Electronic Design

What's All This Marketing Stuff, Anyhow?

Okay, marketing is a dirty and nasty job, but somebody has to do it. Sometimes I put on my "marketing hat" and try to do some of it myself. But the best insight into that is the quote I have paraded before a couple thousand attendees at my recent linear seminars: "The only valid market survey is... a signed purchase order." Well over 2000 people attended these seminars, and nobody knew who said that. Answer below. Hint: He was one of the Fairchild Eight. Your chances of guessing the right answer are about one in 10.

Marketing has several tasks, all involving judgement (i.e. guessing). The marketing manager has to come up with the answer to: "If we brought out THIS product, with THAT set of features, would it be popular?"

If you guess right, you get to try again. If you guess wrong, you get to try again—at a different company.

Here at NSC, many people have tried to guess what the market would favor. I have heard several contradictory stories of which products were recommended by whom. Nobody ever said it was simple.

When I was at Philbrick, we had lots of great and profitable products that were invented by engineers. I guess there were some marketing guys, but I don't recall who. But when we had a great new product idea, they got the heck out of the way, greased the slides, and let us bring it out. Bob Malter's P2 was a fantastic example. Nobody ever asked for it until it popped out full-fledged. My 4701 series comprised very popular V-to-F converters, and nobody ever asked for them.

When I was leaving Philbrick in 1976, I looked at several other-companies. Some were run by engineers, and some were run by marketing people. The companies run by marketing people seemed to be proud of how they could imagine a new product that was great and force the engineers to make it. I could see where they had forced some amazing but overpriced (and not very attractive) products into the marketplace. But they had failed to bring out some naturally winning products. I recall that after I'd designed those V-to-F converters, the marketing guys at one company refused to believe there was any "market for VFCs." But finally the sales guys and engineers convinced them that while there was no "market" for them, there were customers, so they finally got into that business.

When I joined National, it was the other way around. In those days, it was easy to invent a new product that people would like—and love. We didn't have to ask the permission of any marketing manager. We just had to put on our marketing hats. It wasn't really hard, and some of us got pretty good at it.

I mean, every new product I designed started with the concept of a datasheet for the new product. I would invent all sorts of features I wanted to make the datasheet look great. Then I would start my circuit design to try to meet all those specs and features. Occasionally, I had to redesign the datasheet, or the circuit, to get closer agreement. And all this time, I kept thinking about the features that would make me happy if I were a potential customer. Thinking like a customer is not too bad a way to design products.

So the guy who said that quotable saying was Jay Last, one of the Fairchild Eight and a very knowledgeable guy. In his context, it was largely true. His marketing guy could ask many customers, "Who would like to buy THIS integrated function, or a new silicon planar THAT?" Very few people would say "no." But did they vote with their dollars when the product came out? Not so fast!

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