By Alan C. Brawn CTS, ISF-C, DSCE, DSDE, DSNE, DCME

In our personal and professional lives, the only constant is change. We can attempt to ignore it or recoil from it, but we can’t avoid it. In other words, at one level or another, we simply cannot put off the inevitability of change. Some might think of it as disruption. This begs the question of how to recognize, and then address change. In this case, I want to address the changes (yes, plural…) in the AV industry.

For those of us who have been around the industry for decades, it is evident that the AV universe is changing, and this change is now happening more rapidly than what we think of as traditional evolution. Many of us remember the “good old days” of decent profit margins on the hardware we sold. We remember being able to sell the sizzle, and the steak. Life was simple! There was no world wide web, and things were never thought of as plug and play (or commodities). As we entered the digital age, it all began to change. Many will recall the seemingly endless articles about the coming age of new technologies, and especially toward the turn of the century, the convergence of AV and IT. The sadness is that some of those topics are still being written in one form or another. There’s a saying about having one’s head stuck in the sand that comes to mind… Change is fully upon us, whether we like it or not! Proof you ask? The fact that InfoComm is now AVIXA is a good place to start.

For those who are willing to recognize change for what it is, and then look for ways to embrace it, there are profits to reap. The point is that profits will come in different shapes and forms, perhaps even in unexpected ways, than they did in the past. Paradigms are hard to shift and getting out of a comfort zone is well… uncomfortable.

The AV industry has been based on selling hardware from day one. Yes, I know we aggregate all types of hardware together into a system, designed with the end user in mind… but the mentality is still mired down in selling hardware. Will we always sell hardware? The answer is of course we will, but we will wrap it in new packages with different focal points.

Hardware is tangible, and therefore in some senses, limited to what it physically is and does. Nonetheless, it represents the tools of the trade we use to solve problems… and hopefully it is used to enhance an experience, or better yet… provide a new one. What it can do, and how it affects us is why we buy it. The key concept today is to wrap the sale around the experience. By definition, an experience is “the process or fact of personally observing, encountering, or undergoing something. It can entail “knowledge or practical wisdom gained from what one has observed, encountered, or undergone.” Experience correlates directly to impact and being memorable. As Joseph Pine says in his best-selling book, The Experience Economy, the desire for a given product is superseded by the desire for the experience that product (or in the case of AV), the group of products can provide.

I want to paraphrase an insightful story I heard the other day. A major ocean-going freight company had a problem with one of their gigantic ship’s engines. No matter what, it just would not operate. They couldn’t find out what was wrong, so they called in an expert. He showed up and spent a few minutes diagnosing the problem. He then took a hammer out of his bag and judiciously hit the engine a few times in a certain spot. It started right up and ran perfectly. He sent them the bill for $10,000. When they got the bill, they called him back immediately and questioned the amount for “simply” using a hammer and taking such a brief amount of time on site to solve the problem. He told them in no uncertain terms that they were not paying for the use of the hammer or time on site but for his experience in knowing how to solve the problem, what to do with the hammer, and the result.

In the AV industry today, we need to go beyond the appearance of time spent selling hardware and using “hammers” … and focus on becoming a partner and not just a vendor. We need to learn all we can about big data as the raw material of communication. We need to embrace the Internet of Things in a connected world. Just for the record… AV and IT converged a long time ago. We need to sell new knowledge bolstered by our years of expertise and experience in identifying problems, providing solutions, and ensuring results. We can wrap this up inside the concept of providing the full experience that will become memorable.

Some may think of this all as disruptive… but as noted in the beginning this can be positive, fueled by excitement, learning new things, and finding new ways to conduct your business. History tell us that most important things have transpired in periods of what could have been called disruption. As I always like to say, the only constant is change. We need to embrace it, learn from it, and apply those lessons to our daily lives. Disruptive? Not for those that see the opportunities and seize the moment. This is the new pro AV industry of our time. Enjoy your journey and participation!

Header image: CC0 Creative Commons

Alan Brawn headshotAlan Brawn is Principal of Brawn Consulting (along with Jonathan Brawn) and Director of ISF Commercial and the Digital Signage Experts Group. Brawn Consulting is an audio visual and digital signage consulting, educational development, and market intelligence firm with international exposure to major manufacturers, distributors, consultants, and integrators. His specialties: Creation of educational curriculum’s and programs for the Digital Signage and AV industries, business development, digital signage and AV design and consulting, Digital Signage and AV market research.