“Marketing in its various forms is often the only way a consultancy can differentiate itself unless the consultancy competes on price, which rarely ends well for anybody,” says Engineering Advice’s Neil Watson.
A talented friend from an engineering firm told me recently of an advertisement he saw at an airport for an engineering consultancy and how he felt such a marketing spend would not provide a positive return on investment. The quality of your work should speak for itself and advertising only cheapens a brand, he argued. I had to disagree.
There are plenty of engineering consultancies doing high-quality work, so quality is hardly a differentiator. Brand advertising, on the other hand, when part of an integrated marketing strategy, can carry a very strong message indeed.
In fact, marketing in its various forms is often the only way a consultancy can differentiate itself unless the consultancy competes on price, which rarely ends well for anybody.
Engineering businesses at the small to medium end are often reticent to consider marketing their business and yet my research into the mysterious world of marketing revealed the powerful influencer of brand perception.
Marketing permeates almost everything your business does, from the way you speak with potential clients in meetings to the quality of technical reports and presentations and from your social media presence all the way through to paid advertising.
Why marketing is a vital differentiator
Researchers of marketing theory long ago established the Four P’s for physical products: Product, Price, Placement and Promotion; and three more Ps for the provision of services: People, Process and Physical Evidence.
All of these except ‘promotion’ can be replicated by competing firms. Of all of the ingredients of brand success, only ‘promotion’, or the service attributes and corporate brand communicated by that promotion, can be owned by one business.
In a consulting environment, where costs may be high and performance critical, this communication is best performed through face-to-face meetings. However, there are other means of communication that, despite some enduring perceptions in the engineering industry, provide valuable precursors to such meetings. These include: direct marketing, such as emails and brochures; interactive marketing found on websites; exhibitions; publicity and PR; and even advertising.
A company’s brand messages may be communicated by any or all of these sources, which means it is vital to provide consistent messages across all touchpoints. Once messages are consistent, each will act to reinforce the other. In the marketing world, this principle is known as Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC).
It is a coordinated organisation and implementation of communications that deliver a consistent and timely message to a target audience. Academic research has proven time and time again that such a process has a beneficial effect on brand outcomes.
Aligning the message
Let’s end where we began, with the airport advertising example.
Imagine the engineering consultancy that was advertising at the airport had been through the above process. As a result, they had aligned all of their marketing messages across all various forms of communications, from face-to-face meetings and technical reports to direct marketing such as emails and brochures, to website and social media content and exhibitions. They appreciate the power of marketing and so look for a new channel to approach current and prospective clients.
They know potential clients are likely to fly a lot. Also, when people go to the airport they’re generally having a pleasant experience (unless they’re stuck in a queue). They’re away from the office, away from clients, enjoying time to themselves.
They’re feeling successful and professional, and perhaps they’re even excited about where they’re going. Then, when they’re in a relaxed and positive frame of mind, they see the advertisement. Does it cheapen the brand, or does it say, ‘Remember us next time you need a consultant for a successful engineering project’?
In my own peer-reviewed research I compared the importance clients place on various marketing channels and messages. I found clients were interested in the ‘rational’ information supporting a consultant’s technical ability, which was no surprise.
However, I also found clients were further interested in the consultant’s personal characteristics, which emphasises the duality of both the emotional (brand) and rational (technological and informational) engagement associated with building brand resonance.
This goes some way to demonstrating that when implemented and integrated well, marketing communications can assist differentiation in the marketplace, providing benefits for both the engineering consultant and the client.
Neil Watson’s research is published in the Australian Journal of Multi-Disciplinary Engineering. He is an engineering consultant at Engineering Advice.
Full research project cited in this article:
N. Watson, “How engineering consultants should communicate with their clients: an integrated marketing communications (IMC) perspective.” Australian Journal of Multi-Disciplinary Engineering, vol. 13, no. 1, pp. 47-69, 2017.