Marketing of Photonics and Laser Technology Products: Entering the Market With Effective Tools
|Before you begin
|Discussion of different marketing tools
|Conclusions and recommendations
Photonics, which includes areas like optics, optoelectronics, laser technology and various application areas, is an exciting and rapidly changing market, where new products, technologies, and applications are continuously being introduced. The sales volumes are rapidly rising in many areas, underlying a growing importance of photonics for the economy. However, the competition in many market areas like certain lasers, optical components or diagnostic instruments is already rising; it is certainly not trivial to obtain some market share, particularly as a newcomer.
Sales volumes do not grow automatically as a consequence of technological success. Whoever said “Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door” lacked vision as to how customers would know that you had a better mousetrap, or where to find your door. This challenge increases as technical innovation accelerates and product life cycles shorten due to “leap-frogging” technologies within the photonics industry. In addition to building a better mousetrap, photonics companies must inform customers about new technologies, their advantages, and how they may best be utilized, while they are still relevant. Only a proper choice of marketing tools as a key element of an advertising plan allows photonics companies to specifically target certain users rapidly and cost-effectively. It is the task of media planners and buyers to make that proper choice, and this article is made to help them to better understand their options.
Note that rapid success is often vital. For example, if your company has developed a great new laser product, which is superior to all others, that competitive advantage may stay there only for a limited time. Obviously, you should make good use of that time window.
In large companies, the photonics or laser marketing can be directed by well-trained marketing professionals, who nevertheless have to work hard to understand the photonics market, to analyze the qualities and limitations of various marketing methods and tools, and justify conclusions concerning the marketing budget and which marketing strategies to implement. In many smaller companies, such tasks have to be accomplished by people who are typically less experienced, with fewer available resources, thus presenting an even bigger challenge.
By the way, it is known that particularly many small companies, including startups, strongly neglect their marketing. That can have many reasons – for example, that there is so much to do to develop the products, serve the first customers etc., that hardly any time is left for active marketing. Also, founders often have a technological background but little or no experience with marketing – and we often just tend to concentrate on what we are good at, even if this means neglecting vital issues. The result of such mistakes is often enough failure of the whole company, even if their technology works well. Most companies really need someone who actively cares about marketing.
This article is meant to provide an overview of various marketing tools for photonics and laser products and to explain the criteria used for selecting them. The specific topics are then discussed in further detail on separate pages linked to this article. You will see that there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution for marketing within the photonics industry, but hopefully the suggestions below give you plenty of ideas and are a good starting point.
In these articles, I also address various ethical aspects. For example, I am discussing threats to privacy, which unfortunately have become quite abundant in the context of online marketing, and problematic developments like native advertising. Marketing and advertising as such is of course utterly legitimate, but there are certain practices which we should avoid.
As I explain my judgments in some detail, you can form your own opinion on whether you find them convincing or not. As always, I am happy to receive any comments and feedback, particularly if they help me to improve the article; just contact me, and you will find an open door.
By the way, we also offer a handy glossary of marketing terms.
Before You Begin
Identify Your Target Audience
Quite obviously, you can start to effectively address your audience only once you have properly identified it. As an example, assume that your business is producing medical lasers. What could be your target audience?
- You might want to sell medical laser devices directly to doctors and clinics, i.e., to the end users.
- Alternatively, you may want to sell lasers to industrial system integrators, who put you lasers into medical laser systems and sell those to doctors and clinics.
That is of course an essential detail of your business plan, and depending on what the nature of your target audience is, you may have to use totally different marketing messages and tools:
- If you try to target doctors, it will hardly be successful if you do it on a laser technology website, which is something for photonics professionals. Rather, you will want to use publications used by doctors, and make statements which are relevant and understandable for them – certainly not primarily technical details of your lasers.
- If you want to address the system integrators, however, you can expect that those will use the dominant laser technology websites. You should convince them with sound statements on your technology. The same would hold if you try to sell lasers to scientific researchers.
Similar questions will arise in many areas; you may have to address either photonics people (e.g. in laser companies or in scientific research) or people in certain application areas (often outside the photonic community), or possibly both. You need to think about what kind of people could realistically want to purchase your products, what is of interest to them, and what kind of information channels they are presumably using.
