FIRST, BattleBots & Marketing of Robotics

I must tip my hat to the marketing team of BattleBots. They’ve done a much better job than FIRST at marketing robotics competitions and getting the general public excited about them.

This past weekend Motorola sponsored the IL state FIRST Lego League competition and Wildstang took its 2000 & 2001 robots to the competition in order to demo them. In the morning when we were working on the robots and later when we put them out for display, countless FLL students came up to me and asked if they were BattleBots and others wanted to see the two robots fight each other. I told them that they were robots for the high school version of the competition they were in. Of course I didn’t try to explain the 2001 game to them, that would have taken 2-3 minutes. What kid would want to listen to me give a boring explination of the game instead of looking at a cool robot? :slight_smile:

I was happy that the kids were excited about seeing our robots but I was also disappointed that they weren’t enthusiastically asking if they were FIRST robots. Why shouldn’t these students who are a part of the ‘junior FIRST’ know about the real FIRST competition?

Some parents even asked me if I knew about the upcoming BattleBots for high school students (BattleBots IQ). Why does eveyone know about BattleBots but hardly anyone knows about FIRST? This is a huge issue and FIRST needs to find a way to inform the public about the orginization and its competitions.

I could care less if I’m on TV, it doesn’t mean anything to me. But FIRST in general needs to get some media exposure so that next year when we bring Wildstang 2002 to the FLL competition, kids are excited to see an actual FIRST robot in person.


If you had to see a big growth in robot competition you should look at the growth of battlebots.

FIRST tells everybody that they can’t handle alot of teams. Battlebots had over 500 team compete at the last competition.

Wait until the next one held in the spring. (not the battlebot IQ. this one is just for the kids.) I am betting this number would be so great that it will far excide FIRST growth.

Battlebots get the picture out to so much more people. FIRST has fallen so far behind this.

We have ask FIRST to pay or get more air time on TV to help this event.

FIRST like to get things for free. so we get air time if the network have “free space” to put us on.

I think if FIRST is going to make it they have to offer more to the teams to stay involved not just a pat on the back. But air time on TV. front page of the any national Paper.

There are enough matches to cover and then replay on TV just like Battlebots do.

By doing this you will get alot more people knowing about this sport

I don’t much about Battlebots beyond what I’ve seen on television - so, I’ve got a question.

Obviously, a lot more matches happen that what I see. Given the nature of the competition, is it safe to assume that they’re all elimination matches? Especially given the subjectivity of Battlebots scoring . . .

If so, isn’t it easier to handle a competition where each robot may only compete once? At least, with respect to the number of times each of FIRST’s 500+ teams will compete?

I am pretty much a broken record on this topic, but I feel this to my core.

FIRST is about changing the culture. In the US (and Canada too, I suppose) that means getting on Prime Time TV.

To succeed on the scale that Dean spoke of when I signed up for this gig, FIRST must have a TV friendly game.

Less than a month until we know if Dean & Woodie have listened to themselves.

Joe J.

If FIRST wants to get big they will have to create a game that is more intuitive and visually interesting than any before. Something a 12 year old can turn on and immediately understand.

I really believe that destruction isn’t BattleBots’ big ticket. It’s the simplicity of the goal and the way virtually anyone can understand the strategy of each robot. The only reason these kids want to see BattleBots is because they are on TV.

If FIRST can get on TV, present itself as “cool”, and make the game visually and strategically interesting; then kids will be asking “is that a FIRST robot?”

Here are some replys to other questions:
Battlebots has run a single-elimination tournament for every competition since except for the first one (which had 90 bots total.) So every match, except for the multi-robot rumbles, is do-or-die.

The rules and safety requirements are getting much more strigent. Only 75% of the teams passed safety and could compete due to the huge number of safety requirements.

They are also seriously looking into regional competitions too; especially on the East coast.


