Home Automation Podcast Episode #164: An Industry Q&A With Susan Cashen
In this weeks home automation show of Automation Unplugged, Susan Cashen, Former CMO at Control4 and Active CEDIA Advisor shares her journey from helping launch the TIVO brand in the '90s to becoming one of the first employees of Control4 energy division.
This week's home automation podcast features our host Ron Callis interviewing Susan Cashen. Recorded live on Wednesday, April 7th, 2021, at 12:30 p.m. EST.
About Susan Cashen
Susan’s focus on helping companies build strong brand positions and deliver business results in crowded markets has led her to hold executive positions at Silicon Valley agencies and start-ups and led to her role as Senior VP of Marketing at Control4.
During her tenure at Control4, Susan was responsible for worldwide marketing, training, and support. She was part of the executive team to take Control4 public, drive strategic acquisitions and complete the 2019 merger with SnapAV.
Today, Susan advises clients in the CI channel, the industry association CEDIA, and serves on the board of SAVI Controls, T3 Micro, and Tectonic Audio.
- Susan’s experience helps to launch the TIVO brand in the ’90s
- How Susan moved from Silicon Valley to become one of the first employees of Control4 energy division
- Branding tips Susan recommends every dealer follow
- The importance of selling experience over technology
Ron: I have the pleasure of having the one and only Susan Cashen on the show, and Susan is a Strategic Adviser. She's a Board Director, and she also runs her own consultancy. I met Susan when she was in the role of Senior VP of Marketing at Control4, and she'll help me with the year. They were rolling out their nationwide certified showroom program. One Firefly partnered with Susan and her team at C4. We were assisting with a rollout of marketing strategies for C4 members. It was a lot of fun.
She said she wouldn't do business unless we had sat in the same room at the same time and really got to know me and got to know us. I flew out to Salt Lake and met with her team, and then she flew to Florida and our little office in Davie, Florida, which we're actually moving out of. Susan, this month we're moving into an office in Coral Springs. I had the pleasure of watching her, she and Martin and the team ultimately managed the acquisition or merger and Snap AV, and now she's helping lots of businesses around the world in many different capacities. Without further ado, let's go ahead and bring Susan on and let's get this party started. Susan, how are you?
Susan: I'm great. How are you?
Ron: It's busy days over here at One Firefly, but it's good busy. There's no complaining. Where are you coming to us from? Where are you physically located right now?
Susan: I am calling from the most beautiful area in the world, Lake Tahoe, California. We've been spending most of the pandemic sheltering place in our home in Truckee and living the mountain life, which is pretty good.
Ron: Tell me about mountain life. I've never been to the area. What is it like if you go outside and go for a hike? What's it look like?
Susan: Pine trees everywhere and the Sierra Mountains. Control4 was based in Salt Lake City. I used to commute from California, and over time just ended up getting a condo in Utah. I'm an East Coast girl. Growing up, you only went to the mountains in the winter. You didn't go in the summer. That was what the beach was for. My tenure at Control4 taught me and my husband, and my kids that mountain life 12 months a year is a way to go. When I left the company, a big life decision was to stay in Utah or move closer to our home base. We made that decision. And thank God we did, because, with the pandemic, it's easy for the kids to come up and visit. It's been a little bit of heaven on earth.
Ron: A few years ago. Maybe many listening wouldn't know this. But a few years ago, my wife and I were kind of in a decision process where we were deciding whether we stayed in Florida or we were envisioning a mountain life somewhere. Ultimately, my son got accepted into a particular private school with fantastic academics and a well-known reputation. We decided that that school was the magnet that was going to keep us here. But we've decided that when he graduates, we're going to move somewhere to the mountains. How did you decide on your current Lake Tahoe area? If you look at all the amazing places around the country, how did you make that decision?
Susan: Well, these two little creatures called grandkids came into our lives, and they are a three-hour drive. While Salt Lake, it was so easy to get to Park City or Alta, the ski resorts from Salt Lake Airport all in. It's probably two and a half hours to get to the mountains from the Bay Area. But getting on an airplane with all that baby gear and stuff, we rolled the dice and placed a bet. I mean, this is all about luring adult children to come to hang with you. We won big.
Ron: I follow you on Instagram, and I know that your family is a big part of your life. And I appreciate you allowing me to follow you on Instagram. And it looks like you have a beautiful family.
Susan: Anyone can follow me as long as they just say how gorgeous my grandbabies are, that's good.
Ron: Well, alright. They're pretty amazing. Stunning babies.
Susan: Thank you.
Ron: We have many people saying hi, and that's one of the fun of doing a live show here. I'm just going to give a few shout-outs. We have Joe Whittaker, who says, "Susan is one of those people that holds a special place in my life."
Susan: Love, Joe. That check's in the mail.
