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Sparking interest

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It takes savvy marketing to break through to electronics engineers, a group that wants straightforward information and facts, not overblown marketing fluff.

"They're introverted, they're very technical, they love the Internet and they don't like salespeople," said Jeff Curie, VP-marketing at SupplyFrame, a vertical search engine for electronics components. "They really don't want you calling them and e-mailing them. They want to pull what they want, when they want it."

Curie said these engineers tend to work on multiple projects under tight deadlines. As a result, marketers need to be in the right place at the right time with relevant information. "Blatant marketing is a real turnoff with these guys," he said.

Electronics engineers look for some sort of proof in marketing communications, said John Mannion, exec VP- director of client relations for ad agency Doremus, San Francisco, which handles accounts such as Tektronix and Intel's Embedded and Communications Group. "It's really crazy what these guys are called upon to do," he said. "They're the ones having to make all these things smaller, faster, cheaper, better."

Doremus frequently conducts focus groups with this audience on behalf of its clients, Mannion said. Smaller, more intimate focus groups—with as few as two people—tend to work better with engineers because of their introverted nature, he said.

For Tektronix, a test and measurement equipment company, Doremus routinely performs message and concept testing with such focus groups and has learned that straightforward marketing efforts work best. "We find that they are really, really savvy and capable of cutting through marketing mumbo jumbo and getting right back to the key message that we're trying to communicate," he said.

Mannion said the more complicated or layered the marketing message is, the more likely engineers are to "turn it off." Or, he said, "They're apt to try to figure it out as almost a puzzle, to figure out what crazy game you're trying to pull or what lie you're trying to pass off."

Because engineers rely so heavily on data and information, a strong corporate Web site is an essential part of most manufacturers' marketing efforts. Semiconductor manufacturer Texas Instruments uses its Web site to deliver detailed product information, but it also recently tweaked the site to tell a broader story about the company, including information on its customer support offerings and its environmental efforts, said Jan Spence, director of brand for TI. "We believe that when we tell the rich TI story, the perceptions among engineers are improved," she said.

Yet communicating brand to an audience of engineers can be somewhat tricky because they want information with substance, Spence said. "We feel like first and foremost we have to get out there with that technical data," she said. "But second, in reaching and going into new markets, you want to establish yourself as a company that people want to do business with, so that's where the role of brand has a big part."

In addition to its Web site, TI also relies on online advertising, as well as traditional, offline efforts such as print advertising. And like other manufacturers in this space, it uses small, targeted seminars to reach customers and prospects. Those seminars generate good attendance and feedback, Spence said. Finally, the company relies heavily on one-to-one relationship-building by having its engineers partner with engineers at customer companies to solve particular problems.

One challenge with reaching engineers online is that many marketers are still spending too heavily on banner advertising, Curie said. "You go to a site and there are pop-ups, and towers, and pop-unders and all kinds of things that engineers tend to be somewhat annoyed by," he said. "But that's still how a lot of marketing people think. They're not quite thinking, `A person clicks through to my site; now how do I convert them?' They're thinking, `Hey, I need big, graphical banners, and I need a million people to see them.' "

Instead, marketers should be considering informational advertising that's in the context of what the audience is doing, Curie said.

Another obstacle many marketers in this space are encountering, Curie added, is the challenge of marketing to a global audience, with areas such as Europe and Asia becoming engineering hot spots. For instance, though many engineers in Asia have learned English, their preference is that sites be modified to their local language, he said. Also, engineers in China, for example, tend to be younger on average than American engineers and depend more on instant messaging and online communities.

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