Sensors/MEMS Marketing: Oxymoron or Opportunity, Episode Four

Sensors Insights by Roger Grace

Welcome back to this fourth of the eight episode bi-weekly tutorial on MEMS / Sensors Marketing: Oxymoron or Opportunity.   In the event that you may not have had the opportunity to read any of the preceding three episodes, may I provide a bit of background.  

The tutorial series content was based primarily from approximately 20 personal interviews with sensors/MEMS professionals who collectively have over 450 years of experience. The previous episodes were:

  • Episode 1: Listening to the Voice of the Customer
  • Episode 2: The Role of Marketing in the Funding Process
  • Episode 3: Is the “Shine” off of MEMS

You can assess previous episodes by going to my website’s landing page.

SENSORS EXPO & CONFERENCE

Sensors 2018 Hits Silicon Valley June 26-28!

Join thousands of engineers this June in San Jose at the sensor industry’s biggest event! With 65+ Technical Sessions, 100+ Leading Speakers, and 300+ Interactive Exhibits, there’s more opportunity than ever to connect with this booming industry and the technologies driving it. See thousands of the newest technologies in action, learn about the latest applications, including AI, Autonomous Vehicles, IoT, and Medical, and develop invaluable partnerships at the only event dedicated to sensors, connectivity, and systems.

In my 35+ years as a corporate marketer and technology marketing consultant in the MEMS and sensors community, I have come to believe that there are two highly underutilized and undervalued elements of the marketing mix…market research and marketing communications [1].  As such the planning and execution of an integrated marketing communication (iMARCOM) program is at the top of my list as a high ROI tool for marketers wishing to be ahead of the pack and gain competitive advantage. 

The information gathered in a well-planned and executed market research program is not only valuable to determine the exact specs, features and cost of the product/service but also a vital input to the iMARCOM strategy, especially when it comes to positioning of the company which must be accomplished having in-depth details of the competitive landscape.  We will address the topic of market research in detail in a subsequent episode. The interviewees of this article were consensus and in significant agreement with my opinion on the topic.   And they have specifically commented on their effective usage of iMARCOM tools including presentations at conferences, trade show exhibiting and feature tutorial articles written in publications respected by their customers as successful vehicles to promote the company and its technology. Their comments follow:

Swami Rajaraman (UCF) said, “Our Axion Biosystems startup, like many startups was strapped for cash.  We found that attending small and focused conferences, and even better, to present a paper at the technical session provided an incredible ROI.”

This is a strategy that Roger Grace Associates constantly recommends to its consulting clients and it has been most successful with all of them.  Not only do appearances at conferences/exhibitions increase the awareness of your organization to the market, it can bring you customers.   I also have used technical conferences /exhibitions to effectively conduct market research…either in the booth or in a focus group at a facility in or near the event. 

Also, and most recently at Sensors Midwest  where our DunAn Sensing client launched a new product, the use of trade shows/conferences are an excellent and cost- effective vehicle to launch a product.    It is also an effective approach to discuss …and in-person…the editors’ interest in the product and its technology and application for future feature article editorial opportunities  

A compelling reason for this is that editors prefer to visit technical conferences not only to attend the technology presentations, but to meet with exhibitors who are introducing new products at the event.    I have used this strategy very successfully in my marketing  consulting practice and have successfully launched dozens  of products for clients…all most successfully to the point where we won over a score of awards from marketing organizations for the efficacy of the launch.  

“Efficacy” was judged on the results, i.e. successful and broad subsequent exposure in the media for the new product in the various media outlets.  Especially now when many editors work from their homes and not the editorial offices of their restive publications, a press tour become very time-consuming and costly…and to use the old phrase…it is much easier to bring Mohammed to the mountain than to bring the mountain to Mohammed.  Several conferences come to mind that address the MEMS/sensors market and provide an excellent venue and high ROI for these purposes including Sensors Expo, Sensor and Test (Germany) and Sensors Global Summit. (As a matter of full disclosure, I serve on the advisory board of Sensors Expo).

Sandeep Akkaraju (eXo Imaging) said, “Attending conferences is a key element of the marketing mix since it provides an opportunity to gain knowledge on specific technology, applications and markets.  They provide a convenient venue to have one-on-one interchanges with high level industry players.   I have personally experienced the value of public relations and editorial outreach as it applies to startups.    This is a high ROI vehicle to create awareness and credibility ion the marketplace for your company, your product and your technology.

Matt Apainus (Smart Microsystems) said, “Firstly, the sales and application staff need to have a very high technical acumen – this is an absolute must.  Secondly, the time-to-market for MEMS is significantly longer than IC products.  Sales and marketing organizations need to develop relationships at a very high level to get an accurate picture of future requirements in anticipation of market demands.  Aside from these requirements, the product life cycles are highly varied in different market segments.  This means that the sales and marketing efforts have to be tailored to each of these segments individually with each having its own iMARCOM plan and dedicated operations resources”.

Keith Myers (TEConnectivity) said, “Sensor/MEMS marketing is not simply about data sheets.   At TEConnectivity, use a wide and diverse range of iMARCOM tactics to promote our sensors that address a highly segmented market addressing an even broader selection of applications.  We pride ourselves in constantly measuring the efficiency of our marketing efforts, whether they are trade shows, social media including our e-newsletter “Signals” and then executing the proper follow-up.    As the sales cycle moves down the tunnel, we are able to measure how our customers are consuming our information.   This results in our judicious selection of the optimum communications vehicles at the right time to achieve the desired outcomes”.

Mark Laich (Laich Advisory Group) said, “The promotion strategy of a company must include messaging that that communicates the uniqueness of the company’s solution and sells on value and product differentiation.  However it has been my unfortunate experience that MEMS companies do not adequately fund promotion and marketing programs versus my experience with IC companies.   Additionally, it has been my experience that Asian companies do not have respect for public relations and as such, do not use it.”

