And the answer is... again ... marketing

Couple days ago I asked for some help in figuring out the DAC numbers and one of my readers let me to an article by Kevin Morris at the FPGA Journal about the same thing, but getting into the discrepancies with much more depth.  Answered all of my questions (thanks Kevin) and like I thought, it took an engineer.

But far into the article, Kevin said something very insightful:

"EDA has ignored the majority of electronic designers in the world - who are not doing ASIC/SoC design. Probably 95% or more of the people designing electronic systems in the world today are not designing ASICs, but are instead using FPGAs and commodity processors on custom circuit boards. With a few exceptions - EDA has not invested heavily in serving this 95%, but has instead put the bulk of their development resources into supporting the high-flying 5% doing nanometer IC design."

He was making the point that if trade shows and conferences like DAC, DVCon, DATE, etc. are going to survive they have to go beyond their comfort zones and expand their customer base.  There is only one problem:  You have to invest in marketing -- real marketing -- to be able to do that.

Companies in the electronic design automation, embedded hw/sw, and fabless semiconductor industries just don't do that.  "We know who our customers are, we don't need marketing."  That's been the attitude for the past decade.  The smaller companies used to ride on the coattails of the major players marketing budgets in the 1990 until the latter smartened up and cut their advertising and trade show expenditures, which killed the media for the industries.  But because the smaller companies follow whatever the large companies do, they started cutting back on investment in marketing too.  

So now all of the companies know all of the players in their traditional but rapidly dwindling market, but they lack the resources, understanding and skill to find new markets.  There are zero marketing-driven companies in those industries.  They barely are sales driven.  What they are is engineering-driven. 

And that's why the trade shows are foundering.  It's not the conference committee's responsibility to bring in new customers.  They are there to serve the needs of the current community.  It's the exhibitors' job to bring in fresh blood.  They just don't know how.

End of rant.  Here's the good news.

I talked with a little over a dozen companies at DAC.  That's a better than a 5 percent sample.  More than half admitted they "effed" up in marketing and are looking to increase budgets.  They are looking for real help.  Not the SOS marketing of cranking out news releases and spending 90 percent of the budget on languishing exhibitions, but real marketing with research, social media programs, surveys and long-term strategy.

The conferences are going to have to adjust.  It may mean bringing the size down and going back to hotels with conference facilities (like DVCon) or lower-cost convention halls in out of the way towns (like DATE is doing).  It's going to take time to rebuild the industry, but it sounds like some people are getting with the program.