The Customer of the Future, by d&b CEO Amnon Harman.
Today as I write this post, much of society’s collective focus is on putting yet another COVID-19 year, behind us and getting back on track. And while that’s important, it's imperative for us to take a pause and to look ahead — something the circumstances of the last months have not always allowed. Maybe, instead of getting "back on track" we should realize how the event world has changed and what is required from artists and creatives as well as venue operators and event service providers. The “customer of the future” has different requirements after the pandemic and event technology companies need to find a new, more innovative, flexible and efficient way of satisfying these new priorities.
While I truly believe that our industry is emerging from this crisis back to its traditional strength, I am also convinced that the event market will look very different in the future. Right now, customer buying behaviours are changing dramatically. These behaviours can be described in megatrends, which have been fast-tracked by the pandemic. The changes are driven by digitalization, the general desire for more sustainability and the customer’s need for faster and broader access to end-to-end services; trends which at d&b, we have taken proactive steps to address.
Each and every one of us have been irrevocably changed as a result of the pandemic, and so too have our habits. Future success will be determined on how well companies understand their customers’ new priorities. Now we must think about the big picture in the long run and make continuously small changes in our current approaches, to ensure we produce vastly different results.
When the COVID-19 caused a global pandemic in the beginning of 2020, the world had to establish ways to interact effectively without meeting in person. This hugely increased the level of digitalization in everyone’s life. With an increasing digitalization and virtualization of events we have created the foundation for hybrid life experiences where interaction is happening on- and offline at the same time. Technologies like 5G, VR/AR (virtual/artificial reality) devices and media servers to create extended reality applications (XR) suddenly play a major role in the event industry and bring the real life and virtual worlds together. At d&b, we have already been working for the past few years toward a shift from being an audio manufacturer to become an event technology company for integrated audio, video, light and media solutions. With d&b solutions we formally announced a new entity of our business at the beginning of last year. d&b solutions was born out of customers' increasing demand for the integration of full AVL (audio-video-light) solutions and a rise in requests for manufacturer support in design, planning, integration and post installation services. With the acquisition of SFL and White Light in the UK we made a major step forward to extend d&b’s capabilities for integrated AVLM solutions.
Immersive is the new normal
With reduced capacity utilisation and more health and safety requirements for live events and venue performances during this pandemic, the cost for operators are increasing and margins have gone down. Therefore, operators seek new experiences for their audience that justify higher ticket pricing and can (at least partly) compensate the higher cost. Based on new immersive technologies and the fast adoption by the creative community we are currently experiencing a tremendous acceleration of new sound designs based on 3D sound and room emulation to improve sound quality or simulate new environments across all areas of live entertainment and corporate events. Immersive experiences had a clear break through during the last 2 years and is the new business generator for future designs for all kind of performances. And “real immersive” is not only a jaw dropping new sound experience, but also the amalgamation with light and video, which makes it a fully integrated immersive AVL experience. What we are currently observing is a clear change from the conventional left-right (stereo) audio coverage to a fully immersive sound experience that pulls the listener into the play. Post pandemic we assume that most of the high-end productions will think immersive and will require design, planning, technology and event support services to address this trend. With d&b Soundscape, new loudspeaker designs and our service capabilities through d&b solutions we have established a complete end-to-end offering to provide everything for creatives in their desire to create the extraordinary experiences for their audiences. I am convinced that we are only at the beginning of a significant change of extraordinary immersive live event performances with a long lasting potential to grow for innovative technology companies.
New Buying Behaviours
The high-end of the AVLM industry has often been seen by some as unapproachable, with some feedback suggesting that accessing premium solutions, particularly for smaller projects, was something of a "dark art". Addressing this perceived inaccessibility was a significant driver behind our decision to launch a new e-commerce platform, d&b Direct. It brings customers to their desired solution faster, with exceptional sound right at their fingertips. I do believe that there is still more that can be done to deliver greater accessibility and flexibility in premium pro audio solutions and ensure any barriers that may exist in accessing exceptional sound are broken. Therefore, we will continue to develop the online accessibility for our solutions continuously further.
Another example of addressing customer’s changed buying behaviour is our newly launched Subscription Series. Through our research, we found that customers are sometimes unable and unwilling to make large upfront capital investments (CAPEX) but instead, seek flexibility in their payment methods and turn the purchase of a system into operating expenses (OPEX). Their ultimate goal is to “use” the system and not necessarily to “own” it. This is especially true after almost 2 years of limited income based on lockdowns and restrictions on events. The Subscription Series addresses the global trend of “pay what you consume” and offers an alternative to ownership. At d&b, it's integral for us to meet our customers half way and empower them to access premium AV systems and deliver awesome sound experiences, and this initiative helps us achieve this.
A new conscious for sustainability
Finally, one of the real breakthrough trends globally is the desire to consume, behave and live in a more sustainable way. The corporate and political systems in the developed countries are looking for ESG programs (environment-social-governance) that ensure we take higher responsibility on how we manage our planet’s resources, what role we play in a social eco-system and how well we manage our businesses. Taking responsibility for the next generation and ensuring long term benefit for everyone is high on the agenda. Not only Governments, but also customers, business partners and financial investors have increasing ESG requirements. At d&b we have been working for many years with an ecological conscious, e.g. we are the only Pro Audio manufacturer that is EMAS certified (DIN ISO 14001), which satisfies the highest requirements for environmental protection. With continuous innovations like our next generation amplifier and loudspeaker platforms (D40/40D and the SL Series) we significantly improve the performance/power consumption ratio and contribute via their optimized directivity control to reduce noise pollution - “more art, less noise”. Our new certified pre-owned program (CPO), which we are continuously expanding is addressing the principles of the circular economy and contributes significantly to protect resources in the long run. These are just a few examples how we at d&b address the requirements for the “green venue” or the “green tour” with optimized resource investment and reduced carbon footprint. Also in the areas of social responsibility and continuously improved governance we are marching at the forefront of our industry – not because we are obliged to, but because we have ever been convinced about it and that is now paying out.
Concept for the future
Right now, we have a unique opportunity to address long lasting structural market changes driven by digitalisation, new customer buying behaviours, the accelerating demand for immersive experiences and strongly emerging ESG preferences. With this knowledge, we anticipate the needs of our current and future customers and constantly explore what can be done better and where technology and services from d&b can make the difference. So, when the doors and stages reopen, the house lights go down, and the music begins to play, we can all be proud of our creativity, flexibility, and of what we see, hear and experience within our remarkably resilient and ever-changing industry.