“We’re in a good space,” says Anthony Taylor (pictured, right). “The move away from a centralisation strategy at Loud, to empower the brands again, means we’re in a much happier place.”
The Martin Audio managing director and his newly appointed marketing director James King (pictured, left) are expounding on a new series of initiatives for the High Wycombe-based loudspeaker manufacturer.
“The culture in Loud is [now] to enhance brands, to allow us to formulate strategy and execute accordingly, whilst still enjoying certain efficiencies of being part of a larger group.. That’s enabled us to do what we want to do.”
Loud Technologies have had stormy seas to navigate since they acquired Martin Audio in 2007. Troubleshooter Rodney Olson took the helm for two years in 2008, grappling, and eventually taming, some tricky supply chain issues. Once those waters were calmed, Crown’s Mark Graham took charge in 2010. Since then, it’s been time to look at growth for Loud’s US brands (EAW, Mackie, Ampeg) – as well as giving more autonomy to Martin Audio.
“We can now enforce the culture that we’ve had for the last 15-20 years, which is focusing on people, and more about having some fun. At the same time, in the last few years there’s been a growing maturity in the management team, where we have to think a lot more strategically about what we’re doing. James has helped to ‘sharpen’ our thoughts.”
And so firstly, to ‘Uniting the Audience’. In the past, the PA company has talked of ‘The Martin Experience’ but, Taylor readily admits, it wasn’t exactly clear as to what that was. Hence, the marketing director has conducted both an internal and external audit, each time asking the questions, ‘What is it that Martin Audio does, what’s at the root of the business?’ A simple conclusion emerged: one of providing the best experience to the audience.
James King: “I went back to the company history and there were a things that stood out early on, like when we were providing proper PA systems for the first time to the supergroups of the ‘70s. The early installation work in the cinema, that too. I got it from the engineers I spoke to: all shared the essence of ‘an audience first’ mentality.”
Hence the new mission statement, ‘Uniting the Audience’ to describe Martin’s values.
Indeed, and coming somewhat full circle, the Multi-cellular Loudspeaker Array – a system which carries audio to every corner of the venue and every person in the room, to truly unite the audience – is the very embodiment of the statement.
@page_break@ But this Big Idea doesn’t pigeonhole the company to one technology or one product. “Audience is the key,” emphasises King. “If we make those guys happy, we create more successful tours and venues. ‘Uniting the audience’ underpins what we do, lets us do that in a more consistent manner, and it’s something that people and the wider industry can buy into as an idea.”
“This is a natural evolution to the brand, rather than something we are forcing on people,” he adds. The reaction has been positive all round, says Taylor, inside the company and out. It takes the company further away from being known as the ‘Best Kept Secret’, as Taylor suggests.
King worked with an agency to put together a 90 second clip – available on YouTube – alongside new print advertising materials and a refreshed website which encapsulates the new mission statement. It is, as Taylor says later, a means of putting into words something that’s “a bit gut-feel”. This will appear in all Martin Audio marketing campaigns from now on.
But marketing is just a part of a second set of objectives, what Taylor moots as “a growing maturity” at the company and a requirement to elevate certain areas of the business. “My view of what a Tier One supplier is,” he begins, “must be consistent through everyactivity that we do And so inevitably marketing and messaging is one area of that.”
Then, an admission: “The way we’ve delivered the message before has never been consistent with the quality of the product.” In a nutshell, Taylor now wants everything about Martin Audio to say quality, quality, quality: the sales, the advertising, the R&D, the factory staff, the lot. In the past, where things were just ‘good’, he wants them to be the best they can be.
“I’m looking into investing so that the whole delivery of product – from the cardboard box, the materials, the manuals and everything else – is consistent.”
Processes and systems will follow to support company growth. And this is not an incremental thing, either: sales of the MLA contributed to a 44% revenue growth in 2011, even more than the impressive 25% average throughout the late ‘90s and into the mid Noughties. Martin Audio’s most successful product has more than shifted expectation up a gear or two.
“It’s more of an internal focus; recognition from the guys in the factory that we’re building the audio equivalent of race cars, that they are a Formula One team and as such they take an immense pride in what they’re producing.” Then there’s a third strand to the plan.
“We look at the markets rather than products. From a list of about 20 markets that we sell to, we are concentrating on evolving the optimum solution for the top four or five that we know we have the best tools to deliver to.
“We’ll be a bit more ‘solution savvy’,” says King. “We can’t do everything, everywhere.”
Gone then is the Martin Audio that was, as Taylor puts it, “too opportunistic in the past.” In its place, is taking the Uniting the Audience message to a focused customer base. By way of example, King suggests: “If a church sounds better, it’s going to be a more successful church because the congregation is more engaged.”
MLA development will continue, of course. “The integrated technology that gives you control and let’s you put sound where you want it, you’ll find that principle coming through in other products we introduce. I think that’s the direction of the industry – avoiding noise pollution, controlling ‘slapback’ and so on – that’s required in every application.”
And Martin Audio will continue to prosper from its increased autonomy. Which serves as a reminder: weren’t Martin supposedly up for sale some 18 months ago?
“At this moment, there’s not a lot to be said. We’re not actively out there saying, ‘please buy us’. There was some interest but it never crystallised. So it’s business as usual.”
While we’re talking about Loud, let’s clear up a point about EAW’s Anya system. In the last few months, EAW have launched a new touring speaker that, in many respects, seems to be in direct rival with MLA.
Taylor is swift to point out the difference: ”EAW is utilising the principles of beam steering. It’s not MLA at all. One thing we’ve been very careful about is keeping our engineering teams very separate”.
Loud were aware of what Martin Audio we were trying to achieve, as far back as 2007, of course. It was a major reason why Loud acquired the British company in the first place. But those patents on algorithms for optimising the manipulation of phase and frequency – the magic inside MLA – have stayed this side of the Atlantic. “EAW have gone about trying to solve the market requirement in a different way to how we have. They’ve seen, in my view, the writing on the wall earlier than other people in the market.”
Because, when it comes down to it, says Taylor, the competition is not the American cousin, it’s the likes of L-Acoustics D&B and Meyer etc.
To finish then, let’s not call it ‘competition’, but ‘rivalry’ certainly: Martin Audio with Capital Sound and AEG took on the challenge of Hyde Park this summer. Will they be back next year?
“I would like to think so,” smiles Taylor. “It was very successful; it was well received by the customers, the promoter and the noise consultant, Vanguardia, by Westminster council too.
“It was a knockout success,” says King. “It built on a very successful summer and cements a lot in and around MLA. And we would expect that to have a positive flow-off into other events.”
Expect to be united with your fellow revellers at a Martin Audio gig soon.
Dave Robinson www.martin-audio.com