Ron: Check is in the mail. That's worth at least ten bucks. That's a good one. Brandi says, "Hi, Susan. Welcome to the show. Greetings from Las Vegas." Wes says, "Hey, Susan. Welcome to Automation Unplugged. Wes lives in the mountains. In the North Carolina mountains. Wes drop into the comments. Which mountains? Where are you located? Quest says, "Mountain life is the best. Glad to have you, Susan." Adam says, "Welcome to the show." Tina says, "Excited to have you on the show. Looking forward to this conversation." Joe gave us a "Ha!". Susan, you have an impressive, dare I say, pedigree, the background of experiences in Silicon Valley. At some point, you entered our industry. You clearly made a big impact. Can you walk us through it? From my feedback that I get from people who listen to the show or watch the show, they love learning about the backgrounds of all the people that make up space. What's your background?
Susan: I was a consumer marketing person from the East Coast, actually, and I think I mentioned that I started my career back in the olden days when you would, to do any type of advertising, you had to spend a ton of money because there was nothing digital. We did print advertising, TV advertising, radio, and billboard. Then you brought in a PR agency to get editorial coverage. The world obviously has changed substantially since then. I loved my early part of my career. I worked on such brands as Keds, Stride Rite shoes. I did a lot in the shoe business because I was in the Boston market in the 80s. I was a runner. I got to work on the New Balance account. And Bill Rogers won the marathon that year, really dating myself.
Ron: Was Bill Rogers from New Balance?
Susan: He was the first spokesperson for New Balance. Yes, he was wearing New Balance shoes in the Boston Marathon.
Ron: I've got to put up Wes's comment. Then he says, "I'm outside Raleigh, but I love running and spending time in the Appalachian mountains. Wes is one of those super marathon runners.
Susan: I've only done a few, and I've shifted to cycling now. As an agency person, we moved to Silicon Valley with my husband's work. We called him a chip peddler. He worked in the semiconductor business, and we moved to Silicon Valley in 1994. I felt like I landed on Mars because everybody was all technology and worked for a very prestigious communications firm acquired by Helen Walton that represented the high-flying technology brands at the time. It was big Russian client-server technology, Sybase and Boreland. Here I come. I didn't even know what technology was, but it was very fortuitous timing because suddenly, all these startups were getting funded for this thing called the Internet in the Valley. Even software companies were building products for a really scary audience called the consumer.
All these technology marketing folks had no idea how to move beyond talking about speeds and feeds and really getting into the like. How do you build a brand when you're talking to a consumer, and how do you connect to a consumer? The relocation gods were working in my favor, and suddenly when I would talk to a product manager or a CTO or even a CEO and I would say, "I have no idea what you just said." I'm completely confused. I didn't sound stupid. They were like, "she's a genius."
Ron: Because you were the consumer not understanding what the message was?
Susan: Yeah. I just applied the same practices that I applied on the East Coast. How do you connect with the consumer audience? How do you position a brand, so it's meaningful? How do you connect not intellectually but emotionally? That's how you get your name on the map. I worked with several startups. My favorite was drcoop.com, based in Texas, defunct. I did the MS, Microsoft, and NBC merger. Why do you need MSNBC? That introduced me to the television industry, and the chairman of MSNBC was on the board of the startup called TiVo, and he introduced me to Mike Ramsey and Jim Barton. After fifteen years of being an agency person, they convinced me to come to the evil, dark corporate side. I was hired to build a brand for TiVo and manage the consumer launch. That was the first time I realized, with due respect to One Firefly, building the brand, doing all the Marcom, the creative assets is only one facet of the business. It's really how can marketing really be a revenue generator? Operationally, how do you integrate into systems and sales and product and engineering? Then I fell in love with that, and I started my corporate side of my career.
Ron: TiVo was a Silicon Valley startup? How were the expectations? What were you asked to do? Go make this thing a global brand? Here's this brand, here's this idea. And here's a bunch of money that we're going to burn to try to make this thing. How were you even managed or held accountably? What were the goals you were trying to achieve?
Susan: Well, interestingly, I talked about the gods working in my favor. Here's a story of the gods not working in my favor. There was tons of venture capital thrown into TiVo. I think they raised about two hundred and fifty million dollars. They had strategic investors like AOL and Sony and Panasonic, and Thompson. All were big investors in bringing that company to life. It was the 90s. There was a lot of hubris in Silicon Valley. And when I was getting recruited, I was told I had a 70 million dollar marketing budget, and we were going to do national TV. We were going to have these were the day of retail. Right. You had retail teams going in and teaching all the Best Buy guys, the Fries guys, Circuit City. Most of these companies don't even exist anymore.
Ron: I'm from Virginia, so I know Circuit City.
Susan: We had demo days. The plans were off the charts. Crazy. I literally joined the company in February. We signed the deal at CES, starting in February. The market crashes in March. That 70 million dollar budget ratcheted back to 14 million dollars. We're supposed to launch in October. And the bulk of that budget was really to subsidize the cost of the product. When we launched TiVo, the entry-level product price point was like $800. Right.
Ron: For a consumer product?
Susan: For a consumer product that they never even knew they needed. Then you had to pay this monthly fee that doesn't even cover the cost of the product. Disc drives back then were like this big and really expensive. They weren't a chip then. The outbound marketing budget was minuscule. Goodbye TV advertising, goodbye demo days. How are you going to build this brand? The sales goals didn't change.
