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Engineering Your Marketing July 2, 2009

Posted by Jason in Insider's View Relapses.
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One of the most important activities we can undertake is marketing our engineering services. But, what about the other way around: Can marketing be “engineered”? Marketing is simply the application of various tools to improve a business’s exposure to its clients and the public. Similarly, engineering is the application of various physical laws to the natural and built environment.

For those not long out of school, or otherwise sheltered from business management, the two disciplines could not seem more disconnected. Many may have learned the similarities the hard way—with the marketing equivalent of watching a bridge collapse. What would it take to synthesize engineering methods with the tools of the marketing trade?

Marketing may not depend on unbending physical laws for success, but there are several aspects of psychology, sociology, economics, and even biology that provide a historically stable foundation for achieving results. Just as engineering must build on fundamentals, marketing is based around some familiar-sounding basics.

Like any engineering project, marketing requires a plan. The plan must take into account the firm and its internal expertise, the external environment in which the marketing must be performed, any unique qualities of the clientele, and the methods that will be used to implement the plan. With this information, the firm can develop a complete marketing strategy. Who should be involved in this? Project budgets and scopes should result from buy-in from the team, and marketing is no different. Starting with the plan, let’s break down the sequence into more familiar terms.

The firm’s internal structure and expertise is clearly a critical factor in any endeavor. The staff and principals must have a basic knowledge of everyone’s skill set and the abilities of the team as a whole. This not only allows the firm to properly scope the technical aspects of individual projects, but encourages a wider view of what the firm is capable of. Don’t limit this to merely educational and professional backgrounds, either. The staff’s personal interests and activities outside of the office can provide just as much opportunity for connections and leads.

Rather than simply a next step, evaluation of the internal and external aspects is usually an iterative process. Examples of these factors include examinations of the market itself (what services are needed, who buys them, how much are they valued), the competition, barriers to entry into new fields, and the regulatory environment. One of the greatest advantages that any firm will have over its competition is its ability to identify new markets, by either combining two disparate fields, being aware of regulatory changes, or advancing the staff’s skill set and providing new services that competitors don’t offer.

Just as an engineering project must take into account the client’s vision as well as public stakeholders, marketing must be focused on those most receptive to the effort. Though many engineers may rather focus on design and hard numbers, it is always shortsighted to ignore the individuals who must use or are affected by the final project. Similarly, the corporate strategy does not exist in a vacuum, and must be developed with the desires of the customer in mind. It doesn’t matter if you have a fleet of experts if no one is buying what you’re selling.

The marketing approach is the key to implementation and evaluation of success. Any effort should be measured, and should also be flexible enough to change if the desired outcome is not achieved. Marketing may include physical advertising, dedicated client contact efforts, project quality control, letters of recommendation, white papers, and conference presentations. The right mix will ultimately depend on each of the preceding steps, along with any other unique characteristics identified during the process.

As the changes in communication and the realities of globalization have shown, business can rarely afford to have all its “rainmaking” done by principals and vice presidents. Especially in small firms, the entire staff should have a basic understanding of marketing’s role, if not an active role in advancing the firm’s efforts.

–from Insider’s View, September 2008



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