Marketing Emerging Companies



Decision makers are considering more than product quality, they are evaluating your company.

Marketing is a difficult skill to master, something many engineers are not willing to concede. Marketing entails more than just sales support. Good marketing looks at the Total Available Market (TAM), studies how the competition places its products in the market, identifies a sales strategy based on the most appropriate market segment for the company, develops the appropriate information content and chooses specific communication channels to promote the message(s). Engaging a public relations or communications specialist might look like a luxury to a cash flow conscious executive when in fact it is a necessary investment. Allow this professional to offer a guide. These are not suggestions, they are guidelines.

An emerging company must sell itself first, product sales will follow.

This article will focus on the last two items that can be grouped under the label of marketing communications.

What Often Happens

A significant majority of EDA and IP companies are formed because the founders developed an algorithm that is the foundation of a new tool or a new intellectual property component that offers superior functionality to what is already available.

Marketing is exclusively focused on the product the company offers, mostly because corporate resources are almost all dedicated to development and support. The idea is that competition is based exclusively on the product, and its characteristics are all that counts.

It is likely that the company has performed benchmarks against the competition that show favorable results. Unfortunately, buyers know that benchmarks can be designed to show optimal results and thus have little value. The company might even have proven that the product integrates well with existing design flows. By itself, this is not a sufficient reason to replace an existing tool with the one being offered.

Now consider that in spite of a great product, sales are lagging, and senior management is frustrated by the lack of results. While investors become impatient, sales opportunities are fading. The company’s efforts are totally dedicated to improving the product and showing weaknesses in the competing products. Almost always this tactic is ineffective.

In most cases, what is wrong is not the product, it is how the company markets itself. A company must first of all promote itself, then product credibility will increase. It is rare that a purchase decision is based solely on the quality of the product. The people involved in the decision are looking at more than the engineering quality: they are looking at the company. It makes no sense to purchase a product from an organization that does not seem to be able to grow and remain in business for a significant amount of time. An emerging company must sell itself first, product sales will follow.

Suggested Content

The most important function of Marketing is to establish the credibility of the company. A prospective customer needs to believe that the company will exist and have the resources to support and improve the product for a longer period than the one covered by the license the company is offering. In purchasing or licensing the product, the buyer’s company commits more than the cost paid. It commits the engineering resources needed to use the product, and it bets on hitting the market window with the derivative product. What is at stake is much more than the product features and price, thus a high level of trust is essential. All buyers are looking for a tradeoff between perceived gain and risk. Credibility goes a long way toward lowering the perceived risk.

There are three characteristics that contribute to corporate credibility: Experience, Capability, and Stability.

Engineering-driven organizations usually have a lesser problem dealing with technical credibility, but neglect or are at a loss in dealing with business credibility.

If the company has received third-party funding, executives understand the importance of convincing prospects of the credibility of the company. If not, then making a prospect comfortable about corporate credibility is like asking for an investment by someone outside the company.

Technical experience and business experience count equally. A short biography of all executives in the company is required, including any positions of leadership outside the business world. Leadership qualities are important when measuring the managerial capabilities of corporate personnel.

The composition of the board of directors is also important. Are there outside directors? If so, how do they contribute to the company management? These topics must be covered with enough detail to show openness and willingness to be a partner.

Capability is not the same as experience. Just because one was successful previously does not guarantee success in a new environment. Capability means working long hours, making financial sacrifices, and being able to face failure without surrendering in front of an obstacle.

Stability is a derivative of capability. How stable is the corporate staff? Turnovers and defections must have a logical explanation and must be few. If a key employee leaves, the departure must be explained in logical terms.

Integration

From a technical point of view, integration is a well-understood concept. It means that the product works well with products from other companies. This is important, especially when considering market-leading companies.

Business integration is, on the other hand, often overlooked by marketing. The emerging company must show that it integrates in the chosen target market, assuming it is not the only player in that segment. If the latter is the case, or if the behavior and profile of the company is significantly different from its competitors, a strong explanation of the situation is a requirement. Remember: “Pioneers are those with arrows in their backs.”

There is a class of individuals who need special attention: industry influencers.

Opinions of specific investors, a few CEOs, and some editors and analysts are respected in the industry and can build instant credibility for a company. People tend to believe what they say or write more than what others do. If they think that the company has the proper characteristics to become successful, they can be of significant help, and it will cost nothing, or close to it. Cultivate relationships, not by telling people how good the company and product are, but by showing its positive characteristics. These relationships can lead to opportunities to sit on a panel at a conference, garner positive press coverage or obtain insights on industry trends.

Joining an industry consortium is a good strategy to participate in an environment where one can learn what other companies are doing to address similar problems. It’s also a way to have a clearer picture of the target market and help deal with issues that are tangentially important to the marketing effort but can’t be addressed due to limited resources.

An industry consortium can give entre to meeting other executives at larger companies and startups who can be unofficial advisors or partners. Some larger companies can become investors or eventually acquirers.

Most consortia are organized as non-profits. The activities and services provided are typically funded by collecting dues from member companies. Joining a consortium costs money, but it is an investment that can repay well. It is up to the corporate representative to the consortium to use the resources offered to the benefit of the company.

The Website
The internet is the most used form of communication, and an emerging company must have a significant presence on the internet. It all starts from a professional looking home page that clearly shows the corporate mission. The home page should not be cluttered with details. Instead, it should have pulldowns that allow the reader to access relevant information.

There should be a Product pulldown where one can find not only a marketing overview of the product, but also technical details including how the product integrates in existing design flows.