I remember last season at nats, on the projected screens, next to the clock, there was a graphical representation of the time multiplier. It would visually keep track of it with a bar that changed according to the clock time. To me, if I didn’t know what the game was, that would definately help. Perhaps some sort of representation of the possible points for this season in an easy to understand dynamic graphic would make it easier to understand. Just a random suggestion.

Here are some randomish thoughts. In summation though, FIRST needs to encourage more design freedom and they must make sure the final products will be very distinctive. This is less likely with a restrictive kit or rules.

Fact: FIRST will not be a regularily televised program unless they they significantly increase the max. allowed size of robots.

If FIRST wants to get big it has to be interesting and the robots have to be significantly different so they can have obvious and unique personalities. No more box-shaped robots.

Fact: FIRST will not be a regularily televised program unless they open up the restrictions on the kit so that the robots are unique and interesting.

The rule could be: “no outside electronics/motors/batteries or pneumatics.”

Furthermore, I think it’s a much better learning experience for the kids. If learning is the main goal then there really is no need to “level the playing field” as the rules and kit are supposed to do. If some heavily funded team makes an awesome robot with super-sophisticated parts (except for motors, etc.) then that’s great for FIRST.

**Why lock the students’ and engineers’ imagination in a box or in a kit? **

Let the public see the best we can offer. The public won’t be able to appreciate our restrictions and they do little in the way of education so why have them?

Please don’t argue that it’s harder to build with the restrictions of a kit either. It simply isn’t. The less options you have, the less you can consider. Engineering is decision making and the less decisions and less options you have the easier (ie Dean Kamen >>> MacGyver).

Specifically I think that virtually every robot having the same old wheelchair caster wheels is not particularily interesting. Of course even BattleBots has very common wheels, motors, overall looks etc.

FIRST has to evoke more imagination and creative freedom than BattleBots. That’s where BattleBots will meet is failing; its encouraging increasingly less interesting robots. This is where FIRST can provide something new and better.

The direction I want FIRST to go in can still encourage coopertition and non-destructive action; I think there is a television market out there for a fun but refined and intelligent robotic competition.


Woah, people…

How many times have we had this discussion? I think it may be time to look at the marketing of FIRST more generally. There really needs to be a better marketing mix: the right promotion that conveys the right product at the right price to the people who are right to buy it.

Another way to look at it is a strategy called STP marketing. That is: Segmentation, Targeting, and Positioning.

Segmentation means looking at the market as a whole (as in, the entire USA, Canada, and other random countries) and breaking the market down into segments with similar attributes (wants, needs, buying power, buying attitudes and habits…you’ll hear the term the “18-24 set”, which is talking about the segment of ages from 18-24, who have similar buying habits, wants, etc.).

Next is Targeting. This is basically choosing a segment as your target market. The one rule of thumb here is to not choose two and then decide to squat between them. There’s always time to go after another segment once the first segment is locked in to your liking. Thus, it would probably be best for team growth to go after educators, but if FIRST wanted to go in the way of growing knowledge of the competition (and thus get coverage), it may be better to target the teenage set, the students involved in the competion themselves.

Finally is Positioning. This is where you take the product (in this case, FIRST), and you design the offering and image so that they occupy a meaningful and distinct position in the target customer’s minds. This is where you position to serve your market best. Who, really, is FIRST’s target market and how can we, as an organization, position ourselves to become distinct in the market’s minds, so confusion doesn’t occur with other competitions?

I hope this helped, and I swear to you this isn’t just me showing off what I learn at my silly business school (nor is it purely to help me study for my final on wednesday)…and Im guessing there are many more people who have taken numerous marketing courses…but I felt it was mostly a perspective that hadn’t been mentioned - looking at the marketing of FIRST more generally and then moving to the specifics, instead of the other way 'round.

