Differentiating Your Smart-Home Business: CEDIA vs. DIY vs. Each Other

Smart-home integrators have to compete against other integrators, but also Geek Squad, electricians, security dealers, cable companies, consumers themselves (DIY) and more. Here are 6 ways to pick your targets and go after them head-on.


At the recent CEDIA Business Xchange, I had the honor of facilitating a series of small-group discussions. There were five group discussion topics. I drew the short straw and wound up with the one nobody else wanted: Differentiating Your Business.

At the end of the day, I won! Not just because I was rocking those flip charts, but because we had some fascinating discussions. Here are a few takeaways.

1. Define Who You’re ‘Different’ From

Integrators compete not just against other integrators (good ones and bad ones alike), but also Geek Squad, electricians, security dealers, cable companies, consumers themselves (DIY) and so many other entities. Pick your targets and go after them head-on.

In San Antonio, where the Business Xchange was held, Best Buy was launching a program to sell Vivint home security and automation through its stores.

How about a campaign like this: Do you really want to buy your security system at the same place you buy your video games and cell phone cases?

2. It’s Not Enough to BE Different, You Have to SELL Different

Say you’re the company that has a cabinet-maker on staff. Do you make a big deal out of it? Do you let would-be clients know that you’re different because you can blend technology into furniture?

Maybe show them side-by-side images of a TV that looks ridiculously awkward in a cabinet that’s too big or too small … next to an image of a beautifully finished-out display installed by your firm.

How about a campaign like this: Do you really want to buy your security system at the same place you buy your video games and cell phone cases?

3. You’re Already Different

Home-technology specialists, by virtue of their training and breadth of expertise, are inherently “different” from the other guys. You do what others would never even dream of doing, but sometimes you forget how special you are.

I was reminded of this at a recent seminar on renovating a mid-century modern home. One of the architects on the panel explained how the homeowners didn’t want an ugly TV on the wall, so they installed a motorized drop-down mount. Gasping, the audience members furiously scribbled down notes like it was the first time such a thing had ever been attempted.

Yeah, you’re a lot cooler than you give yourselves credit for.

Gordon Van Zuiden of the integration firm Cybermanor uses “fit-and-finish” as a differentiator – like Nest thermostats (when they were still the cool kids), and now custom Leon Speakers and Origin Acoustics speakers with stylin’ Bang & Olufsen grilles.

4. Points of Differentiation Must Change with the Times

Remember when it was a really big deal to use the iPhone and then the iPad for home control? You gave out free iOS devices and promoted the heck out of your app-related services for the first year, until everyone was doing it.

What’s the hot thing today? Pick it up while it’s still confusing to consumers. You can still milk voice control for a while.

5. Business Models Can Be Points of Differentiation

It’s not just your products and installation services that make you different. It can be the very way you run your business.

For example, maybe you’re the company that presents gorgeous proposals with drawings and images. If no one else is making that kind of impression, “The architect is going to say, 'That’s my guy,'” says former integrator Randy Stearns.

Here’s another example: Peter Aylett of the UK-based Archimedia sells three different packages for commercial installations – huddle room, board room and full-blown conference room. The differentiation here is that Archimedia is making it easy to shop for otherwise complicated systems.

And another: What you call RMR (recurring monthly revenue) can be “sold” as a differentiating feature to clients: “Look, my company offers a comprehensive service plan, so you know we’re going to be around to support your system and look after your needs for many years to come.”

6. Carve Out a Niche

While it wasn’t part of the group discussions, Barco managing director Tim Sinnaeve gave a compelling presentation about using video projectors to display stunning images for art-world elites.

Once you establish yourself within this niche community – or any niche community – you can run circles around the competition.

About the Author

Julie Jacobson
Julie Jacobson:

Julie Jacobson is founding editor of CE Pro, the leading media brand for the home-technology channel. She has covered the smart-home industry since 1994, long before there was much of an Internet, let alone an Internet of things. Currently she studies, speaks, writes and rabble-rouses in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V, wellness-related technology, biophilic design, and the business of home technology. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, and earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin. She is a recipient of the annual CTA TechHome Leadership Award, and a CEDIA Fellows honoree. A washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player, Julie currently resides in San Antonio, Texas and sometimes St. Paul, Minn. Follow on Twitter: @juliejacobson


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