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Capturing the Attention of an Integrator

Pro AV technology veteran Alan Brawn provides his two cents on how to actually attract the attention of AV integration companies.

Capturing the Attention of an Integrator
Alan Brawn

The $64-thousand-dollar question in marketing technologies leading to sales is how to capture the attention of the integrator and we might add consultants as influencers of sales. If anyone tries to sell you on the idea that the concept is easy, then let me talk to you first about a bridge in Brooklyn I might have for sale!

The “easier” times

Marketing, if done right, is never easy. In the 1960s through the 1990s, the technologies AV integrators sold were in what might be called the “awe-inspiring age.”

Bright displays, computer access, and remote control were in their infancies and yes, awe inspiring. Integrators were hungry for the latest and greatest to show their clients. Sales were brisk and profits on hardware were a given.

Technology advancements tended to be disruptive year after year, requiring those of us in the biz to be on alert for the previews of coming attractions. We would all wait with bated breath to see and behold what was new, and place our orders. Most would agree that it was a kinder and gentler time.

Choices used to be finite, and the reason to select one over another was usually made clear by marketing efforts speaking to the mindset of the intended consumer. Marketing departments knew that their ads would at the very least be seen by anyone listening, subscribing, or attending trade shows.

What changed in marketing to integrators?

It began to change for all of us in the 1990s with the ubiquity of PCs, laptops, PDAs, and the internet; and by the turn of the century tablets, smart phones, and smart watches had taken connectivity and interactivity to a new level.

On the AV side, AV and IT had converged no matter what some might have thought. It is the denseness of information or data that surrounds and invades us in the “forests” where we reside that brings with it opportunities for sure but also its own set of difficulties.

Many of us lose our perspective when we are too heavily invested in a particular situation and our own approach, or organization. The paradigm shift comes via a search for (and realization of) what attracts the attention of potential customers i.e. the AV integrator in this day and age of information overload.

As consumers, it begs the question of how to sort it all out and specifically in AV, how do AV integrators and consultants separate the proverbial wheat from the chaff of all the incoming in a meaningful manner?

How & when integrators see marketing

The only solution for the recipients of this onslaught of data is to turn it off and then back on only during select periods of our own choosing. I know most don’t do this, but at least that is what the experts on increasing productivity recommend.

If we leave the information spigot on, incoming information simply stacks up. The delete key then becomes the most important key on the keyboard to all, but especially to AV integrators.

Obviously, there are only so many hours in the day for all of us, but in the AV integration community, the most important hours are the business development and/or client facing times. Those are typically from 9 AM till noon and 1 PM till 4PM each day.

This means that their time is limited for entertaining salespeople at the integration firm (as was once so common) or opening (let alone responding to) the onslaught of emails that come in.

So out of necessity, AV integrators limit the times spent with visiting salespeople, and in the digital realm, they tend to open only those things that immediately resonate or are obviously important to them.

So how do we start earning integrator attention?

The solution from a top-down approach resides in the need to truly understand the audience. Manufacturers need to speak to them in meaningful ways in terms of the AV integrator’s sense of value.

The place to start is inside your own company and then proceed outward. As famed author Simon Sinek says in his book, Start with Why, the leaders who’ve had the greatest influence in the world all think, act, and communicate the same way — and it’s the opposite of what everyone else does.

Sinek calls this powerful idea The Golden Circle. He found that people do business with companies that believe in their own answer to why they do what they do, and only then progress to what and how.

Before you market your AV technology wares, you must have a clear understanding of what I call the business order of things:

  • First of all is the product. This is the price of entry into a market. This may be hardware, software, or services, but no matter the type, it is the focal point.

In those rare instances where an AV product is truly disruptive, there is little need to do anything other than let potential buyers know of its existence. Apply the “build it and they will come” principle. But as noted in this day and age of parity and incrementalism, this is rare.

  • Next in the business order comes marketing. This is the message that I like to call the story. As manufacturers, if you can capture attention of the AV integrator and have a compelling story, then people are more likely to respond.

Parenthetically, most miss the importance of the need for a good story as it relates to “why” you do what you do and why the AV integrator should not just hear but listen.

  • Next is sales. Sales is the vehicle that takes marketing and makes it tangible in an ROI or ROO sense. Support goes hand in hand with sales. This part of the business keeps products sold.
  • Operations is last in order, but critical to success. This includes logistics, accounting, and warranty services at a minimum. If operations fail it negates all that precedes it.