-Jessica B

Lol, looks like I killed this thread :wink:

You must have had a lot of practice :stuck_out_tongue:

Text book Marketing 101 - brilliant, but not applicable. What, you say? Well, hear me out - You assume that FIRST is trying to market this as a product. The difficulty is that I’m not sure what product they are trying to market. Segments, Targets, and Positioning is fine - if the product is a product, but not if the product is a philosophy or paradiagm shift, or an attempt to change the way people think. A market implies that a salable and desireable product exists, therefore buyers exist or will exist, in the case of the Segway.
What’s for sale here? A concept or belief that a robotics competition format that combines the best of education and industry through a cooperative effort, will by teamwork, teaching, and cooperation somehow INSPIRE highschool students to become more like their mentors (Engineers, Designers, Scientists, Computer Programmers, etc)
The concept that FIRST represents is sound and courageous (without a doubt, or why would I be committed to it for the past 7 years). But, once again we have forgotten that its not about the robots - its about Inspiration and Recognition. How do you Market that? Even if you could Market “the game” or “the robots” - you wouldn’t really be marketing the one thing that this is really about. But, I was impressed with your knowledge of the Marketing concept!

Thank you - but I really feel that for growth you need to focus on the competition itself - the mind-change doesn’t come easy, but it is facilitated through immersion in the project…that is, being in the project, working with robots, being at the competition. Then comes the mind-change…realising what to strive for in awards, the opportunities that arise between businesses and colleges for students in FIRST, hearing the speakers brought into the competition, etc.

Thus, I think they should market it as a product, on a shallow level. Once the “buyer” is comfortable with the competition, then the concept can be brought in.

I agree that the concept is what FIRST is really about, but to sell that, I really think the robots and the competition needs to be sold first.

So, I guess Im saying that inspiration needs to come second in the presentation of the product; even though I know thats not the way we really want to do it, it makes it easier to swallow to the general public.

Jessica. very interesting that you have identified a couple of underlying issues here.
You mentioned the following, “I really feel that for growth you need to focus on the competition itself”. I think growth has been at pretty darn good clip if you ask me - in fact I’m pretty sure most companies would love to see growth rates that FIRST has had over the past 10 years! My other concern is that although growth is important, I wonder if market share, is really at issue here. When you are the only game in town, growth is considerably easier than if you are in competition for the same resources ($$$, human, time) As far as the “competition” being the “hook” to continue growth or increase/maintain market share - I just don’t think so, but I reserve the right to change my opinion until after this years kickoff - thats when we will see if FIRST is going after market share, growth or both. I believe that if this years game is “TV friendly” and “marketable” (that means commercially viable to show on the television and can sustain the audience in such a way that it creates half, no a quarter of the hype that segway has) it indicates the intention to take the competition “head on” (competition includes ALL other TV robot shows). If it is another, wonderfully thought out, very difficult to solve, but impossible to explain to the casual passer by in 1 minute or less, and doesn’t require special math skills or calculators to know who is winning at any time - that indicates that FIRST is happy with the status quo and really has no intentions of “fighting for market share”. Because of the GREAT disdain for what some of the other robotic programs attempt to sell, including a gladiator mentality - I believe FIRST would rather “find a way to distance themselves from their competitors” and in marketing that’s called segmentation or target marketing - the problem is that the competition (robot wars, robotica, etc)doesn’t really care and probably feels that there is plenty of room in the pool for everyone. In fact they probably feel that FIRST is less of a threat to them, than FIRST thinks of them. As stated by many folks involved in both FIRST and the competition - Can’t we all just get along? Evidence to me that no matter how you try and differentiate this - its NOT a marketing issue. Especially, since FIRST is giving up market share, due to philosophical differences. Tough decision, but probably the correct one. It’s been proven time and again, once a product starts to “take off”, competition changes everything - everything from “How the product is defined” to “How its packaged”.
You go on to say,
“I guess I’m saying that inspiration needs to come second in the presentation of the product; even though I know thats not the way we really want to do it, it makes it easier to swallow to the general public.” My take on that is this - "Sugar coating makes alot of stuff more palateable, but it doesn’t necessarily provide nutriments that sustain growth and build strong bones (a strong structure or foundation).
Sorry this is such a long response - hope it make sense.