The economy has been thriving and it seems most everyone has been getting his or her share. However, we all want that sustainable growth and popularity we've seen in a few special AV companies. So, if there's all this new business, how come you are not growing faster than your competitor? Why do you have to settle for your share? You have great sales folks and a solid product, but there's still one more thing you need to achieve breakaway performance -- an exceptional brand image. Whether the company is Starbucks, Container Store, Apple, or your business -- outstanding growth is the byproduct of four things: marketing, sales, delivery, plus a stellar brand. Once you have harnessed your brand power, it becomes a reliable source of growth on its own.
Brand is your company name, visual appearance, plus all the perceptions the public has about you and your product. Because brand is hard to quantify, companies often neglect it. How do you forecast the ROI on efforts to improve brand image? Yet, most of the really successful companies you can name have done just that. Whether you consciously brand or not, branding will happen. The more people that know your company, the stronger your brand becomes, whether it's a good or bad image is really up to you. Assuming your current brand is at least neutral, there are a number of things you can do to grow it in a positive way.
Make A Better First Impression
The key to successful branding is to make sure that the appearances that impress are easier to spot than the flaws. For instance, we all know that if you roll into the ballroom at load-in and look disorganized, late, or unprepared, then your customer, the venue, stagehands, other suppliers, and your own staff will reduce their expectations for your performance. Every glitch, mistake, and stumble throughout the day will be blamed on your being late or unprepared. Even if the rest of the day goes perfectly, people remember the first and last thing they see. Brand works the same way. Not only does a bad showing affect your image, every bad showing is cumulative. The good news is that every good showing helps. This is why it is so important to turn challenges into opportunities. To quote Stephen Covey, "It's not what others do or even our own mistakes that hurt us the most, it is our response to those things."
Align The Message With the Reputation
Marketing is the outward projection of branding -- logos, company names, taglines, colors, fonts, style, and message content are all part of the marketing presentation. A successful branding outcome is when the perception of your reputation meets or exceeds the perception of your marketing message. To find out what your marketing says, find a friend or family member who doesn't really understand what you do. Ask them to look at your marketing materials and website and then have them describe to you what it would be like to do business with your company. Compare that with what your customers say doing business with you is like. If these aren't the same, then your marketing is out of sync with your product. For most companies this means they need to improve their product. Sometimes really great companies are missing growth opportunities because their marketing is not as strong as it could be. In short, you don't want to be average and claim to be the best any more than you want to be the best and sound like an also-ran. Being out of sync degrades your brand.
Discover What Others See
Remember that brand is the sum total of everyone's perception. It starts with the images your marketing delivers. But employees, suppliers, equipment, proposals, emails, and everywhere else your company touches add to the brand image. If it can be traced back to your company, it affects your brand. The message
You can tell a lot about an AV stager by looking at the gear, the people, the proposals and the office. Are the cases labeled and how so? Are things packaged by design or just packed? You can tell a lot about an employer by how they treat employees. Are the crews happy or frustrated; are they tired or exhausted; do they have support at the office to solve problems? These are things the customer and other contacts see first hand. Your proposals send huge image signals. Are they just printouts or do they tell a story? Do they sell the company or just try and sell the job? For some decision-makers, the proposal is their only contact with your company. Is your proposal good enough to stand on its own? Walk into your office with a fresh set of eyes. Is the entrance friendly and inviting? Are you prepared to receive guests or just prepared to work? Clients learn about you by visiting your home. That experience will influence their perception of your other outward messages.
Be Easier To Sell
Give your folks the advantage when they are in front of a client, a potential client, or even the industry. When you have a positive brand image, it is easier for your customers to justify hiring you. It is easier for manufacturers or suppliers to recommend you. And most of all it is the best deal closer money can buy.
The Human Touch in Sales & Marketing
By Tom Stimson, CTS
I have been seeing a growing trend in Staging Sales: Hiring real sales people. Traditionally, AV Sales folks have grown up in AV. The conventional wisdom is that you cannot sell technology without being a technologist of some sort. As a result, Staging Sales folks are often Project Managers in a suit or old technicians with good people skills. But more and more Stagers are recognizing that we are not really selling technology when we prospect for new business we are selling our companies. The trend I am seeing is that forward-thinking Stagers are hiring Sales Professionals from other industries mostly complementary segments such as hotel or exhibit sales. The key to success for these non-AV sales folks is a clear marketing message and a collaborative support system backing them up.
In this months survey we asked about marketing tools and the influence of the Internet in promoting your AV Staging firms. To sum up a majority of the responses, word-of-mouth marketing is the most relied-upon tool. For me this is a major concern because there is an entire generation of buyers that know and rely upon the Internet as their primary source of information. 79% of respondents rated word of mouth as extremely important for their marketing efforts versus only 38% who rated web searches that high. The good news is that more one-third of these companies are taking advantage of both.
Our final question generated a broad spectrum of viewpoints. Here is a sampling of the prevailing lines of thought:
Have websites and email marketing replaced the sales call? Can outside sales folks penetrate where the Internet cannot?
"Successful marketing plans employ multiple media and methods. Websites are vital, yet few sites convey real information or draw customers. May I never again read, "The leading provider of audiovisual." The best site is Meeting Tomorrow's. In "High Tech, High Touch," Naisbitt writes that as we employ technology - let's not forget the human touch. Salespeople remain vital. The human bridges the technology gap and makes the sale warm & fuzzy.
-Richard McLeland-Wieser, Presentation Rentals
Our goal is to develop long term relationships with our clients and the only way to do that is with people. Our main component of business development is the quality of our outside sales people, and their ability to develop new business. -Joe Guilderson, Corporate Audio Visual Services
Our company looks at the Internet as the advertising medium of today. If someone doesn't have or use a computer to find us, they probably don't have enough budget for our services. -Rusty Ranney, Live Technologies
Nobody is going to call and say "nice website. We are going to hire you for our next convention." Being selected still takes a lot of one-on-one contact and handholding. Websites reduced some of the paper (mailing brochures), and made things happen a bit faster but no effect on the effort it takes to close a deal. -John Lackner, Live Sound Concepts
Download the complete Feb 08 Survey including dozens more illuminating comments from respondents at: www.trstimson.com/surveys.
Each month The Stimson Group conducts a short survey of AV industry professionals about a variety of topics. To participate in or comment on those surveys, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.