Ron: Of course not.
"Creativity makes a difference. The brand position makes a difference. But if you have a crap product experience, it doesn't matter."
Susan: But. This is where one of my most valuable professional lessons came from was, yes, creativity makes a difference. The brand position makes a difference. But if you have a crap product experience, it doesn't matter. TiVo was like an exceptional, beautiful, amazing consumer, life-changing consumer product experience. We just shine the spotlight on that. Instead of outlying cash, we gave away hundreds of units to people who could who have a platform to talk about the TiVo experience. We started with broadcast with radio, sports, radio DJs, talk radio. Howard Stern was a big evangelist. If you think of every local market, local radio guys, we gave them to those, they record their favorite games, and then they would just wax on forever on air.
"You were practicing influencer marketing before influencer marketing was a thing."
Ron: You were practicing influencer marketing before influencer marketing was a thing.
Susan: And quite honestly, we probably ruined it for a product seating, too, because we just didn't have to pay to give away product. Now you have to. We showed up at the Emmys. We showed up at the Sundance Film Festival. We gave units to celebrities, to TV writers, and then suddenly TiVo is getting into Sex in the City. Movies are including TiVo, the product experience of, I don't know if you guys had TiVo, it had this great bloop, bloop sound that was part of the brand that just helped us build a lot of visibility. Because we were so dramatically changing consumer behavior and, quite frankly, threatening this multibillion-dollar industry called TV advertising, we had tremendous PR appeal. Am I allowed to curse at no crap?
Ron: Yeah, I do it regularly.
Susan: Crapping in my pants. I take a call from Mike Wallace of 60 Minutes, and he wants to show how we're destroying TV advertising.
Ron: I've got a question getting posted about that, and I didn't understand it. But now I'm hearing you talk about it. And I understand that this is clearly a thing Ted is saying. I'm guessing there was a lot of panic about ad revenue from TV networks. What kind of resistance did you get from them as you were building TiVo? Thanks, Ted, for that.
Susan: Before I joined the company, TiVo developed some TV spots that they were going to run, and I killed them. They did run a little bit, but it was so Silicon Valley-centric and not customer-centric, which is an important lesson for integrators as well, that the TV spot was like the Grim Reaper walking in the door of the TV executive and throwing the TV executive out the window. The investors and the leadership team thought, "Oh, this is great TV spots." And I was thinking, what does this have to do with the consumer? You're just throwing kerosene on a potential fire like this is a horrible creative strategy. When you talk to consumers, they didn't care about the fact that we were changing the business model. A Silicon Valley startup cares, but a consumer doesn't. And instead, the fact that we shifted our brand position of TiVo TV, your way.
For the first time, you're in control. You can watch what you want whenever you want to. That was like it seems every day now, especially with so much content we have available in the 90s. We didn't have nearly this much content. There was no web content. The ability to record every Sesame Street on your TiVo and when you're making dinner that your five-year-old in front of Sesame Street and not feel really terrible about him sitting on the couch watching TV so that you have a few minutes to prepare dinner made a big difference in consumer's lives. But we made a point of being at a lot of TV industry conferences. We worked in partnership. We had viewership data that we could share with advertisers and the networks. As Mike Ramsey, the CEO said, we knew there was a line in the sand. We didn't know quite where it was. But you knew if you crossed it.
Ron: Were you allowing the consumer to skip the commercial totally?
Susan: Oh, yeah. But it was recorded fast forward through it all. But another startup called Replay TV, which didn't exist that didn't survive long had a commercial skip button on its remote. And we felt that that was crossing the line, whereas Replay didn't. They got a lot more negative attention from the networks in the industry.
Ron: They shielded you almost. They went out and took the heat. And you weren't the evil people with the skip button.
Susan: But we did. Again, from the consumer experience, we did an Oprah Winfrey giveaway. It was probably the biggest sales event we ever did in the history of the company. But second to that was the day after the Super Bowl, and we then became it became an annual practice of what was the most rewatched moment of the Super Bowl that year. It happened to be a Britney Spears Pepsi spot. And so the fact that we could communicate TiVo consumers actually watched the commercial. And if it's a great commercial, they're going to watch it again and again. Our position was to make great commercials, and consumers are going to watch it. If you make crap, they're going to skip over it. They're going to skip over it.
Ron: Now, that's amazing to hear how you pivoted there. Where did you go from TiVo?
Susan: I left TiVo after about five years, and that was a lifestyle choice of I stepped back, the lean in, lean out thing. My oldest was moving into high school. My husband traveled a lot for business, and I felt I needed to be home to micromanage homework and make sure that the kid could go on to college or do something. The good news is he's a grown man and a lawyer now and very responsible.
Ron: He's doing pretty good for himself.
