Lynn Savage, Features Editor, firstname.lastname@example.org
In any industry, there are many ways to reach out to potential customers. Most of these involve advertising and branding, but also engaging in conversations with existing and potential customers, either face to face, over the phone or through social media tools such as Twitter and Facebook. Typically, the goal is to tell one side of the story (why you should do business with us), leading to an opportunity to initiate and consummate a deal.
In many ways, Aspex Corp. of Delmont, Pa., is a typical technology company. It sells scanning electron microscopes (SEMs) around the world while also offering SEM services to anyone who needs the occasional object scanned and analyzed yet can’t justify the expense of a system. Aspex employs sales and marketing techniques well known to any scientific equipment manufacturer, including direct sales and a well-organized and informative website. But how could the company find an edge?
Top row: Left, carbonized bamboo fiber. Right, cinnamon stick. Second row: Left, cosmos seed. Right, tea bag. Third row: Left, fish scale. Right, table tennis rubber. Bottom: unknown mineral.
The folks at Aspex reached a bit more deeply into the marketers’ satchel of marketing techniques a few months ago and began giving people the opportunity to experience the company’s products and services directly and at no cost. In the latter part of 2009, Aspex rolled out its “Send Us Your Sample” program. Anyone – you, me, small labs or megacorporations – received an open invitation to send the company interesting objects for SEM analysis.
“Our initial targets were the scientific blog community,” said Tom Powers, director of global marketing at Aspex. The samples the company received in the first several months of the program, however, have come from a diverse group of laypeople (40 percent) and academics (another 40 percent). Thus far, only about 10 percent represent potential customers, but the company sees the effort as a success.
Participants have requested scans of strange and interesting samples. In addition to the ones shown here, samples sent to Aspex have included bits of quartz countertops, a Twinkie, a plastic robot arm and a toothbrush. More worrisome samples included unusual sticky substances and some white powders.
“The positive impacts to our Web site traffic, social network buzz and new content creation outweigh the occasional bizarre samples,” Powers said. “I would say that the current program will run for at least another quarter.”