In the Art of War, Sun Tzu famously said “Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” Critical to any successful marketing campaign is to have a compelling message. What problem do you solve, why is your solution better, what value do you bring? This should be framed within the context of what customers want, rather than what you want to sell. Make your message strong, and accurately communicate it in your advertising landing pages before you begin spending money to promote it.
A single convincing message is always better than several weaker messages; do not hope that weak messages will at least work in combination. That is particularly true in cases where you have to anticipate a quite limited attention span.
Of course, even the best message requires repetition to really sink in. So publishing a single print ad will probably not help much. Try to make sure that people encounter your message again and again, ideally on different channels. Many will only then recognize your brand as part of the real world, which seriously has to be considered in decisions.
By the way, the required frequent repetition is one of the reasons why measuring the effectiveness of advertising is difficult: your first messages may not trigger direct action, but are nevertheless possibly essential to finally get the sale done, and should therefore not be regarded as useless.
Check Your Tools and Beliefs!
The impact of a rigorous continuous improvement process on your technology, manufacturing process, and product design is well known to engineers. Successful endeavors are rarely based on a single brilliant idea, conceived at a single moment, but rather a good idea which is improved over time – with repeated careful thinking, brainstorming in a team, acquiring external feedback, measuring certain parameters and carefully drawing conclusions. Your marketing efforts should employ the same methodology.
You will start using certain marketing tools because you have some reasons to believe that they should work. You cannot be sure, however. So instead of just continuing what you always did, regularly check as much as possible whether your tools are effective. For example, do not spend a lot of money every year on having your company listed in a certain buyer's guide, only because you feel (or someone said) that it is the dominant one, or you see others investing there. Within maybe 15 minutes every year, you can obtain and analyze some statistical data from your web server, telling you how many people really get to your site through that buyer's guide, and how that compares with data for another one which you also use. Only then, you can make a well-founded decision on where you engage your advertising budget next time.
Of course, you should carefully think about what your precise purpose is, with what matrix you try to quantify success, and how conclusive certain data really are. Such things are at the core of successful professional advertising.
In some cases, you may e.g. employ some A/B testing of messages delivered through the same channel to find out which message is really effective. Again, you may start out with certain beliefs, but you should test them and correct them as required.
Be Consistent in Message and Style!
It is important to maintain a consistent message and style throughout your portfolio of advertising tools. If that is done well, it contributes a lot to a consistent perception of your brand. It is not sufficient simply to always present the same company logo; there are many more details to observe. Particularly, when different people care for different aspects of your marketing, such things need to be carefully coordinated.
How Much Money to Spend?
There are many bad reasons to spend or not to spend money for advertising activities:
- We use a certain tool because it is cheap. (If it is useless, you still have wasted some money and time.)
- We have no budget for that. (Is there a good reason not to have a budget for that?)
- We first need to concentrate on the development of our products. (That might be true in the very beginning of an enterprise, but if you start thinking about the marketing manual products already, it will definitely be too late, and you will substantially delay your return on investment.)
- We do not use a certain tool because it is expensive. (What if its value is so high that it absolutely justifies the cost?)
- We have always done it like that. (It may nevertheless be a mistake.)
Quite obviously, the only convincing way of deciding whether to use a certain advertising tool can be the following:
- Carefully determine the possible benefits.
- Also determine the cost in terms of money and your time. (Do not let cheap but close to useless tools occupy your time!)
- Make an informed judgment on the crucial question: Are the benefits likely to be larger than the cost?
Discussion of Different Marketing Tools
In the following, I discuss various marketing tools (including online advertising as well as various other methods) which you can use in the area of photonics, optics and laser technology.
A general remark, before we go into the details, is essential in my view. We often hear general judgments like “print advertising is dead” or “forget any banner campaigns”, but I think such judgments cannot be helpful as they disregard the concrete circumstances:
- One aspect is that there are offers of very different quality. For example, even some well-known organizations in the field offer advertising banners which are close to useless, since their pages have hardly any traffic; on the other hand, it can really make sense in other places.
- Moreover, the value of a campaign depends very much not only on the quality of the used tool, but also on your company. For example, a print advertising campaign, which can hardly be very targeted, will probably not be efficient for a small company with a very focused product portfolio, but may work quite well for a large distributor offering a wide range of photonics products.
