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Lessons from Pittcon 2015
Published by Bill White , March 19th, 2015
Bill WhiteLast week was my 30th Pittcon meeting. My first was in Atlantic City, NJ, on the boardwalk where entrepreneurs new to marketing set up their booths with homemade displays and goofy giveaways while pipe organ music played in the background before the morning opening. The Melody Lounge beckoned across the street as an after-hours watering hole.
 
At the time my role at Forma Scientific was in engineering; I was in charge of technical systems documentation. As a technical writer with an English degree (and working on an economics degree at night) I quickly earned a reputation within Forma as “the guy who explains things”. I wrote operating and maintenance manuals detailing systems and components associated with a range of environmental conditions, from CO2 incubators and humidity chambers to ultra-low temperature freezers and light stability cabinets. As a former news reporter, I didn’t find much difference in explaining the function of a cascade refrigeration system than covering a city council meeting.
 
Several times I have experienced the evolution of an emerging growth technology company from an innovation engine to a business enterprise. My first was with Forma Scientific. Another was with Queue Systems where I was a co-founder. Fast forward to OffWhite, thirty years ago, with many client companies along the way. While technology and intellectual property remains at the heart of any growing company, nothing matters unless marketing can empower sales and turbocharge the value proposition to send a great idea into orbit. (See my earlier blog on Stranded Capital.)
 
Pittcon is smaller now, much different from the Wild West (East) days of Atlantic City where the hard work of launching new products and setting up an exhibit was a team effort that brought together engineering and sales with marketing and finance; ultimately, we all drove the truck. Perhaps companies such as this exist in the “New Exhibitor” aisles in the Pittcon exhibit hall and, if they do, God bless them. They’re having the most fun.
 
I walked the aisles, talked with exhibitors, publishers, industry association executives and even the Pittcon staff on the floor. I met with independent sales representatives, dealers, distributors from around the world and others who were entering this market for the first time. Here’s what I brought home
  1. Brains, Not Money Will Pave the Way  OffWhite was in New Orleans for some hands-on work with existing clients. As a marketing firm we also wanted to explore where we match up with new clients who want to grow. We observed some companies spending money on marketing without solid plans in place, without clarity in desired outcomes and without a command of the marketing toolbox. We saw exhibits that shouted and screamed in graphic outbursts that would chase off a thief. The disciplined companies, large and small, stood out as professionals who offer confidence and credibility along with the next best idea. We call that branding. Once again, we concluded that you can’t buy your way into this market; you have to think your way into it.
  2. Training and Education is the DNA of technology marketing. If you are a marketer, you’re an educator. Placing new technologies into context amid a global environment, and empowering the newest sales or service rep hired is essential to growth. That’s the curriculum. The best customer is an educated customer.
  3. Digital Asset Management is like herding cats. The ability to plan, organize, inventory and maintain a portfolio of intellectual property – from trademarks and patents to value statements, images, illustrations, videos and online libraries– is the foundation for professional brand management. There is no substitute, no shortcut.
  4. Integration is the key to efficiency. You don’t want to spend the same money twice. What you invest in one place must apply to another, worldwide. We connect the dots.
  5. Content is King. This takes me back to my early days where things were simpler but much less efficient. Today, with all of the websites and social media and gnashing of teeth, content still matters first in technology marketing. I’ve often quoted Marshall McLuhan who said “the medium is the message”. Mix this idea with websites, blogs, social media, SEO, analytics and blimps with flashing lights and we’ve stepped into a fine mess. Today, we see companies spending working capital (which we monitor through our analytic programs) without any understanding of what they get in return. Leading the way down this path are so-called marketing people, either inside or outside the company, who have never had to sell a thing, never called on a customer, never been in a lab, never watched a research project die because of a product failure, never had to make a payroll, never had to strip a technology down to its fundamental processes and explain why it’s valuable to your life’s work.
  6. Technology Marketing is Hard. If we were selling perfume, marketing would be easy. Selling perfume is selling hope. But in our world here in the weeds there is no glamour. You either understand the product or you don’t.  You can explain it or you can’t. You can spoon feed value or you can try to cram it into a bundled purchase deal where an uneducated customer has no idea what’s in store. Weeds or not, there is no place to hide in our world. Accuracy and attention to detail can be so irritating, don't you think?
Training and education. Digital asset management. Integration. Strategy. Content. Technical marketing. This is what we do at OffWhite. This is why we have continued to invest in Pittcon and other technology exhibitions each year for more than 30 years. If you need assistance in building and managing a sustainable technology marketing program in support of a global brand, we can help. Call or email Bill White, 740-373-9010.
 
Next up: American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), Philadelphia, April 18-22, 2015. Abby Spung and I be in the exhibit hall Monday and Tuesday, April 20-21. For a quick chat call our main office or drop us an email.
 
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Offenberger & White, Inc. (OffWhite) is an integrated marketing solutions company based in Marietta, Ohio, USA.
 
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