A&E marketing and business development guest post: Is it time for engineering to be sexy?

As more and more businesses engage in marketing efforts for their firm, most times we just learn from the other like-firms around us.  But when is it about time that your company stands above all the rest?

This is the seventh post in Deltek’s A&E marketing and business development blog series.  Expert David Stone, founder and President of Stone and Company, talks about the importance of differentiating your firm from the rest.  With this insight (backed by Deltek Vision CRM and the integrated suite of Vision marketing solutions), Deltek’s goal is simple: To help your firm win more work! Enjoy.  To learn more about Deltek Vision CRM, check out this demo.

Is it time for engineering to be sexy?

My first job in this business was as a draftsman at an electrical engineering firm in Toronto in 1974. Drafting boards, mylar sheets, parallel bars and pencils. How far we’ve come!

It’s also interesting to look back from a marketing perspective because at that time it was considered unethical for a firm to publish even a business card as an advertisement. You could get your knuckles rapped for that kind of unprofessional and unfair competitive behavior. How far we’ve come! Today we’ve got Cut-your-heart-out-with-a-rusty-knife-and-eat-it-for-breakfast competition.

For about the last twenty years, design professionals have been engaged in a frantic game of catch-up as they’ve had to learn about marketing in a competitive marketplace. We’ve attended seminars and symposia and challenged ourselves to think outside our rather rigid boxes. Most of this learning, however, has been from each other. Firms learning from other firms, trading ideas and copying ‘best practices’ wherever we could find them.

Along the way we’ve all learned a lot about marketing. We’ve learned how to build those critical relationships, write engaging proposals, maintain rich websites and deliver compelling presentations.

The unintended result though is that the marketing efforts of the majority of firms today look and feel the same. We’ve learned so much from each other that we now resemble that little town in the mountains where they just keep marrying each other.

I contend that, from a marketing standpoint, we’ve learned all there is to learn from each other. The next lessons have to come from outside our industry.

Some years ago I spoke at an AIA conference. My topic was branding as an emerging marketing strategy. Despite the fact that my talk was at the 101 level at best, there were 100 people anxiously taking notes and asking questions. After the session a woman approached me and asked, “Is it just me, or are these people way behind the times?” Turned out that she had just taken over as Marketing Director at an AE firm after 10 years in consumer marketing. She said that the things I’d been discussing, the things that seemed like new news to the crowd, were things the consumer market had been doing for more than 100 years!

There’s an important lesson in this – the next big thing for AE marketing isn’t going to be found in a case study from another engineering firm, it’s hiding in the way they’re marketing vacations. Or cars. Or soap. Or insurance.

Things don’t get much duller than insurance. And for years the insurance industry sold their services using predictable notions like trust, and solidity, and dependability. Important stuff, but boring as grey paint.

Then some bright bunny (who I hope is really rich today) got the brilliant idea of making insurance sexy. Turns out that he is because that bright bunny was Warren Buffet. He bought Geico in 1996 and turned on the marketing. According to one report, Geico has outspent its competitors in marketing in 16 of the past 17 years. Not coincidentally, it has also increased both profits and market share in 16 of the past 17 years.

Countering Geico’s Gecko is Progressive’s Flo, who since debuting in 2008, has helped lure nearly 2.5 million fans to the insurer’s Facebook site. Today we’ve got Allstate’s Mayhem, Farmer’s University and State Farm’s magically appearing agents. You may cringe at the suggestion that there are lessons to be learned here, but you can’t argue with their results.

Am I suggesting that your engineering firm should start using a talking lizard to promote your services? Absolutely not! But I am suggesting that the principles that other, more marketing-savvy industries have learned over the past century could contain some very valuable lessons for us newbies.

Is it time for engineering to become sexy? Maybe. It’s certainly time for us to move to the bright side of the road by learning what geniuses like Warren Buffet already know.

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About Jon Bornstein

Jon Bornstein manages Deltek's marketing in the A&E industry across North America. His job is to ensure that firms understand the many ways they can drive business value using Deltek purpose-built solutions.
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