Nuts? Planters. Cornflakes? Kellogg's. Bookseller? Barnes & Noble. Lidar systems? Stumped? Lidar as a product, and lidar systems under a brand name, aren't household words except to those who trade, design, manufacture or use atmospheric monitoring systems. Branding is a challenge for photonics companies, which generally sell expensive components to a limited number of users, said Ward Hanson, a professor at Stanford University's Graduate School of Business. Hanson, the author of Principles of Internet Marketing, believes the intelligent and strategic use of the Internet as a marketing device can overcome brand barriers to sales. "Collaborative design, training and customer support, and a real-time information flow are the main areas that high-technology companies can use to connect with their customers," he said. Consider: * Feedback on beta releases can be done cheaper, faster and in more detail using the Internet. * Designated pages on Web sites for individual customers make product selection and ordering easier, facilitate custom product design and coordinate personalized training. * The Internet enables collaborative design and encourages long-term customer relationships. "One of the things we know from a long [history] of research is that new product ideas come from customers," Hanson said. Even lowly e-mail, used by businesses on a global scale, can be a vital tool in business-to-business sales because most photonics manufacturers already know who their users are. "Then e-mail is going to be a very attractive [Web] traffic-generating tool," Hanson said. "Set up a policy whereby you ask customers if they would like to receive periodic information. Then design an effective sequence of messages, personalized and timed not to overwhelm them. That can be very effective in maintaining customer relationships." Marketing high-tech products of the future, he predicted, will revolve around the customer relationship, not the product.