#17: Relevance, Agility, and Fearlessness in B2B with Brian Rowley, BrightSign

In the highly competitive B2B market, brands that lead are often those that demonstrate relevance, agility, and fearlessness. Joining us today to discuss these qualities and the unique business model of BrightSign is Brian Rowley, CMO of BrightSign.

Brian Rowley is the chief marketing officer at BrightSign. BrightSign is the provider of the most trusted media players and operating systems in digital signage. Brian leads marketing programs that create connections with customers by focusing on relevance, agility, and fearlessness. He is an accomplished marketing professional who values storytelling, diversity of thought, and stakeholder engagement.


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B2B Agility with Greg Kihlström is produced by Missing Link—a Latina-owned strategy-driven, creatively fueled production co-op. From ideation to creation, they craft human connections through intelligent, engaging and informative content. https://www.missinglink.company


Note: This was AI-generated and only lightly edited.

Greg Kihlstrom:
In the highly competitive B2B market, brands that lead are often those that demonstrate relevance, agility, and fearlessness. Joining us today to discuss these qualities and the unique business model of BrightSign is Brian Rowley, CMO of BrightSign. Brian, welcome to the show. Hey, Greg. Thanks for having me. Appreciate it. Yeah, looking forward to talking about this with you. Why don’t you start by giving us a little background about yourself and your role as CMO at BrightSign?

Brian Rowley: Yeah, so obviously been in the telecom and technology space for many years, 20 plus years. I joined BrightSign a little over a year ago and I am currently the CMO there and basically have responsibility there for all of our digital marketing, our event marketing, our messaging, brand, you name it, we cover it in the work that we’re doing there and really The goal for us really is to really help our customers and their customers sort of bring this whole concept of visual content and visual and experiences to life.

Greg Kihlstrom: Great, great. And just to dive in a little deeper there, could you talk about who are your primary customers and maybe a little bit about your primary audience?

Brian Rowley: So our audiences, I mean, are really vast, right? When you think about it from the perspective of, you know, people are trying to create these immersive experiences at every touchpoint they have with their audiences, whether that’s a consumer side, whether that’s a business side. But I mean, for us, some of the key markets that we have obviously are like theme parks and entertainment. We have, you know, enterprises, corporate environments. We have education, higher ed, Campus wayfinding is a big thing for us. Banking is a big thing for us. Back of house from a retail perspective, front of house from a retail perspective, quick service. I mean, I could go on and on and on in regards to the markets that we cover because it really is all about creating this amazing experience regardless of who your audience is and making it less static and more engaging and immersive. It really is, quite honestly, a really challenging piece because the audiences are so big and so vast and very different in many ways, but there’s a lot of them, that’s for sure.

Greg Kihlstrom: Yeah, yeah. So let’s, um, we’re gonna talk about a few things today. But let’s start by talking about the importance of relevance, agility and fearlessness. As successful b2b brands often embody these qualities to stand out as leaders in their categories. How would you define these these three terms relevance, agility and fearlessness in the context of b2b marketing? And, you know, why are these qualities so critical for brands aiming to become category leaders?

Brian Rowley: Yeah, I mean, I guess if we take them one at a time, right? For me, and I’ll define them as we define them, right? But when I look at relevance and have that conversation, for me, that’s really about keeping and listening to our customers’ needs, right? Being mindful of who they are, where they are in their buying and purchasing decisions, and making sure that you’re delivering them the experience that’s appropriate for where they are in their journey. Agility for me is a little bit different, right? And that’s actually, and I look at this a little bit differently, but I think a lot of people in marketing look at this, right? And that’s really understanding the metrics and the data that you have in regards to the efforts that you’re making and making and developing plans that are adaptable enough to be able to change and be agile based on the input that you’re getting as a result of that data. And then lastly, I think fearlessness. I mean, people look at this as going out and taking big risks. And that is a part of it, trying new tactics for engaging audiences. But I think it’s also about being willing to show up in a conversation that you might not have all the answers to, but are willing to put that out there. So it’s almost like creating a little bit of vulnerability in the conversation, but understanding that it’s important for your voice to be heard, regardless of what that message is in that specific space. And it’s a balance there, right? Because when we talk about relevance, you also have to be relevant. So you can’t just be in there having any conversation. You do have to have a relevant conversation. But you might not have all the solutions or all the answers to the conversation that’s happening. But being willing to insert yourself and be a little bit vulnerable by actually showing up there and saying, I don’t have all the answers, but it is something that’s of importance to us and something that we’re focusing on.

