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AV and IT: Avoid the business zombies

Unfocused, aimless AV companies unaware of market developments are damaging the reputation of the rest of the sector, writes Bob Snyder

In Texas, some sophomoric college students from Austin hacked into the digital signage that alerts motorists to highway construction ahead. The red lights of digital text greeted motorists that morning: “Zombies in Area. Run.” That could be an appropriate warning for morning rush hour, but authorities failed to see the humour.

Apparently other college students were more amused than the Austin police: similar-in-phrase zombie hacks have popped up in highway digital signage in Oregon and other US states.

In film and literature, ‘zombie’ calls up an iconic image of a mindless state. You generally see zombies portrayed as clueless and wandering the landscape aimlessly. The zombie is not dead, but you can’t call it alive either. It just exists… walking its territory and inflicting random damage.

If that sounds familiar, maybe we should publicly recognise a new category within the realm of the living dead: the AV business zombie.

Focusing the mind

The AV business zombie is the company that wanders aimlessly in the market as unfocused as the undead. It often unwittingly destroys the business for the rest of us with its mindless actions. It never learns from experience. And while it may understand ‘kill or be killed’ (the simplest of survival instincts), it fails to comprehend how its very existence depends upon conserving, not wasting, its food source.

In the US, Arbitron is waking the AV business dead with a study that highlights that more Americans see digital signage in a month than have ever texted a message, opened a Facebook profile or viewed an online video. That’s a powerful medium!

At least 71 million people per month view digital signage thanks to the lower cost of technology and the push from big corporates such as HP and Intel.

Yet there’s a shockingly slow uptake of digital signage strategies by pro-AV integrators. That’s why I have shamelessly dragged out the zombies to get your attention on seizing the opportunity.

If you won’t take a serious look at digital signage by the end of this article on business zombies, then you may be one of them.

Maybe, as in Austin and Oregon, we too should flash a warning during ISE: “Zombies are in the area. Run.”

Yes, run away from the zombie pack and head towards the living, breathing market of digital signage. Act intelligently and target digital signage opportunities and you will have separated yourself from the zombies, the mindless ones who currently overrun the territory.
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The survival plan

Like many big opportunities, there is no single ‘digital signage’ market. Instead what you have are many different markets that when linked together by shared characteristics create needs for common tool sets. For example, retail digital signage differs greatly from industrial signage (and transport signage – like the Austin highway signs or airport signage, for example).

Digital signage is a wonderful business for pro-AV integrators because it adds nicely onto vertical markets you already serve: hotels and restaurants in hospitality, airports and highway control in transportation, schools and universities in education, banks and brokers in finance, churches and houses of worship in religion, doctors and hospitals in healthcare, and so on.

Digital signage does not discriminate by company size: small companies need digital signage just as much as large ones. Small companies buy less, pay lower prices and need more help. There’s nothing wrong with that as you can still make good money solving small business problems – if you are not acting like a zombie who fails to understand which market he serves and its requirements.

Digital signage is also good for AV because it draws on several skillsets that require integration. You need displays, you need signal management, you need signal distribution, you need content and content management, you need physical mounting and installation – and you need help to integrate it all.

Wake-up call

To wake up the business, you need first to take a long look at your current customer base. Figure out what type, what business category of customers you have and then make a list of what type of digital signage may be useful to them.

Think in terms of their company sales, their business model – think as if their company was yours and how as their company president you would put digital signage to work to make you money (raise revenue or cut costs).

As a second step, you can analyse the types of customers that you do best with (assuming you relate to some particular profiles). Determine which of those companies are within your geographic range (say, 80km at most). Always start close to home, only zombies ignore what’s under their noses and roam just for the sake of roaming.

Once you have estimated the types of digital signage you may require, it’s time to line up suppliers. A multitude exists because they each have their niche, their expertise, and because the growing market allows for many brands.

You will want to match up the ones who technologically fit your clientele with the ones who are under-represented in your geographic area. In fact, you should create a matrix that allows you to compare the prospective suppliers on product range, pricing, partner programmes (yes, IT vendors especially have clear programmes dedicated to boost your business), current representation, and company culture.

After you collect the suppliers that match your current base, execute a marketing and sales plan that brings real solutions to your customers and prospects: any solid plan should stand up well in a growing market populated by zombies.

You will distinguish your business from the zombie pack by your decision to focus intelligently on this opportunity in alignment with your business strengths. There are five specific opportunities for the pro-AV market in digital signage networks to prove they are worth more than price-fixated zombies: the choice of gear, consulting, installation, the ad revenue opportunity and the creative content production.

The true upside of digital signage is that while zombies can go through the motions selling and installing the technology, much value-added AV will be lost without intelligent understanding. Two integrators can tackle the same project and come out with digital signage that differs as much from one another as the undead from the alive.