A Corporate pulldown should have sections describing the executive management team and the Board of Directors composition. Some companies have an advisory committee that should be included as well. In each case, members should have a brief biography detailing past experiences and achievements. It may be advisable to include the News section under this pulldown if entries are few. Eventually, Corporate News may have its own pulldown. The Public Relations or Media Relations contact should be listed here.

It is very important to pay attention to the feedback from visitors to the website. Criticism, whether positive or negative, allows marketeers to judge how the company is perceived. Engineering-driven small companies are often overly confident about their product and have difficulty seeing it from a different point of view. Remember that the authors of the comments are potential customers. Even discovering that a negative input is coming from a competitor, it should not be dismissed. Instead learn from it. It may point to an issue that requires prompt attention either by engineering or marketing.

The Community pulldown should offer white papers, blogs, and if possible, a users’ forum. Calling the pulldown “community” instead of “users” gives the impression that the company is fully connected with both its customers and its prospects. Words are important.

A blog is a useful tool to incorporate into the home page. It should be written regularly to increase readership, but not so often that it becomes burdensome. Monthly postings would be a good goal, as consistency is more important than length. Write about corporate events, industry happenings, technology opportunities. Adding photos or graphics makes it more interesting. A good blog improves credibility, experience, and industry integration.

There are communication vehicles the company must use: Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, and Facebook. They have different purposes, and individual messages should be coherent and consistent. It is important to remember that these are public channels, open to anyone, including competitors and people with dubious intent. Therefore, they must be monitored frequently by a professional skilled in public communication to avoid confrontations that develop into negative corporate positions.

Twitter
Remember that what is posted on Twitter is permanent, so it is better to avoid controversy or extreme positions. Use Twitter to announce special corporate events, press releases, or to express a corporate position on industry happenings, always with the aim to increase corporate credibility and visibility.

Of the three channels, Twitter is the one to find gossip. Follow a well-established company and see how they manage this tool. Copying their style is not plagiarizing, it is a learning experience.

LinkedIn
LinkedIn is a network of professionals and so, at a minimum, corporate executives should join, if they have not already done so in their previous professional activities. On LinkedIn, one can express opinions, publish short pieces, and even articles that are meant to elicit discussions from peers. LinkedIn activity clearly contributes to show industry integration and experience, and the audience can include technologists, investors, and prospects. In addition, as the network grows, so will the company’s credibility.

LinkedIn is an effective tool to connect with industry influencers.

YouTube
YouTube is a communication tool that a company can use to host a demo of its product, a seminar, or an introduction to the company. Of course, these pieces need to be of professional quality, but do not use actors. A member of the company must tell the story because the audience must connect to the company. The company is not advertising, it is presenting.

Facebook
Emerging companies should have a corporate account on Facebook. It starts with a description of the company and an invitation to dialog. This is a vehicle that should be used to expand Twitter messages, carry corporate press releases, and provide technical commentary that directs readers to whitepapers on the corporate home page. While Facebook is not as popular in our industry as the other three, it is important for a company to have a presence.

Trade Shows
Attending a trade show is a significant investment, so the decision must be made carefully. The first issue to take into consideration is the goal the company wants to achieve by attending. For example, attending an exhibit just to show a product may not be the best use of resources. The goal is to establish or reinforce credibility. Marketing the company is like marketing a product. Develop a calendar of meetings to take advantage of people who will be there or are local. If the company is located in a different geographical area, study prospects in the area near where the conference is located. In the era of electronic communications, face-to-face meetings still generate greater results.

Use the opportunity to reinforce corporate identity. What makes the company unique, and how can attendees remember it when the show is over? Do not just promote the product, promote the company. Rely on a professional for booth layout.

Many companies believe that having unique or cute promotional items increases booth traffic. It does, but the attendees coming to the booth are item collectors, not real prospects. Real prospects pay little heed to promotional items.

Show the product, but be ready to answer questions not directly related to the example design. The question can also be significant input to the marketing plan and, at times, to engineering the product’s next version. Be honest. If a specific feature is not in the product, do not hedge the answer. If the suggestion is outside the scope of the product, say so and explain the reason. If it is within the scope, then take it into consideration for a future version.

Conclusion

Marketing is difficult. Do not do it part time or solely as a sales support activity. Marketing communications deals with human behavior: What attracts and keeps attention; how do people come to trust the company and its executives; how do people decide to be a partner by using the product? These are the questions any company needs to answer in a positive manner.

Do not expect instant results from this type of marketing. Changing human opinions takes time, but it does not take forever. The investment will pay off, but, like any investment, it needs to be managed. Establish measurable but realistic goals and be ready to change approaches based on feedback. It is not an art, but the study of how people react and interact with each other: Behavioral science is taught in universities.


Mr. Moretti’s engineering career started in July 1968 at TRW Microelectronics laboratory where he developed one of the first logic simulators for the semiconductors industry. His career spans work at Intel, Signetics (part of Philips NV), Chancellor Computers, and VeriBest (Intergraph), purchased by Mentor Graphics in December 1999. From 1985 to 1992 he also managed his own company, EIS Modeling, developing libraries of models for logic simulators, an activity that was the precursor of the IP industry. At VeriBest he was Executive Vice President of engineering managing three sites, Sunnyvale, California, Boulder, Colorado, and Huntsville, Alabama.

In March 2000, Gabe joined EDN as a senior technical writer and five years later left to start his own consulting business, GabeonEDA. Customers have included Cadence, Mentor, Synopsys, and other EDA companies, as well as Chip Design Magazine.

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