Susan: Yeah. It's good there, but not so much back then, and I just did some freelance consulting work, and one of my client's investors was an investor in this company. I never heard of called control for, so I got a call from this venture capitalist and said, Hey, Susan, will you meet with the CEO? He's going to be in San Francisco for some conference. And I think I was left with the impression I was going to talk to Will West, who is the founder of Control4, about the complexities and the good and the bad of working with Best Buy. How can you balance Best Buy channel conflict with dealers? I thought I was just meeting him for coffee and breakfast. He ended up talking to me about energy and the Obama stimulus plan. I had no idea. But basically, he raised twenty million dollars for Control4 to spin out a separate division based in California. I ended up taking that hook completely because I really liked the idea of my midlife crisis, of moving from entertainment, doing something green and sustainable.
Will had a great idea of building a device that would communicate to all these smart meters that were going to be rolling out with the Obama stimulus plan, which feels very similar today. But there were billions of dollars that utilities were upgrading their electric infrastructure, and he wanted to have a role in that. As utilities were sending messages down to consumers' homes through Control4, Insigne, we could communicate to the meter and then automate and control the energy usage of devices in the home. I loved that idea. I was the first employee of Control4 Energy. In talking to utilities, I think it took me about six months to realize the business plan that was sold to the board at Control4 it was wildly flawed. It would take five years to live through a pilot, let alone realize millions of Control4 units going into homes, being the Trojan horse, offering opportunity to all of our control for dealers to sell, you know, from an energy management solution to audio and video and lighting and everything else.
I think the board got a little impatient and asked to make some dramatic changes. I was asked to kind of move away from energy and think about the core business. I think it was like 2010. I joined the company in 2008, and in 2010 I moved over to run global marketing for Control4. That's when I started my foray into the CI Channel.
Ron: When did Martin join?
Susan: He joined probably 2 years after that, so I think he joined in '12 or '11 or something like that. Should I continue?
Ron: Yeah, this is great. I don't see many people leaving, so I think they're loving the story. This is awesome.
Susan: When I started at the company, I felt that the way we presented ourselves to dealers and consumers was just off the mark. And I spent a lot of time working on just the visual design and the way we told the story of home automation. That's another story. But it was really my first time as an executive. And Martin really pushed this as well, really going into the field and and and really understanding the customer. And in our case, the customer was the integrator. We were talking earlier, Ron, that I was kind of snotty about this channel. My first CEDIA show, I'm like, this is rinky-dink. It's tiny. Where is the big sexy visual presence that we were at CES?
Ron: People from CEDIA aren't attending the Emmys necessarily or all the other events.
Susan: Look how small these booths are and where's the traffic? There aren't crowds. And I'm not waiting in line at the airport for an hour to get a cab, just jokingly. But I guess I'll jump forward. I fell in love with this channel. And who needs big retailers when you're interacting at a very humanistic level with dealers who are building businesses, might be running huge businesses, but as the responsibility of them to be successful not just for themselves and their families, but for all their employees traveling literally around the world and appreciating, appreciating the enormity of that business responsibility really motivated me and motivated our company to break the mold and do as much as we could to help integrators become successful. I love this channel. We can talk about that later.
"Why have I stayed for 20 years, and why do I continue to invest time, money, and energy? Because I just love helping the small business owners that are out there playing with amazing technology."
Ron: But I just I was going to agree. I joined the channel 20 years ago. I didn't have any of those other experiences you're describing. This is the only customer business type that I've professionally worked with. But I agree. Why have I stayed for 20 years, and why do I continue to invest time, money, and energy? Because I just love helping the small business owners that are out there playing with amazing technology. We look forward, the future of technology and home and business will do nothing but increase. This is the I want to say the American way. It's global, but the small business is really such an important player in society. The number of people they employ and the opportunities they provide for themselves and their families, I just equally love helping them. That sounds like where you're coming from.
Susan: As a corporate brand, as a corporate entity in the channel, I'll go back to my TiVo days, walking into a Best Buy meeting or Circuit City meeting. You're sitting in a room with 10 Executive VPS. They all have enormous national responsibility. They have lots of budgets. Yes, we did programs, and we had tools, et cetera. I'm appreciative just from a professional development point of view. The sandbox for creativity and building tools and ideating and architecting programs for our channel is so much more inspiring because our channel doesn't have those resources that the big national guys do. There's a lot of room for creativity beyond just developing great products for the big brands serving the channel. My job was, and I ended up running training and support for Control4 too. How do we make sure that the dealer experience was exceptional in those areas and just the product?
Ron: To bring it forward, I'll say look forward to where you launched the C4 showroom initiative, and that was just not too far in advance of ultimately the Snap AV merger. I know that you feel very strongly about the experience and experiential selling, experiential marketing. What are your beliefs are there, and maybe how were they realized in that program you launched?
