Expert Panel Discusses What Will Drive Optics and Photonics Growth
Monday afternoon found me at the Rochester Museum and Science Center with 200 other optics industry leaders to hear the findings from the US Congress-commissioned research report, Harnessing Light. The event was well-attended and well-covered (here, by the Democrat & Chronicle and Innovation Trail).
While optics-related technologies make up 1/4 of the GDP, it's not recognized as an industry. Without specific recognition, it is difficult to track and forecast spending, win funding, and attract high school kids to this career track.
The major obstacle to broader recognition is our lack of storytelling. While optics is integral to much of the sweeping tech changes we've seen in the last 20 years, we think and talk about ourselves as "job shops", sub-sub-sub assemblies, if we're talking about it at all.
Raise the visibility and importance and funding will follow. It's inherently an optics problem (groan.)
So what will it take to market the optics industry?
Set a vision. As one of the panelists put it, we've got to "dream dreams in a form that the people who control the money can understand."
We're working to help market companies that solve problems like improving body armor, which can cut soldier deaths by 1000s each year. One company has the potential to save millions of lives from preventable, treatable disease, through rapid field diagnostics and disease management. One's aerial imaging system helped get aid faster to victims of the Haiti earthquake and Hudson River Valley floods.
This is sexy stuff. Define your impact and get the story out.
Stop assuming they understand. Optics is an incestuous industry; your customer might also be your supplier and your partner. Because we're insulated and surrounded by people who talk in the same language, care about the same things, we're losing perspective on what our end customers value and think about.
- Listen to your target customers. Interviews, customer surveys, product previews--whatever the forum, assume nothing.
- Edit out the dirty words. What words do you and your employees use that either are industry jargon that cause non-optics people to tune out, or commoditize what you do?
- Broaden the net. Work with your customers to tell your story in a broader technical arena. Think Discover magazine, not just Photonics Spectra.
As much as politics is something everyone wishes would stop at this point in the year, both government and commercial funding depends on your ability to sell your vision. Optics and Photonics need better marketing to get the funding that will drive the next wave of technological advancements.
This community can take action and ensure Rochester and the US's leading position. We're willing to help--head up a volunteer committee, craft or critique your pitch to Albany or DC, continue to support the cluster in getting the word out.
Have an idea? Want to talk more about ours? Comment below or contact me directly.