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Author : Mike Maynard | Managing Director | Napier

17 October 2019

Mike Maynard, Managing Director, Napier
Mike Maynard, Managing Director, Napier

In the first of a regular series of columns for EPDT, Mike Maynard, Managing Director of B2B tech communications agency, Napier, discusses what marketers can do better to communicate effectively with engineers.

As someone who moved from electronics engineering into marketing, I can get frustrated by colleagues who don’t understand engineers. It’s so common to see marketing teams treat engineers as if they were robots, solely focussed on designing systems, despite the truth being very different: engineers are much more interesting people!

Take a look at the 15 most popular stories on EPDT in August for example. As EPDT editor, Mark points out, they cover a wide range of topics, from the Apollo moon landings to smart gardens. Only four of them are about products: two technical articles and two news items.

A few years ago, it was hard to get information about new products, and life was easy for both marketers and publishers. Marketers simply issued a press release about a new product, preferably with an eye-catching photo, the publishers put it into a magazine and engineers were delighted to be able to learn about the latest innovation.

Today the world has changed. Information is now readily available on demand, so why bother learning about a topic or product until you need the information? Twenty years ago, it was common for engineers to browse through printed “product book” magazines (that were simply a collection of new product press releases) because it was the only way to keep up-to-date. Today, those publications don’t exist.

Chatting with friends who have remained engineers can be depressing. Marketers put huge amounts of time and effort into mailers and catalogues highlighting the latest products, and I know some of my friends don’t even open them before they are consigned to the bin. Of course, some people do open the packaging and buy the product: we can measure the impact of marketing, so we know when something works, even if there is a large amount of waste.

Looking at the most popular stories on EPDT, it becomes apparent that old-style marketing isn’t going to work because we’re all fighting for a very small piece of each engineer’s attention. In general, the stories engineers are reading are not about products, or even technology. The most popular category on EPDT in August is about issues: Brexit, use of facial recognition and the future of engineering in the UK. Stories about careers and education are almost as popular as those about the technology that engineers use in their designs, as are “general interest” stories about things such as smart gardens and the Apollo landings.

The on-demand world does mean that not all is lost: engineers will find information about products through searches and although the number of readers will be much smaller, they will all be looking for that type of product and likely to use one in their next design. I don’t think we should dump the product press release as it serves an important purpose in a search-driven world, but I do think as marketers we need to do a better job of engaging engineers.

I don’t want to portray the situation as all bad. Some marketers are being very creative: whether it’s educational campaigns or highlighting fun (sometimes crazy) applications of electronics, I frequently see great campaigns from a range of different companies. But we are not doing enough and the vast majority of marketing today is still about trying to tell engineers about new products and explain how they work in technical articles. This is such a small part of what engineers care about.

I really want to hear the engineers’ view of how suppliers – component manufacturers, software developers or distributors – could do a better job with their marketing. If you could wave a magic wand and change how we market to you, what would you change? Let me know by connecting on LinkedIn or sending me an email to mike@napierb2b.com and I will feature the best ideas in a future column.

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