Matt Berman: Long story short is, I never really thought about it until I graduated college. My Mom actually made the suggestion that I go to work for my Dad one night. They had encouraged me to go to Italy on a solo trip. My Dad hooked me up with some people he did business with so I had places to stay there. One of them worked at the time for the Italian lighting manufacturer Studio Italia Design.
After seeing people blowing glass at the factory, I was “electrified” by it all. The prospect of helping to grow the company so my mother and father would be financially secure in their retirement was also a driving motivation for me. So I started working for my father’s inside-salesperson knowing literally nothing about lighting or business. By the time I left I was managing a $1,000,000 book of business and growing.
LL: What inspired you to create this agency? What void did you see in the market, and how did you think you could fill it?
Kristen Berman: In our experience of having been an independent rep [Matt] and a factory project manager [Kristen], learning the in’s and out’s of the industry, it is rare to meet people who understood the full sales channel quite like we do. We saw where new VC money was coming in, and they were spending big money on branding — but the more established brands were sticking to their tried-and-true traditional methods of marketing such as print materials, trade shows, and lunch & learns.
We bridge the gap between the traditional and digital approaches to marketing. It’s like the lighting companies themselves are a light fixture that is beautifully designed and built to last…but somehow or another they aren’t “turned on” so anyone can see them. We’re like the driver that allows those lights to be seen.
LL: Tell me about a successful marketing program that worked for one of your lighting clients. What were the challenges?
MB: Most of our clients in the lighting industry have a lack of faith in marketing in general because of how well they function on sales tactics alone. Since the lighting industry is still very much built on generations-old relationships, no new technology is going to “disrupt” that so easily. However, people are beginning to realize there is power in the digital realm. For an industry that is obsessing over the “internet of things” in terms of controlling lights, they are woefully behind on integrating the internet into their marketing or sales processes.
KB: We worked on an email campaign recently for a lighting rep agency that hadn’t run an email campaign in over a year. Their list was old, cluttered, and lacking in content. After a quick brainstorm session with a few of the agents, we created a 6-month co-marketing plan to feature different factories every month, housed under a core theme (i.e. “Begin at the Finish” showcasing unique fixture finishes). Our results were above industry standard for email marketing metrics, and we provided a data review and analysis to identify possible specification opportunities.
LL: What do you think makes your creative agency stand out?
KB: When I started in the industry, I didn’t know anything about it, really. My first role was part-time, about 15 hours per week supporting the operations of Feng Shui Lighting. As Larry would ask me, “Can you do…x, y, or z,” I said, “Yes, yes, and yes.” From managing trade show logistics to importing thousands of pieces of hand-blown Italian glass, I won’t say I’ve done it all in lighting, but I’ve certainly been around a lot. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about the lighting industry, it’s that you can never rest on your laurels — and I love being put to the test.
MB: Think of us as having “high CRI,” meaning Creativity Rendering Index. Our hands-on (I’ve literally wired fixture samples by hand) experience in the industry gives us domain expertise that is translated into the kind of creative that appeals to lighting professionals. A lot of marketers without that kind of experience think in terms of direct-to-consumer tactics that don’t make sense to specifiers. We hear our clients tell us this all the time. Most of them are burned out on working with marketers who don’t get it.
LL: What advice would you give to lighting companies to better brand or position themselves?
KB: Value creativity. For manufacturers, support your reps with great marketing materials and sample cases. They are your boots on the ground showing your product to the designers. The designers love creative things to play with because they’re creatives! Make your product stand out and apply the same level of thoroughness to your “first impression” pieces as you do to the products themselves.
Regarding social media, pay careful attention to where you spend your resources. It’s an endless cycle; if you’re not going to be consistent with it, consider whether it’s worth it at all.
MB: Manufacturers and distributors are telling us that they fear Amazon and other ecommerce giants getting involved in the construction space. That’s a very real threat in some ways, but there are a lot of challenges those companies will face, such as integrating across a very vast vertical. Odds are that smart distributors will figure out minimum viable technology solutions to keep their customers.
The truth is, I think it will be hard for people to think of Amazon in the commercial building space unless they re-brand. From a consumer’s standpoint, that means occupying the same place in their minds as the app they use to buy their kids’ Christmas presents.
For traditional brick-and-mortar retailers, I’d recommend a refresh of their space to be more of a destination. Too many of them look like they never recovered from the 1970s.
LL: How do you see your company growing in 2020 and beyond?
KB: After all the positive response we’re receiving since Lightfair International (LFI) this year [where we had several clients at the show], we have begun developing a lighting-specific brand for our agency. This will enable us to accept and manage more business since our clients have been looking to us for a full-service solution and right now we can only handle so much of what’s coming in. Expect to see us growing – and fast – in 2020.