Thought Leadership: Marketing Engineering Services with Technical Articles

by Achinta Mitra on May 11, 2011

in Content Marketing, Inbound Marketing, Industrial Marketing Strategies, Social Media Marketing

Are you an in-house marketer or a consultant tasked with promoting engineering services? Then you know very well that it is fundamentally different from marketing industrial and/or manufactured products.

For one thing, you don’t have a ready-library of product data sheets, engineering and performance information to use as relevant content. By default, many engineering services companies resort to bragging about themselves on their Websites. There is very little to differentiate one from another. Highlighting completed projects and a few case studies seem to be the norm.

Fortunately, there are exceptions and some smart marketers are using technical articles to their advantage in order to establish thought leadership and rise above the competition.

What is thought leadership?

Thought leadership is a term that was first coined in 1994, by Joel Kurtzman, editor-in-chief of the Booz, Allen & Hamilton magazine, Strategy & Business. A “thought leader” in business jargon is an entity that is recognized for having innovative ideas (Source: Wikipedia).

According to Elise Bauer, a respected B2B marketer who advised many technology companies and start-ups, “…a distinguishing characteristic of a thought leader is the recognition from the outside world that the company deeply understands its business, the needs of its customers, and the broader marketplace in which it operates.”

Over the years, marketers have interpreted thought leadership in a variety of ways including brand awareness and now with the advent of social media, buzz building.

The intent of this post is not to come up with a definitive definition of thought leadership but to recognize its value in marketing engineering services.

Building thought leadership with technical content

There are many ways to build thought leadership such as publishing articles, blog posts — either as a guest or on your own blog, public speaking at prominent industry events and being quoted frequently in trade publications.

In order to build thought leadership with a target audience for engineering services, your technical articles need to be well researched, backed by empirical data, vetted thoroughly, must educate and help engineers do their jobs better.

Back in 2007, I had attended a presentation made by Jim Cahill of Emerson Process Experts. He was talking about his long journey in convincing upper management about the value of starting a business blog. The content from one of his slides summarized nicely what it means to market engineering services.

He said, “…marketing services is very different from marketing products. Services are about people and building belief of – trust, competence, commitment and creativity. And this is built over time through demonstration of traits.”

No, my memory isn’t that good. I copied and pasted those words from his presentation notes that I’ve saved to this day.

Building trust and reputation online is difficult, if not impossible to do with outbound promotional and advertising tactics. Instead, you have to do it by delivering a steady stream of relevant content, relevant to your target audience and not you.

In the world of engineering services, the single biggest contributor to thought leadership is the reputation and trust an engineer builds with his/her peers.

Published/publishing technical articles play a key role for engineering services companies. Engineers from these companies earn the trust of their peers and are seen as thought leaders by the industry. This in turn delivers tangible benefits (leads, contracts, projects etc.) to the engineering company.

Engineering companies with technical libraries

I found three good examples of companies that are using technical articles very effectively to build strong reputations out in the industry and among their peers. They are all headquartered in Houston, Texas, my backyard of course.

One noticeable difference is that none of these companies has put all this valuable content behind registration forms. They are freely available to all site visitors.

They are using their technical content to build thought leadership and not directly for lead generation.

  • The Hendrix Group: Offers complete materials engineering services including failure analysis, corrosion control and prevention. View technical resources >
  • Mustang Engineering, L.P. (a Wood Group Company): A global project management, engineering, procurement, and construction operations company. View technical library >>
  • Walter P. Moore: Structural, structural diagnostics, civil, traffic and transportation engineers and parking consultants. View MooreKnowledge >>

Boosting the value of existing technical articles

Some of these technical articles are kinda sorta dated. Sometimes they are relegated to an obscure part of the Website, making them difficult to find.

Here are some quick ways to maximize the marketing value of these technical articles without a complete rewrite.

  • Update old articles with more recent case studies that use concepts from those technical articles
  • Email updated articles to existing clients. Instead of using a batch and blast strategy, segment your list by application or industry and send them relevant articles
  • Tweet about the updates and announce them on your Facebook page to drive more traffic back to your Website
  • Break up long technical articles into shorter blog posts around each key idea. If you don’t have a blog, use this as a strong incentive to launch one by proving the value of thought leadership to upper management
  • Convert articles into short informative slides and post them on social sharing networks like SlideShare to reach a wider audience. Add video and audio to PowerPoint slides and create a more interactive content for the web
  • Convert articles into Podcasts to offer an audio version to people who don’t like reading a lot of text online
  • Create short how-to videos to explain complex concepts in technical articles. Post these to YouTube after creating your own branded channel
  • Repackage articles on a similar topic to turn them into white papers that you can use for lead generation and/or nurturing
  • Create a live Webinar around these technical articles and invite attendees to get their questions answered directly by the authors (engineers). After the event, post the recording on your Website as an on-demand Webinar

Feel free to add to my list with your own creative ways of using technical articles and content for marketing engineering services.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Sherri Scott May 13, 2011 at 12:37 pm

This is a great article and I appreciate how it is written in a style that I can share it with the engineers and product champions I work with on a daily basis. Something else to note is the added benefit of improved SEO that occurs when companies post/link to articles.

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Achinta Mitra May 13, 2011 at 1:14 pm

@Sherri,

Thanks for the compliment and your thoughtful comments. I’m glad you found it useful enough to share with your engineers and prod. champs.
You make a very good point about SEO and valuable inbound links from articles and other content posted on a company’s site.

Good to see you here. I remember you from AMA Houston. Thanks for connecting with me on Twitter and FB.

Achinta

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Prasad January 5, 2012 at 2:03 am

A Nice Article and very good information for the companies who are into the business of Engineering Services. U8LP

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Mike Kanis September 20, 2013 at 11:01 am

My responsibilities are to build the brand awareness of my firm’s Name and services. I agree the best way is to let the Industry know what we have learned in development and design of Med Devices. The engineers are tasked with completing the next poject not delivering technical White Papers on the issues they have solved, to the marketing person. How does a small shop become a thought leader without the budget to staff technical writers, fact checkers and Internet Marketers?

Reply

Achinta Mitra September 28, 2013 at 2:42 pm

@Mike,

Thanks for your comments.
Yes engineers and Subject Matter Experts (SME) are always short on time because of their primary job of delivering complex solutions. Spending their time on marketing is rarely a priority. You may want to refer to my posts “Industrial Blogging Lessons Learned from Working with Technical SMEs” and “How to Coax Content Out of Engineers” for help with this issue. Inbound marketing using a blog is the best way to create thought leadership and generate qualified leads on a small budget. As Guy Kawasaki once said, “If you have more money than brains, you should focus on outbound marketing. If you have more brains than money, you should focus on inbound marketing.”

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