Final Part (I think) of the takeaways from attending ESCR099 aka CEDIA's Social Media Forum - as mentioned prior these are my interpretations of the info provided by the presenters and the panelists, so any innacuracies are because I was too busy live tweeting the class and not paying attention and decided to make things up - OR if all else fails, I blame Matt Scott's hair (@MattScottsHair on Twitter)
Part 1 and Part 2 talked about making comittment choices to who manages your Social Media approach and then about what should be your base intentions. Important things to consider before you even build your blog site, facebook fan page or create a twitter handle...
So now that you've decided to toss your chips into the Social Media pile and ante up... we get to the fun part...
Content is King
Again, this does appear to be one of those obvious basic statements for Social Media 101. And invariably it's the simplest statements that are the hardest to execute. See everyone likes the concept of Social Media and becoming an internet sensation, the problem isn't getting someone to take a look at you the first time you go "hey! we're now on the internet!" it's keeping them engaged and coming back.
Just regurgitating someone's else content without your unique perspective or take on things isn't going to do much other than cause your target audience's eyes to gloss over. If they want to read someone else's original ideas about something, invariably they'll soon skip right past you and go to the source.
If you're going to put up content make sure it's *good* content.
This is your opportunity to tell your story, why you're excited about what your company does and why someone should be excited too. Enthusiasm in any sales approach is going to be part of a successful outcome, and it can be genuine without it feeling slimy or contrived. Remeber the "Social" element of Social Media
Also, and I can't stress this enough. Every word processing program on the planet has some form of spell checker built in - USE IT. The fastest way to bury any delightful morsels of knowledge you might be filling people's melons with, will immediately come to a crashing halt if your grammar and spelling makes it look like it was authored by a single toothed logger (with all due respect to the single toothed logger, blogging community, of course)
Now there's some caveats here to consider - Twitter for example only allows you 140 characters per posting, so the rules have to be amended slightly to get the message across and play by the rules of brevity. This is the ONLY time that you should be making that concession, all other forms of expressing your Social Media approach should be treated with all necessary spelling and grammar discipline.
Why is this so important to harp on over and over? Because this is not by design a personal expression, this is a business endeavour you're undertaking.
At all times you have to remember before you hit the send button "Is this something that I would send directly to a client? What would the impression be of me if they received this directly?" We put a lot of care into our traditional marketing, in our showrooms, in the quality of our proposals and how we comport ourselves when we meet a potential client.
Do not let your Social Media approach negate it all.
Anyone who knows how to type your company name into Google will immediately get the full frontal of social media blunders if you're not careful.
If someone is going to part with their hard earned dollars and pay you for something (the reason why you're looking to do Social Media in the first place), the feeling that they're entrusting a professional to take care of them is part of this specific social contract.
This is the easiest of all things to correct when pushing out your work - if you don't feel confident enough to proofread yourself, then have someone help you.
(Two examples of excellent and quick rules of thumb to follow can be found on John Sciacca's blog here and here which show you can still be "you" and at the same time maintain your professionalism)
Keep the Content Fresh
This is the next important distinction between traditional marketing and Social Media as part of your marketing approach. Social Media by nature is extemely fast paced and organic by nature, cliches aside this is where that whole interactive thing comes from. I tend to use the term "hyper-reality" when describing the fast pace of the online world and how people interract with it.
The speeds that people seek and ingest information is staggering (for a perfect example look at how newspapers are getting pummeled) so if you decide to embark on hanging your shingle on the interwebs, you've got to commit to putting in the time regularly. And by regular we're not talking every few weeks, we're talking optimally every few days, minimum weekly.
If any of your Social Media posts regularly start with "it's been weeks, months, etc since I've written" - immediately close your Social Media platform. Seriously, just stop - chalk it up to a lesson learned, and move on and regroup. You will cause more damage to your brand approach by being haphazard than if you didn't start in the first place.
Regardless of the actual circumstances that could prevent you from providing fresh content - what it's saying in big bold capital letters is "I CAN'T COMMIT TO OR COMPLETE ANYTHING"
Which leads into the last part...
