Dismantling The Hype Machine

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Whew. Time for Infocomm again, and if you're anything like me, you've done very little to prepare for it. But I was having a long talk with our director of business development this morning that gave me a whole new slant on how to get ready for our big trade show.

It started this way: Tom walked into my office with a presentation he's giving for our local MPI chapter, looking for my opinion on some of the content. Now, Tom's a really savvy, experienced guy, so I was expecting questions about imaging technology or webcasting or imag, and hoping for something really technical, because I love to talk tech (as all those of you who know me would attest to). So the topic spun me a bit.

It was: "How do you tell a trend from a fad?"

The hour-long discussion that resulted was educational for both of us. Let me share the conclusions with you -- because at a trade show, to make sense amongst all the noise, this is the most important thing that we need to do. If we can separate the fads from the trends, we'll make better purchasing decisions for our rental inventories. And isn't that really why we go to the show (at least the show floor part, anyway)? And in the equipment exhibits we're all going to see, the manufacturers will portray everything they're selling as the latest trend. They'll all tell you that this is the big bandwagon you can't miss, and if you do you'll be as extinct as the dodo. But we've all been told that before.

And yet, as any statistician or accountant will tell you "the trend is your friend." In other words, a trend helps us predict which way the market (meaning the clients) is going to shift. A fad is just a distraction.

Let me give an example from my own history of both a trend and a fad:
Do any of you remember General Parametrics Videoshow System? In the 90's, this was touted to all of us as the next revolution: a portable floppy-disk player that allowed you to take your computer-based presentations on the road without hauling your computer along. It was frightfully expensive, tricky to use, and had lots of expensive add-ons. Many, many dealerships bought in. Many, many of them were left on the shelves when, shortly thereafter, laptops became portable and inexpensive. It was one of our industry's many fads.
Currently, line-array sound systems are all the rage. The manufacturers scream about the "line-array revolution." But it's not. We've had processed sound systems for a long time, and if you read beyond the hype you'll realize that they've effectively been being developed in many forms for many years. The manufacturers have simply isolated certain performance improvements, systematized them, and declared them a "revolution." But, in fact, they're the latest step in a definable trend.

So let me tell you how I, at least, will be attempting to separate trends from fads at the show:

1. By definition, a trend has a "tail." By that, I mean that you can see where a trend comes from, and it's a logical progression from something that's already been happening. It's evolutionary. The problem is that the manufacturers seem to like the word "revolutionary" more, and apply it to everything. But, if you look at the history of the world, and our industry, revolutions USUALLY fail. Fads begin with the usual "revolutionary" hype, create initial excitement, but fail to become trends.

2. Trends fulfill an existing performance or business requirement. In other words, we're not trying to create an entirely new market with a trend. Manufacturer claims that "all your customers are going to ask for this" are baseless unless you've already been asked for the performance requirement. Other than that, you'll be basing a business decision on some manufacturer's ability to create a new market - something that VERY few of them are actually capable of doing. Or maybe they are, because they consider US the market. The problem is that we'll then be the ones that have to sell it to our clients without demand. An example of this in a trend: we've needed to provide clients for years with the ability to change lighting colors on the fly without adding instruments. We used to do it with gel scrollers. LED blending lights were a logical evolution that produced a legitimate trend. On the other hand, in the same market, lasers were touted as the revolution we all needed to be part of, but they were a fad in most markets. In 95, they were part of nearly all corporate shows, but the look faded and retreated to mostly entertainment.

3. Trends have multiple buyers in the industry. When a manufacturer tells you you can lock up the latest trend for your region by buying in now, and you'll be the exclusive vendor for something everybody's going to NEED, you're looking at a fad. Any manufacturer that has the experience and capability to know they've got a legitimate TREND on their hands doesn't sell it exclusively to anyone - they know the market is bigger than that. They may require a dealership to qualify for a product, but they won't tell you that their product is a license for YOU to print your own money. If they sell you on something that's a FAD, they'll be the ones that get to do that.

I've learned this the hard way, I guess, because if any of you know somebody who needs a VideoShow, I've got several still in the box. I'd like to trade them for some LED blending fixtures.

See you at the show.










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