Manufacturers need to begin at the beginning of marketing and understand their value (in the eyes of the audience) and then present their message. This requires a clear articulation of the companies value proposition.

Fundamentally, a value proposition tells a customer why they should buy from a manufacturer or supplier rather than the competition and just as importantly why they should do anything at all.

The hardest part of creating value propositions resides inside a company. Most employees at a manufacturer are enamored with what they do (or should be) and what they provide.

Of course, this is encouraged, but the value proposition must resonate externally with the potential customers and must be developed with their sense of need and value in mind and not be limited by your own company paradigm of what you think the audience should think or do. Don’t forget that each day there is a lot of random “noise” out there to compete with.

There are three fundamental phases of attracting and maintaining recipients’ attention. They are in order: grab, hold, and maintain.

Research shows that in our digital world of any time, any place, and any device, you only have 2 seconds (yes, 2 seconds!) to grab their attention.

Unless your marketing target already has a reason to open the email, this necessitates a headline relating to their wants, needs, and/or desires.

Research also shows that once you have grabbed their attention, you only have 20 seconds to hold it. This means you need to immediately communicate the value of what you have to offer.

Holding attention with a direct statement of value crosses all formats including written, video, and all other types of content. Content is said to be king, but not if it carries no value for your audience. You need to convey a sense that they know you, like you, and trust you. The most critical step in the process of marketing is to gain attention.

Attention is not free

A company must earn attention in this distracted world.

Prof. Thales Teixeira, formerly Associate Professor at Harvard Business School, has done extensive work in the area of the costs of gaining attention.

He states: “the cost of attention is the most dramatic business expense increase in the last 25 years. A consumer’s brain can hold only so much information before it becomes fatigued. A person’s attention span is unavoidably scarce, and with the explosion of information available in our hands every day through personal devices, marketers are fighting big odds to reach and engage their audiences. By definition, a limited resource has value, making it a currency. This economic concept, called attention economics, treats human attention as a scarce commodity because a person only has so much of it. Moreover, the more information that is available, the more expensive attention becomes.”

The professor’s research shows that attention is an ever increasingly scarce commodity, and at an ever-increasing cost. Many companies try to avoid or diminish this cost, but ultimately at the risk of being a victim of the delete key.

Understanding the increasing costs to gain attention it is incumbent on marketers and their companies to get an ROI for that investment. Hence the need to discover how to earn that attention and what works most effectively.

Teixera speaks about what he calls purchased attention and also earned attention.

If you think about it, people tend to share information when it serves their own self-interest in some manner. In his work, Teixera says that “Consciously or not, the sender intends to gain ‘social capital.’”

In the case of the AV integrator, if the message you send has value to the recipient, they will pass it along to others for the benefit of the company but also their own business standing.

In the case of the AV integrator, if the message you send has value to the recipient, they will pass it along to others for the benefit of the company but also their own business standing.

The professor makes a critical observation about emotion that we will expand upon later.

“It turns out that while getting people to watch an ad is all about emotion, getting them to share it is about the sender’s personality.”

If we extrapolate what this means in our own business world: if the message is strong and of value, it is more likely to be passed along to friends and colleagues and acted upon in some manner, thus validating the ROI on marketing.

Both the purchased attention and the earned attention must be high quality (grab the attention of the intended audience), but it must begin with effective distribution. The high-quality aspect of marketing is the proverbial price of entry in gaining attention, but effective distribution is not always understood.

Teixeira speaks about reaching those who are most likely to buy but there is another aspect to consider. Further research has shown that marketing is most effective when broken down into smaller sub-sets.

For example, a potential target audience may be a large AV integration company. This bigger target needs to be broken down into departments (management, marketing, sales, engineering, tech support, and operations.), and then into those who can influence and affect the buying decision within those groups.

This is an area where many manufacturers fail to conduct proper due diligence because it takes time and effort.

As noted before, it is not easy. They send out a blanket email and “hope” somebody responds. Consider the delete key I spoke about earlier. The message goes to a large group and is simply (and sadly to marketers) deleted by a good percentage, but if properly distributed, the message is read by the departments and the influencers inside those groups that are most affected by the message.

In grabbing, holding, and then maintaining attention, the catalyst that drives success or failure is emotion. The reason to open the email, view a video, or click on a social media link is via some type/level of an emotional stimulus. The reason a recipient shares is also emotional at its core.

