The heart of the integrated marketing communications program flows from a clearly defined "top-down" plan in the form of corporate objectives and strategies to achieve them. The strategies are grouped accordingly: products/cores, prices/licensing/royalties, and promotion. Emphasis is on the integrated plan that ties all external communications together.
How to implement the program is a key issue. In a developing company, the president or the VP of marketing could wear the internal PR hat. Later, a skilled professional can be dedicated to this task. Assuming the company has funding or seed capital, I recommend a high-tech external PR firm that understands the IP scene from an international basis. From my experience, engineering-oriented IP companies need the services of a professional PR firm to help them craft corporate, market, technology, and product messages. They can also be very helpful in setting up the message development and competitive differentiation for product launches. But how do you find the right PR agency? Get recommendations from industry associations (e.g., SIA, FSA, others) and strategic partners, and look at whom the competition is using. Though PR agency budgets vary according to the tasks to be performed, a typical number might be in the $100,000-per-year range.
What's in a Name?
Choosing the company name is one of the most important strategic decisions in the life of a startup. If not done correctly, changing the name later, for whatever reason, will be more costly and time consuming. Name changes also entail explaining the new image to the market.
In today's Internet age, one of the key constraints should be that the domain name is available or can acquired for a reasonable price. The Internet now dominates company naming strategies. Your name must come up in searches related to your products and services. Naming strategies are beyond the scope of this report but in a nutshell it should include these characteristics:
- Internet domain name or derivative is available
- Memorable, catchy, fun, easy to say, unique selling proposition
- Not too long, confusing, or have unintended meanings
- Use as trademark, does not violate existing trademarks
- Reflective of business now and in future
- Avoid the commonplace and generic, the trendy, the acronym
As a founder, do not come up with a name by yourself -- sometimes done by founders who look at their ventures as their baby. Do not worry too much about the company logo initially but treat this seemingly easy company naming task as one of the most important decisions to be made. Brainstorm, work the thesaurus, search the web, do trademark search, consult with PR experts, test it with industry contacts in your field, sleep over it, brainstorm some more. When it all resonates and passes the tests, you have found a good to great name.
For semiconductor startups, the basic concept that they're "market-driven," not "marketing-driven," is crucial. If market-driven, the company develops services, IP, and products based on the market's (or the customer's) needs. A marketing-driven company, on the other hand, emphasizes advertising and other techniques in order to create demand. This is an important distinction because chip makers sometimes invent products and services after inadequate or faulty market analysis: These companies have very likely tried to drive demand via massive advertising campaigns--with disastrous results.
An integrated marketing communications program is the proper mix of all communications elements required to execute a company's stated promotion strategy. In the semiconductor industry, these elements are typically collateral materials, sales promotion materials, display advertising, direct marketing, trade shows, seminars and workshops, speaker or authorship opportunities, and press relations. Today, a presence on the Internet has also become very important. A cohesive corporate Web site not only has a growing impact on initial customer perceptions, but it permeates other aspects of external communications with customers.
A company's promotion strategy must be "top down," based on corporate objectives, and driven by accurate analysis of the current and potential markets.
My recommendation, then, is that the first and foremost task should be to take care of the Web. This wasn't my advice five years ago, but today a Web address is paramount: If you don't have one, you're not on the radar screen. Register a good domain name and create the best site you can within budget. The fine points of Web site development are beyond the scope of this discussion, but here are some general tips: In addition to the typical company presentation, make sure the design communicates the image your company wants to project. Post such information as corporate background, biographies of key executives (with pictures), press releases, articles, and some typical successful project engagements. Remember, the Web is a worldwide medium, so speak the language of your audience. If a significant portion of your market is in Japan, for instance, consider a bilingual version of your site down the road.
From the electronic versions, printed versions of the various collateral documents can follow. Develop a company press kit consisting of corporate backgrounder, product information, biographies, case studies, and photos of key executives. Make sure these collateral materials tie in with the company name, logo, and image.
Have PR, Will Market
Next, focus on press relations. This activity entails establishing relationships with key press members and analysts who cover your specific industry. Write up press releases when the company has new developments. Try to figure out what's innovative and unique about your company and tie it in with the write-ups. Then send them by business wire services, by post, and by e-mail. Press releases have two big advantages over advertising: published press releases carry credibility, and they also often constitute a third-party endorsement. For that reason, it's important to form good press relations with key analysts and luminaries in your industry.
I consider writing articles for trade publications a very important part of the press relations program. The company's top management should foster an authorship program among its employees: Draft a plan, tout it, create incentives for writers, and have an annual "silver quill" award day for the best articles. Make such activities a big deal from a management viewpoint. In the meantime, keep an updated index of magazines and their editorial calendars that apply to your specific products and services. Contact their editors four to five months in advance to offer article proposals and ideas. Relationship building with editors is a surefire way to establish good PR.
Don't neglect display advertising, for it's an efficient way to reach targeted audiences. One disadvantage of press releases is that coverage isn't assured; when you place a display ad, though, you know the message will be printed when and where you want it. It's more expensive, but its cost effectiveness can be improved by carefully choosing media that reach the target audience. For effective space advertising, consult with an industry professional: I view it as more of an art than a science.
Overall, advertising can accomplish a number of tasks: establish contact with new customers, create awareness, raise interest, build preferences, and keep customers sold. Effective advertising, though, requires a careful balance of various factors: the message, the product and/or service, the current perception of ranking in the market, a creative strategy and execution, concentration and dominance, frequency, reach, repetition, continuity, and media selection.
Icing on the Cake
Direct mail is another promotion venue to consider. Now more commonly called "target marketing," direct mail delivers a more pinpointed message to a specially selected audience. Though each direct mail campaign can cost more than a space advertisement, it's definitely less expensive than sales calls. Direct mail is popular in the U.S., so it can be used effectively for selected promotion objectives. For example, you can advertise your new state-of-the-art Web site with a postcard to current and prospective customers.
Finally, trade shows and conferences are important ingredients in the marketing communications mix. These industry gatherings are good opportunities to meet potential customers and contacts efficiently--as well as check out the competition. For IP companies, some of the more important shows to consider are those industry-specific conferences in the U.S., Europe, and Asia: DAC, DesignCon, and the Embedded Systems Conference, to name a few.
Trade shows and conferences also add ancillary benefits, such as providing speaking opportunities. Treat those opportunities the same as you would the placement of articles in publications--they're excellent PR vehicles for the company. The CEO and top marketing executive should actively participate in the presentations.
Whatever the specifics of your marketing communications campaign, plan it a year in advance. Monitor, adjust, and stick with the program. Your small company won't be able to visit every potential engineer who may need your chip or IP; yet you need them to think of you when a project comes up that may utilize the kind of technology your company offers. Work smart by having a sustained, long-term push to approach your engineering audience in a variety of ways.