With the new role, what extra responsibilities are you taking on?
I came here, to what was InfoComm International before we rebranded, as head of marketing. After we rebranded I became deeply involved in our market research and content development effort for about six to eight months, and temporarily let go of marketing. What the executive team and I realised was that actually there are a lot of synergies between market research, new content development and the marketing side, so bringing everything together under one roof seemed to make sense. Now we can bring content together with marketing and we can play a role as a more sophisticated marketing team, moving beyond just promoting the association’s products and services and actually being a source of value for our members, in our own right.
And, because we have invested a lot of time, money and resources in market intelligence and gathering information about our industry and about what our members are doing, we can, as a department, be the voice of the customer, the voice of our membership internally, which I think is really important.
In terms of market intelligence – what’s the feedback been like to the content you’re producing?
The feedback that we’ve had from our industry is really good and we’re continuing to invest. We’ve got three reports coming out this year; three all-new reports on the live events industry, again with a real focus on the end user experience, so the person who’s actually buying the ticket to the concert or the festival, or the person who’s been invited to the corporate event as an attendee.
Can it be tricky to understand what the numbers in these reports mean in real terms and how it affects people individually and as individual businesses?
I think there’s still a little bit of a gap there. We’ve certainly invested a lot in terms of data visualisation, so we’re representing our data in such a way that it’s a lot easier for people to see what’s important and to see the trends that really matter to them. And I think it’s really important as well when we talk about market intelligence, we talk about it in terms of insight, not just in terms of data. You can have data but unless you present it in a way that’s easy to understand and easy for people to take away insights, it’s relatively meaningless.
Generally speaking, for the AV industry to continue to grow – do you think it needs to market itself better to continue that growth going forward?
One of the other strategic initiatives that my team is responsible for is what we call industry awareness. What that really means is communicating the business value of AV to new groups, to decision-makers, the people who write the cheques for AV products and services. It’s interesting actually, you go to where these people are – to retail conferences or education industry conferences and meet people and you very quickly realise that the business case for AV is very, very nuanced and it’s specific to particular markets or particular geographies.
Initially, we were very focused on end users, but there are all kinds of intermediaries that end users are hiring to advise them on their technology deployments, and so these people are in some ways more influential than end users. We’re starting to bring a lot of these people into our fold and communicate with them. I think the AV industry certainly needs to be part of these conversations and I’d like to think that we’re leading the way in helping those conversations to start to happen.
And from the data and the discussions you’ve had over the last few months and years – where do you see the biggest areas of opportunity for AV?
It’s interesting. You look at the corporate market, for example, and other traditional markets like higher education, and there’s a lot of talk about commoditisation and the fact that nobody’s making any money on the screens or projectors and no one’s really making any money out of the traditional integration either, as there are so many one-box plug and play solutions out there. The traditional revenue streams that the integration firms have had are certainly challenged. On the other hand, I think you’re now in a scenario where there are a lot of services that integrators can wrap around their deployments and AV is becoming much more pervasive. You’re going from a scenario where in the past you had AV in a small suite of well-equipped meeting rooms in an office building or in one building on an education campus, to now seeing hundreds of flexible meeting or training spaces, which don’t necessarily have a huge amount of technology in them. But when you connect all those things together, now they’re all sitting on a network, they become a source of data for that enterprise.
I think being part of that data generation and aggregation process is where a lot of the potential for AV lies. I think it’s a really exciting time to be in the industry. The industry is definitely evolving very quickly, which can make life quite challenging for us, but I think challenging in a good way because there are so many opportunities out there.
And in terms of the trade shows – you worked at ISE for a number of years. Has there been anything surprising about the trajectory of that show, since you left?
I think we pioneered the idea of using new content as a way of growing attendance and making new kinds of people feel that there was something at the show for them. And it’s become very inclusive, very broad, which has challenges in itself because it can be a tricky event to navigate. It’s not just its sheer size but the diversity of the technology solutions that are on offer. But again I think as an industry we need these broad-based hubs for different solutions because there is just so much going on here.
Personally and as an association, what were some of your key takeaways from the show this year?
I was really pleased with the contribution that we made to the show content. I think we’ve evolved quite a bit in the way that we approach the show. We used to be all about our technical training at the show and we just do that with the Flashtrack stand now, with little bite-sized, 20-minute sessions, and they go down very well. It’s interesting, the technical content is what works in that format, but the longer sessions are much more about end-user applications and outcomes. We contributed content to a lot of the other events that were going on this year, such as the Digital Signage Summit, Smart Building Conference and the different vertical market events. Because of the investments that we’re making in research and content development, we’re able to make a much more strategic contribution to the content of the show. And I think that’s really important. In fact, the exhibitors were quite explicit with us as co-owners of the show when we met with them a year ago at the ISE advisory board meeting. They said: we don’t need more attendees, we need the people who are coming to stay for longer, and the way that you get them to stay for longer is by providing content away from the show floor. So we’re happy with the contribution that we’re making and I’m really pleased with the way the show’s content is evolving. I’m also really proud of the fact that we are consistently seeing new people coming into the show; we had between 30% and 40% new attendees this year and that’s fantastic.
Exhibitors certainly use the show to connect with their existing networks but they wouldn’t be booking stand space with us if that’s all we were offering because they would just be holding their own events for their existing clients. They come to ISE in large part because ISE brings them new people and helps them grow their business by bringing them new contacts, and making them aware of new projects and new applications for the technology that they’re displaying on the show floor.
And finally, what can people expect from the InfoComm show this year?
We’ve got quite a lot going on. I think we’re going to have our biggest ever show in Orlando, certainly in terms of floor space and exhibitor numbers. We’ve got a big focus this year on two vertical markets that we haven’t traditionally focused a lot of the education content on, and that is retail and hotels/hospitality.
When you look at our seminar and workshop package at the show – which is typically around 120-130 sessions – in contrast to ISE, which pulls its content in from a lot of different partners, at InfoComm we do a lot of the education ourselves because we have a lot of that capability in-house.
We designed a programme this year, without neglecting some of our core competencies like unified communications and collaboration, corporate AV, higher ed AV, lecture capture, streaming, those sorts of things. We’re still doing all that but we’re adding a lot more about retail and hospitality, which starts to take us more into areas like digital signage, content creation, background music, audio programming, interactivity, perhaps different kinds of interactivity than you would get in a corporate or education environment. So there’s a big emphasis there.
We’ve also got our TIDE conference going on again in Orlando which is looking at designing experiences. There are a lot of AV companies who can see the potential in reinventing themselves as experience creators, again as a defence against the commoditisation that we talked about earlier, but they need a forum to talk about what’s possible and different ways of approaching it, and that’s what we do with our TIDE conference, which is the day before the show in Orlando.