Trade Shows and the Semiconductor Equipment and Materials Industry
Trade shows and expositions have been widely used in many industries as an effective marketing medium to find new customers, improve business relationships with existing customers, introduce new products and services, and deliver many other meaningful and tangible business outcomes. The importance of trade shows in any particular industry varies depending on the complexity of the products and customer relationships, the purchasing needs of buyers and specifiers, the geographical dispersion of the market, and many other factors. In the semiconductor equipment and materials industry, SEMICON trade shows have emerged as a critical step in the purchasing process for every major customer, and an essential business activity for nearly all the market leaders. This article will explore why SEMICON trade shows have become so essential to the industry—and why they remain influential in the purchasing of equipment and materials.
The first SEMICON exposition was held in 1971 in the San Mateo, California fairgrounds to bring together the various companies, experts and enthusiasts in the fledgling semiconductor industry. At this time, the industry was not yet formed; there were no clear lines between buyers and sellers as they are today with IDM’s and foundry’s. SEMICON West was a technology show that attracted disparate elements of technology and manufacturing know-how to source ideas, products, and solutions, as well as collaborate on common problems and challenges. As the industry evolved and the supply chain matured, the show took on the conventional characteristics of today’s SEMICON events where suppliers come to display their products and solutions--and buyers and specifiers come to compare suppliers, learn more about new solutions and find new sources to help them the demands of Moore’s Law.
As semiconductors became a global industry—spreading first to Japan, then Taiwan, Korea, Europe, China and Southeast Asia—SEMICON shows followed, meeting the needs of thousands of scientists, engineers, managers, and buyers who would never be able to make an international trip to see the latest technologies and solutions available to meet the needs of the local fabs. The technological complexity of semiconductor manufacturing, the inter-relationship between stages in the manufacturing process, and the sheer numbers of people who needed a deep and involved understanding of many elements of the supply chain, all triggered the globalization the SEMICON expositions. Suppliers and fabs demanded their own event in every location proximate where substantial chip manufacturing was occurring. If it wasn’t a SEMICON exposition, another event would likely have emerged to meet the same need.
SEMI and SEMICONs
Unlike other industries where different shows from different organizers proliferate to meet the needs of various geographic, industry segment, or technology niche, SEMICON expositions were organized by the global industry association, SEMI, under the direction of its industry members. As a non-profit association under the direction of a Board of Directors comprised of equipment and materials suppliers, SEMI manages the SEMICON events on behalf of the industry. Prices for booth space are held below market rate—and programs, policies and rules are developed and overseen by advisory committees of exhibitor/members. The success of SEMICON expositions allowed SEMI to keep membership dues low and help fund industry initiatives such as International Standards, EHS support, industry statistics programs, public policy advocacy and other activities that yielded cost reductions, revenue growth and other widespread industry benefits..
As the semiconductor industry grew and show advisory committees took on more responsibilities, the scope and focus of each SEMICON exposition evolved to meet the needs of different regional markets. In Singapore, the SEMICON exposition has a test, assembly, and packaging focus; in China, the event covers the entire semiconductor food chain from design to foundry; in Japan, the technical programs provide essential training resources for the region. As the industry’s first event, SEMICON West retains its role as the most global exposition, where new product introductions and other announcements can be directed at the global media, financial and technical community.
SEMICON expositions have also evolved to become more complex and multi-faceted events that deliver increasingly diverse benefits. In the early years, equipment was prominently displayed, demonstrating to attendees how chips were moved, handled, how cells were configured, how tools were operated and other mechanical attributes. As the cost of equipment soared, and their critical distinguishing features became visible only under a microscope or through technical charts and graphs, trade show booths became more sophisticated marketing vehicles where companies used more imaginative ways to summarize their unique sales proposition, such as better yield, lower life cycle cost, fast ramp up, or reduced maintenance requirements. Companies also learned how to optimize their trade show plans around multiple objectives, such as reaching specific audiences in the press or financial communities, or multiple target customers such as the engineering, maintenance, operator, manager, and senior manager job functions.
The Continuing Role of Trade Shows in the Semiconductor Industry
Since the advent of the Internet, some people have suggested that the value and importance of trade shows has diminished. Independent studies by the Center for Exhibition Research (CIER), and the financial growth of the trade show industry, confirm that trade shows remain an essential component of business-to-business marketing. In the semiconductor industry, despite a consolidating industry, trade shows have grown in scope and importance since the dot.com bust of 2001. Total booths at SEMICON shows have increased 20% since 2003. Coupled with the decline in trade journals and the loss of many advertising and publicity opportunities, it can even be argued that trade shows have never been more influential in the industry.
Trade shows have grown in importance in the semiconductor industry because buyers and specifiers overwhelmingly support them and use them to find and evaluate suppliers. At SEMICON West for example, BPA, the world’s leading media auditing firm, has confirmed that over 78% of the attendees have purchasing authority and approximately 75% claim the event is important in their supplier evaluations. Virtually every IDM and foundry has integrated SEMICON events into their annual purchasing and supplier evaluation cycle. Leading equipment and materials buyers send multi-disciplined buying teams to SEMICON events with highly-organized plans to visit booths, compare suppliers and identify new technologies. Many leading chip companies schedule formal “supplier days” and other purchasing milestones around SEMICON events. Many chip companies work directly with SEMI to find new companies and organize their meeting and booth visits for maximum efficiency.
The continuing strength of trade shows in the semiconductor industry is a common characteristic of highly complex, advanced technology industries. Products in these industries have hundreds, if not thousands, of variables that can be used to evaluate and compare suppliers. Purchasing processes are also complex with dozens of direct influencers and hundreds of indirect influencers impacting the purchasing of enormously expensive, “mission critical” products and services. Trade shows have the ability to change strongly held opinions and preferences and shorten the list of evaluating criteria to better position firms to win.
Trade shows are virtually the only medium persuasive enough and compelling enough to change the positioning of products and services in the customer’s mind and affect purchasing decisions. Every competitor makes sales calls and takes the key influencer out to dinner, but only trade shows can demonstrate to large numbers of people a company reputation and position with credibility and vivid persuasion. Companies can win business purely on the strength of their technology, pricing and relationships, but they do so much less effectively than firms who have a compelling message forcefully communicated through trade shows.
Unlike commodity products, high technology needs to be positioned to receive high margins, and positioning means getting the customer to value your set of features and benefits more than your competitors. Every firm has sales people, and in this industry, every firm has good products. Throughout the industry’s history many of the top firms do not have the best technology or lowest costs, but they have been able to better influence the purchasing process through good marketing. And, in the semiconductor industry, good marketing means good trade show marketing.
To visit the SEMICON West Exhibitor Education website, click here. For more information on SEMICON expositions and trade show marketing, see Tom Morrow's blog at http://semispice.blogspot.com/. For classes on marketing to the semiconductor industry, please visit http://www.questteam.com/classroom/index.php.