Greg Kihlstrom: Yeah, so could you maybe share an example of how BrightSign has embodied, you know, one, two or three, I know three is a lot, but, you know, has embodied, you know, at least one of these characteristics to stay competitive and innovative in the digital signage market?

Brian Rowley: Yeah, I think relevance, right, is probably the most one that’s probably most applicable in this situation. And I think that is because I think, you know, oftentimes companies, ourselves included, right, get caught up with delivering the same message to the same audience regardless of where that messages was being delivered or where that audience was showing up. And one of the things for me that actually really came to light as a result of COVID was we don’t actually have the luxury of just pushing content that we want to push to the market. What we need to do is make sure we understand the needs of the audience who’s consuming and making sure that we deliver the appropriate information at the appropriate time for whoever that audience is. And let me step back and make that just a little bit clearer, right? So we have a very technical audience. And so we talk very technically to that audience. But we also have folks, as we look at how do we create these more immersive and captivating experiences, who are actually on the creative side of that conversation. So understanding that audience and understanding that if I just gave a bunch of speeds and feeds information to a creative audience, as I would an IT audience, I’m going to lose them very quickly. So we have actually had to work on our messaging structure and the way in which we develop that message to make sure that, A, we understand who the audience is, understand what messaging we’re delivering in what form factor, right, to which audience, and making sure that it’s relevant to them. Creatives want to see outcomes. Creative people want to see, what can I do to wow an audience? And an IT team wants to understand, what is the efficiency associated with this player? What is its uptime? What is all of those elements to it that are very technical? So we’ve got to blend those. So for us, relevance was a really important piece in the way in which we speak across all of our platforms to our audiences. And then I would just tag on to that a little bit by saying that the agile side to that is really understanding and measuring how well is that messaging being received, and then how quickly can we adapt it in the event that we’re not getting a lot of the metrics that we’re looking to try to achieve.

Greg Kihlstrom: And so, you know, doing that being, you know, having that relevance and agility kind of leads to the next thing I wanted to talk about, which is the customer centricity and that aspect in B2B solutions. And certainly, you know, measurement of success needs to include measurements of customer success there. So, you know, at the core of effective B2B strategies lie strong customer relationships, as well as strategic partnerships. So how does BrightSign prioritize customer centricity and its approach, particularly in, you know, how you tell stories and how you market?

Brian Rowley: Yeah, I mean, we are in the business of telling stories or helping people, right, tell stories. I mean, everything that we do at BrightSign is sort of through that lens of customer centricity. And so, you know, that’s a big undertaking because we are a part of that conversation, right? So BrightSign at its heart is sort of the, you know, we’re the global market leader in digital signage players, right? We’ve got millions of players across the globe. But we’re one element to the abilities to create an amazing digital signage experience. So just recently, we actually launched a program which we call, which is a Bright Alliance program. And it’s actually targeted towards our content management software partners. And we understand in this process that We ourselves can’t do this all on our own. We understand who we are. We know exactly what value we bring in sort of that overall of mission of bringing visual content and experiences to life. But we know that we can’t do it alone. So the partnerships, in order to be able to achieve what customers are ultimately looking for, are incredibly important to us. And so we have a really vast partner ecosystem made up of distributors and resellers and integrators and content management software companies. I mean, it spans the globe in terms of what is there because Quite honestly, there are so many unique situations that our customers bring to light that we realize are important that we actually had to make sure that we were engaged in the right places and what it’s to pull that to life. very closely with all of, you know, as I mentioned, sort of the integrators, the resellers, the partners, all of that in everything that we do. So whether it’s trade shows and events, you know, we’re out there to sort of sell a combined solution. and help a customer complete their digital signage journey. Doing this in a silo doesn’t work. It won’t come together the way that you actually want it to. So the partnerships in order to achieve that customer centricity is a really important part to us. And I will tell you, without a lot of the partner and partner relationships that we have, we would be a very different company. they bring a tremendous amount of strength to what we do and what we can offer to our customers.