Set Goals Early and make use of tools to assess them
Your business plan didn't consist of "Ready, Fire, Aim!" did it? (You did amend your business plan for this right?) Don't treat Social Media differently from your business goals because it's new territory. In fact you should be doing the opposite, you should be doing everything you can to quantify the process because either you're investing money and/or time in this.
There's two parts to this: there's the basics and then there's the advanced stuff (and this part I'm just barely learning myself so we've pretty much in it together from that respect) but here's the parts that did make sense to me right out of the gate.
Again a no-brainer, but this is like any discipline. Want to hit a curveball? Want to learn how to play that screaming lick from your favorite album? For this I offer a quote from the the noted Theme Song from philosopher and Cockatiel loving Detective Anthony Vincenzo "Tony" Baretta - "Don't Do The Crime If You Can't Do the Time" - Figure out a way to make it work for you, we all have businesses we work at, and personal and professional obligations - either make time for it or don't start, the only thing worse than not having an audience is alienating the one you gained.
The fastest way to check in on how you're doing - just read your stuff, take out a notepad and check off how many times you've entered info, daily-weekly-monthly - consider the times that you can realistically work on something and measure how many times you actually did what you said you were going to do. This is not for the "I'll get to it later crowd" - Do or Do Not, There Is No Try
You can't see how well or how poorly you're doing if you can't measure your wins and losses. The above items are literally an industry unto themselves, and I'm not qualified to talk at length about them (yet) but just type those phrases into your favorite search site and pour a cup of your favorite beverage and digest you some knowledge boy!
In closing I will include one of my more favorite ways to learn about Social Media Marketing, Search Optimization and Quantification Tools:
I give you "The SEO Rapper" - Learn about Page Rank (click here) and Social Media Marketing (click here)
Peace, Love, and Good Social Media Karma to you,
(Ok, in an effort to break the gobs of information that I ingested over a 3 hour period at the CEDIA Social Media Forum - here's Part 2 of my takeaways from this experience. Much of the info was provided by the presenters and the forum panelists, so all credit where credit is due, the following is how I'm interpreting it.)
Part 1 of my recap of the Social Media conclave talked about, who should you consider taking the reins of your Social Media plans for world domination. And option one was, dude, pay someone to do it. If you picked option one, well you sure don't need me yapping at you, so....
*BUT* if you picked another option and you've decided that either A) You didn't want to hire someone for various reasons to do your Social Media marketing or B) You're not ready to lay out the dinero for something that you're not really sure if there's going to be any tangible return on your investement other than "Woo Hoo! I've now got 1000 Facebook Friends"
Apart from having a gajillion people to play Farmville with, now that you're diving into Social Media, the question posed is: How? Well based on what I heard, here's one of the most basic rules as a business you should be following when it comes to Social Media:
Be Authentic aka "Don't Be That Guy" (And yeah I'm talking to you Reed Hastings of Neflix)
I know this one seems to be blatantly obvious, but it's pretty amazing how many examples I see *daily* on twitter or facebook or any variety of services where I'm feeling "talked at" by whichever company is pushing out their social media "message". For example in recent news, Netflix's sincere approach at apologizing for "messing up"? Yeah, not so much - respect your audience, it's amazing how much a little humility and good will go a long way in terms of people believing your message.
Which goes into the next part - being authentic is about wanting to be of service, being a resource, and being an interesting destination for information, this is NOT the place for you to be making the hard sell.
I will repeat, Social Media is NOT the place for the hard sell, if you're planning on using twitter as a clearing house for your "everything must go" sales, you are going to fail, and fail miserably in my opinion.
So how can you be authentic? Here's some tips...
So there you go, some simple rules of how you should be putting out your Social Message, and it's a lot easier said than done. The good news is that if you're participating honestly and genuinely, you'll find amazing responses from the people you're interracting with over the digital airwaves.
Next Up - The nuts and bolts of Social Media broadcasting - Content is King and Establishing a Social Media Policy & Assessing it.
