Offering Knowledge and Demonstrating Courage: Takeaways from AIA 2018

As the industry evolves, architects continue to look to their favorite sources for trends and insights. That’s why more than 23,000 A/S/D professionals attended the AIA Conference on Architecture 2018.

There were ample opportunities to gain new knowledge, but with scattered locations and the travel times in a crowded city, it caused some conflicts for architects. In fact, a common exhibitor complaint was that these sessions took attendees out of the building and off the floor.

Tip for hosting learning sessions: Host educational opportunities in your booth. Sessions on the show floor were heavily attended – at least those that were relevant to what attendees wanted to hear about. Our client Echelon Masonry did a great job hosting seminars in their booth and received awesome attendance. Best part? All of the attendees had their badge scanned, leading to great lead generation results.

A handful of exhibitors controlled their own destiny by utilizing the AIA Learning Labs classrooms locations right next to their booth. Owens Corning was a great example. They identified what knowledge architects wanted to know about months before the show. As a result, they captured leads early, and their sessions were fully booked weeks ahead.

Selling to Architects

We talked with many architects at the show and most said they received value from the show’s vast learning sessions. However, a common comment from architects was that manufacturers need to stop selling them on their products. Instead, manufactures need to support them with knowledge of the projects and provide solutions to help achieve greater success from the start. Basically, explain how their products (really solutions) add value to their design process.

In today’s industry, it’s so much less about the products and more about the experience, knowledge and insights that are relevant to the environments created by architects. Connect your solutions to the building trends and environments, then you will connect more deeply to those architects.

Investments in Innovation Stand Out

One of the most impressive booths AIA 2018 was Pella. Sure, they spent hundreds of thousands of dollars, had a great team working the floor and dozens of windows on display but that’s not what grabbed my attention. What struck me was a conversation I had with their young engineer and product designer. Pella hired her from a prominent product design house about 18 months ago. Prior to Pella, she was designing innovative kitchen utensils and accessories based on research involving how humans interact with their kitchen and cooking experiences.

In the Pella booth, they featured their concept window, much like a concept car you’d see at one of the global automotive shows. As the designer of the window, she walked us through its design and explained how she received a patent on the concept and another new product, which was also displayed in the booth. She received two patents in the first 18 months of employment, which is very impressive. That speaks volumes of not only her capabilities, but also for Pella to hire young talent outside the industry to push their thinking and innovate the category. Take a hard look at your innovation team, is it mostly made up of “seasoned” males (like most of the industry) with extensive years of building product experience? Diversity (of all kinds) drives broader and newer thinking.

Investing in new talent and innovative new product development helps the organization on many levels including creating a competitive advantage in the marketplace and employee recruitment efforts.

Investing in new talent and innovative new product development helps the organization on many levels including creating a competitive advantage in the marketplace and employee recruitment efforts.

Innovation Means Taking the Wheel

Most companies in the building materials industry ask their customers what new product they need, instead of asking what are the new trends and environments you are designing for, and what special issues do you think you will encounter. This should drive your innovation. Apple didn’t ask consumers what technology they should build, they merely developed insights from how people engage with each other in the world, and then built technology to better enable these interactions. We’ve also heard most manufacturers say, “It takes us more than two years to design a new product,” or “We don’t want to give our competition a heads-up on what we are doing.”

The issue is that if your process is two years or longer, or if you’re too concerned with your competition — you are not leading, you are following (at best). Category leaders advance and push the industry to new and more relevant places by demonstrating thought and innovation leadership frequently and consistently. Industry and consumer expectations are changing more rapidly than ever before, so must our innovation in products and experiences we are creating. Two years out is a lifetime in today’s world. Leaders drive meaningful change to evolve their category and reap the financial benefits in both the short and long term. As a result, they can invest in more innovation resources.

All in all, unfortunately I saw a lot of sea of sameness at AIA, companies selling/promoting their products, with select pockets of companies positioning relevant solutions to the A/S/D community. There were a few leaders taking a dynamic approach to advance their category. That’s why leaders, like Pella and Echelon and Owens Corning stood out from the pack. Brands that truly lead their category will reap the benefits of their investments in innovation. And they will also create an organizational DNA to retain and recruit the type of employees that will continue to drive this culture.

Did you attend the AIA Conference on Architecture 2018? If so, share your thoughts on the show. We’d love to learn about your observations.

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