The cross-functional decision team cares about solutions, not flash.

Our economic roller coaster is not the only face of uncertainty in the electronics manufacturing services account acquisition process. Traditional marketing channels are continuing to evolve. Media companies and trade show organizers are consolidating. Publications are disappearing (or reappearing with new looks). More content is delivered online.

All this change has disadvantages. EMS has always chased a niche audience: the cross-functional decision team. Most of these people aren’t sitting in cubicles surfing the net, reading promotional emails, frequently attending industry trade conferences or scheduling meetings with the salespeople hanging out in their lobby. Over the past several years, they’ve seen their departments downsized and budgets cut while their workloads and performance targets increase. They aren’t interested in flashy messages or slogans, but they are interested in solutions that address the challenges they face.

While consolidation continues in EMS, more available options for reaching the cross-functional decision team ensure it constantly is bombarded by messages from far more EMS providers than it needs to explore. Relevant messages get lost in the “noise.” Worse, methodologies for really understanding true readership or attendance at an event are deteriorating. The speed at which publications and trade shows change focus or venues makes it difficult to assess accurate readership or attendance prior to purchasing ads or leasing booth space. That said, properly structured, the ability to track readership of a given ad or white paper is far better than it was even five years ago. Trade show data for a show that stays in the same place year-to-year are also good.

The rules of the game haven’t changed. EMS is still an educated sell. If you can reach the decision team and deliver a focused message that clearly addresses how your company will solve their problems, you will compete on quality of solution rather than price alone. In the absence of a clearly defined solution, OEMs select the contractor that represents the safest choice in terms of lowest price, position in the industry, or geography they are told to source. The trick is selecting the best channels for message distribution: Typically, that is an integrated sales and marketing strategy.

While publication selection remains highly variable depending on services sold, industries targeted and decision team member focus, there finally is a little clarity in the trade show realm. How long that will last is anyone’s guess because the economy will ultimately determine what show attendance looks like in 2011. I’ve just come back from IPC Midwest and SMTAI. Since I’ve been critical of the number of shows in past columns, I think this is a good time to discuss some positive trends I’ve seen in these venues.

This year IPC combined with Canon Communications (now UBM Canon, thanks to a recent merger) to present Electronics Midwest. In my opinion, this was a great move for EMS companies, as well as attendees of both shows. Having IPC Midwest run in Schaumburg, IL, while Canon’s MDM Midwest and associated shows ran simultaneously 20 minutes away in Rosemont was confusing to attendees and split the potential attendee base. The combined shows use the conveniently located Rosemont Convention Center, present a strong technical conference and have enough diversification in exhibits to attract good potential prospects for EMS providers. The MDM series of shows reaches the EMS decision team far better than any IPC show. However, the IPC-led technical conference does a far better job of delivering “must see” content to technical members of the decision team. Most important, overworked decision teams have a regional venue where they can look at a variety of exhibitors and catch up on relevant technical and business issues.

Former IPC Midwest exhibitor comments suggested that leads were significantly better than the prior year’s split show. Compared to Apex, the latter is more of an equipment show than a venue likely to attract a strong number of pure EMS prospects. As with SMTAI, Apex’s technical conference provides networking opportunities with OEM personnel that may be able to provide insight to their companies’ sourcing plans, but neither show is a strong EMS lead-generating option. Electronics Midwest stands as a good regional play for reaching medical EMS prospects, with possibly some attendance from other OEMs looking for equipment or attending the conference.

Traffic was up at SMTAI this year, and a number of smaller equipment vendors exhibited for the first time. While not a great EMS show, it is a good networking venue. While it is hard to predict what next year will bring as the show moves to Dallas, I think the move is positive.

Overall, traffic at all electronics industry shows increased this year. Part of this is economic recovery. Part is more focused show options. And probably the biggest part is component allocation and uncertainty over what the economy will do next. People are networking and listening in higher numbers than last year. It is a good time to put out a strong message: Trade show exhibits and conference presentations for now are viable options.

Susan Mucha is president of Powell-Mucha Consulting Inc. (, and author of Find It. Book It. Grow It. A Robust Process for Account Acquisition in Electronics Manufacturing Services; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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