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Overcoming the Challenge of Marketing to Busy Engineers

Engineers from different fields probably make up a large part of your target audience if you are a manufacturer, distributor or an engineering company. As an industrial marketer, you know it is a challenge marketing to engineers.

While engineers do use social media, they tend to be passive participants making it hard to engage with them using those channels. To illustrate that point, here are a few key findings from the 2016 Social Media Use in the Industrial Sector report published by IEEE ENGINEERING 360.

  • 82% of engineers and technical professionals spend no more than two hours weekly on social media for work-related purposes.
  • 70% of industrial professionals have never shared or posted news about their companies to their own social networks.
  • 64% of engineers and technical professionals say the biggest challenge in using social media for work is its inefficiency when compared to other methods such as search engines, supplier websites and online catalogs.
  • 55% said that social media has too much noise and not enough substance.

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Content Marketing to Engineers is Tough. And Getting Tougher

Every industrial marketer should sit up and take notice of some of the preliminary findings from a recent survey called the Engineering Marketers 2017 Survey conducted by ENGINEERING.COM. As you read through this article, pay close attention to the prediction and the recommendations for achieving success with industrial content marketing to engineers.

This post is a departure from my usual ones. It is a guest post written by John Hayes exclusively for my blog. In case you are not familiar with him (check him out on LinkedIn), he is the CEO of ENGINEERING.COM.

Take it away John!

Welcome to 2017. Engineering marketers are now well versed in content marketing. In a recent survey, 89% of engineering marketers said that they were using content marketing as part of their overall marketing strategy.

Engineering marketers using content marketing

And most of them are having success. In fact, 75% of the marketers who use content marketing say that it is working.

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Making Industrial Content Marketing Engaging for Engineers and Industrial Buyers

Industrial content marketing is facing a big challenge because manufacturers are struggling to make it more engaging for their target audience. They have a good grasp of industrial content marketing’s contributions at the top of funnel but can’t quite connect the dots when it comes to measuring its effectiveness in driving sales.

Show me the money - Tom Cruise as Jerry MaguireThe problem is not just a matter of better analytics and/or in-depth ROI reports from Marketing Automation. These marketing tools are a big help but can’t completely close the gap. The decision makers at these industrial companies want to know how industrial content marketing will increase their sales before they invest the money. In other words, they are saying, “Show me the money.”

Challenges with industrial content marketing exist across different industries and varying company sizes. Consider these key findings from the sixth annual content marketing survey, 2016 B2B Manufacturing Content Marketing Trends—North America: Content Marketing Institute/MarketingProfs:

  • 81% of manufacturers in North America are using content marketing
  • 87% said Sales was their number one goal
  • 18% said they were effective (That is not a typo! Effectiveness was defined as “accomplishing your overall objectives” in the survey)
  • 82% of manufacturing marketers cited creating more engaging content as their top priority

There is a big disconnect here between industrial content marketing and its impact on sales.

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Marketing to Engineers Requires Accurate and Truthful Content Presented Logically

Marketing to engineers is challenging, but manufacturers, distributors and engineering services companies cannot shy away from it because engineers make up the bulk of their target audience.

Engineers regardless of their experience are concerned with keeping their skills current and their technology knowledge up to date. They are actively looking for reliable information about advancements and innovations. This extends beyond content marketing for engineers; many of these industrial professionals are motivated to attend trade shows and conferences to learn about something they don’t know. (See Why Manufacturers Need a Multichannel Industrial Marketing Strategy).

The irony is that engineers are hungry for information, but industrial marketers are struggling to provide them the right content and engage with them in a meaningful way. Marketing people at these companies need to work with in-house Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) for creating content that their target audience will find helpful and is technically accurate.

There are two key challenges when it comes to marketing to engineers with content – time and trust.

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Content Marketing for Manufacturers: Overcoming Writer’s Block

Overcoming writer's block in content marketing for manufacturers82% of manufacturers said they are using content marketing according to findings from the 2015 B2B Manufacturing Content Marketing Trends—North America published by CMI. More than half (59%) also said one of their top challenges is “Producing Content Consistently.” This is not an isolated finding; I’ve read other research studies that have reported similar results.

Writer’s block – the condition of being unable to think of what to write or how to proceed with writing. (Wikipedia). That is exactly what I hear most often from my industrial clients who are struggling with content marketing.

Part of the problem is that in-house subject matter experts (SMEs) are too busy with their regular jobs to create content and the other part is the notion that they have nothing more or new to say because their audience who are primarily engineers already knows everything there is to know about the subject matter.