(Note from Rich's Brain: As I've been writing this post this week, I came to the realization that to push it out in one piece, is a LOT of information, not only to think about, but also write about and moreso for people to read about... so I'm taking a different approach and making this in essence the first part in a series of the things I'm learning about social media - with that said, what you see below consider it part 1)
So, past posts I’ve recently tossed out have revolved around re-connecting with people, and what it means to me on a professional and business level. I’d written about the soul searching that I’ve been doing as it related to whether I really wanted to put myself “out there” and what was I risking, whether it be in the Social Media arenas or writing in places like my blog here.
Well what a coinky-dink! CEDIA must have been totally doing their whole Vulcan mind meld, fingers on my forehead thing because – they offered classes that talked about it too!
It was class number ESCR099 also known as the “Social Networking Forum: How to Leverage Popular Social Media Platforms to Grow Your Business”
That long title notwithstanding – my brain interpreted it as “Hey Rich, wanna learn how to use facebook for fun and profit?? Amaze your friends and roll in the dough? Why step right in!”
Now this panel moderated by Kimberly Fabiano Fassetta (@kimberlyfab on Twitter) from Social4Media and Dave Kirn from k2 Dealer Services (@ksdsllc on Twitter) was 3 hours long. There was a lot discussed, so I’m not going to give you the minute by minute blow by blow, but the following item is just one key point that hit home with me and then my thoughts on it:
What endpoint do you want to achieve?
I was about to TOTALLY write this epic missive about all the things this can mean, pulling out all sorts of analytic data and references - because obviously from a business standpoint the basic answer is “Why I want them to drive to the bank, extract VAST amounts of money and look me in the eye and say – here Rich, this is for you - go be brilliant”
Now there’s obviously a lot more to it than that, the real question is how?
That's when John Sciacca one of the panelists beat me to it by uttering a simple and profound (well at least to me) statement:
“The purpose of you being here is a business objective, not to have 1000 Facebook friends…”
Sciicaaaaaaacaaaaaaa!!! (at that moment mid class, I got down on my knees and uttered my war cry - fists raised, all James Tiberius Kirk style, complete with zoom out camera angles showing the anguish…)
Not really, but I thought about it in my head and I was A-W-E-S-O-M-E!
Anyway….. This is the double edged sword of Social Media, how do you market yourself without making it seem like some form of reality show that blends together your personal and business life in one cold goulash of self-important narcissism on the interwebs. Or worse, how do you keep it from being some middle of the night quasi-infomercial every time someone clicks “like” or “follow” that makes everyone feel like they're being "talked at"
Well these were some of the tips that I got from the panel as it relates to this point:
Social media is a supplement to your traditional marketing not a replacement
Again, this seems like an obvious statement, but with reduced budgets for marketing or even worse no marketing budgets – the first thought is – I’ll hang my shingle on the internet and just wait for them to run up to me, exclaiming how did they ever get on without me.
When I considered this, it made me think that this opens up some very specific questions asked and paths down the decision tree you have to make.
(Please note - these are my take aways and do not represent in any way the information proferred by the class moderators or panelists - this is just Rich's musings)
I don't have the time for Social Media, I'm already running the business full time, what then?
The simplest answer is, hire an outside specialist. Now you don't need to find a social media only type of consultant, more and more, the companies who are taking care of your traditonal marketing and advertising, they're stocking up on how to make Social Media work as well. Plus, they already know you and your company philosophy. Talk to them and see what your options are.
I don't have the budget for some outside company to help create my online brand, now what?
Your options becomes: train someone - whether it's an employee or you consider an intern who can help take some of the workload off of you. This requires a different type of interraction, but it does give you some flexibility to not only build your business, but also generate new opportunites for the people you work with. Positive benefits include cultivating someone's skills who might be better suited to the task and is more in touch with the technologies around.
I don't want to trust someone else to get my message across, now what?
Well bucko, you get to do it yourself, and along with everything else you're doing, you now need to figure out the steps to put in place to make this worth your time.
Me? Well I'm a mix of all three of the above, I, by design, run a very small company and I invariably wear a lot of hats. Although the idea of having people walk into my sumptuous mahogany paneled boardroom, which is appointed with many leather bound books, to pitch me on how I'm going to take Facebook by storm is a cool idea, that's just not gonna happen.
So what do I do? Well that's going to be part 2: "Be Authentic"
I call it "don't be THAT guy" & how you put a social media policy in place
Gather 'round kids, Uncle Richie's a wee bit hot under the collar and I'm gonna tell you why....