A buyer's guide is a tool for your customers to conveniently and reliably find suppliers for certain products. There are several of those resources in the area of photonics and laser technology. Nearly all of them allow suppliers to register for free, but offer substantially enhanced visibility with paid listings.
Usually, it is a good idea to get at least some free entries, which you can get with a moderate amount of work – possibly a one-time effort for an effect which is there for many years to come. You will then encounter the question: is it worth to get paid listings, or more precisely: In which buyer's guides is it worth the cost and the involved work? Some common-sense indicators might include:
- What is the quality and quantity of technical information available to users?
- Where does each buyer’s guide rank on the first page of a search engine like Google for your specific search terms?
- You may ask customers which guides they use.
- Most essential: Which buyer's guide can drive the most traffic to your website? That may be difficult to judge before you try it, but you can use some of the mentioned indicators to estimate which resource has a chance to perform well.
You have to find the answer yourself, since it partly depends on the situation of your company, but you will presumably find my comprehensive article on buyer's guides quite useful. There, I discuss in detail
- why those resources are important and what benefits you can expect,
- what is the underlying economical model for the operators,
- whether you can trust them,
- what criteria you can apply to assess their quality, and
- how much work it takes to get started.
Google Ads (Formerly Google AdWords)
An often comparatively cheap method to drive additional traffic to your website is to use Google Ads. Basically, you pay Google for displaying your ads above the organic search results when people search for certain keywords. The cost per click can be relatively low, except if the competition of multiple advertisers drives up prices for certain keywords. On the other hand, the quality of the obtained traffic is often poor, and there is little branding effect. Therefore, it would be inappropriate simply to compare the cost per click e.g. with that for a good buyer's guide.
I have written a detailed article on using Google Ads, in which I explain how it works, how the cost depends on the circumstances, how much work it implies, etc.
A traditional and still often used marketing method is print advertising, i.e., the use of printed materials. I have discussed that in some detail in a separate article. Therefore, I give you only some short statements here.
You should not form a general opinion on print advertising, as that comes in very different forms and can be done in different publications. Whether it is worthwhile for your company, also depends very much on the nature of that business. Generally, print advertising is not very targeted and therefore not very effective in lead generation, particularly if you are advertising quite specific products. However, it may have an important branding effect, and that may be quite useful, particularly if your company is offering products in a wide range, so that precise targeting is not required. It is important to realize that the value of some print advertising opportunities depends not only on their specific properties, but also very much on the portfolio of the advertiser.
In the above-mentioned article, I have also discussed the placement of editorial articles in laser and optics trade journals, which can – if it is done well – be quite beneficial for all involved parties. However, it is not easy to fulfill all the conditions for success.
Trade Shows and Other Exhibitions
For many companies, the biggest event of the year is a trade show, where many suppliers and potential customers come together for a couple of days and can intensively interact with each other. There are some large laser and optics trade shows, where one meets a substantial fraction of the whole photonics community, and small exhibitions e.g. at scientific conferences where certain specialized communities can be addressed. Attending one or several events of that type per year can be an essential part of the marketing strategy of a company in a technological area like lasers, optics and photonics.
In a similar way as for print advertising, one should realize that substantial investments into exhibitions can be very worthwhile for some companies (particularly for big ones offering a wide range of products) and less for others who are more specialized. For the latter, there are still interesting forms of participation in smaller or larger exhibitions, achieving a good value for moderate investment.
On a cost per lead basis, exhibitions always rank among the most expensive marketing tools. Their value lies in making new customer relationships, advancing existing ones, and market and competitive insight gained.
For more details, see my article on trade shows and exhibitions.
You can reach hundreds of people with very specific technical interests by offering a photonics webcast on a suitable topic. As it is not so easy to find a large audience, advertisers often use some established publisher in the field, who will not only organize the event (often including the speaker) but use their advertising channels to find people for whom it is suitable. The advertiser then acts as a sponsor.
If you are interested, read my article on sponsored photonics webinars. It explains in detail not only what exactly these webinars are and how they work, but also what exactly are the benefits for the sponsor, how they need to be designed to work well, and how the number of participants (which is of course essential for the value) can be further boosted.
