How to market to engineers

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The global electronics industry will generate approximately $1.5 trillion in revenue in 2006, said Tim Avila, group marketing director for CMP Media's Electronics Group. It's a huge industry that's integrated into many other huge industries, including automotive and aerospace.

"And just like with automobile and aerospace manufacturers, the key to marketing and selling to electronics companies is convincing engineering teams early in the design process to specify your products as OEM components in their designs," Avila said. "For high-volume applications like consumer products, the stakes are enormous. One design win can mean tens of millions of dollars in revenue or more."

Such a win, however, won't come fast, easy or cheap. In fact, to score an OEM win with a major electronics company you'll need to win not only engineers but also purchasing executives.

"The nature of our business is a very distributed decision-making process, both within an organization and across geographies," said Ross Ayotte, director of worldwide brand management and corporate marketing at ON Semiconductor.

Engaging Engineers

So how do component marketers get started on the purchase trail? The primary targets are design engineers and, while they may not routinely make purchases, they generally have the most influence on what parts are ultimately used, industry experts agree.

"The life cycle for most electronics is unbelievably short compared to products in most other industries," said Brian Solis, founder and principal of FutureWorks, a marketing communications agency. "For this reason, product managers and design engineers work with their blinders on to get products done quickly. They're looking for products and solutions that will help them now; they simply don't have time or interest in marketing hype."

Historically, marketers have responded to such tendencies by focusing on product attributes. However, when so many competitors have similar products with almost identical specifications, that leaves little room for differentiation other than price and brand.

"Electronics component marketers need to elevate the selling messages up to benefits, values and relationships," said Allan Steinmetz, CEO of Inward Strategic Consulting. "Engineers have a hard time making that leap-they're so logical and empirical. Engineers would describe sushi as wet, dead, cold fish on warm rice rather than as a delightful, experiential Japanese dining experience."

Ayotte also said electronics component marketers focus too much on detailed product specifications. "Customers aren't just buying the part, they're buying the relationship," he said. They're buying reliability and assurance of supply."

Heads-up vs. heads-down data

Recently, CMP's Electronics Group surveyed 4,000 design engineers in 20 countries to better understand where they get their information.

Engineers have two types of information needs, Avila said. The first is "heads-up" information, such as news on technology advances, the competitive environment and what's going on in the industry. The second type, he said, is "heads-down" information, which engineers use when actively involved in their work-for instance, product performance specifications or highly technical information on how to solve specific problems.

More important, the survey discovered that engineers are more inclined to use print media and e-mail newsletters for heads-up news and analysis. And they're more likely to use the Web for how-to and product performance-heads-down-information, Avila said. "Understanding these differences is key to tailoring your messaging and media strategies," he said. "It pays to diversify and tailor your promotions across these channels. Online, it's about customization and delivering product information on demand. In print, it's about maximizing your share of mind and driving engineers to take action."

Get in the way of their work

Ayotte has found that because engineers are so busy, they usually don't respond well to unsolicited marketing information.

"Therefore, the challenge to us as an electronics component manufacturer is to put information `in the way' of their everyday work," he said. "For that reason, the Web is the best place to be now. It's where engineers are doing their research, and where we need to be with our messaging and marketing. Search engine optimization, paid search, microsites and dedicated portals all are critical tools right now for our online marketing efforts."

E-learning and product evaluation are also two growing opportunities for marketers to reach engineers online, Avila said. "Globalization and the rapid pace of change are forcing engineers to continuously upgrade their skill sets," he said. "We're seeing strong demand to build custom e-learning campuses for our most forward-thinking clients.

"We also have an online technology called VirtuaLab that enables engineers anywhere in the world to test a product live over the Internet as if it were in their lab. This has been a tremendous success and has helped our clients significantly reduce time to sale and improve client satisfaction."

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