The other day I wrote a post about a personal "centering" as it related to my business (I'm from the West Coast and I married an ex-Deadhead (60+ shows, woo!) - we use words like that, don't be hatin' ....
Anyway, it was basically about doing business with people I like, if you havent read it yet click here. So what happens today, I get an unsolicited email from a manufacturer's PR company with a generic "hope you liked CEDIA, if you're writing a story on home automation soon, blah blah, our product, blah blah.. something"
*click* KA-BLOCK!! KA-BLOCK!! KA-BLOCK!! No soup for you!!
Now why this upset me, I'm really not even 100% sure yet, but here's some of the reasons I can think of off the top of my head:
1) I'm not a professional writer...
2) I'm not a PROFESSIONAL writer...
3) I'M NOT A PROFESSIONAL WRITER!!!
I have started a blog that's about my personal views and thoughts about the AV Industry, specifically the Custom Install side of things. I have written (3) three, not 500, not even 50... three! ... uno dos TRES catorce blog posts! (sorry, channeling my inner Bono for a sec)
Oh, for about a micro-second I was flattered that someone at least knew my blog existed, now that part I ain't gonna lie, that was cool, it was my own little Steve Martin moment from one of my favorite movies - 'The Jerk'
"Page 73 - Johnson, Navin R.! I'm somebody now! Millions of people look at this book everyday! This is the kind of spontaneous publicity - your name in print - that makes people. I'm in print! Things are going to start happening to me now!!"
But if that person had taken a moment to read my actual blog post, they would have hopefully taken a much different approach, because my posts are about personal opinions, I write about what I like and what I know...
Now, I'm pretty darn good at what I do professionally, after doing this for 20+ years now, I think I've earned that distinction, if for no other reason that sheer tenacity and stubborness has equated to an expertise that consists of "I've blown this stuff up in ways you have YET to even consider Sir/Ma'am, you need me so someone else doesn't make you their wooops story"
(no seriously ask me about the time I had in-ceiling speakers catch fire 35 feet off the ground, not smoke, but honest to goodness flames bursting forth out of them)
But no... I get the hard sell, from someone and some company I've never heard about.
*IF* I write about someone's product, it's because in all likelihood, I own it. This was somewhat of a pretty important promise that I made with myself because I'm not a professional writer, I'm not qualified to give reviews.
So random PR person who I have banished to sit there and think about what you've done .... here's some examples of people who are qualified, you can check them out below (click their names for links to their work):
John Sciacca - An honest to goodness equipment reviewer who rocks the written word
Julie Jacobson - She's *the* Julie Jacobson, grand dame of AV Writing, nuff said.
Brent Butterworth - so good, so so very good at this.
So what's the moral of the story kids? If you're going to try to sell something, make sure you think twice before you hit the "send" button
I had considered it earlier, but after chewing on it - I'm not going to do a gadget round up, there's literally a *gajillion* far more talented people who are professional writers who are way better at presenting that information to you than me, so for that stuff, please head over to their webpages and blogs...
(No really, go ahead, it's cool...I can wait, I'll leave the door unlocked for when you come back....)
Ok, so now that you've gotten your fill of shiny gadgetry, and excellent interviews and youtube videos and new acronyms that even I have a hard time keeping up with, I'm going to throw down the thoughts and impressions I took away from attending CEDIA Expo 2011. Keep in mind these are my personal opinions and there's varying (and more to the point just as valid) experiences others might have that are either in concert with mine or totally 180 degrees out of phase..
When I first started my game plan for how to approach my return to CEDIA (which you can find here) , I was primarily fixated on road maps, on where we were in the hardware vs. "it's all in the cloud" approach and I let myself get a little sidetracked about the gadgetry trap to a degree.
I show up to CEDIA prepared to scope out which companies I think are about to unknowingly clomp into their own La Brea Tar Pit of Obsolescence and I walked away (again) shaking my head that sure enough, once again it's not them that "doesn't get it", it's me....
I was focused on the parts, the cogs and whozits and whatzits of what I do, In the past few years I got spec happy again and my absence pointed out one thing that I had veered away from that I was completely oblivious to:
I'm still in the people business...