Making a Great Company Website
A good company website is essential to have – for many reasons, not least because it is the required basis for many other online activities. If you managed to obtain many visitors with a large e-mail campaign, for example, but then lead them to a poor website, you could not profit much.
Being highly successful in that area, I am happy to share with you some important insights in my article on website optimization. There, you can learn
- that making a good website is a big undertaking, which should be carefully organized,
- what important details have to be observed in that process (e.g. search engine optimization),
- what you can do to obtain many website visitors, and
- how important it is to regularly monitor and analyze the website traffic.
A traditional form of online advertising is the paid placement of banners (display advertising), i.e., graphical elements on other websites. Typically, such a banner is linked to the own website – either the homepage or a specific landing page. Its graphical content may be optimized for different purposes, for example:
- a branding effect (making the company name and logo well known, or making known that it offers certain products)
- making known certain qualities of your products (trying to generate leads)
- announcing certain specific things, e.g. that the company won a prize, that a certain conference will take place (hoping to find more attendees), that a webinar is offered, etc.
The effectiveness of such banners depends on various factors; the most important ones are:
- The banner itself must be well made in various respects. Obviously, one should clearly identify its purpose and optimize it accordingly. It is not only a matter of good artwork.
- The web pages on which it is placed should have not only high traffic numbers, but should also have an audience which fits the purpose. For example, it is not effective to place advertising for some specific photonics product on the homepage of the big website, where the huge majority of users will have no interest in that product.
- In some cases, it is important to start a banner campaign early enough. For example, if you can place a banner in specific articles of our online encyclopedia, you can reach very precisely targeted people, but you should start early enough to get a substantial number of them.
According to my experience, advertising banners are widely considered as useless, and they are often placed only because they come as a part of a bigger advertising package for which one has decided. Personally, I do agree that the majority of banners which I have seen are probably close to useless, or at least not worth the cost. However, I am confident that well-made banners, placed on suitable pages, can absolutely serve their purpose well. And honestly, I don't say that only because we offer banners ourselves!
Mailing Campaigns and Newsletters
It is in principle a straight-forward method to send out letters or mails which motivate people to visit certain pages of your website – e.g. describing certain products or just presenting useful content so that they will come back and keep you in mind. One possibility is to build up your own newsletter, which can eventually be very fruitful, but be aware that it is a big undertaking which requires a lot of diligent work. It is much simpler and not even particularly expensive just to get some publishers to put your advertisements into their newsletter and spread it to a wide audience, but I think that this method is not likely to be very effective.
For more details, read my article on mailings for photonics marketing.
Social media have become extremely popular, and have also been established as advertising tools with interesting properties – in particular, their ability to precisely target people based on the detailed information in their profiles. In practice, however, you often cannot realize really precise targeting, since you are not given sufficiently precise targeting tools. For example, you may select people with certain interests, but then cannot narrow down to an audience having all those interests. Also, it can be difficult to find keywords which are specific enough and at the same time really appear in people's profiles. For example, how can you target photonics people if the resource does not have any business categories like photonics, optics or laser technology?
A major challenge is that for working out a comprehensive social media strategy – which is essential for obtaining real success – you have to commit major resources in terms of time and money, and this without precisely knowing how great the benefits will be in the end. Well, at least you may try certain campaigns which can work if specific conditions are fulfilled.
My article on social media marketing in photonics gives you some thoughts on creating and updating social media profiles and pages, principles of social media ads and various challenges.
Conclusions and Recommendations
Some important points to take home:
- Take your marketing serious because it is vital for commercial success.
- Before sending out a message, properly work it out. Try to tell your story through the eyes of your customer.
- Before starting some activities, first try to get a good overview of the different available marketing tools in your field, and think carefully about what can be most effective and efficient in your particular situation. A few hours of concentrated thinking (and brainstorming!) on such things can be extremely valuable. And these marketing articles will hopefully support you well.
- Measure and continuously improve your marketing, rather than just following untested beliefs. Stop wasting resources on activities where some effectiveness as not at least very plausible, or better tested.
Specific Articles on Photonics Marketing
For your convenience, here is a list of our articles on specific topics of photonics marketing:
|Trade shows and exhibitions
|Sponsored photonics webinars
|Mailings and newsletters
|Social media marketing
See also our glossary of photonics and later marketing.
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