Susan: Sure. Believe me. I love the stuff that Control4 built. I love buying stuff that this channel sells. But I don't buy products I like. I buy what those products can do for me. Part of this was tied back to my experience at TiVo. I was really understanding. Just how much equity delivering experiences for the consumer instead of selling a DVR is very different from explaining you're in charge of what you have access to your favorite shows whenever you want them. IT's such a different higher-level value prop that consumers are willing to place a bet and hold your hand and jump off the cliff with you. So many of our integrators in the channel are in the channel because they love gear, right? They love technology. They geek out on the speeds and feeds. At Control4, we would launch products. So much of what we would do would really dive into that to win over the integrator. Why the EC controller line over a Crestron automation platform. But at the end of the day, in terms of instructing the dealer to sell that, that's not going to resonate with the consumer. We weren't ready to really embrace the consumer until we got the experience right. My journey at Control4 was was as an executive now running marketing. I got a full automation system in my home telling my husband my family will change our lives. And it did, but negatively, for those who are Control4 dealers will recall, we had a lot of software issues and glitchy experiences in the home. One night we were asleep. Everyone's in bed, one in the morning, literally every light goes on in our home. Control4 OS2 was wildly buggy. And my husband looks at me and says, "Get this shit out of our house." And the next day, I called and said, "Get on this and fix this!" But all I could think about was how many thousands of phone calls were generated that very same night that went to our dealers.
What a nightmare for the dealers who had pitched them on this amazing experience of Control4. And we were wildly under-delivering it. As an executive, I felt like we were in an abyss in terms of brand reputation, experiential reputation. I can't believe our dealers even stayed with us during those dark years. And it probably took about two years to get out of the abyss. Martin was really good about focusing the company on experience. We stopped chasing other activities and opportunities and really locked down on the core business. It wasn't until we really locked down on that that I felt that we could really start to push that experience out to the consumer. We started with video production. We really upped our game on the marketing side of pulling together the tools to articulate that experience to consumers. But then we would send consumers, they'd be inspired, and they would go to a dealer, and the dealer would sell them boxes. And there was a disconnect there. When we felt that the time was right and ready and traveling the world, there were some dealers that were amazing at selling experience. They had showrooms that were like Disneyland of home automation. I want some of that at a corporate level. Right. How can we program this and excite and inspire other integrators to embrace these practices that we've seen in China and Australia and Mexico, and certain areas throughout North America? When you walked into a room, you were just like, I want this.
I just built this house, and I'd go into a Sub-Zero woof showroom, and I never wanted to leave. Right. How can we do that with automation? And that was kind of the genesis of we were ready to sell an experience. How could we inspire integrators to present that experience and not just talk about techno? Let me show you a door station, but let me show you what this means in terms of security for your home. Even when you're not home, you know who's at the door well before Ring came around.
Ron: What would dealers do, Susan, if they couldn't afford to do a full buildout in their own showroom? I'm not going to say they couldn't afford it. Maybe they just weren't able or willing to budget for it. Did you advise other approaches?
Susan: Yeah. We actually played matchmaker for a lot of the integrators as well. But I always counsel integrators. Look for partnerships in your local market. You could comp an install in a luxury auto dealership, work with an interior designer or architect who has a beautiful showroom that's inviting and has that interior design aesthetic and an outfit it with killer automation and have a little placard and work a deal where you can bring your clients to that show that benefits the partner. We had dealers that I just wildly respected in the UK who showed me how to work in design centers. At Control4, we helped an integrator. We would comp. I would go to my vendors and say, "Hey, give me a great deal on gear. I'm not buying it to sell it. I'm using it to sell more." Go to your vendors and say, give me a great deal and let me put Sonos in and let me put Control4 in or Savant in and Lutron in and use this area that's bringing in a lot of consumer traffic. That's the like-minded consumer. And that's another way that you can deliver on that experience selling.
Ron: That makes sense. I want to take it high level about marketing in general. You traveled the world and met with many of your C4dealers. Integrators at large, what do you believe is the area around. I'll say marketing or branding that you would want them to understand from your experience about the influence or power of good branding or good marketing?
Susan: What would I want the integrators to take away?
Ron: Yeah. What are the things that maybe some of them may be most of them are not aware of? I can tell you in my seat. I'm constantly explaining and educating. And I'm saying if this is done if you build your brand, it has these positive impacts. You're coming at this from a different direction. What's your perspective there?
Susan: Well, I always tell the integrator. Well, any business. Right. What's your secret sauce? Why are you in this business? Why are you different than someone else? What is that position statement that says I'm going to put my trust in you versus the guy down the street? That's not necessarily a creative tagline. It really knows what is your core being and why you're so valuable to your customer. And I think that, by doing that, as you build your brand and stay true to that position, your brand's authenticity is defensible. It's not a stretch. And it can also serve as your vision for ways to extend that brand position. How do I want my logo to look? How do I want my website to look? Do I want my office to be this way or that way? What type of people do I want to hire? But there are so many different facets of how your brand is represented now, stepping away from the channel, one of my favorite brands. I think it does a great job of demonstrating its brand position across many touchpoints is the brand Restoration Hardware.