Greg Kihlstrom: Yeah, and yeah, because I would imagine in your I mean, a sign is very important, yet a sign is part of something, or it’s pointing to something, for lack of a better term. So there needs to be not only integration, but also it needs to be doing the right thing at the right time to the right audience.

Brian Rowley: Well, think about it for a second, right? If you look at it, think about how many digital signs you walk past in the course of a day, right? It’s there’s a lot of them. And if they’re just static, you do exactly that. You just walk past them. But when you look at some of the relationships we have with some of our technology partners where, you know, you may actually approach something and you may do an air gesture, wave your hand, which would trigger a screen. You may do something else, make it a touch environment, right? There may be an audio component associated with what you’re doing. You may use sort of visual cues to understand that an individual actually entered into a specific zone and when they enter into that zone, in a retail establishment, then we know that this trigger is going to happen. So it really is more complex, right, than just a sign. It really is trying to figure out how do we maximize that moment with that individual, and then who are the players and who are the partners that we need in order to make that happen?

Greg Kihlstrom: Yeah, and so with that partnership angle, I mean, I would imagine it probably happens a number of different ways, but how do you look at… When customer centricity and customer success is the ultimate measure, how do you look at finding the right partners? Are a lot of partners coming to you with ideas and you help them finish it? Are you going out to other partners because your customers are having specific challenges or needs? Or is it maybe all of the above? I guess, what makes a good partner at the end of the day?

Brian Rowley: Yeah. I mean, as I said, You know, BrightSign has this unique role, right, as sort of that global market leader. And a big part of that is as a result of sort of the BrightSign OS. So we are very unique in the approach, and this is more of the technical side of things, right. in regards to the OS that we run on our players. And it’s kind of like, I’ll probably equate it to a sort of like this sort of self-healing approach to it, right? The player knows exactly what it’s supposed to be doing at all times. And the minute it doesn’t do what it’s supposed to be doing, it automatically corrects itself. And to put that into everyday life, right? How many times do you walk by a digital sign and you see like a blue screen, right? That’s because the player, a player, not ours, thankfully, didn’t know what it was supposed to be doing, right? And therefore that’s what it delivered. It delivered the static blue screen. Our players are known for their reliability. They’re known for their security and they’re known for their sustainability. They’ve been in market for a very long time. And so we have a lot of people that come to us every single day who are looking to partner with us because of that reputation and that brand reputation that has been built over the course of years. But again, you know, we’re an element to that. So there are times when we’re sitting down with a customer walking through their entire journey with them and understanding what does this look like? And then we bring the right partners into the equation. There are also times where we have partners who come to us and say, I’m looking to solve this. How do you see yourselves fitting into that equation? Our team sit down and have that conversation. It really is about having the flexibility to be able to approach it from each of those directions. But in all honesty, we also make sure that the partners that we work with, and this is what we did in our Bright Alliance program, was we also want to make sure that our goals and our partners’ goals align in order to achieve market goals. And so we spend a lot of time really focusing on, you know, who are the right partners to be a part of a relationship with BrightSign, making sure that they’re capable of delivering that same important experience that we try to achieve in every interaction that we have. And then from there, you know, working with the customers and making sure that we’re providing the best experience we can. At the end of the day, right, it’s all about elevating experiences. Like our goal is for every touchpoint that we have is how do we elevate that and make that, you know, the best experience that that end user or that end user, you know, that customer’s customer, right, is ultimately expecting from us in the market.

Greg Kihlstrom: Yeah, and I think that’s a good segue to the last thing I wanted to talk about with you. And you had mentioned the operating system that you have, as well as the media player that you have. So BrightSign, in essence, has a dual business model, so to speak, and technology provider, as well as category leader in your space. How do you manage that dual role effectively by offering both specific technology solutions as well as being a leader in your category?

