Making the most of a recession

Recently, a number of manufacturers have entered the machine-vision market with products ranging from lighting devices and frame grabbers to DSP image processors. With the introduction of these products, many of these manufacturers have targeted OEMs that integrate systems across several industries for biomedical, industrial, and military applications.

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Recently, a number of manufacturers have entered the machine-vision market with products ranging from lighting devices and frame grabbers to DSP image processors. With the introduction of these products, many of these manufacturers have targeted OEMs that integrate systems across several industries for biomedical, industrial, and military applications.

Obtaining large contracts for these products across a number of industries can, however, be an uphill struggle, especially for those companies with revenues of less than $10 million. These companies generally exhibit at trade shows, covering applications from biometrics, security, and applied optics to machine vision. They usually position their products, often with third-party software products, tailored for those applications.

Although this approach appears difficult from a marketing and sales perspective, it has some benefits. In a recession, some markets, such as semiconductor inspection, are harder hit than others. As a result, vision companies that have targeted different end-user markets are less threatened, since offering products across numerous markets protects them from rapid slowdowns in any specific market.

Although many OEM vendors have succeeded with this approach, others have found that targeting specific markets such as medical imaging can be more profitable. Indeed, because of the seeming lack of awareness of the potential of imaging products in specific markets, many OEM suppliers can forge marketing strongholds. In this way, they can establish relationships with a handful ofFortune 500 companies to make their own companies successful.

Unfortunately, just as companies that target a broad range of markets are more protected in a recession, those that have targeted specific markets are less protected. At present, vision and lighting companies with the majority of their sales in the semiconductor market are in an unenviable position. On the other hand, sales of OEM imaging vendors diversified into scientific, machine-vision, medical, and security applications are less affected.

Whichever approach a company has taken, properly marketing OEM vision or image-processing products becomes more important in a recession. Before sales start to slow, companies should realize that marketing consists of more than a cleverly designed Web site. Unfortunately, during the "dot.com" craze, many companies saw the Web-site-only approach as the nirvana of sales and marketing.

Now, with that craze gone, many sites are fading away. Moreover, as a recession invades more high-technology markets, companies must re-evaluate their marketing approaches and do more to promote their products. Many companies in the imaging business choose not to discuss their products with the trade press. Most, however, managed to develop Web sites. Unfortunately, what many companies failed to realize was that they had to promote a Web site as they would a product.

Lately, many companies have introduced new products, technologies, and applications that have been promoted "quietly." Many of these new items have been "discovered" at trade shows, seminars and conferences, company visits, executive interviews, user groups on the Web, by searching the Web, and reading lesser-known publications.

Especially during a recession, sales and marketing departments should be exploiting "quiet times" by grabbing industry attention with an active promotion program. This was effectively done at the recent International Robotics & Vision show (seeVision Systems Design, July 2001, p. 21). Despite the "dark cloud of a recession," numerous new vision products, technologies, and applications were introduced.

The results spoke for themselves: a higher than usual level of industry activity, communication, interaction, and networking.

by Andy Wilson
EDITOR
andyw@pennwell.com

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