Connecting with Bill Sobel

It’s no small irony that Internet searches for master B2B marketer and passionate Internet of Things (IoT) evangelist Sander Arts typically serve up their results accompanied by ads for home improvement services and industrial-grade sandpaper.

Note to algorithms: Sander Arts, the Dutch-born Vice President of Corporate Marketing for San Jose, Calif.-based semiconductor manufacturer Atmel Corporation, is not only very much human, he is pioneering new ways to use social media in industrial marketing.

Making Semiconductor Marketing Glamorous

Building on nearly 15 years of sales and marketing experience in the semiconductor industry, including stints at NXP and Royal Philips, Arts has created one of the largest social media footprints in the semiconductor industry. Through its millions of touch points, he aims to connect Atmel’s next-generation semiconductor hardware with demand from the Maker community as well as the vast untapped potential of IoT.

CMSWire sat down with Sander Arts recently to talk about his vision for Atmel as “a media company that sells semiconductors” and explore the ways in which he pairs the “glamour” of semiconductor marketing with a rigorous approach to tracking marketing ROI.

Sobel: Following your graduation from Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen in The Netherlands with a master’s degree in International Business Communications, you co-founded an online fishing tackle business that sold throughout Europe. Can you share your journey from casting rods to semiconductors?

Atmel's Sander Arts
Arts: I always say — and with the deepest respect — that a customer is a customer. I don’t think it really matters what a customer is buying because the dynamics of the purchase process are the same. I love marketing, whether it’s for fishing gear or semiconductors. My passion is to find the most innovative channels for getting the word out and, in the case of the fishermen, that called for moving beyond magazines and physical stores.

Then Philips offered me a position selling semiconductors, which challenged me intellectually because I was talking to engineers who were at the forefront of innovation. Now at Atmel, I am essentially doing the same thing ― trying to engage an audience and sell our products — only these days I’m using digital marketing, video, social media and online customer support.

Sobel: Earlier this year you represented Atmel at the Maker Faire in New York City, which celebrates the Maker movement and bills itself as “part science fair, part county fair and part something entirely new.” What was your message?

Arts: Atmel wants to facilitate the spirit and goals of the maker community as it seeks to develop innovative new electronics that can help change the world. For example, nearly every Arduino ― the microcontroller-based kits used to build interactive objects that can sense and control the physical world ― has an Atmel microcontroller on board.

Various estimates project that there will be nearly 21 billion Internet of Things (IoT) devices by 2020 and so we want to get as many of our semiconductors as possible into the hands of professionals, students and hobbyists so they can easily build the next great project or company.

There are several key ingredients to make building devices that are smart and connected and Atmel aims to provide them with semiconductors that include embedded processing, cloud connectivity, security and node sensors, all powered by low-cost coin-cell batteries.

Sobel: In a recent article in EE Times entitled “Chip Firms Target Smaller Customers," you noted that [semiconductor marketing] “used to be pretty linear.” You’d have a product, go talk to an existing account and explain why they should be buying it. But now you find yourself “trying to talk to people [you] don’t know and often do not know [you].” That must change the game dramatically.

Arts: It does, because semiconductor companies have traditionally been set up to focus on selling to major accounts while providing a secondary distribution channel designed to reach smaller companies. To advertise and promote themselves, the traditional advertising route has been trade publications and trade shows.

With buy-in and support from our President and CEO, Steven Laub, I have expanded that traditional model to reach out to individuals and companies through social media who wouldn’t normally even be acknowledged under the usual semiconductor business model.

To accomplish that, we built up our social media footprint to include not only a blog but Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google Plus, YouTube and Instagram. Our team responds to questions from professionals, students, tinkerers and hobbyists regarding our hardware, software and tools.

These efforts reach groups that have never been supported and the results have exceeded our wildest dreams: We currently have over three million views on our Atmel blog, 60,000 Twitter followers and 38,000 followers on LinkedIn, to cite just a few of our stats. Atmel receives more shares on its blog content than all of the other 39 semiconductor companies combined.

Sobel: You speak each year at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business (GSB) as part of its Strategic Marketing Management Executive Program and recently you developed a case study entitled, “Is There Glamour and ROI in Semiconductor Marketing?” I’m guessing the answer is yes?

Arts: It is the highlight of my year when I speak at Stanford and I am always humbled when I do. I talk about people-to-people marketing and about how even a B2B marketplace like semiconductors can use the power of community to sell products. Then I take the groups through actual videos and examples taken from Atmel’s social media channels and explain how we discipline ourselves to calculate the ROI of each and every marketing dollar we spend.