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VERTICAL INSIGHT: ELECTRONICS ENGINEERING
Market forces are reshaping content strategy in b2b marketing as a whole, and the electronics engineering vertical is no exception. These marketers, once known for product-focused specification sheets, are now focusing on a new breed of collateral, including community engagement, thought leadership and how-to videos.
“There is a realization that content needs to focus on the entire buying cycle and not just the end of the buying cycle,” said Bob Murphy, managing partner at Movéo Integrated Branding, a Chicago-based agency with a roster of clients that includes such suppliers as Molex Inc.
Marketers have not abandoned the diagrammed datasheets that have long been an industry staple, Murphy said, but they are developing content to engage earlier-stage audiences. “The issue isn't necessarily a new circuit breaker or connector but something that might relate to [the general topics of] microminiature or speed.”
Some of that content is already available and simply needs to be promoted on the Web. But marketers also need to be ready to invest, Murphy said. “If you are building a budget today, a line item needs to be content. That has got to be done.”
The role of marketing departments in the vertical has changed as a time-strapped engineering audience has embraced the on-demand nature of the Web.
“The number of engineers [at many client companies] has gone from 30 to 10,” said Ralph Bright, VP-marketing at Interpower Corp., a manufacturer of power system components. “And the projects that they're working on have gone from two to 10. They have to get the information they want when they want it.”
Interpower has shifted marketing dollars to such digital channels as electronic newsletters and virtual events. The digital platforms allow its marketers to engage in interactions better targeted to niche audiences, and they also make it easier for the company to track return on investment, Bright said. (See sidebar for a look at how Interpower uses virtual events.)
The digital landscape has also altered the relationship between sales and marketing, said John Schirmer, VP-worldwide sales for digital marketing channel SupplyFrame Inc. “In the electronics industry, marketing and sales used to be different organizations,” he said. “Marketing made noise about the product, and then sales took over. What you see now is complete integration at top-level companies.”
Engineers use digital channels to learn about products, track industry news, make purchases and collaborate with their peers, he said. “It's changed how marketers talk to engineers. It's not a one-way conversation; you're not dictating the time or tempo.”
Digital tools have helped components distributor Avnet Electronics Marketing streamline customer interactions, circumventing the need for field teams to funnel technical questions to experts, said Jim Beneke, VP-global technical marketing at Avnet. The company has developed product-specific support communities such as ZedBoard.org, which it introduced a little over a year ago to promote and support development kits.
“We're able to interact with more customers and share more easily through online forums,” he said. “We will continue to evolve with this model. From an efficiency perspective, it's better for us and for the customer. They get a quicker, more accurate response right away from someone who has [direct experience with the product] as opposed to a chain of people.”
As industry dynamics shift, peer-to-peer forums are becoming more popular, said Patrick Mannion, VP-brand director of the Electronics Group at publishing company UBM Tech. “Engineers are working from home more and can't talk to other engineers over the cubicle wall,” he said. “They need somewhere to connect with people in the engineering field.”
UBM Tech earlier this year shuttered its print publications and relaunched its EDN and EE Times websites as online communities, inviting engineers and industry stakeholders to contribute to the sites.
Marketers need to invest in multiple tactics, developing an integrated approach that provides everything from thought leadership to lead generation and purchase support, said Chris Chariton, senior director-digital media solutions for online marketing channel IHS GlobalSpec, which produces everything from webinars and virtual events to digital directories and electronic newsletters. “The marketers that are using multiple digital media channels are doing the best job of reaching engineers,” she said.
The message is simple: “Engineers don't like to be marketed to,” she said. “You don't want to have a sales pitch. Make it more about new technology; take it beyond your company and offer insight and information.”