A Question of Life or Death for RFID Companies

By Mark Roberti

Would you rather be in a room with 10 people who have expressed an interest in your product, or with 1,000 people who have not?


The title of this column might seem like hyperbole, but it really isn’t. It’s a question I’ve been asking RFID solution providers for years now. Some providers understand why it’s important to focus their marketing dollars on the few end users who have expressed an interest in their products. They advertise on RFID websites and attend RFID events, so they connect with businesses actively seeking solutions to their problems. And one by one, they convert these companies to customers.

I can also name at least 25 RFID providers that said they’d prefer to be in room with 1,000 people who have not expressed an interest in their product. So they went to big trade shows, because they believed that if they could just spend time with the right people in an organization, they would convince them of the value of their solution. Even when their leads didn’t pan out, they went back again and again, convinced they could eventually sway a big company into buying their solution. Sadly, they were unable to do so, and these 25 RFID companies are no longer in business.

I recently explained this to a startup, but my message fell on deaf ears. I wished the company luck, but based on history and the well-established theory of technology adoption, the startup will soon be in my defunct column.

According to Geoffrey Moore—author of the best-selling book Crossing the Chasm, which explains how new technologies become mainstream—only 2 percent of companies are “visionaries” that will invest in a new technology. That means only 20 of the 1,000 people are likely to even consider an untested technology, and what are your odds of finding those 20 among the 1,000? Not very good. These companies are not looking for RFID solutions, so they are not seeking out RFID solution providers.

Consider, on the other hand, the odds of connecting with a potential customer at RFID Journal LIVE!, our annual conference and exhibition. Last year, some 2,000 end users (here’s a list) who were seeking solutions to their business problems attended the event to hear more than 50 speakers in myriad industries discuss why their company adopted RFID, and what benefits they were achieving.

Attendees can also go to the exhibit hall to meet the RFID providers that offer solutions to their problems. And unlike most large trade shows, RFID Journal helps attendees at LIVE! find the right solution in the exhibit hall. We offer a concierge service for attendees, in which an editor (usually me) speaks on the phone with an attendee to learn about his or her business issues, then suggests sessions to attend and exhibitors to see. We also created a mobile app that lets attendees search for products by category (readers, tags, middleware and so forth) or by industry (exhibitors selling solutions for health care or manufacturing, for instance).

And we created a Product Showcase that gives exhibitors a way to display their products prominently. Each year, exhibitors tell me the attendees they meet at RFID Journal LIVE! are knowledgeable about RFID and interested in a specific solution to a specific business issue. This enables exhibitors to close deals quickly. And while the industry has not yet matured to the point at which contracts are signed on the floor, I don’t think we are too far away from that.

So RFID providers that exhibit at LIVE! have a captive audience. Think of it this way: If there are only 10,000 fish in the world, would you rather fish in a small lake with 2,000 fish or try to find the other 8,000 in the open ocean?

I realize that not all startups can afford to attend LIVE!, and that even some more established companies that are struggling are afraid to make the investment. But events are not the only way to reach a targeted audience. For years, we have offered targeted banner ads that enable RFID companies to advertise only to thse reading about a solution like the one they sell. And more recently, we added text ads that show up in targeted stories and/or against search results. For as little as $2,000 a year, solution providers can reach hundreds of people interested in precisely the type of solution they sell.

This is, without a doubt, the most cost-effective way to reach people researching an RFID solution. Still, some startups, like the one I spoke to recently, don’t see the value of reaching a relatively small number of individuals interested in precisely the products they offer. They’d rather spend their money to be in a room containing 1,000 people not interested in what they offer. That’s too bad. Unless adoption begins to accelerate a lot more quickly, their strategy will likely fail, and they will join the dozens of RFID vendors that have already bitten the dust.

Mark Roberti is the founder and editor of RFID Journal. If you would like to comment on this article, click on the link below. To read more of Mark’s opinions, visit the RFID Journal Blog, the Editor’s Note archive or RFID Connect.