The elevator is now talking to you

A recent Forbes article was titled, ‘How Horizontal And Vertical Transportation Industry Leaders Are Innovating in 2021‘.

Horizontal transport industry makes sense, but vertical transport industry? Can’t be airlines since even planes don’t have a vertical take-off! Helicopters? Rockets? But they are not large enough to be called ‘transportation’!

When I read the article, I figured that it was about companies making and managing elevators! Lifts, as we commonly call it!

Now, most of us normal people are never going to be in any position to either buy elevators or influence the decision for someone else to buy elevators, unlike products available in the horizontal transport industry!

I’m the kind of person who observes the brand of the elevator I’m in. So I look out for ThyssenKrupp, OTIS, Mitsubishi, Schindler, Kone, Hitachi among others whenever I take an elevator. But that has no bearing on the elevator brands since I will never be either a decision-maker or a decision influencer to buy elevators.

And yet, the brands that make and sell elevators aim to communicate with us normal people too!

Consider this full-page ad by OTIS in the Wall Street Journal in March 2021.

The framing of the ad’s copy is from the perspective of the elevator itself as if it is talking to us, the readers.

The elevator talks about its ‘birth’ and tracks its journey around the world. The writing is consistently interesting and keeps the elevator’s point of view in the choice of words and phrases – “sky was the limit”, “found my place in extraordinary landmarks – and everyday life”, “I became the connection between here and there…”, “I was there for the big days… and for the not so good day”, “rise to new challenges”, “set sights high”, and so on.

To frame what we usually consider as functional technology as also the one that powers our movement (even if we do not drive/operate it, like cars) is clever and makes us look at it in newer ways. Elevators move us as much as cars but in completely different ways! But we do not consciously think of elevators as movement-related machines partly because we do not drive them – we merely operate them in a minimal way and it simply behaves like a machine that takes us from point A to point B.

I also looked at OTIS’s website mentioned in the ad and found some phenomenal data from their annual report – ‘moving 2 billion people every day’!

Consider another elevator brand KONE and its communication.

KONE recently tied up with Financial Times to produce a phenomenally interesting piece of content that is also extremely topical!

KONE analyzed data from its global installed base to tell the story of the flow of people in cities around the world over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s one thing to look at traffic data on the roads, or air traffic data via multiple airlines, but it is totally unique to look at data around people using elevators around the world, to determine the impact of COVID on our society!

The results are mighty interesting!

Quoting from the report:

  • In the top 10 European cities, the average number of elevator journeys plummeted 80% between February and April 2020
  • The return to office buildings in Paris, Munich, Helsinki, Berlin, Milan and Hamburg has remained at 60% of pre-pandemic levels since the start of 2021
  • Data shows that the return to the office slowed in November 2021 with the discovery of a new coronavirus variant in the second half of the month
  • Singapore’s elevator use data shows that its COVID-zero approach led to a quick retirn-to-normal situation, while many European cities had a very different curve towards the end of 2020!

Not just the data points, but the way the data has been presented (in conjunction with Financial Times) is very imaginative too, using interactive elements that mimic the elevator movement to bring close context.

While engaging us with data and presentation, the report also adds KONE-centric and horizontal transport industry-centric updates that are of general interest. For instance, the fact that most modern lifts talk to each other wirelessly!


The broader question is about why brands operating in the horizontal transport space need to even communicate with the general audience when they may not have anything to do with their business except spending a few minutes inside their boxes out of sheer necessity and not even choice?

One reason is obvious – this is corporate communications. These elevator brands are corporate citizens and they need to impress upon the broader audience, even outside decision-making circles, about what they do and how they operate. This has a tangible impact on how people perceive the brand, on the ability to attract better talent, and so on.

But the way these brands shift the framing when they have to communicate with the broader world is admirable. They understand that the entire world is a potential audience for this communication, even though very, very few people end up making purchase decisions for their products (for whom, the communication needs to be framed vastly differently). And the entire world’s people are potential users for their products unwittingly and almost subconsciously – we choose elevators out of necessity without even consciously thinking about them, how they operate, the brands involved, or the technology.

So, these brands do not talk about functional benefits (largely pointless given the tiny amount of time we spend inside them and the fact that we, as users, have no say in its usage but just to accept what is) or technical capabilities (the users don’t care), but humanize even the machine (as OTIS does) and add topical context that we could all relate to (as KONE does).

Many B2B clients that I have engaged with go through this process of getting their decision-making buyers very sharply and spending all their energies talking only to them and fine-tuning the entire communications and marketing apparatus towards that audience. While that is obviously going to be fruitful in terms of leads and revenue, B2B organizations too should think like B2C organizations for at least part of their communication efforts. Even if the larger world outside the sharply defined target audience set is not going to help towards leads or revenue, establishing the brand narrative to the world expands the brand’s and company’s relevance to the world. Many software companies have understood this nuance and successfully craft communication campaigns towards their customers’ customers (common people/end-users). OTIS and KONE offer a fantastic example of this effort done right.

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