Navigant Research Blog

Understanding Related Markets to Identify Differentiators

Tom Machinchick — November 11, 2016

HVAC RoofTo an end user or purchaser, categories of commercial building technologies can look and largely feel the same. Take, for example, the commercial HVAC market, where most vendors offer systems with little differentiation other than minor specification or performance differences. Look at the product offerings from any of the large HVAC OEMs and you’ll find a host of chillers, air handlers, and packaged systems with little difference between brands other than the nameplate. An engineer might balk at this statement, but it is their responsibility to look for and understand these small differences. Other stakeholders, such as a company’s CFO or a facilities manager, might have different features that are important to them, such as cost, automation capabilities, or service and maintenance programs included with a purchase.

Lost in Translation

So how do companies in highly technical markets differentiate themselves when detailed engineering specifications may get lost in translation? Through the development and execution of their overall go-to-market strategies. “Go-to-market” means meaningful and insightful customer engagement with products, services, and information that is specifically important to them. This is very Marketing 101, but it can’t be stressed enough.

In the HVAC market, companies such as Trane and Johnson Controls are differentiating themselves by pushing deeper into whole building optimization so that they can leverage their extensive existing customer bases to drive growth, smooth revenue streams during difficult economic times, and upsell customers with new product and service offerings. Other leading HVAC OEMs are offering mobile toolsets to sales and engineering staff in the field to help identify differentiators and promote their technologies over competitor offerings in understandable terms and with information that is meaningful to the particular audience.

Strategy Shift

Finding, enabling, and promoting differentiation can at times entail a high-level strategy shift, and these shifts can take years of effort and determination to realize. Implementing a strategy that calls for embedding digital intelligence into current equipment offerings may entail a shift in the culture of the entire company. It may also involve developing or acquiring significant new internal capabilities that currently don’t exist. If this course of action is followed and implemented soundly, however, it can be difficult for competitors to duplicate.

The key to all of this is not only knowing and understanding the market for the specific technologies, but also related markets, competing expenditures, and even the economy. In the case of Johnson Controls and Trane, they now must understand the HVAC market, the building energy management system market, and potentially the energy service company market, among others.  This is how markets evolve and change, helping to create new products, services, technologies, and ways to compete along the way.

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