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Understanding electronics industry trends helps marketers connect

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As president of CMP Media's Electronics Group, Paul Miller is responsible for the print publications, Web sites and events of brands including EE Times, Embedded Systems Design and Techonline.com. He also has led the group's global expansion into research, analysis and consulting with various acquisitions. In the 16 years he has been at the company, Miller has developed a keen sense of what information electronics engineers seek, as well as the best ways to deliver that information to them. Here, he shares some of what he's learned.

BtoB: What kinds of information do electronics engineers want?

Miller: What design engineers want—and I extend that into engineering managers, VPs-engineering, et cetera—is two basic forms of information that we term "heads-up" and "heads-down." In heads-up, they need to understand what's happening in the marketplace from a trend perspective—so market intelligence, what their competitors are doing, who's in the Apple iPhone and how they got designed in, who's buying whom and what's new out there.

That's very interesting and important information for these folks. Then there's a whole other set, which I would call heads-down. It's very much how to build something [or how to solve problems]. And that's detailed tutorials, how-to design information, education and in some cases it's actually trying things out with real tools and/or virtual labs. ... There's a real need for understanding and continued education.

One of the greatest fears of engineers is technical obsolescence; they fear they're going to be left behind.

BtoB: What industry trends are informing the way companies market to this group?

Miller: This is a very global industry. A lot of manufacturing and testing is done outside of the U.S., even if the U.S. remains a design hub. Again, I'll use the Apple example—designed in the U.S., built in China. ... China is moving away from [only] manufacturing and starting to do some of its own design. So that becomes quite an important trend for marketers. India has always had a very good design aspect, particularly on the software side, and is sort of now maturing, if you will, and is becoming a hub in some places for design, as are places like Israel and Eastern Europe. So a very global industry, and any marketer that's worth their salt, has to have a global plan—not just a U.S. plan—in the electronics space.

The other trend is the continued move of engineers into that how-to space, particularly in areas of education: download courses, e-learning, all those kind of things. Interestingly, we're starting to see the beginnings of engineers engaging in what I would call "immersive environments online." So beyond a publication Web site, but a true environment, where it could be a serious game; it could be a design contest; it could be a whole digital home that people can come in and learn about all of the standards from a design aspect, but in the actual environment of a virtual home online—where you can click on the toaster, or the security system or the entertainment system and learn all about the design standards beneath that. We're finding that those new types of Web environments are quite engaging for engineers. Instead of spending a minute on a Web site, they'll spend 15 minutes in these environments.

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