Marketing to Engineers: A Decidedly Different Dynamic

November 24, 2021

There’s an age-old expression that says an optimist will look at a glass as half full, a pessimist will look at a glass as half empty, and an engineer will look at a glass as being twice the size that it needs to be.

Ah, the engineer… precise, perceptive, literal, skeptical… a difficult audience to convince; a critical audience with whom to connect; and yet, one that throws several standard rules of engagement out the window when it comes to marketing communications.

Engineers are different. They seek and engage with different types of content in ways that are quite unique from most other target audience groups.

In our 20 years of marketing to engineering audiences, TBG has gathered learnings about how to successfully reach and convince engineers – and better motivate them to listen, to investigate, to engage, and to buy. And while every assignment is different, below are a few tried-and-true principles and observations that help us crack the code for this notoriously elusive target.


1. Go Head-First

Which is to say… lead your arguments with logic, not emotion.

“Classic marketing” suggests the opposite, of course…. that consumers are often swayed by emotions first, reason second.

With engineers, successful campaign initiatives tend to invert that sequence. Engineers are tasked with making considered purchases, not impulse buys – so communications should acknowledge that dynamic by being fact-based, and underscoring solutions, versus appealing to an emotional trigger.

For example, for a recent Web banner campaign, TBG integrated product schematics and links to Dev Kit findings directly within the banners, themselves (as roll-over graphics). Engineers could perform some initial fact-finding immediately within their first touch-point… the data was right there… thereby increasing overall lift of the media buy by 22%.


2. Make Video More Vital

Along with datasheets, video is the most relied-upon form of form of communication when it comes to engineers learning about a product, service or market solution.

According to market data, over 96% of engineers watch videos weekly at work, with the most common distribution platforms being YouTube, social media and company websites. And per recent data from the IEEE, this trend will continue in even more pronounced fashion as more Millennial-aged engineers enter the workplace: video use, particularly on mobile versus desktop, is a daily practice for 80% of engineers under 35 (versus 50% of those over 35).

But video is king with many audiences, not just engineers… so what makes its use here any different? For starters, engineers tend to engage most often (and for longer periods) with more technical content (such as product demos and how-to videos) versus videos that are more general purpose or marketing-centric in nature.

TBG has had great success tapping into this dynamic by creating shorter-form, thought-leadership videos that cover topics and solutions that are of particular interest to specific engineering audience sets. For example, we developed a video series for computer engineers on cyber security that addressed multiple individual pain points and solutions, each covered in 60-second mini tutorials. This combination of deeply relevant content – easily searchable, delivered in a concise fashion, as a series – has proven especially appealing to engineering audiences.

Marrying sound content that targets want to engage with – and promoting this material with SEO strategies that optimize placement and reach – make video one of the strongest arrows in the marketer’s quiver.


3. Jargon’s Just Fine!

The classic marketing inclination is to make your story and messaging as simple as possible. Clear and concise equals compelling… or so it would seem.

Market data and our own experience has taught us… to an engineer, jargon often connotes understanding, and this audience reacts to content “that speaks their language” far more receptively than materials that are either “dumbed-down” or that, by avoiding jargon, unintentionally connote a lack of subject matter authority.

When referencing a FPGA, for instance, say “FPGA” not “Field Programmable Gate Array.” When talking about speeds and feeds, get into the numbers. To avoid, over-explain, or otherwise soften this content is to create a break with your audience. To win the day, you must sound authentic. That means getting into the tech talk!

And note that technical jargon is not the same thing as marketing hyperbole… engineers hate hyperbole (and that’s no hyperbole!)


4. Features or Benefits? Yes.  

Generally speaking, solid marketing strategies suggest showcasing the benefits of a product, not simply its features. In other words, don’t just tell me what your product can do… tell me what problem it’s solving.

For more traditional campaigns – particularly within B2B initiatives – this approach is sound. But engineers tend to gravitate more to campaigns that provide BOTH, features and benefits.

An engineer seeking an antenna array doesn’t JUST want to know the benefits of that antenna array… to design in, they’ll also want to know specific performance characteristics, technical ratings and feature specifications. Incorporating this information into easily searchable modules, and ensuring that every step of the engineer’s purchasing journey has equal access to this content, is a key driver to a successful campaign.


5. The Young and the Restless

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, engineers are tending to retire earlier, at a greater rate, than colleagues of retirement-age in other industries. There is a tremendous need to replace these outgoing positions with young talent – and with that need comes a changing dynamic in how to reach and communicate with this demographic.

Younger engineers grew up with digital content, and are more active on social media (according to industry surveys, 65% of young engineers – those 25 or younger – seek engineering information from social media, while 28% seek that same content from trade pubs). Those numbers skew quite differently for those 55 and older (of whom, 55% turn to print first, with only 18% turning to social).

And while 95% of all audiences use a laptop/desktop as their go-to technology platform, 55% of those 25 and younger also use their smartphone as “a primary means of researching a buying decision,” (versus just 20% of those over 55).

This is especially important when you consider that younger engineers are often tasked with researching initial buying inputs, and compiling specs and requirements for their more experienced colleagues. Reaching the young engineer equates to reaching an influential tip of the purchasing spear – and doing so requires achieving the right balance of mobile, social, sponsored content, endemic & programmatic media channels.

It’s an increasingly younger world… and successful messaging knows what that entails.


6. Making an Impact Matters Most 

TBG has extensive experience helping organizations recruit talent – and when it comes to finding and keeping the best people for your team, the modern engineering pipeline is an especially challenging place to be.

The demand for key skills is tighter than it has ever been. And it will only get more challenging, at the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics estimates that the engineering job market will grow by 140,000 additional positions by 2026 – due mostly to the demand caused by A.I., robotics, medical technology, and virtual reality.

Engineers know they have their pick of positions. So what makes them happy? What keeps them happy?

For starters, the nature of their work matters. A lot. Engineers are justly proud of the solutions they’re charged with making, and the problems they’re asked to solve. Young engineers, in particular, cite the importance of the mission, whether the company’s mission or their project’s mission, as essential to their job satisfaction. Constant learning is paramount – and climbing the corporate ladder is less about title and prestige and more about expanding their knowledge and skillset (and then passing that skill onto others).