Breaking the Rules of Content Marketing Pays Off Big Time for Engineering Companies

As part of a new Web design project that I’m working on for an engineering company, I’ve spent quite a bit of time in the past two weeks reviewing Websites of well-known engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) companies.

These EPC companies not only have a substantial presence (major employers) in Houston, Texas but they also have a large global footprint.

I figured these companies would be great examples of marketing with content. What I found contradicts the rules of content marketing as practiced today.

Yet, these EPC companies are extremely successful in how they are marketing themselves to generate sales and grow their revenues.

And the numbers don’t lie. Here are four EPC companies that I looked at and their sales figures:

  1. Jacobs Engineering Group Inc. (www.jacobs.com, NYSE: JEC) — about $10 billion in 2010
  2. Fluor Corporation (www.fluor.com, NYSE: FLR) – $22 billion in 2009
  3. Bechtel (www.bechtel, Privately held) — $30.8 billion in 2009
  4. KBR (www.kbr.com, NYSE: KBR) — $2.7 billion in Q2-2010

Obviously, whatever they are doing is working to post those kinds of numbers despite the recession.

The similarities between their Websites are striking. You would be hard pressed to tell which site you are on if you blocked out the name and the logo.

Here’s what I’m talking about:

  • Everyone of them either uses Business Units or Markets in their main navigation to list the industries they serve (they all serve similar ones)
  • They all claim they are either the “world’s largest” or the “global leader” in the EPC space
  • Text describing their services is almost 100% focused on the company – packed with we and our with a rare mention of you or yours
  • Every company claims that their success is built on building lasting relationships with their customers yet the sites emphasize their people, their expertise and their engineering capabilities
  • They prove their claims (good idea) by showcasing ongoing and/or completed projects that are described in terms of scope and size. Example – “…a 154,324-ton- (140,000-metric-ton-) per-day copper concentrator that will incorporate a crushing, grinding, …open-pit mines.”
  • Recruiting new engineering talent (Careers) and being a good corporate citizen (Sustainability) are common to all sites
  • Free and valuable content is usually in-depth technical articles written by engineers and not produced by marketing as bait for capturing someone’s contact information
  • White papers and other lead nurturing content are rare finds on these sites (exception being Fluor, they have done a great job on their case studies)

At least on the surface, it seems like these engineering companies are breaking the rules of modern content marketing.

Junta42, a leading authority in my opinion, defines content marketing as:

Content marketing is a marketing technique of creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.

I see these EPC companies breaking the rules and still accomplishing all those content marketing goals, bolded in the above definition. Here’s how:

  • They clearly define their target audience and quickly segment their site visitors by using common industry classifications. That’s how their prospects and customers identify themselves in a very familiar way
  • They understand the needs of their target audience and serve up relevant content that emphasizes technical expertise, engineering ingenuity and their range of capabilities (types of projects) instead of using marketing fluff
  • Their marketing content conveys a very high degree of trust and a proven ability to lower risks to an absolute minimum. This is imperative because the smallest failure can result in catastrophic losses
  • These companies are not going to attract, acquire and engage with customers who award multi-million or billion dollar CAPEX projects with an automated drip content marketing campaign. Nurturing and moving the prospect along the buy cycle comes from preparing a highly customized dossier that includes scope of services, global expertise, presence of local engineering talent, adherence to internationally recognized quality and safety standards, awards won for engineering excellence and innovation, professional certifications and similar projects completed
  • They are using their content to attract new engineering talent, their most important asset and the shortage is a serious issue in the U.S., especially with the aging boomer generation of engineers close to retirement
  • Branding and raising the company’s profile by talking extensively about a current global “hot” topic – sustainability. Jacobs Engineering’s 2010 Sustainability Report weighs in at a hefty 120 pages

There is room for improvement in how these EPC companies are using marketing content. However, what they are doing is producing results. So it’s tough to make a compelling business case for them to adopt the new rules of content marketing that are used by many technology companies.