Now as totally cliche and lame as it sounds, I know it's so passé to fess up to it, especially in the days of analytics and quantifying relationship metrics as compared to sales and blah blah blah, as a small business owner, this is what not only works for me but get this, it's at the root of
what makes me happy...
I'm at peace with the fact now that I'm not going to launch some gargantuan firm or revolutionize the industry, and you know what? I'm ok with that.... like REALLY ok, because in some small measure, apart from the most important parts of my life (my wife and kids) I got back in touch with my bliss from a career perspective: and that's just the simple act of being professionally aligned with people I like.
I'm naming names...
Now the cardinal rule of anytime you put something down in writing is be careful naming names... well this time I'm going to chuck that rule out the window because these are some people who I am very glad to now know and more to the point I think they're people that represent some of the best of what the industry offers.
No one prompted me to do this, and for the most part there's no upside for me taking this approach and if being authentic in my appreciation means being seen by ones who don't know me as disingenuous, then I'm willing to risk it.
Keep in mind, that these people have no active vested interest in me, in fact I just met most of them - I'm not an "industry guy" nor can I get them put to the front of the line in publications or promote to my significant following of at least dozens of people (ok, if you take out my wife, my family, my mom & dad in law - maybe my dozen of followers), heck as far as I know, knowing me could get you sent to the Phantom Zone for your very own General Zod type of banishment.
Again, keep in mind this is *MY LIST* and there's a lot more people I've left off this list than on it, and if I forgot to broadcast how cool you are and
the impact you made on me.... my bad, and I'll get you on the flip side...
1) The people - Manufacturers
2) The people - Custom Installers aka ESC's
3) The people - Affiliated trades - Press, PR, Marketing, Consultants
So there you go….
Next up: ESCR099 - The CEDIA Expo Social Media Forum aka "What I learned about Social Media, and the things I’ve been doing wrong…"
Deja Vu moments....
Board plane, run into CE industry peers, chat, try to act like there's something that really needs my attention so I can cut things short (even though we all know I'm sitting there with *nothing* to do at 30,000 feet)....
Arrive at destination, check into hotel, get a few hours of sleep, wake up and then stock up on a REALLY unwise level of piping hot caffeintated beverage and hit the show floor....
As mentioned in my prior blog post I did the trade show boogie for well over a decade, at least once, if not twice and in some years, thrice.. (Gosh I love that word - it's one of those words you toss at someone when you're feeling all Kenny Branagh and then you're forced to affect this totally fake english accent for em-phay-sisss)
Annnnywaayyyyy (the Trade Show sleep deprivationeffect also in my case manifests into scattalogical references that only make sense to me, so moving right along folks...)
I went into my Day, dreading the worst, looking out over the teeming AV guy masses, poking and prodding and doing the intense furrowed brow stare while doing the goatee'd chin rub - ooohhnng and aaahing at all the new shiny gadgets; while 30 feet away I can peripherally glimpe over at the other sea of nodding heads, keenly focused on some powerpoint or video demonstration while the speaker for the 16th time today talks about the "revolutionary something...something.. words words and words with lots of adjectives spoken with em-phay-sisss"
and I thought to myself "nothing's changed"
Jaded as I felt at that moment, I then stopped into someone's booth, some company I heard/read abut but didn't really *know* and we started doing the trade show polka, "where are you from.. oh nice... what do you do exactly...mmm hmmm... ooomm pahh pahhh ommm paah paaahh paaahhh (all the while I can see that they're giving me that vacant stare while they're looking over my shoulder to chicken hawk some more badge wearing fellows succumbing to the gravitational pull of whatever concert video du jour they're blasting at full volume 6 feet away from me)
So, just about as I'm about to silently wish whatever pox it is that I can muster on them (and myself for getting suckered into this again) Something very cool happened.... I glanced at my phone and started spotting messages from the Social Media contingent who were starting to make their presence known, a group who at this point carry their #AVTweeps moniker on Twitter pretty proudly.
Now, I'm the first to admit I'm way late to the Social Media party, but once I made the decision that I was going to focus on embracing this medium and genuinely try my hardest to treat it like my more traditional marketing efforts, I figured this was the best time to see if it was going to hold water.
