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Profiling the Audio System Buyer

Audio System Buyer
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A home audio system is, by definition, a bit of a luxury. There are lots of practical applications for sound in both commercial and residential environments, including privacy, wellness, and notification, but most homeowners think of audio strictly in terms of entertainment. It’s a want, not a need — as such, customers’ appetite for investing in audio tends to be correlated to two things: passion and knowledge. In order to guide customers to the right audio solution, dealers need to help them honestly and accurately locate themselves on the passion scale, and arm them with the knowledge to get the results they truly want.

Some people love music, and some people just enjoy it. This same distinction extends to other forms of luxury. There are those who like food and indulge in an ice cream cone as a treat, and there are those who love food and save up all year for a multi-course tasting menu prepared by a Michelin-starred chef. People who like movies will play one on the living room TV while they relax with their family; people who love movies will only watch them in a space that has been expertly tuned for cinematic visuals and audio. All of these luxury experiences now support a booming marketplace of goods and services promising to allow consumers to recreate professional-grade experiences at home.

Those who enjoy music — rather than love it — prize convenience and ease of access. They don’t mind listening to music on Bluetooth headphones despite the limited bandwidth, because wires are annoying. They’re happy to listen to MP3s or other lossy compression formats, because the tiny file size translates to instant access to an unlimited library of songs stored on their phones or delivered over mobile data networks. Music, for them, is a complement to other experiences: driving in a car, dancing, making dinner, or chatting with friends.

There is an impressive range of DIY consumer sound systems available for this customer profile. For those primarily interested in upgrading their movie or gaming experience, for instance, the CineHome PRO system from Enclave allows a user to achieve THX-certified surround sound without needing to run wire between the speakers. Each speaker must connect to power, but they connect to each other wirelessly: easy. If being able to listen to music anywhere in the home is a top priority, consumer brands like Sonos, Google, and Amazon offer speakers with a small form factor that can be networked to allow your music to follow you from space to space. Setup is minimal and control is app-driven: easy. In terms of form factor, networking, and user interface, the consumer audio sector has achieved great things.

For those who love it, music itself is the experience. They don’t want to multitask while listening; they prefer to savor every nuance of the musical experience. This customer is likely to invest in a high-bandwidth streaming service or own a high-quality turntable. Paying for the high-fidelity tier of a music streaming service doesn’t automatically result in a great listening experience, though. That requires high-quality transducers and thoughtful system design, which begs the question: how good is good enough?

This is where experience enters the equation. Many DIY systems promise a near-live-sound experience and seem to have the specs to back it up, but music appreciation is fundamentally emotional. Designing a reference-quality sound system takes not just great engineering and design, but also an ear for subjective qualities. The problem is that many music lovers literally don’t know what they’re missing. They have never experienced what can be.  They may be dissatisfied, always seeking to upgrade, but without any basis for comparison, they will never be able to define the qualities they’re looking for.

Experience is where knowledge and passion meet. For the customer base that legitimately qualifies as music lovers, dealers need to curate demonstrations of what’s possible with installed sound. Create environments that have been tuned for different kinds of listening experiences. Set up DIY systems for comparison as well: let customers experience what they’re missing. Some people won’t feel much, or even detect a difference. Some people will have a near-religious experience. Both customer profiles will be grateful to the dealer that helped them make a truly informed decision.

This experience is as important for dealers as it is for their customers. While working at ADI as the AV Business Development Manager I made a joint call with our regional account manager to Phoenix Unequaled Home Entertainment in Memphis.  After our call was completed, I noticed a Steinway Lyngdorf system in one of their demo rooms. I have had the opportunity to both listen to and sell many reference-level systems in my career, but my co-worker had never experienced true reference audio. I asked for a demonstration, and after listening for a few minutes, I asked what he thought.  His answer was, “That was emotional.” Boom, he got it.

For those customers that do decide to take the leap into installed sound, connecting them not just to the proper components but also to the required expertise is essential. The knowledge and sensitivity to implement a high-quality installed system is the most valuable element of the purchase. Dealers must demonstrate that they have the expertise to discover not just the listening experience qualities that matter most to the customer, but also the additional use cases that should inform the design.

Just like a demo, the discovery process is an opportunity for education. Once a customer knows they need a high-end system to satisfy their passion, a host of new possibilities opens to them. For example, is a customer extremely sensitive to sound bleed from adjacent spaces? Installed sound solutions are uniquely designed to address issues such as these. Case in point: The speakers that my company, Vanco, makes include the patented Beale Street Sonic Vortex technology, which features a unique design with roomy, built-in enclosures that not only ensure sound is completely contained within the listening environment, but also keeps drywall intact. Do multiple family members work or learn from home? A home-wide system can be leveraged for sound masking, providing privacy and quiet throughout the workday. On the aesthetic front, is there an interior design minimalist in the house who cannot stand the sight of even discrete installed speakers? Amina Sound’s speakers use Vibrational Panel Technology in place of speaker cones for a truly invisible finish.

It’s not enough for dealers to know their customers; they’ve got to help their customers better know themselves. Once a customer has assessed what they like and what they love, savvy dealers can, through demos and thoughtful questions, give them the knowledge to truly satisfy that passion. This is relationship selling. It requires patience and expertise. The reward, though, is gratitude, trust, and investment from the customer.