Last week’s column, “Let’s Get Off Death Row,” woke up a few people. I heard from a number of people, and for the most part, the response was positive. They let me know that my words made them feel better and made them believe that there is hope for the North American PCB industry.
It is always heartwarming when you reach people and know that something you wrote made a difference. But I also painted myself into a corner as readers asked: What do we do now? What’s the next step?
In my column, I listed some steps that I would write about in the coming weeks. I have written previously about those things: how to hire better people, how to hire younger people, how to work in partnerships with other PCB fab houses. I will keep saying them because they are all part of the plan, our journey back to a position of dominance in the world market.
But something was bothering me; something was still missing. Those things were all important tactics to making a comeback, to getting off death row. But there was something else. We could do all those things; we could meet and solve all of those challenges, but so what? What was the cause? Why have we let our leadership get away from us?
Then it hit me. It was still the same thing I had been writing about for years. It was marketing. ”Oh, come on!” I can hear you say. “You’ve been writing about marketing for 20 years. We get it, you like marketing, and it’s important. So what? It still bores the heck out of us.”
I get that and that is the problem. It is not so much marketing in the sense of branding, advertising, and social media; all those things are part of a marketing plan. Nope, the real thing that marketing is about strategy.
To develop a great marketing program, you have to actually sit down and think about your company. You have to study the market, and your position in it. You have to study your customers and your competition. You have to intensively investigate all of the aspects of your business to the point where you know it all cold.
It is not unlike an NFL team studying their competition and figuring our how they are going to put the best team on the field, how that team is going to execute, and find the other team’s weak spots so that they can beat them.
I realized that out of everything I do to help companies, getting them to sit down and think about their company’s direction—their strategies both short and long term—just does not happen that often. In fact, most of the time I have to practically wrestle my customers to the ground to get them to stop for even a day and take the time to really pay attention to where their company is headed.
At best, I can convince them to sit down once a year for a day—one stinking day—to talk about their company’s strategy. There is just no great motivation in doing that.
Is it because we are a heavily operations- and engineering-oriented industry? Maybe people are just not into that. Often, when I finally get people to sit down and talk about their company’s direction, something like this happens: Someone will bring up some PCB design they built a few years ago, everyone perks up, and then they join the old “toughest board we ever built contest.” Then, everyone in the room is off on war stories and the talk about their company’s direction is, well, gone with the wind.
Give that some thought. Without a strategy—no, without a strong desire—to develop and continually work on a company strategy, there is no direction, no looking into the future. Worst of all, there is no future. It’s just Groundhog Day.
It’s pretty straightforward. Companies in our industry are not interested enough in marketing to devote the right amount of time to it. Without marketing there is no strategy, and hence, no direction. That is what I believe is the single most important reason that we have lost our global dominance.
Think about great companies like Apple. They spend hours, days, years, and decades on their strategy; they are working on their direction all the time, as are most other modern companies. They have people spending all day every day on their company’s strategic direction.
You don’t think the Chinese are doing this as well? Or the Japanese? Those of us who have worked with these companies have experienced firsthand the kind of multi-year strategic plans they are always working on. Frankly, we are babes in the woods compared to those countries and those companies.
Let’s get off death row by working together to bring our industry back to where it once was. Heck, let’s even go beyond where we were before. The first step is for our North American companies both individually and as a group to start paying due attention to our strategy and hence direction and the future.
It’s only common sense.
Dan Beaulieu is president of D.B. Management Group.