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OUTLOOK 2018 – Content is King, but what does this mean for distributors and their customers?

Graham Maggs, vice president, marketing, EMEA

Content marketing is a term that is bandied about a lot these days – more colloquially, it is often expressed as: ‘Content is King‘. But what does that really mean – is it a trend or a short-lived fad? And why should design engineers care?

The role of distribution has evolved. Originally, distributors were pioneers who hopped on a plane at the whiff of a new technology so they could sign a deal before their competitors. Gradually, though, semiconductor and component manufacturers came to understand the key role that distibution could play in opening new markets and providing real customer value.

Then, of course, manufacturers saw the economic benefit of focusing on what they were good at – product conceptualising, design and fabrication – leaving distributors to service customers directly. This meant that manufacturers no longer needed to maintain large offices with many sales personnel in every territory. Now, most design enginers buy through distribution – this means they are also looking to get the information and support they need from distributors.

Mark Burr-Lonnon, Mouser’s senior vice president, EMEA , Asia and Global Service, has often described Mouser as a marketing operation that specialises in electronics, but marketing has had to change in order to remain relevant. In reality, marketing has always relied on good content – a well-written article, informative advertisement, eye-catching exhibition graphics – crucially delivered in the right context. Today, people want and need much more and they are not prepared to accept poor quality material. The best distributors work very hard to build opt-in databases, so they need to maintain a very high quality level of any form of content they distribute because that ‘unsubscribe’ button is always prominent and many people, over-burdened with spam, delight in deleting emails unread.

So what constitutes good content? It’s quite simple: good content is material that the reader finds interesting and useful. Whilst it may be simple to describe, it’s hard to achieve because every reader has different needs and levels of knowledge, which will change constantly. Two decades ago, when the web was just starting, engineers thought it was miraculous to be able to access datasheets without waiting for the mail to arrive or a sales person to call. Thick catalogues and databooks that were out of date before they had even been printed had been the best source of information, and design departments even used to delegate junior members of the team – maybe an apprentice – to build data libraries. Well; we’ve moved on!

Mouser’s web site now includes white papers, trend articles, technical articles, videos, blogs and applications notes. Then, of course, there are social media/business networking sites, which enable manufacturers, distributors and customers to interact in a personal and immediate way within a community, but we’ll come back to that.

In essence, distributors must become a knowledge centre – perhaps the knowledge centre – for their customers. Everyone’s time is limited, design engineers with tight time-to-market deadlines more than most. They cannot afford the time to scour websites from Analog Devices to Zarlink. They want ideas, inspiration, solutions – and, ideally, need to find all this information in one place.

This is where distribution can play a vital role. Mouser, for example, represents more than 600 manufacturers. It has pulled together information from all of these suppliers and tries hard to present it in a way which makes it easy for designers to find what they need. Let’s look at an example.

The Applications & Technology section of Mouser’s web site is the best place to start. Eleven applications sections are complemented by 24 technologies sections – everything from Energy Harvesting to the IoT, Power, RF, Robotics, USB and Wireless. This resource is being continually added to and updated.

If we look, for instance, at Security, various suggestions include an IP camera. Click on the image and a typical block diagram appears, which lists all the necessary functions, ranging from video amplifier, through transceiver, processor and memory, power management, clock, connector, speaker and motor control. Click on any of these and a list of suppliers and appropriate products appears. These link, of course, to datasheets and further apps notes. If you go into this section of the site through ‘technologies’, the most common product types are listed with links through to manufacturers and specific devices. Technical tutorials, videos, articles and white papers relating to each subject are included.

“By developing different types of content as a knowledge centre and delivering them together with the design ecosystem, distributors can address the challenging issue of each customer needing different types and levels of information.”

Graham Maggs

importantly, details of design tools are included too. Mouser believes that development support such as dev kits, eval boards and reference designs are vital, especially for design engineers – Mouser’s key audience.

Mouser calls this broad offering of devices, design tools and reference material, the design ecosystem. It believes that designers need hardware, software and IP from one place – and, in this respect, only distributors can satisfy this requirement.

By developing these different types of content as a knowledge centre and delivering them together with the design ecosystem, distributors can address the challenging issue of each customer needing different types and levels of information. The more information that customers can provide about their specific requirements, the more we can match the material we send them to suit their needs.

We mentioned Social Media; Mouser participates fully in all the world’s prominent Social Media sites, yet does not believe that its role is to create such a site. We leave the platform-building to the specialists – LinkedIn, YouTube, Facebook – preferring to deliver content (that word again) appropriate for each user platform.

To increase the quality of material delivered (using every medium) to its customers, Mouser is investing in technical marketing support. This is resulting in some very interesting programmes through traditional and non-traditional channels.

Beginning with the traditional approach, Mouser partnered at the recent Electronics Design Show with key companies, including Texas Instruments and Red Pitaya, sponsoring two workshop sessions highlighting specific innovative solutions.

Red Pitaya’s CTO, Črt Valentinčič, discussed its versatile tool that serves as a core building block for developing advanced projects in diverse applications including: 4D imaging of the Earth’s atmosphere; quality testing of steel pipes and bananas; power fingerprinting for cybersecurity; and software-defined radio. Using Red Pitaya, companies can test or prototype products faster and cost effective or even integrate it into new products. Then Garry Clarkson, senior FAE, Embedded Processing and Connectivity, at Texas Instruments outlined how BlueTooth 5 can improve existing designs and be an enabling technology for new projects.

Moving on to newer-style forums, Mouser is sponsoring a new facility at the Politecnico di Torino, the Contamination Lab & Innovation Kitchen (CLIK), a centre for innovative project and prototype development providing students with a design space. CLIK offers a stimulating environment where people with different backgrounds challenge themselves and one another to use the latest advanced technologies for innovation.

The opening event featured a hackathon, where students competed to develop a project and produce a working prototype for the creation of an innovative voice-controlled virtual assistant. This required skilful integration of leading technologies like intelligent voice recognition, using tools like the Raspberry PI 3 to create a smart environment using a voice-activated virtual butler. The hands-on opportunity to ‘make’ gave the students an innovative way to experiment and apply their classroom knowledge. They will also be able to promote innovative concepts that generate business ideas or new patents, using the knowledge-transfer services offered at the Politecnico.

A third example of Mouser becoming closely involved with innovative design is demonstrated by its support of events run by Hardware Pioneers, a community of more than 6000 people building IoT products. In May, Hardware Pioneers ran a very successful conference covering ‘The Role of Design and UX in IoT Products’ and, more recently, the ‘IoT and Connected Hardware Showcase’, attended by around 300 people wanting to explore products being demonstrated by some of the UK’s best IoT start-ups.

The message is simple: if distributors are to stay relevant to the markets and customers they serve, they must participate fully in the innovation process. For Mouser, as well as offering the latest products and technologies, this means playing an active role within the electronics design community worldwide and becoming a knowledge centre for designers and developers with easily-available high quality and, above all, useful content.

MOUSER ELECTRONICS

Mouser Electronics, a Berkshire Hathaway company, is an award-winning, authorised semiconductor and electronic component distributor focused on rapid New Product Introductions from its manufacturing partners for electronic design engineers and buyers. The global distributor’s website is available in multiple languages and currencies and features more than 4million products from over 600 manufacturers. Mouser offers 22 support locations around the world to provide best-in-class customer service and ships globally to over 550,000 customers in 170 countries from its 750,000 sq. ft. state-of-the-art facility south of Dallas.

Author
Graham Maggs

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