When marketers assume that most electronics engineers are geeky and love "Star Trek," they're right, said Kerry McClenahan, principal of McClenahan Bruer Communications, a marketing agency with a long-standing electronics industry practice.
But marketers that look at this audience with such shallow views will sell them short, she said. As the professionals who dream up, design and spec anything that's driven by electronics, they are the backbone of a $1.5 trillion global industry.
Another big misassumption made about electronics engineers is that they're just like any other technical audience. It's true that they're predominantly male, in front of their computers a great deal—both at work and at home—and that they prefer marketing based on logic, demos, customer case studies and hard numbers.
However, such stereotypes disappear after marketers begin to understand electronics engineers' deeper psychographics and behaviors, McClenahan said. "While their technical cousins in the IT industry are often quick to try something new, electronics engineers often take a wait-and-see approach and sometimes view anything new with a skeptical eye," she said. "This is true in the media they embrace, too. For example, while IT technology buyers have been exploring blogs and podcasts for years, electronics engineers have just discovered them."
Such differences present challenges to marketers that think they can figure out this audience quickly. Complicating matters is that electronics engineers are naturally skeptical of marketing messages, said Ross Ayotte, publisher and managing director of CMP Media's EE Times magazine.
Anna Rigby, client strategist at communications agency VIA Group, agrees. "This audience thrives on deep data and solid proof points," Rigby said. "And they want their marketing information to sound like it came from their peers—fellow engineers rather than traditional marketers."
Without extensive experience in the electronics industry or without being able to tap the expertise of engineers to help craft strategy and messaging, marketers and agencies won't make many inroads with the audience, McClenahan said.
"It's important to speak to electronics engineers in their own language; they use jargon and labels that nobody else does," she said.
Search is one place to find and get through to electronics engineers, Rigby said.
According to McClenahan Bruer's research, vendor sites and hosted webinars are also primary places engineers count on to learn about new products. "They still may be slow to use blogs and podcasts, but they are heavy users of what is tried and true on the Web," McClenahan said.
Ayotte said print publications and trade shows also play an important role. "Electronics engineers are big readers, and they like to get their macro, heads-up industry information from trade and technology magazines," Ayotte said. "Meanwhile, face-to-face events such as CMP's Embedded Systems Conferences give marketers a chance to participate in sessions and be seen as thought leaders by this audience. And on the trade show floor they can put products in engineers' hands—a critical stage in winning them over."
Perhaps the biggest trend in the electronics industry is the boom in Asia, especially in China. China alone already has a $200 billion electronics industry, with 20% growth a year, Rigby said.
"China, for one, is graduating more electronics engineers every year than in the rest of the world combined," she said. "Lots of U.S. companies are now starting to outsource high-level design work to China, as well as [to] Taiwan and Korea."
While Asia presents a huge opportunity for marketers, it also poses innumerable complexities in reaching a different target audience. "The average Chinese electronics engineer is under 30 years old, while the average U.S. counterpart is about 45," McClenahan said. "Online social networking is a major phenomenon in China—and a major change for marketers to reach engineers in a new way. And while U.S. engineers are slow to adopt new products and processes, Chinese engineers are more ready to dive into the cutting-edge."