If you are facing the same challenges, I have two suggestions:

  1. For the first challenge, read – Industrial Blogging Lessons Learned from Working with Technical SMEs
  2. For the second part of the problem, read on…

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Marketing to Engineers is a Big Challenge

Many industrial companies find it challenging to market to engineers. The biggest complaint that I hear is that engineers just don’t respond to marketing like others do. These companies are at a loss and need to figure out a better way to market since their target audience is primarily engineers from various disciplines.

You’ve probably read that you should market to people and not to a business or a company. Yes that is true and of course, engineers are people too. However, marketing to engineers is different.

Here’s how I see it:

  • Even though the line between our personal and professional lives has blurred, engineers make work related decisions very differently from their personal lives. Risk aversion is the primary emotion that drives engineers to make a buying decision which is then justified with logic
  • Big ticket industrial purchases are rarely ever made by an individual engineer. There is usually a committee of stakeholders. Your marketing may never reach/touch some of these internal decision makers
  • The traditional BANT (Budget, Authority, Need and Timing) approach to score a lead who is an engineer may not work very well. A design, manufacturing or applications engineer may be the specifier who must “design in” the industrial component before a functional buyer can make a buy decision
  • The commonly held belief that engineers hate marketing is only semi true

Full disclosure: I’m a Mechanical Engineer and have been an industrial marketing consultant for the past 25+ years. I can understand if you think my opinions are biased and are skeptical about what I have said here. So like a good engineer, let me validate my observations with evidence from independent, third-party research findings.

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Industrial Marketing for Engaging with Engineers

It’s a myth that engineers hate marketing. What they definitely don’t want is more meaningless marketing fluff. Those two statements are based on my personal experience of working with and marketing to engineers for the past 25+ years. I’m a Mechanical Engineer myself and passionate about marketing. Over the years I’ve met and worked with many engineers who feel the same way and some are very good at creating their own marketing content.

As a manufacturer or an industrial company, your marketing must target and communicate with engineers and technical buyers. So what do you have to do to make that happen?

If I had to summarize the answer in one sentence, it would be, “Industrial marketing must be from one engineer to another.” That is by far the most effective strategy for marketing to engineers.

One of the recommendations for industrial marketers that came from the 2012 survey, Mind of the Engineer released by UBM Electronics was, “Engineers communicate with and trust other engineers. Leverage this collaborative ethos.”
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Winning the Engineer’s Mindshare with Industrial Blogging

Winning engineer's mindshare with industrial bloggingEngineers love a challenge and solving problems. They are always on the lookout for gaining knowledge from their peers. They trust and have more confidence in reading or hearing something from other engineers. One engineer to another is a far more powerful tool than sales messaging when it comes to building trust and establishing thought leadership.

However, engineers and technical buyers don’t easily change processes that are working well unless you can convince them they may have a problem that they are not aware of and/or you have a better, more efficient way of doing something that they have been doing for many years.

There is a two-fold challenge here. First, you have to bring attention to real-world technical problems and not something that you’ve cooked up to sell your solution. Second, engineers are trained to be skeptical and demand proof of concept before they’ll buy your solution.

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Content Marketing for Engineers

I’ll go out on a limb and state that content marketing for engineers is different. Yes, I do get it that the lines between work and personal lives have blurred thanks to today’s hyper-connected world where everybody is always “On.” And I agree that at the end of the day, marketing to engineers is still all about communicating with people. Call it P2P (People-to-People) marketing if you will.

However, to engage with engineers and address their needs (WIIFM), your marketing content needs to have a different flavor of storytelling. It is not just about facts and figures, engineers want content marketing to talk about challenges and issues that they face in their work life on a daily basis. Adding a human element into the content makes it even more compelling to your engineering audience.

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Digital Marketing for Control Engineers, Machine Builders and Designers

As an industrial marketing consultant, I interact on a daily basis with engineers and technical professionals from the Automation and Process Control industry. I receive valuable firsthand feedback on what this audience wants and needs from their digital marketing initiatives.

It was reassuring then when the findings from Machine Builder Research and Buying Study 2011 done by Control Design mirrored what I’ve been hearing from my industrial clients.

I’ll summarize the major findings from the study in this post but the headline of the cover story from the March 2011 issue says it all, “Sign of the Times: Wider Adoption of Web-Based, Digital Tools Usage Is Cruising Ahead.”
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