Aris Silzars Display Technology Consulting

DISPLAY CONSULTING

The Best Product at the Lowest Price...September 2000

It was a late Thursday afternoon at the Long Beach Convention Center. The bright overhead mercury arc lamps in the empty exhibition hall were illuminating a vast expanse of bare, gray concrete flooring. A few pieces of cardboard and styrofoam were strewn here and there. The room conveyed the feeling of desolate emptiness. It seemed that at any moment one could expect a tumbleweed or two to come bounding by.

A few hours earlier, Jay Morreale and I had stood near the entrance door and watched as the exhibition of the Year-2000 SID Symposium had come to an end and the rapid dismantling began. For the previous two and a half days, the Long Beach Convention Center had been a bustle of activity as the venue for yet another successful SID Symposium with a record number of booths and exhibitors showing the full gamut of the latest in displays and display-related products. Now all the activity was focused on dismantling, packing, and moving out -- for shipment back to the factory or perhaps on to the next show.

The speed with which all this took place was quite amazing. The left-over sales literature quickly found its way back into the thoughtfully-retained cardboard boxes. The working displays were unplugged, disassembled, and repacked into their custom-designed crates. Other products, signs, and visual aids similarly disappeared with urgent efficiency. And somewhere in this process, the recently-carpeted floor reverted back to its hard gray concrete. Is this the modern-day high-technology version of a circus coming to town? Months of promotion, planning, and preparation all culminating in three-days of frenzied activity -- activity focused on presenting the latest and greatest display-related products to a world-wide technical community.

During their heyday, around the beginning of the twentieth century, circuses had mixed reputations. While serving the purpose of bringing novel entertainment experiences and occasionally even providing acts of skill and daring to a population that was far less mobile than today's, they were also known for over-promotion and occasionally even for misrepresentation. A few perpetrated outright fraud in the sideshows and carnival areas that accompanied the main ring events. Eventually, even with limited long-distance communications, the word got out and at least the worst offenders were forced to tone down their claims. Of course, as the years passed, as people began to travel more, and as locally available entertainment in the form of movies and the new electronic medium called television became more prevalent, most of these circuses did not survive. Only the few that could adapt to match the higher standards of entertainment that people were becoming accustomed to seeing were able to continue their existence.

Promoting, selling, advertising -- really, who needs them! If I have a great product, people will find me and buy it. And if I have created this great product and can sell it at the lowest price, then why would anyone need for me to give them a "sales pitch." Promotion and advertising should only be necessary for those who have poor products or those who want to run a circus. Right?

Well, a few years ago I visited a microelectronics factory in one of the republics of the former Soviet Union. The factory was badly in need of some new production equipment but otherwise still had decent capability to produce low-complexity analog ICs. Up until the collapse of the Soviet Union, they had always built to a demand that was set by a central planning committee. These committees decided which products needed to be built, in what quantities, and which factories would build them. Since shortages were the norm, anything that could be produced was always accepted by the customers -- in this case, the various other electronic equipment factories. Selling, advertizing, and promotion were neither necessary nor even understood as a concept. The government committees also decided where specific factories would be located, what they would produce, and who would be the recipients of their products.

During my visit, I tried my best to explain the basics of marketing and selling and how world-wide competition determines the acceptable price and quality of the goods that customers select for purchase. After several hours of discussion, my hosts told me that while they greatly appreciated my explanation and could comprehend the theory behind what I was trying to convey, the strategy that they would follow would be to act like a spider that spins a web and then waits for a fly (or perhaps another insect-like customer) to stumble into it. As far as I know, several years later, they are still waiting for that first client-fly.

No matter how excellent the product or how attractive the price, the information that describes the benefits must reach potential customers. And since many others are seeking to accomplish the same goal, the process becomes a challenging one.

Selling products -- high-tech or otherwise -- is demanding work. Most of the time, it is not at all obvious that a given product is the best one or has the lowest price. In fact, most of the time it isn't. And even while there may be an occasional optimum match with a particular customer, other customers will most likely have different needs and compromises will have to be made.

Computers, wireless communications, and the Internet have not made the product selection process significantly easier. They have provided the tools for faster communications and for the ability to access a wider user base, but the basic process of identifying customers' needs and meeting them with excellent products has not changed. It is still necessary to disseminate the information to as wide a customer base as appropriate. Brand identities and company reputations are as important as they ever were. Perhaps, the lack of personal service and sales expertise that the Internet and mail-order shopping inherently impose, places and even greater importance on a company's reputation.

For a technical client community, such as represented by the SID, what better opportunity does a company have to show its products or capabilities then at an exhibition such as the one in Long Beach? In this setting, operating samples can demonstrate a product's full capabilities, the best technical experts can be made available to answer the most challenging questions, and personal relationships can be built that will lead to future opportunities for mutually beneficial business interactions.

None of this can be done as effectively on the Internet. How can we effectively demonstrate a new display product using a remote display terminal of another kind? How many e-mails does it take to locate the appropriate expert to answer a difficult technical question? How long is it likely to take by e-mail to develop a close business friendship -- as close as from sharing just one meal together?

For these reasons, I am not all that enthusiastic about e-commerce or the many dot-com companies that have recently sprung up. I think there is more to buying and selling than just the convenience of electronic order entry. Product demonstrations in "real" stores, personal service, and the ability to easily return a disappointing product are not such bad ideas after all. For us in the technical community, the benefits of personal relationships and the need to carefully evaluate display products by up-close scrutiny and with our own eyes will not go away. In fact, as we continue to develop new technologies and diversity the existing technologies with an ever-broadening set of products, we can expect to see the annual SID exhibition and related events take on even greater importance.

Selling a technology, a product, or service is indeed a challenging task. There is no better way to do it than in-person with a live sample. For this reason, I extend my welcome to you to join me at future SID exhibitions which will be even grander than the one held this year in Long Beach.

To discuss this topic further, or others of your choosing, you may contact me by e-mail at Email, by telephone at 425-557-8850, by FAX at 425-557-8983, or by regular mail at 22513 SE 47th Place, Sammamish, WA 98075.