Like the old Texas adage says, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

That’s my take on why these engineering companies are so successful in driving customer action while breaking the rules of content marketing.

What’s yours?

9 replies
  1. Dean
    Dean says:

    Achinta,

    Nice post, great to see clear examples of what you are discussing with the pros and cons.

    On your 3rd dot point, can you point to good examples of customer focused copy? It is such a big shift in thinking (one that I’m trying to introduce us to) that an example would really be helpful.

    Dean

    Reply
    • Achinta Mitra
      Achinta Mitra says:

      @ Dean,
      Thanks for visiting and commenting. I’m glad you found my post balanced and helpful. I agree creating customer-centric content requires a very different mindset and letting go of some of the old notions.

      A good example is HCL. Here’s the opening paragraph from their Aerospace and Defense section:
      “Today, Aerospace & Defense (A & D) companies are faced with a combination of challenges and opportunities. With the rising fuel prices, challenging security concerns and increasing globalization, aerospace companies strive to remain profitable, seeking new ways to re-evaluate and improve their engineering and business processes.”

      Right of the bat they identify the customer’s pain points.

      Then they go into how HCL helps — “HCL specifically addresses aerospace industry’s key pressure points – increasing complexity, decreasing profitability and shrinking workforce. Through transformational outsourcing approach and engineering expertise, HCL has been able to deliver outstanding results.”

      Their entire site is filled with content that is very customer-centric with plenty of customer success stories, testimonials, case studies and white papers.

      Definitely worth a visit!

      Reply
  2. Vince Giorgi
    Vince Giorgi says:

    Interesting take here, Achinta. While I see where you’re going with this argument, I’m not sure we can assume companies such as Bechtel and Fluor are as big and successful as they are BECAUSE of the marketing approach they are taking.

    It could be these companies, over time, have simply reached a level of marketplace awareness and reputation that they are consistently included when big projects and programs are put out for bid. Could be they have remarkable pricing power, unmatched ability to deliver service on a global scale, or the best sales organizations in their field. But, for all we know, their “let’s talk about me” approach to marketing (at least as you describe it, based on their websites) might be producing little or no incremental differentiation, attraction or leads?

    Hard to prove a negative, I suppose. But you wonder.

    Reply
    • Achinta Mitra
      Achinta Mitra says:

      Hi Vince,
      Good to see you again. Thanks for adding your take, which is a valid one.

      It would be a huge stretch to say that any of these engineering giants have become this successful because of their marketing. I’m sure it has to do more with their technical excellence, performance on the ground and their global reputation built over time.

      My point is that they don’t conform to the rules of content marketing and it is definitely not hurting their business.

      Reply
  3. John Hayes
    John Hayes says:

    Hi Achinta,
    I’ve had the opportunity to speak with several EPC contractors over the past few months and almost unilaterally, they are using a marketing model that works because of their size. As Vince suggests, it seems they are included in every RFP because of their history of projects. Their business model is to target large projects and to pitch them with highly individualized proposals.

    While this works for the large companies, smaller entrants using content marketing may well be able to build valuable niches if the bigger companies continue to talk only about themselves.

    Reply
    • Achinta Mitra
      Achinta Mitra says:

      Hi John,

      Thanks for visiting and commenting.

      I suppose the rationale for these large EPCs to be invited for RFPs on most, if not all large projects is to lower risks. That’s probably why these companies can continue to use content without conforming and still be successful.

      As you’ve pointed out, smaller competitors can carve out a niche for themselves by using content marketing wisely. I am seeing that too.

      Reply
  4. shackles
    shackles says:

    As Vince suggests, it seems they are included in every RFP because of their history of projects. Their business model is to target large projects and to pitch them with highly individualized proposals.

    Reply
  5. Finbar Neon
    Finbar Neon says:

    I admire the way you stated your thoughts on this matter. I agree that content marketing has huge influence in relation to their success. If these companies claim that they the ultimate, the biggest, the best, so on and so forth, probably they have first proven worthy of what they are. Everything else then followed. Thanks.

    Reply

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