And it did, it really did. Over the course of the day, I was able to connect with people from pretty much every segment of the Custom Install Industry, from Manufacturers, to PR to Reps to Integrators and the Press and I found a pleasantly odd thing occurred, every one of these people I spoke to was not only interested in our conversations but were flat out interesting people. These were people who, due to our indirect sharing of info over the interwebs, or seeing one another's missives - were able to bypass some of the awkwardness we sometimes have when we're working through the intoduction stage.
These were people I wound up having some very targeted and in depth conversations with about the industry, or their product roadmap, or a multitude of other industry specific questions I had going in. Now does that mean that my business is going to magically increase productivity by 900% or lure in the dream jobs because of a random Twitter feed - no - but it allowed me through these new and untraditional methods to remember a simple business premise - when you partner with good people, you can deliver exceptional results.
Day 1 is over and along with wicked sore feet, I walked away with a feeling that only be be wrapped up in one (surprising) word: reinvigorated
What started out with me thinking was going to be about what's new and exciting in our little corner of tech, it turns out it ended being about the most low tech item out there - connecting with people who actually do care about the same things you do (at least in businesswise)
So, to those people who contributed to my day and gave me fresh perspectives along the way, thanks... and keep twittering and blogging away.
Tomorrow I promise I'll talk about the cool gadgets....
This morning I'm jumping on a plane and spending 3 days away from my wife and kids for the first time since my son was born 14 months ago.
Why? I'm returning to the Custom Electronic Design and Installation Association (CEDIA) Expo in Downtown Indianapolis, Indiana after an 8 year hiatus.
8 Years? Seriously, Rich? Ok, I'll bite, why?
Well first, a bit of perspective:
When I first broke into the industry in the early 90's, CEDIA was just in it's infancy - unlike now, if you weren't a Consumer Electronics Chain, or a place that sold Refrigerators, Sofas *and* Big Screen TV's, or a High End Audio Boutique with at least quite a bit of "one to show, one to go" inventory - Reps for the AV Manufacturers often looked at you like you were that kid in the school lunchroom, trying to lick his crusted boogers out of his nostril.
No seriously, it totally felt like that - a lot of them didn't know what to do with guys who operated out of office spaces in industrial parks, or appointment only showrooms (their house) with only one, ONE! system on display or worse yet some of us with "mobile sales offices" ie. our trucks/vans or in my case a 1989 Cobalt Blue Mitsubishi Eclipse (hate the player, not the game, son)
Anyway, in 1990 some cats meet in Amelia Island, Florida with the purpose of making what we do be seen as a legitimate component of the Consumer Electronics Industry. Now in those early days there was a lot of "make it up as you go along". And I personally owe a huge debt of gratitude to those early CEDIA pioneers who figured that collectively there needed to be some way to come together as an industry and change the perception some had of us of "so-so musicians looking for paying day jobs" into real honest to goodness businessmen.
Now I didn't make it to CEDIA Expo 1 (was it even called that?), I missed it because I entered the industry one year later, but I did make it to CEDIA 2 in San Francisco (I even bought a suit but don't let the fact that it was some bizarro shade of Avocado Green distract you) and pretty much every one of them after that for a good 10 years.
Then I stopped going...And now I'm back and here's 3 reasons why:
1. I need CEDIA (probably more than it needs me)
For me, it was nice knowing that CEDIA was around, but after 10 years I didn't feel I needed it anymore. Business was good, there were all sorts of avenues available to make money, profits were VERY healthy, and you could make a really good living even selling small jobs.
Add to that, I was in my late 20's / early 30's and I pretty much decided that I knew what I was doing better than most of the guys out there and "Those who do, work - those who don't, teach at industry conventions and go to trade shows to BS each other about how good their business is doing"
Ah, the hubris of youth....
Fast forward and I'm 41 now, I'm the stereotypical father of two with dogs, cats, a turtle, and a mortgage. So nowadays I'm more worried about what I'm going to leave behind for my kids and I'm at the tipping point that business wise, I need to work even smarter and not harder if I'm going to enjoy spending time with them and seeing them grow up and not spend it all at the office. (generic stuff that lots of guys my age and in my position are feeling, hence my use of the word stereotypical earlier - see what I did there?)
