. It’s not. It’s an incredible opportunity, but not for the AV industry as it has operated during the past decades of growth. The change buffeting this industry of late has been such that it’s now imperative that we change the way we communicate the value of AV, otherwise, we will be marginalized, made niche, and relegated to just another service hanging off the IT network. That’s a no-win proposition. IT departments are entrenched; they understand data and efficiency better than most AV pros ever will or need to. No matter, because they don’t understand experience, nor the fact that, when it comes to AV systems, it’s experience that will lead to the business outcomes their bosses seek, whether that’s increased productivity, better collaboration, higher utilization of rooms and spaces or the many other benefits of AV technology. Therefore, the AV industry needs to be selling experiences and outcomes, not products.
Part of InfoComm’s next strategic plan is to take the message directly to enterprise decision makers: the people in corporations, universities, hospitals, stores and hotels who write the checks for technology solutions (or influence the writing of checks). With the help of professionals like you, we’ve been successful in growing this industry. Now we all need to grow the market for the solutions that this industry creates.
In fact, InfoComm’s next plan, which has been approved by a board made of up men and women working in commercial AV, includes several initiatives that support this new future. For one thing, we’re going to realign our content and programs to focus the conversation on those solutions and experiences that deliver outcomes for enterprise users. You’ll see it most immediately at the InfoComm show in Orlando next June. Look for an all-new conference called TIDE (Technology. Innovation. Design. Experience.) devoted to the strategic impact of AV technology, and a new thought-leadership stage in the center of the show floor where you’ll hear from innovators and customers who’ve successfully adopted an experience/solutions/outcomes-based approach to AV applications.
InfoComm plans to help increase awareness of the AV industry by going to where your enterprise customers meet and congregate, and talking about experiences and outcomes. We’re all good at identifying and doing business with people who already understand AV and the value it brings to organizations. With AV’s profile on the rise, and its increasing role in enterprise technology planning, we intend to help generate awareness among decision makers about how professionally designed, integrated, operated and managed AV solutions create experiences that lead to outcomes.
We’re also going to become an authoritative source for market intelligence. Enterprise customers live in a world of data and analysis. We want to be able to tell our industry’s story to them through in-depth data, insight and research that describes the scope of AV. We also want to build up our market intelligence so AV companies can use the information to tell their story to enterprise decision makers, as well as identify trends and opportunities to grow their businesses.
Finally, as part of its next strategic plan, InfoComm will be working to reinvent its own value proposition, including looking at ways to welcome more and diverse companies into its membership. Not only do we want to demonstrate value to current members but, as an industry association operating in a market that keeps evolving, we want to attract others to our ecosystem, including important participants that don’t necessarily see themselves in AV. Think content providers, digital signage network operators, Internet of Things companies and more.
The distinction between “market growth” and “industry growth” is key to the next three years at InfoComm. We’ve all spent more than 75 years helping grow the industry: training and certifying AV professionals, establishing best practices, developing standards, creating networks of AV companies and individuals, and building trade shows that bring manufacturers and AV pros together. We have no intention of retreating from 75-plus years of progress. Rather, we intend to build on that foundation as we move forward.
InfoComm’s commitment to helping grow the market for AV means reaching beyond the industry and into the organizations that benefit from what you do, to increase awareness and communicate how AV technology helps enterprises achieve their goals.
The future’s bright. Wear those shades. Even if you need to hold them in place when you’re blown away by the AV experience.