Commodity prices demand new marketing methods

With the increasing use of digital cameras, frame grabbers, and PC-based software, the cost of image processing has been reduced dramatically during the past few years. With these products steadily approaching near-commodity prices, imaging-product suppliers are facing new challenges in the way they market, promote, and sell their wares. For example, 15 years ago, the cost of a Multibus-based image-processing board was around $10,000. The associated bus-board manufacturers--about four of them at

Commodity prices demand new marketing methods

Andy Wilson Editor at Large

andyw@pennwell.com

With the increasing use of digital cameras, frame grabbers, and PC-based software, the cost of image processing has been reduced dramatically during the past few years. With these products steadily approaching near-commodity prices, imaging-product suppliers are facing new challenges in the way they market, promote, and sell their wares. For example, 15 years ago, the cost of a Multibus-based image-processing board was around $10,000. The associated bus-board manufacturers--about four of them at the time--could build products and wait for customers to arrive on the doorstep. Under these conditions, little or no major marketing effort was required to build a $20 million company.

Today, market conditions have radically changed. Now the functionality of arithmetic logic units has been combined with image digitization, host processing, and display and input/output control on PCI add-in boards that cost around $4000. That works out to be approximately ten times the functionality at half the price. Consequently, several companies have entered the image-processing market with products that range from $400 to $4000.

Differentiating certain products, such as frame grabbers, in a marketplace of 50 companies and 200 products has become increasingly difficult. To do so, vendors must leverage every marketing and sales tool possible, such as public relations, trade shows, websites, and magazine advertising, to differentiate their products and gain or maintain market share. But it is surprising how few companies understand this market scenario.

In preparing articles for Vision Systems Design, I often use the Web to find new companies. In doing so, I discover companies that have never, it seems, issued a news release or given papers at a trade conference--free publicity that they could have leveraged into future product sales. Trade shows, such as The Vision Show, are also good venues for OEMs to display their products.

But some companies stay away from trade shows. And I can`t believe that it is the cost of a small trade-show booth that keeps them away. From my viewpoint, by highlighting their products at such public events, these companies feel threatened by the competition.

Even "free" Web-based publicity is not being adopted correctly by many companies. Here, both large and small companies have not implemented easy-to-surf sites. Large companies often make it difficult for viewers to find such basic information as corporate, sales, and service addresses or an e-mail address to obtain more information. It seems that many companies set up their sites as long and static television ads.

In the image-processing industry, websites are even worse. Not only do some companies forget their corporate address, but they also merely download data sheets on their sites in Acrobat format. However, the major deficiency is the lack of worthwhile information on about 90% of these sites. Apart from product data there is, very often, no literature, sales-office lists, technical application notes, or application success stories published. This shortage of data is extremely frustrating to a technical-magazine editor and interested buyers.

To find an explanation, I confronted the vice president of an imaging company and asked for his thoughts about the World Wide Web. "Quite frankly," he said, "I wish it would go away. I don`t want the competition to know what we are doing."

Unfortunately, that`s exactly what has kept the machine-vision and imaging industry from growing into a major marketplace.

More in Cables & Connectivity