Again, going back to my home in Tahoe, a new home, I need to buy some furniture during the pandemic. Very challenging to get things delivered on time. Restoration Hardware, a beautiful website. We'll get to that in a minute. Beautiful description of products, lots of product detail, online people, and in-store people to help me make sure the couch that I bought isn't too big and too small. Wonderful experience from the website to looking at the product, getting help. I placed the order, the phone. I get a text when the delivery is ready. They tell me exactly an hour before delivery. The guy says I'm coming an hour from now. I just want to make sure that's still OK. This truck that's beautifully branded simply with Restoration Hardware pulls up to the front of my house. Two men come out with matching black shorts, black socks, black shoes, black shirt. With the logo on it, they knock on my door with the mask on with R.H. On it, they take their shoes off and put little booties with R.H. on them. The experience, across the board, was just seamless and consistent. And every touchpoint I had with that company from when I first started shopping to when they left my home was exquisite. Right. Same with the integration.
What is that brand position? You might get a phone call because a friend referred a friend to you. But what's your storefront look like online? Do I go to a website and am I greeted with something that I want in my home or my greeted with and believe me, lots of Control4 dealers were like this. The websites look like they were selling to plumbers, not to homeowners. How are you representing your company? You're offering your brand position online because no matter even if I love you. I'm going to research you. Right? If you're going to open up a business in the channel, make sure you're opening a beautiful website to supplement that business. That's a lot cheaper than buying real estate. Right. If you decide to have a showroom, make sure it has the same brand aesthetic that you want to appeal to and represent to your prospective consumer. That continuity and consistency of that who you are, why it matters, is really important.
Ron: What are your feelings about what makes a beautiful website? I'm sure lots of folks listening or watching are going, "Wow, what does Susan have in mind?".
Susan: Whatever Ron and his team create. Well, alright.
Ron: There are twenty bucks in the mail for you for that. I didn't expect you to say that.
Susan: Can you send that to Joe Whitaker, please?
Ron: Yeah. I'll send Joe twenty bucks too.
"I think reviews on your website that speak client experience that speaks to how amazing you are is a really great reinforcement of your brand."
Susan: I want to be greeted with who you are and why you matter to me. To some sort of hero image. The video is amazing. And I think video communicates so much and is so much more engaging, more expensive to produce. Telling your story is important, but not in a chest-beating way. In a way, that is really putting that customer, your client, front and center. I think it's really important to communicate what services you provide, whether that and whether what brands you represent are important. Because I'm shopping around. I need information. I think reviews on your website that speak client experience that speaks to how amazing you are is a really great reinforcement of your brand. What am I missing?
Name capture. You're a dodo if you're not taking advantage of traffic on your site and saying, connect with me, let me get your name and number. At Control4, we created the dumbest, simplest form. And it was our greatest lead generation tool, which is, what are you thinking about? What do you want to automate? Tell me the size of your home. It's such a great tool. It seems to be a really consumer-facing tool. But those people who gave us that information were much further down the sales cycle than someone who downloaded a free magazine, which is another great legion tool. Think about that, too.
Ron: I want to talk about a very specific strategy that I think I know that you practiced when you were running the marketing at C4. I do not know if they are still doing it or not. You did Google advertising, and you did Google advertising with the goal of generating leads that you could give your dealers. Why did you do that? And did it work? Is that something that integrators or could be vendors or whoever you are listening out there, when is that appropriate, at least in your opinion?
Susan: I'm a big believer in Google AdWords, and I also believe social media advertising is wildly efficient, and especially with Instagram and Facebook, it allows you to use imagery to connect with the consumer differently. For online advertising, I think those three are really efficient lead generation tools. I actually wish that it's not that I want to be an integrator, but if I were an integrator, I would spend all day long for that, and I would own and nurture those leads and follow up on those leads like a mad dog because I spent the money for them. The problem for Control4 was we generate the leads, and all of our dealers say, "Yeah, I want leads." But we would pass the leads on to the dealer. But the dealer didn't follow up on the lead or thought he followed up on the lead or passed the lead on to someone else who thought they followed up on the lead. And then we found out later that the lead didn't get a phone call more often than not. I think that's a skin-in-the-game type of thing, right?
If it's your money, you'll be damn sure to make sure someone picks up the phone and follows up. We had methodologies. We put teams in place to qualify those leads. Our certified showroom program helped us say, "Alright, you get the cream of the crop leads." We had a more intimate relationship with those dealers so that we knew that they were following up. We created a dashboard so that it was easy for dealers to track where they were in the leads and that our Legion team knew if something was followed up. If it wasn't, we ended up deciding on going to give a lead to four dealers in a local market, and may the best man win. If a dealer doesn't have skin in the game, meaning not paying for it, he's very motivated to beat out a competitor. That helped solve the problem, and for Control4, I used to track ten dollars million of incremental revenue to the Control4 bottom line was tied to the leads that we generated and passed on to dealers, which I feel really good about.
Ron: Yeah. That's impressive.
Susan: Another fun fact in a commercial for experience centers, and yes, I'm biased towards Control4 experience centers, but on average, we saw dealers who invested in these showrooms. We saw an average of 20 to 40 percent business lift from having that opportunity to walk a consumer through the experience. And I think that's wildly powerful. I'm not underestimating the cost both in manpower and attention and capital to do that. But I think there's real payoff there.