Robert Andosca (INVIZA LLC) and the founder of microGen Systems is, in my opinion one of the most passionate and accomplished people in the promotion of the technology and products associated with energy generation.   For several years he “evangelized” the benefits of the technology for its MEMS-based energy generation products even before they were available to the market.   Robert effectively “paved the way” for industry acceptance with his many presentations at industry trade shows and conferences and with several articles which he authored and appeared in important industry publications.  By the time microGen was ready to launch their product into the market; the market was already “conditioned” to its acceptance of the credibility of microGen’s novel products (much in the say way of the Pavlov dog experiment).     

Robert said “Proactive marketing takes on risk and you must deliver what you promise.  Fortunately, although microGen experienced a major delay in its early manufacturing, it has been delivering products since early 2016”. In July 2017, microGen was acquired and the price it was sold for was undisclosed. MicroGen will continue working with ARROW Corporation selling its configurable IoT wireless sensor platform called Intellus, which is integrated with the Company’s piezo-MEMS vibration energy harvesters and power management electronics.”

I have used a similar strategy as to Robert’s with several of my clients including Oki Semiconductor, TriQuint Semiconductor, NovaSensor, Measurement Specialties, COTO Technologies and SiTime to successfully launch their companies and/or product lines.  Robert said, “Proactive marketing takes on risk and you must deliver what you promise.  Fortunately, although microGen experienced a major delay in its early manufacturing, it has been delivering products since early 2016.”

Paul Werbaneth (Intervac) said, “Smart marketers listen to the market, respect the voice of thought leaders and influencers and try to amplify what it is they say.  Craft a strong message and then repeat it, repeat it, and repeat it.  You may recall that we discussed the topic of 'voice of the customer' in episode 1.

Steve Whalley (former MEMS and Sensors Industry Group) said, “Get as much market and competitive data as quickly as possible from trusted sources – not just by Googling.  Build your prototypes to get customer feedback.  Modify as necessary then move into production but make sure you have done all the testing and validation necessary”.

Janusz Bryzek (eXo Imaging) said, “Selection of the marketing strategy strongly depends on the company objectives in terms of profit and size.” 

Following Porter, the three basic strategies include:

  • Cost leadership
  • Differentiation
  • Focus

To make money with cost leadership requires the ownership of the large market share (40 %+).  Market share translates to profits.  Typically, the market evolves to a leader (gorilla) grabbing a large market share and even larger percentage of profits (e.g., Apple in cellphones), one or two large followers (chimpanzees) with % profits on par or lower than market share (e.g., Samsung), and large number of monkeys with small market share and even smaller profit share (e.g., Chinese phone manufacturers).

Differentiation provides larger margins, and easier profit opportunities.  It requires offering something competitors are not offering (e.g., BMW” “best driving machines”), so it has a higher barrier to entry.

Focus requires supporting a narrow group of customers, and offering them customized product and service, for example Porches’ sport cars experience.  This strategy offers an easiest profit generation when the even higher barrier to entry is overcome.

And finally, Rob O’Reilly, Analog Devices, said, “As sensor component suppliers begin to move up the chain”, the approach to marketing both system and IoT solutions will need to adapt to the changing playing field. Winning the socket is no longer in style and initial conversation with potential customers have become more complex.

Discussions beyond the simple sensor have expanded to include; power management, edge computing, gateways, micro controllers, radios, cloud and connectivity. Working knowledge of the “system” is more of a requirement during initial system/IoT discussions for both existing and potential customers. With the expansion of tools, cloud partners, sensor clusters and applications, marketing are becoming a team event. As the market expands the approach to marketing must also expand to keep up with the diversity, depth, complexity and constant challenges in applying sensors to the digital world. Yes, it will take a village….”  The topic of MEMS as solutions will be addressed in more detail in our next episode and I wanted to use Rob’s input to heighten your anticipation of seeing what industry gurus have to say about this most important topic.

 

Summary & Conclusions

Once again, the experts interviewed had a strong consensus on the topic. “What have been your most successful marketing strategies” for their MEMS/sensor products/services.  Technical conferences/exhibitions captured the top of the list for the best ROI approach.   I consider that these events provide for several opportunities for the sensors/MEMS marketer:

  • conducting market research
  • launching a new product
  • meeting of editorial colleagues                                              
  • presenting a paper
  • meeting prospective customers

Additionally, I believe that the ever increasing popularity and use of social media from a LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and other social network vehicles is a sound one that needs to be exploited.  Also, the use of webinars is gaining popularity.   The name of the game is to educate the customer…an educated customer is a good customer…and I believe that webinars do this best. The opinions of the interviewees correlated highly with mine.

Finally, I believe that people and organizations in the MEMS/sensors area have historically been technology push versus application pull believers…and the good news is that this is changing at an accelerated rate.   It is all about customer benefits derived from product features, and how best to help the customer make the very best product for the lowest cost as well as differentiate your product/service from your competitor’s products and services.  Enlightened marketers will use the tools mentioned above to accomplish this objective.

In the next episode, the topic will be putting the S back into MEMS.

 

REFERENCES

[1] R. Grace; Market Research and Marketing Communications: Highly Leveraged Tools on the Marketers Toolkit; Proceedings of the MEMS Technology Summit 2010; Stanford, California; October 10, 2010; http://www.rgrace.com/

 

About the author

Roger H. Grace is president of Roger Grace Associates (RGA), a Naples Florida-based marketing consulting firm specializing in high technology, which he founded in 1982. His background includes over 40 years in analog circuit design engineering, manufacturing engineering, application engineering, project management, product marketing, and technology consulting. He can be reached at 239-596-8738, [email protected].