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Part 2: Connecting with Engineers Online - Insights & Advice from Marketing & Communications Leaders

Updated: Sep 18, 2023

Didn't get enough insights about connecting with engineers online from my last post? Good, because I'm back with a second round of tips, tricks, and hacks that I gleaned from the 2023 CFE Media and Technology Marketing to Engineers event.

Nikki Gonzales, the Head of Partnerships at Quotebeam, Deal Partner at Ganas Ventures, Co-host of the Automation Ladies podcast, and an experienced guest speaker, delivered another of my favorite presentations from this year's conference.

Nikki is passionate about the future of work and talked about marketing to the modern workforce, which is comprised mainly of millennials. Key takeaways from her presentation include:

Millennials make up the largest share of the engineering workforce — roughly 50% compared to approximately 20% for Gen Z, 25% for Gen X, and 5% for Baby Boomers.

  • To reach them and Gen Z, you should ungate your content, unpolish your image, and unleash your people.

"Ungate" Your Content:

  • For younger engineers, gated content elicits user annoyance and mistrust, has a negative impact on lead quality, and hinders the potential for long-term relationships. If they want to read it, they'll create throwaway emails to access it.

  • Instead:

    • Ask customers if they want an engineer or salesperson to call them or offer a link to a Calendly meeting request page for the sales or engineering team. Some younger engineers at the right point in the buying cycle will want to hear from you but most likely won't.

    • Robyn Saphnir, the Marketing Communications Leader at Cummins Power Generation, said in the Marketers Panel that CRM data and digital marketing analytics are incredibly valuable for seeing who is accessing your content and how often and helping you identify when to reach out.

    • Give easy-to-follow CTAs and ask, "How did you hear about us" for attribution. This can be especially helpful for tracking otherwise untraceable content shares sent via Slack or email.

Unpolish Your Image:

  • Be authentic and relatable. Younger engineers prefer honest conversations and examples over polished videos and presentations.

  • Address both the pros and the cons. Admit who and what your organization or product is not a good fit for to save everyone time.

  • Embrace user-generated content and testimonials. Younger engineers place a lot more value on peer referrals than sales pitches.

    • Some of them are probably already doing it. Ask your employees and customers to take and share photos and videos and make it easy for them to do so if you want to supercharge relevance and credibility.

    • For example, Jake Hall, the Manufacturing Millennial, who has also worked as a business development manager for ATS Global and senior sales engineer for Industrial Control, once recorded himself using a Banner Engineering indicator light affixed to a pole as a hammer to demonstrate the product's durability. The video was short and didn't include any words, but it got 85,000 views and helped him launch his Manufacturing Millennial brand.

    • New engineers may know less than their more experienced colleagues, especially about how to buy things and interact with vendors and partners, but they often don't want to admit it. So, the more human you are as a vendor or partner, the stronger your relationship will be.

    • The right mix of SMEs and technical content can be crucial.

    • Cater to short attention spans. Have quick, digestible, and fun content that keeps engineers engaged between projects.

      • Robyn Saphnir also highlighted how important it is to have a mix of short and long content (e.g., 15-minute product launch videos with an SME backed by a 20-page whitepaper, spec sheet, datasheet, drawing, etc.) because engineers live for the kind of in-depth technical detail that can make non-engineers go cross-eyed. New AI tools like Supercreator and Opus Clip can significantly streamline the creation or modification of short-form video content.

      • Roxanne Larcher, the Global Marketing Director at Schneider Electric, who also participated in the Marketers Panel, noted that while younger people prefer short and sweet content, older people still prefer upfront technical details. So, you've got to be mindful of your personas and demographics. There's no one-size-fits-all solution.

    • Build brand loyalty. All roads lead to the sale, and you never know how or when a prospect will be ready to reach out and buy.

      • Thought leadership done well can build a mountain of credibility and trust.

      • Be informative and insightful. Speak generally about the product space. Address the topic beyond the brand's product. Tell them why your solution is best, but don't hide the competition. Use your strong points for competitor contrast. Consider admitting an application or two that your product isn't well suited for.

Unleash Your People:

  • Personal brands are an asset, not a liability. People buy from people. It used to be over drinks or on the golf course, but in the age of social media, it's often your team's personal brands and networks that open doors and close deals.

  • Show your culture.

    • Think of social media more like a flywheel than a funnel. Engaged and visible employees show off your company culture.

    • Younger engineers want to know that they're doing business with a company they can support regarding diversity, community, sustainability, etc.

  • Build trust. Younger engineers trust your people more than your marketing, and they like to hear from their peers — if not a friend or colleague, someone they can relate to. They also value relatable testimonials and case studies.

  • If you have good people, a good culture, and good products, then you're good to go.

Given that I've worked in marcom roles for electronic and engineering industry clients for 15 years, the evolution of the internet's role in our lives over that span, and the unrelenting pace of technological developments, I've seen a considerable shift in best practices. So, I found Nikki's insights about the relatively recent rise of the younger engineering workforce to be super interesting.

I was especially happy to see that there's now evidence that supports my long-held view on gated content and the alternative approaches for helping clients obtain that same key data. I was also pleased to see evidence supporting authenticity and more casual, relatable voices and content, as I think evidence is vital for helping successful, well-established companies try something new that can help further improve their visibility and perception — and I am all about helping to make something that arguably works work even better. Lastly, I loved that her insights dovetailed with both Jeff Winters' and Jake Hall's (See "Connecting with Engineers Online: Insights and Advice from Marketing & Communications Leaders – Part 1.”) That through-line about personal brands and the power of employee voices, company cultures, and relatable content gave me great confidence in pitching my clients on new approaches and underscored the utility of the CFE Media and Technology Marketing to Engineers event, which I look forward to attending again in the future to glean more great ideas.

If you think your organization could benefit from enacting this advice or achieving other marketing communications goals, please reach out for a free initial consultation.

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