I have been an Engineer designing, building and installing home automation products for a number years now. Like many of your readers, I have witnessed or been a part of some very impressive product ideas. There is obviously a tremendous amount of inventive engineering talent out there. We are constantly coming up with new concepts, the elegance of which would appear completely obscure to the average observer. We create elaborate communication protocols, and continue to argue protocol superiority in our industry committee meetings. We meet at trade shows and conferences to demonstrate our new ideas to one another. Like proud fathers, we show off our latest offspring. We scrutinize the competition’s offerings, looking for ways to improve on them for next years conference.
Year after year we meet at the various conferences, seminars, symposiums and committee meetings. Plenty of very beneficial work has been accomplished at most of these events, however, at some point in every development effort, one has to come to the realization that a marketable product must be offered for sale to a customer. There is no shortage of marketable products out there today. They can be found in a variety of different price ranges, and the potential features are endless.
As time goes on, I am beginning to wonder whether this will ever turn into the tremendous market the insiders have been dreaming of for years. Some of the major players are beginning to retreat due to the very disappointing returns they have realized to date. So far the leaders in this industry have been small upstarts and medium to large component manufactures, neither of which can continue to offer a product that does not produce a respectable profit. The few companies who are doing well are those who cater to a very small pool of hobbyist and high end home buyers. Unfortunately, if the majority of the sales remain in those areas, this market will never reach its full potential. It will remain a very obscure industry, whose players are known only to the few who care to dig.
Anyone who has been working in this area for any length of time would probably agree that we represent an industry that could drastically improve the living conditions of home owners and apartment dwellers all over the world. It could be as significant as indoor plumbing or central air conditioning.
So far, the missing link on the road to success has been a lack of, or badly misdirected marketing efforts. Put yourself in the shoes of the average consumer for just a minute. You have no knowledge of this industry or the products or services available. Where would you possibly learn of its existence? Nowhere in the popular news or entertainment media is a home automation product mentioned. The concept itself remains the best kept secret in the world. The average home owner has a better chance of stumbling across the instructions for the assembly of an atomic bomb. Much of the marketing effort to date has been concentrated on the Home Builder. It has become very apparent that the builder is not the customer. He is nothing more than a means of delivering product to the consumer. Many millions of dollars have been wasted trying to convince the builder to provide automation products as a standard in the homes he builds. The builders have not been interested in doing so because their customers are not asking for it. They feel it may even delay or prevent the sale of their home due to the expense and obscure nature of the product.
Much of the technical work has been completed. Obviously, there is much more to do as this industry evolves. However, it’s time to put away our pocket protectors and begin a massive consumer education effort. It’s time for companies with consumer marketing expertise and the financial resources to promote the product in the popular and expensive electronic and print media, to join in. If the average consumer is not made aware of the existence of the products and services available, we are all wasting our time.
I would like to propose a bold and unorthodox challenge to the current players in this industry. For one year, take all of the resources you devote to conferences, trade shows, symposiums, builder demos, etc. and redirect them toward the introduction of your current product or service to the average consumer. Hire marketing personnel with experience and a good track record in consumer marketing. Find an established, respected consumer advertising firm and develop a viable plan of attack. Blanket the media with the virtues of Home Automation! Shout it from the rooftops! Once the public becomes aware of all of the products and the features that they provide, they will finally begin to beat a path to our doors, and all of our hard work will have been worth it.