Ron: Run that through the lens of COVID for me, though. I'm not going to challenge anything you just said. I agree with everything.
Susan: I wasn't there for COVID. My conversations with and I stay in touch with many dealers, and in conversations with those who have showrooms, they do virtual demos. You set up a Zoom, you have someone on camera, and you're literally walking. It's the same thing. You're walking them through a demo, and you're walking. You don't have the person physically there, but you're doing it virtually. And a lot of dealers made the switch quickly during COVID and scheduled a virtual tour. No one's going to argue the fact that consumers locked in their homes spent a lot more money on technology during the pandemic than they did, and this was a vehicle not just to upgrade your network or get a new TV. But if you're doing this, let me show you this cool new thing. And it was really valuable. That experience wasn't live. It was virtual and still plays a big role.
Ron: That makes sense. What role do you think after-sale service has in the brand that is the integrator? What is your opinion on how the industry currently thinks about that?
Susan: Well, I'm going to answer that question with my Control4 hat on first. We would do customer satisfaction surveys a lot, and it was very frustrating in many instances if a dealer didn't do right by the customer. Yeah, they didn't like the dealer, but it reflected terribly on Control4. This isn't working. It's Control4's fault. It may have nothing to do with Control4. We set up a customer advocacy group just to supplement what dealers were doing. If there was a place where consumers were really having a hard time, they could come to us, and we would solve the problem. I would be very defensive and pissy about integrators not abandoning a client. Now, we all know there are some crazy nutjob clients out there that are demanding an awful, and at some point in time, you just have to cut your losses. Totally get that. But so much of your brand reputation is not just how did you sell?
How did you install, but how did you take care of that customer after the install? Right. It's a really important part of brand reputation. Full disclosure, I advise Joey Kuczynski company One Vision now, and I learned to appreciate that the integrator level of service doesn't have to come for free. We as an industry need to teach consumers, just as we need to teach them about the beautiful, amazing experiences all this technology can provide a family. To keep all of that up and running and have access to help me now type of help. Consumers need to be willing to pay for that. I recognize that is weird. My career is based on convincing consumers to change behavior. It's not impossible. I really believe that there's a real revenue opportunity for integrators to not just focus on the sale and the project but really think about how you can optimize your service revenue. I'm excited for dealers to realize that opportunity because I think it could really help accelerate their growth.
Ron: I love that. I'm looking at my notes here. So many other things I want to talk to you about. But I'm mindful of time. I want to sneak in one more topic here, and that is CEDIA. I know you're doing a lot of work with CEDIA. And I also know that you're doing a lot of volunteer work to help integrators worldwide. You actually had shared that you offer guidance, and you don't charge for that time. If you could talk about CEDIA, what are you doing there? And then how are you helping those that might need help?
Susan: Well, I think my favorite project I worked on with CEDIA was working with the leadership team to pull together really quickly response for COVID and the level of engagement and how CEDIA provided all of its certification and online curriculum for free during that period when there was a lot of uncertainty in the channel, made me really proud of the trade association and the industry really loved the peer to peer knowledge sharing within the industry that always takes place, but even more so during the pandemic. I've been working with them on some partnerships and products, developing some new programs. Giles Sutton launched the Propel program, which brings new brands into the channel and introduces new brands to integrators. One company I worked with introduced to CEDIA is Bright, and I mentioned to you before we went live that I'm really into kind of wellness, and it's my mountain life fitness things and well-tech. There are some really interesting emerging new products and brands coming into space. Bright is a restorative sleep product that I think is perfect for the showroom. Perfect integration with Lutron or Control4, or Savant.
Ron: It can be hard for those brands to break in.
Susan: Yeah. It's allowing brands to meet the channel. It's an opportunity for integrators to learn and discover new technology. It's emerging. The program is just kicking off. Ian Bryant, who I have wild respect for him at CEDIA, works with the technology group to identify new partners. I just think it's a way for CEDIA members to think about expanding their opportunity? How do they expand their product offering? Then on the volunteer, I think I spoke disparagingly as an ignorant CEDIA person when I first moved into my role at Control4, but I love this channel. I had a wild ride—an amazing career at Control4. So many dealers across the world have given me time and insight. My team hated when I would visit because I'd have like a million new ideas when I would come back, which meant more work for them.
I've done many seminars at CEDIA Online where if a dealer needs help with anything marketing, give me your perspective. How can you start this positioning work? What should I do for advertising? Do I do this logo or that, or how can I connect with influencers in my market? I just use LinkedIn, set up a session, and I'll riff with you. I will probably directly to resources that you will have to pay for One Firefly, like Ron. Not blowing smoke up your butt, but I think you do beautiful work. I really believe in the import of that web presence for integrators. I can get them thinking about that, but I'm not going to do the work. I've enjoyed calls with the integrators in India and the UK and Mexico and Europe, and different parts of the US. It's just a small token of appreciation for a beautiful ten-year ride at Control4.