So... As part of Reason #1 - I'm headed back and embracing the professional fellowship and support of my industry. I'm going to listen for once (those who know me, know this is a pretty big deal) and seek out the advice of my peers on how to make my business run better, and accept that they are my compatriots and not my competition. I'm even taking some classes while I'm out there on segments I think I'm pretty close to an authority on, in order to shut up and listen to someone else who has just as good if not a better perspective on things than I do (I'm even going so far as to audit a class that I took oh, 15 years ago)
2. The Go Go Economy is gone gone gone (for now)...
Now, I'm based out of the San Francisco Bay Area and I (barely) survived the tech crash in 2000 lovingly referred to in these parts as the Dot.bomb. In fact, after the tech meltdown bottomed out and people couldn't collect on their millions of shares of worthless stock options in pets.com, we gutted out a few lean years and then brushed ourselves off and actually increased business to levels higher than pre-Y2k figures.
Then we rung in 2008 and ...
In retrospect, the Dot.bomb was a wet baby fart (of which I am currently an authority on) compared to the housing crisis meltdown we are still reeling from and will be (I think) for several more years. The dot.bomb affected tech, but the nation's total wealth wasn't really affected, there was still tons of money to be made in new construction and with soaring equity values, people were heavily investing in home improvements and upgrades, all good things for the Custom Installer.
This time it's different...
Economic loss was hitting everyone, not only the people who were building new houses, or the ones who were doing home improvements, e.v.e.r.y.o.n.e. Did I mention that? Let me say it again - EV-ERY-ONE
Then just for kicks - there was the added salt in the wound of the remaining people who still did have wealth (Ultra CEO's, Mortgage Company Executives, ummm Bernie Madoff), stopped spending altogether, for fear of being seen as wasteful or extravagant in these hard economic times (it's not good company policy to build a 500 Hundred
Thousand Dollar Theater when you're laying off 20% of your workforce).
Part of Reason #2, I'm going back to ask the same question over and over of the people in my industry who have weathered this downturn "How have you done it?" Heck, I've got a captive audience, I might as well make the most of it. At best, I get some really good, thoughtful answers that I can incorporate into my business model, at worst, I can see that I'm not the only guy that's been hammered by this, and even with just that I can take some solace and regain more resolve by sharing it.
3. The rules have changed: The Cloud, and the "I've-got-an-app-for-that generation"
Gee thanks Apple (Yeah I said it...)
If you read the industry stories prior to the release of the iPad, many of us figured it would be a novelty, we had dabbled with CE Tablets as interface devices, and nothing really took hold. It was cute technology, but it never presented a threat to the traditional options that were out there.
It's only been out barely 2 years now and it's already sucked up an entire profit sector of the Custom Installation industry, the days of the $15,000 touchpanel are dead and gone, heck the days of the $2,000 touchpanel are gone (I m going to catch a lot of heat for this one, but regardless of the excuses and marketing material out there, I think we're trying to sell one another on a lost cause) - we have to adapt, stat.
But here's the bigger problem as I see it - we're also slowly running out of things to actually make money on...
TV's? um, nope
Video Gear? nein...
High Performance Audio Gear? nyet...
So what's left??
That's a good question, and this is the biggest Reason #3 why I'm returning to CEDIA, to witness a paradigm shift.
Much like the early days of the High End PC Server Industry and the heavy hitters ruling that roost, I think we're about to see our own versions of Sun Microsystems, Silicon Graphics, and Cray get punched squarely in the teeth, or even more insidiously we look back at it years from now as when they were given the "Five Finger Heart Palm Strike of Death", you know the one where the guy strikes you and lets his fingers breakdance all on your sternum and then he tells you once you walk away 10 steps you die.
In my estimation, the Shaolin Monk who's going to be laying down that strong Kung Fu - The One who did it once before and is flourishing in PC Economy 2.0 - The One that has bypassed the problems of obsolete hardware and eroding profit margins - The One is also known as the "software as a service" developer.
