Digital marketing strategy for engineers (and other technologists)

Date: August 4, 2021
Author: Kristin Zhivago
An engineer drawing a complexe physics equation on a whiteboard

I love working with engineers (and any other technologists who think like one). I always have. Why? Because they’re logical. Straightforward. They hate BS. Which is why they have so much trouble making marketing work; they believe that they have to practice BS in order to succeed. That is absolutely, positively false, and I have hundreds of success stories to prove it. In this article, I will explain how a digital marketing strategy can, and will, work, regardless of who is managing it. And, ironically, technologists manage marketing wonderfully when they realize it is logical.

Let’s start with the most important fact: when it’s done right, marketing is logical:

1. Customers buy products and services. 

2. If you know (not guess) what your customers want, you can a) make products they want and b) market those products to them successfully. 

3. You need to understand the digital marketing methods, people, and tools in order to manage the process successfully. This requires an intense and continuous learning process. Those who work for you should be more than willing to help you, rather than trying to profit by keeping you in the dark. Grrr.

I’m going to look at all three of these issues, but first I want to say something about Steve Jobs. Everyone knows he was a genius, and a very tough guy to work for. But there is a misconception about where he got his genius for great products. I’ve heard people say that he just “knew” what customers wanted, which makes other managers think that his success can’t be duplicated. 

But, buried in biographies about him is the fact that he often spent the early part of his day in Apple stores, interacting with customers. Then he would go to work, and spend the rest of his day convincing his product designers to design products that those customers would want.

Another great manager, Lou Gerstner, who headed up IBM for nine years, was similar. He had been a customer of IBM before becoming CEO, and he spent almost half of each working day—just like Jobs—interacting with customers. And this was a man running a company with 300,000 people. 

I worked for IBM before, during, and after Lou was CEO, and the difference was profound. Before and after, IBMers slipped back into “IBM is the center of the universe” thinking, but during Lou’s tenure, the customer came first. 

It paid off, big time. As stated in this article, “In his 9 years at the helm, the company had grown by around 40% with the majority of the growth coming from the services and consulting division. Also the stock price of the company during that period increased by 8 times.”

The point is, anyone can make marketing work, if we pay attention to the simple fact that it is customers who buy products and services (duh!), and if we give them what they want, they will buy from us. 

Giving them what they want means designing products and services they will want to use, and then making it easy for them to find us, understand what our products and services can do for them, and making it easy for them to buy. 

That’s it. That’s your digital marketing strategy. 

So how does one go about this? Logically, as an engineer would. 

Customers: Stop guessing and ask them!

I can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve seen top execs try to develop their marketing strategy by starting with a meeting in a windowless conference room (or the Zoom equivalent). The answer is not in your own heads! What comes out of these meetings is always, and I mean always, off the mark. 

Instead, there is a very simple and inexpensive way to find out what your customers want. You interview them by phone. You ask open-ended questions. You interview 5 – 7 people of a given type, then have the conversations transcribed, then “clump” their answers into a report where you show what everyone said in answer to each question. Then, you summarize those findings in a report, which will serve to show you both the big picture—the big idea that will resonate with customers—and the little details that will make the whole thing a success. I give you complete, no-secrets-left-out instructions for this method in my book, Roadmap to Revenue: How to Sell the Way Your Customers Want to Buy

Sure, there will be things you already know. But you will also learn things that change what you were going to say and do. Things that give you a “true north,” a rallying cry, a simple but incredibly powerful concept that you can use to take into the market, one that will be well-received by the kinds of customers you want to attract. 

I should say that what you learn will be absolutely unique to you—your company, your products, your services, your marketplace, your competitive environment. There is no such thing as a “one size fits all” approach to marketing and selling, and anyone who says so is lying to you. The tools may be the same, but the message and the methods will be unique to your situation. 

Yet another reason why you have to start with your customer’s truth, so you won’t be misled by tassel-shoed marketing experts who claim to have found the Magic Bean. 

Making what they want

Interviewing customers, assuming you are brave enough to do so, is not that hard. Creating the right products and services, based on what you have learned, is more difficult. Why? Because you will be constantly fighting the “other” sources of “truth” that exist within your own head and in the heads of the people who work for you. 

“We did it this way at my previous company. We should do it that way here.” 

“I don’t think that’s what customers want. I (or someone I know) wouldn’t want it that way.” 

“That’s too difficult/expensive.”

“That doesn’t fit our business model.” 

“That makes me uncomfortable.” 

I often tell clients and our team members that “when someone is standing at the door with money in their hand, you don’t tell them to go away. You invite them in and see if you can figure out how to give them what they want.” 

This is what both Steve and Lou did. They held firm. They knew what customers wanted, and they fought all of these internal forces, over and over, every single minute of every day. They had the customer’s desires firmly in their heads, and they were willing to make others uncomfortable to make sure customers got what they wanted. 

I was just this morning cleaning the silicone case around my iPhone. And I marveled, once again, at the design. The buttons are as minimal as they can be, but they make sense and they are still completely usable. It’s really a beautiful design. I married an artistic engineer, and appreciate anyone who can design elegant but functional products. Engineers and developers who create what I call “obvious” products are priceless, and the undersung heroes of our age. 

When you will stop at nothing to give customers what they want, you are well on your way toward amazing success.

Understanding digital marketing, methods, people, and tools

You can’t manage what you don’t understand. So don’t let anyone ever keep you from the truth about a method or a tool. 

Yes, online marketing is complex. And it changes quickly. And there are a lot of rules that must be followed; for example, Google owns more than 90 percent of the search engine market, and is thus your “first customer.” If you can’t give Google what it needs/wants/insists on, you’ll have trouble getting in front of customers looking for you.

But here’s something wonderful. If you interview customers using the methods I’ve perfected conducting thousands of customer interviews, you will find out where they’d expect to find you and how they’d like to buy from you. So you can narrow it down to the channels and methods that matter. And, once you understand their Mindset—the desires, questions, and concerns they have as they begin their buying process—you will be able to meet them wherever they are with a message that makes them want to buy from you. 

I’ve structured my company the same way that you should structure your marketing department. I have a core infrastructure team that handles all of the administrative and management aspects of all the work we do. Then, we have a team of professional specialists who develop sites, write copy, create graphics and videos, and run social, online advertising, email, and sales campaigns. 

No one generalist can know all there is to know about any one of these methods and all the tools associated with them; each specialty is a career in of itself. 

You also can’t just try “one thing” and assume it will work. Your customers are all over the place in the digital world, and you need to be also, at least wherever they expect to find you. Don’t be swayed by “channel” specialists (SEO, social, online ads, etc.) who tell you that you “only” need to run ads, or do social, or whatever, and all your problems will be solved. 

You also need to know that, even with all the experience we have, and all the interviewing we always do, we know we can only get within “two feet” of a customer, and then the experimenting and testing comes into play. The customer will react to your messages and calls to action, and give you the kind of information that will help you fine-tune your approach. 

And, I should tell you that the learning and adjusting never ends. That’s a harsh reality. 

However, using these methods to drive your digital marketing strategy will get you the leads you want, and will make it possible to grow your company. 

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