Ron: What's life look like for you these days, Susan? Are you still in that grind of the C4 days, or things a little bit different? What's going on?
Susan: To quote Handmaids, "praise be, no." I loved my immersive life and role and Control4, but I never realized in my career that this phase existed, which is, I always thought, like, you run, run, run, go, go, go, go. That was life at Control4 my whole career. And then I thought there was no go. But the truth is, there's this thing called slow go, and that is perfection. I work part-time. I work a little bit every day. I sit on a few boards. I focus on areas of technology. I really care about wellness, space, and energy because I really loved that green tech stint I did at Control4. I primarily focus on those areas. I have a few consulting gigs where I serve as a virtual CMO or help companies think about strategic issues or product development program development, my strengths, my strong suits in messaging and positioning.
I love that work, and I love the fact that I only have to worry about myself. I know what I'm capable of. I never oversell because I know what I can do, whereas I'm not dependent on other groups within my company or teams or people or what they're getting pulled off of my work to do X, Y , or Z. And I spend the rest of my time enjoying the mountains, skiing, hiking, mountain bike riding and a lot of times spoiling my grandchildren and cooking and spending time enjoying this phase of my life.
Ron: I got a comment here from Mark, and I feel bad. Mark says, "Susan rocks. Where are the grandkid photos? You're keeping us hanging." Mark, you're absolutely right. I did not prep and grab the grandkid's photos to insert in the show. My apologies. Request on Instagram and Facebook, and you'll get more than enough. I follow her. There'll be lots of grandkids, Mark. You want to see that beautiful family. Definitely, go there. To close out those listening or watching, what's the best way for them to reach you? I know you mentioned LinkedIn. Is that going to be the preferred method?
Susan: If we're not connected on LinkedIn. Just mention this podcast or Ron or One Firefly. And I will be sure to connect with you and then send me a message if you want to talk or set up some time. I'm happy to do that.
Ron: I've prepared my team with your LinkedIn URL, and so they should be dropping it down into the chat notes here eminently on Facebook, and of course, we will be dropping that onto the dedicated page for Susan on the One Firefly website for the show, for the interview. Susan, it was a pleasure to get to know you over these years and learn about you and all of your wisdom. And I'm looking forward to many more years of that. But thank you for coming to the show.
Susan: Thank you. I really enjoyed the time. It was great. And then waxing on about Control4 and even more so this industry. There are so many incredible people and businesses here thriving in CEDIA, and we just all benefit if we work together and help each other.
Ron: Amen, I definitely could not have said it better myself. Thanks so much, Susan.
Susan: Thanks, guys.
Ron: Alright, folks. There you have it. I could talk to Susan for hours and hours. In fact, I do talk to Susan for hours and hours. She's such a smart lady and full of so many unique perspectives that I learn something new every time we speak. And I hope those of you are listening, tuning in. I hope you can maybe pick up on an idea or two that you can implement in your life or business. So on that note, as I always do when I close out the show, if you have not already subscribed to the podcast, please do so. Go to your favorite podcast app. Just look up Automation Unplugged, and you can subscribe if you like the show or maybe you don't like it.
I'm assuming if you're listening at this point in the show, maybe you like the show, but you can leave us a comment or a review, and that that helps us in all of those different algorithms that will be greatly appreciated. And of course, you can follow us at One Firefly, and you can give us a call in terms of just broader marketing, getting a little bit of a pitch here. We are going to be putting out most of its appeal right now. It's April 7th. We're in May. We're probably going to launch to the industry are the branding webinar that we did just this past week for a lot of new content, new ideas. They're very much in sync with what Susan was talking about today. Definitely keep an eye out for that. Keep an eye out for your inbox, or check out our website, or so you'll see us putting those messages out.
Later, I'm going to say into later May and June and July. We're going to be launching some brand new webinar topics. We're partnering with some pretty cool partners to do that and many very relevant, very now topics to help you grow your business. I think we're all benefiting from an economy at the moment that's very robust. I know integrators around the world are very busy. When we start to look at our crystal ball and look into the end of this year and next year, I'm not going to say it's bad. I'm just going to say maybe it's a little more uncertain. I think that there are ideas and things for us all to consider about preparing for that. Until next week, I bid you all adieu, and I look forward to seeing you on the next show. Thanks, everyone.
Industry pioneer Susan has worked her way through executive positions at Silicon Valley agencies and start-ups to Senior VP of Marketing at Control4. Today, Susan advises clients in the CI channel to help companies build strong brand positions and deliver business results in crowded markets.
Ron Callis is the CEO of One Firefly, LLC, a digital marketing agency based out of South Florida and creator of Automation Unplugged. Founded in 2007, One Firefly has quickly become the leading marketing firm specializing in integrated technology and security space. The One Firefly team works hard to create innovative solutions to help Integrators boost their online presence, such as the elite website solution Mercury Pro.
Resources and links from the interview:
To keep up with Susan and the team at CEDIA, visit their website at CEDIA. You can follow Susan on LinkedIn.
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