Brian Rowley: Yeah, I mean, I’m not sure, me personally, that I look at it as a dual business model. I don’t think it’s one versus the other, per se. I think it’s actually, a customer has a problem or is trying to meet a need or wants to innovate or do something a little bit differently. Our goal is, how do we help them? And we view it as, you know, how do we help them, but also understanding that we actually only can do so much. We know who we are, we know our limitations, and then how does our partner ecosystem fill the gaps that potentially we may have, right? So when you’re working with a company like BrightSign, you know, you’re working with us along with those partners to ultimately achieve the best experience with the best of the best doing that and knowing that, right? And I think it’s, you know, as you look at it, right, I mentioned it before, like, let’s use, we have an XC5 player, right? It’s a really, really powerful, powerful player. And it’s meant for, you know, High-res graphics, it’s meant for doing things, complex things like wayfinding and 3D animation and different things like that. So it’s a really, really powerful, powerful device. However, when you start to add things like motion sensors or trigger experiences or animations, and you look at this now, this one screen has just become this amazing canvas. you know, it’s a really, really powerful and more powerful experience. But we don’t look at that as separate. Right. We look at that as one. Right. And so, you know, I think as long as the view that we have, as long as we’re able to give customers sort of this ability to choose and have the ability to present them with options. Right. Then it’s a win. Yeah. And, you know, if I think we have just over like 4,000 authorized resellers, right? And we do business in like over 130 countries, right? I mean, that’s pretty powerful, right? And quite honestly, it does make me proud, right, to be representing that company. But it’s about collaboration, right? And without that, this whole strategy that we have, it actually wouldn’t be possible. And so, you know, our goal is really, it’s about bringing those like-minded partners, right, that we have in our ecosystem, ultimately to serve the best that, you know, the customer experience that we can, we can deliver.

Greg Kihlstrom: Yeah. And I would imagine, you know, given, you know, you mentioned the breadth of, of countries that you operate in as well. I mean, that, that ecosystem you referred to, that’s gotta be incredibly powerful as you I would imagine continue to expand, but also as you’re, as you expand in each of those regions and, you know, there’s going to be different considerations and things like that. So, you know, it seems to just kind of underscore the, uh, the benefits of having. You know, there’s benefits to being a category leader, but there’s also benefits to having an open ecosystem that you can partner with a lot of, of partners versus trying to own a hundred percent of it. Right.

Brian Rowley: Yeah, I don’t think we would be in the position we were if we didn’t understand the importance of the ecosystem that we have developed and built over the course of the years. Because I think it’s allowed us to touch audiences that we might not have had the ability to touch in the past. It allows us to really provide and present some amazing experiences. And I will tell you, internally, there’s nothing more exciting for us than for us to have a challenge like that and be presented with, how do we either bring this visual content or this experience to life? I mean, that’s what we do. That’s what the foundation of what we’re there to help do. And we’re sort of the power behind making that happen.

Greg Kihlstrom: Yeah. Yeah. Well, um, one last question before we wrap up here, you know, looking to the future, what trends do you see impacting digital signage and how is bright sign preparing to meet those evolving demands?

Brian Rowley: Yeah. I mean, it’s a great question. You know, I would say that one thing that we know for sure is expectations from our markets continue to get greater and greater every day. How do we actually create a more immersive experience? How do we actually pull the buyer to further into the decision-making process. And I’ll give you an example on this, right? Like, you walk into a store, right? And, you know, through some of the sensor technologies, let’s say it’s a retail environment, you’re going in, you’re searching for a pair of running shoes. You know, you go up to the running shoe, you pick it up. By doing that, it triggers information that goes onto a display sitting above that. It tells you a little bit about the shoe. It tells you about the performance of the shoe. It tells you about in-store inventory. It tells you about online inventory. In some cases, the ability to actually make the purchase and do all of that right there. those are the experiences that people are looking for. And we know that people are looking for more and more of those. So I think more immersive is going to be an important piece for this space. I think AI is going to create some really interesting spaces here because I think as you look at this and really customizing each experience to tailored to the individual consumer who’s standing in front of that display at that given time will also be a really important part. I mean this is a fascinating fascinating space and there’s so much to still be uncovered. There’s a tremendous amount of progress that’s been made. Like I said I’ve been with the company for just about a year to see some of what it’s been happening in the industry in the course of a year just blows my mind. But I think there’s just the power of this space and its abilities to actually target audiences and improve on overall experiences is going to be something to watch.