Marketing For the Integration Firm: It Ain’t What it Used To Be

Integration firm marketing has become complex thanks to audience analytics, social media strategies and content distribution.

Marketing is easy, right? You look at the hard work that others in your organization do to create a product, write something snappy about it and put it in front of the target audience.

Here’s where it gets complicated: What if your organization doesn’t make a product or even a “solution.” What if instead the organization’s value to its clients is to work with them to solve their individually unique challenges?

What if those challenges vary greatly not just from client to client but from region to region and market to market? What if the target audience changes not just based on the type of company but by the structure of it and with whom your organization would engage?

Welcome to the world of an integration firm marketing professional. While nobody seems to be complaining, planning and executing critical marketing components of firms’ overall sales outreach is by no means easy. And in fact the role has gotten more complex and difficult in recent years.

At Tampa, Fla.-based AVI-SPL sales and marketing are very much intertwined; Linda Civitillo oversees both as VP of strategic marketing and sales operations.

“We combined sales operations with marketing because we wanted to close the loop,” she says. “What we do here is we leverage technology, we leverage analytics and then we apply creativity to it to get to the end game, which is to understand the buyer better, the seller better and make sure they connect along that path.”

Even with the analytics available to marketing professionals today it still often takes style and flair in order to take the data and resonate with prospects, and there’s still a lot of that in the integration industry.

“I’m an Irish guy and I like to tell stories” is how John Greene, VP of sales and marketing at West Chester, Pa.-based Advanced AV, describes his marketing role. “Every company has a story to tell.”

Who You Know

A big challenge in recent years for integration firm marketing professionals is figuring out to whom they ought to tell their stories. “Up until about 10 years ago you could always be successful by going to a client’s basement and finding the lower right corner. That’s where the AV guy was,” jokes Greene. “There was a person who was physically responsible for technology. He was like you. He was the kid who ran the slide projector just like you were. That person has changed dramatically and has shifted a lot.”

That the typical tech decision-maker has changed is brought up a lot in this industry in the context of sales strategies, but it’s just as relevant to marketing.

“The buyer today is the CIO, and then the AV manager,” Civitillo says. “It used to be the facilities person. Today it’s different and it’s higher up. The solutions are different and because the solutions have migrated into that IT world we then have to target those decision-makers. It was much easier to connect to the facilities person because the pain was much easier to identify. The CIO has much different pain points, and you have to access other people before you even get to the CIO. It’s a process.”

Related: 5 Marketing Predictions for Integrators in 2015

It’s also empowering, according to Dawn Meade, director of marketing for Hampstead, Md.-based Net-AV.

“It’s more about strategic decision-makers now — the people we used to talk to’s bosses’ bosses,” she says, adding that those mid-level contacts still play a role because they’re the ones actually using the solutions. “Our old customer might have been in charge of one room or one floor, but our new customer is focused on entire buildings, entire chains or corporations.”

The elusive nature of the audience is perhaps even more obvious to Kelly Perkins, who migrated from a marketing role at a manufacturer to become marketing and communication manager for Eden Prairie, Minn.-based integrator AVI Systems.

“It’s completely different,” she says. “When you’re a manufacturer your customer is the integrator, so you know exactly who you’re marketing to. As an integrator it’s almost like you’re marketing as much to your end users as you are to your vendors and manufacturers because you need their support.”

Like many integration firms, AVI has multiple geographic locations. Perkins points out that because of the nature of the markets in AVI’s 16 locations their target verticals vary, creating more layers to determining who ought to be the target of marketing messages.

Another layer, points out Samantha Osowski, VP of marketing for Eatontown, N.J.-based Yorktel, is that because organizations are using technology more prolifically for communication — a good thing for integrators — new decision-makers are emerging.

“Because video has become more pervasive in the marketing space it’s no longer just IT. We’re also reaching out to nontraditional functions in companies like HR and finance,” she says, since many organizations create and manage video to save money leveraging mass employee communication, town hall meetings and recruitment videos.

What You Know

How integration firms actually communicate their messages to those elusive targets varies greatly, but most marketing professionals are very focused on establishing thought leadership. This is not just to create sales leverage; it’s also necessary, says Jerry Gale, professional services marketer for Edina, Minn.-based Alpha Video & Audio.

“Our industry is changing with HDBaseT, HDMI and networking in general and it’s causing some confusion,” he says. “We establish ourselves as a tech resource for our customers.”

What prospective integration firm customers want, according to Perkins, is often content. “They want education and they want to understand, and it’s up to us to teach them in a way that they can understand,” she says.