Because the cloud is real... It's not completely baked yet, but make no mistake, it's real and it's coming and it's going to totally throw 96 mile an hour fastballs right at your melon.
And who's that warming up in the bullpen that throws even harder? - Why we have a generation of adults just entering the prime demographic of the CI industry - but this generation is smarter, technologically savvier, and a whole lot less tolerant of paying prime dollars for something they've grown up seeing as a commodity product or worse yet, a free product.
All you can eat streaming music and video services are in their common lexicon, first weaned on the mother's milk of Napster, Bittorrents, and LOLCats. And now add a steady frosted mini-wheat diet of Netflix, Pandora and Angry Birds to their phones and oh-so-ironical sticker laden laptops.
A generation who will have no problem writing a bad yelp review or twitter blast, dragging you over the coals throughout the known interwebz if you make a misstep. The same ones, who while you're trying to point out the benefits of your meticulously put together proposal, will be clickety clacking google searches on your listed hardware and ask you why you're charging 17 dollars more for the same thing than "buy-my-gray-market-goods.com"
(unsolicited plug: Check out John Sciacca's excellent blog post here that touches on this subject "Are We Becoming Amazon Showrooms")
These are, if not already now, very soon going to be our clients. So me, I'm going to meet with the manufacturers that I think I have a reasonable chance of selling their products to them. And I'm going to be looking for the guys who are betting on the horse that I think has the best chance in the race - yup, the software developers.
Now one could interpet the tone of these 3 items as a tacit admission of defeat or that I'm just doing my own 10 step shuffle of heart palm strike ouchiness, but in fact it's quite the contrary, I'm actually the most optimistic about the direction I can take my company in, than I have been in years. I'm just finally ok with setting aside my ego and my own preconceptions of "how it should be" and I'm walking in excited to see what we as an industry are about to become.
So with that said, Indy here I come....
So after much soul searching and deliberations that don't need to be dragged out into the open at this point, I've come to the conclusion that I need to actively start writing about the field that's been good to me and that I love: the Custom Electronics Installation Industry
1) My philanthropic hope is to be able to hopefully pass on what I've been referring to as the Tribal Knowledge I've accumulated over the past two decades plus in AV (hence the name of my blog - you see what I did there?)
Since I literally grew up in this industry and overall it's been good to me and allowed me to make a pretty damn good living and take care of my wife and kids, I'm at the point in my life where I'd like to think that maybe I have something to finally give back.
2) My selfish goal is to get some more visibility and leverage it for my overall marketing purposes since business wise, it's a whole new ballgame out there - especially in Silicon Valley where I'm based and do the majority of my work. Let's face it, I know I'm a hell of a nice guy but I'm not looking to file for not for profit status anytime soon, I gotz to pay my billz y'all
3) My realistic goal and the lowest hanging fruit on the tree is that I just want to practice being a better writer, period. I spend all my time writing in contract and specification speak, and I want to actually be, you know, creative with words: so if no one ever reads this, oh well, that's a very likely outcome but at least it's something I can say I'm putting my best effort into and committing to, to better myself.
This is the tricky part:
I am the first to profess that I am the furthest thing from a professional writer, so I'm going to start small and write this blog.
I've already received a ton of overwhelming support and advice from some very cool people:
1) My amazing wife, Dawn who has the ignomious task of actually living with me and having to sacrifice many "be home in an hour" nights and supports the long hours that I invariably put in and now operating as my primary sounding board and editor-at-large.
2) George Tucker aka TuckerTues who I'm probably going to blatantly emulate from time to time until I get a better feel and find my own voice for my attempts at sharing my thoughts.
3) Although I don't know him personally, I'm sure that John Sciacca will find a way to point out to me that he's one of the benchmarks I'll need to measure myself against (and even though I might not say it out loud - the dude is totally right - if you're a fan of AV and/or writing with a unique voice, he's a must read.)
For those keeping score, check out George's Blog or alternately you can find him on twitter @TuckerTues
John Sciacca's Mad skillz can be indulged in all it's glory on his Blog or you can find him on twitter @SciaccaTweets
That's it for now, so in the words of "Ted" Theodore Logan and Bill S.
"Be excellent to each other"