Getting and keeping your intended recipient’s attention is accomplished by understanding Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs, the 2 second rule of grabbing attention and the 20 second rule of holding it.

Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs states that five categories of needs dictate an individual’s behavior. Those needs are physiological, safety, love and belonging, esteem, and self-actualization needs.

Maslow holds that human beings are motivated by unsatisfied needs; lower needs take precedence over higher needs and must be satisfied first. While dated, Maslow’s theory is useful for both personal development and business growth.

By first identifying what humans need and what drives and motivates people, manufacturers via their marketing can develop mutually beneficial relationships.

This is the same basic set of needs for decades if not a century…The difference between then and now is that distractions are everywhere!

Taking this into consideration, marketing efforts need to consider the following:

  1. Evoke emotions and get people to “feel” something that they will remember
  2. Provide novelty of the unknown to counteract the brains tendency to ignore anything that’s routine, repetitive, predictable, or boring.
  3. Use comparisons and contrasts avoiding neutral statements that diminish attention.
  4. Use logical sequential flow making it easier for your audience to follow and keep their attention. John Medina, the author of Brain Rules, says this: “The brain naturally focuses on concepts sequentially one at a time.”
  5. Make it relevant and meaningful and thus memorable by showing what in it for them.
  6. Show examples or visual stimuli that the brain processes faster than words and concepts.

Referring again to Professor Teixeira and his research, he advises marketers to take a scientific approach to the attention-capturing process.

He provides five tips to help marketers capture attention:

1. Avoid overly prominent branding.

Research shows that people don’t like to feel that they’re being persuaded. The instinctive reaction is to pull back from brands where the branding is too prominent and in your face. In a typical email or social media advertisement from an AV manufacturer, the AV integrator sees the brand and assumes what the message is going to be and moves on before reading what it is all about. Researchers observed that viewers consistently stop watching video ads at the moment in which brand logos appear on the screen. Moreover, longer brand exposures, bigger logos, and logos in the center of the screen all lead to reduced viewing. Teixeira suggests “brand pulsing, which is a method of unobtrusively weaving brand images throughout an ad”. He notes, “Doing this increases viewership by as much as 20%”.

2. Immediately create a positive emotional feeling.

Teixeira and his colleagues have found through emotion-induced engagement research that “Surprise and joy effectively concentrate attention and retain viewers. Creating one of these emotions immediately will help keep viewer attention; it is most effective to create a sense of surprise, which is then quickly followed by joy”. This is where the importance of a headline or an image that is AV centric comes into play.

3. Build an emotional roller coaster.

Teixeira found through his facial recognition research that, “Viewers are most likely to continue watching a digital video ad if they experience emotional ups and downs.” He relates this to the human process of adapting. Teixeira urges marketers to provide joy and take it away… and then provide it back. Teixeira founds that “Videos that deliver constant levels of joy or surprise don’t engage viewers for very long. Advertisers need to build an emotional roller coaster”. Creating this cycle “hooks” viewers and increases their likelihood of paying attention.

4. Surprise consumers, but don’t shock them

While surprising viewers is good for gaining attention and engagement, Teixeira finds shocking them inhibits message sharing.

5. Target viewers who will share the message.

People will share content, including advertising content, when it serves their own self-interest.

In AV, the key points of any outreach must be front and center with the support documentation easy to access.

Understanding (and then effectively employing) all the various concepts of attention marketing is additive in scale and scope.

In the discovery phase of getting to know your primary AV integrator targets, here are a few questions to ascertain:

1. How many offices do they have?

2. Who is in charge of each office and what is the hierarchy in the corporation and branches?

3. What verticals do they serve, and which ones are the most dominant in their company?

4. Who influences the purchasing decisions?

5. Who makes the purchasing decisions? (centralized or branch)

6. What products do they stock?

7. Do they buy through distribution?

8. What competitive products do they carry/sell?

9. Do they have a proactive marketing outreach program to their clients?

10. Do they have educational programs for their staffs and end users?

11. Do they encourage and award certifications?

12. What design and technical services do they have in -house?

As you read the preceding list, most will think about the magnitude of work that goes into the process of discovery and getting to know the audience. It can be daunting, but should not be ignored.

No matter what, marketing is all about reaching and impressing the intended audience and getting them to act.

If you do that you will have accomplished both earned and unearned marketing that is memorable with the audience looking forward in anticipation of the next message. Thus an ongoing relationship is built.

Alan Brawn is the Principal of Brawn Consulting and is a veteran of the Pro AV integration industry.