In college courses, students are often given the choice of studying in a stem field (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) or a business field(accounting, finance, marketing, sales).
The distinction between creating, engineering, or building, and selling, business, or promotion is often made very clear at an early age. On one hand, you have entrepreneurs who sell and build their products all at once. On the other, you have people who would never want to “sell” something but love creating products. As a third combination, you have marketers and business people who sell products without knowing any of the backgrounds of what went into building them.
The current understanding of both realms
Aside from the outliers, and by the way, often these outliers are entrepreneurs who trump others in size, success, and notoriety, a large portion of people looking to start businesses are either skilled in the creation of a product (engineering) or the promotion of the product (marketing). This could be due to the way that courses are now designed in modern education, or due to other extraneous factors.
As engineers and marketers grow as people and professionals, the overlap between the two realms becomes more obvious. The stereotypical softer skill base of marketers, often grows into a more technical understanding over time, while the stereotypical technical skill base of engineers grows into a softer skill base understanding over time. Now, this is NOT to say that all engineers initially lack soft skills and all marketers lack technical skills, but it highlights the areas of focus and study from the onset of a professional learning decision, oftentimes made at an early age.
In the real world.
I had the pleasure of attending the CU Boulder Capstone fair – an opportunity for students of the engineering school to showcase their yearlong group projects.
As I was walking around and viewing projects, I found myself utterly impressed with the solutions offered by students. A few that caught my interest:
- A lighter and less clunky design of a Cessna Airplane Seat was built by a team of Mechanical Engineers.
- A Mental Health App Re-Design was built by a team of CS Engineers.
- RFID enabled Humidity Sensor built for warehouse temperature optimization created by a team of both Aerospace Engineers and Electrical Engineers.
After speaking to many of these teams, I found that there were almost an unlimited amount of questions that were easily and thoughtfully answered by the people who had dedicated the better portion of their Senior Years to perfecting their ideas.
One area which I was keen to ask about(given my background) but rarely heard an enthusiastic response to, was a question I posed along the lines of:
“Great, so how do you promote this?”
Now, you may say the reason for that is that you were asking engineers a marketing-based question, to which I would say, “yes, you’re right”. I was asking a question outside of the “scope” of the participants. Furthermore, if you were to post the opposite yet the identical line of question to a marketing student, you’d likely be met with the same response.
I do not think that the two realms of engineering and marketing are as divided as we like to believe. In almost every project I have worked on, the meshing of Marketing and Engineering has been a central point of creativity and growth for all stakeholders involved.
So much so, that I have referred to the term Promotional Development, and wrote about it in this article. I have seen the eyes of engineers light up many times when a first user(who doesn’t happen to be their friends or family) logs on or utilizes a solution that they came up with and built. For marketers, a better understanding of a product or solution and what went into building it often means a better promotional system.
* While the following questions posed assume all products and services are created from the mind of only one entrepreneur, it is an interesting way to interpret both skillsets. Imagine rather than complete teams with both marketers and engineers, that there is only one person able to dictate what changes, iterations, and audiences a product is marketed to.
What would it mean to an engineer if they were able to gain early users on a product that they built?
What would it mean to a marketer if they were able to build a product from scratch and then provide it to their audience?
Promotional development is simply marketing in conjunction with technical engineering to build products better, faster, and more tuned to the needs of its users. In marketing, a lot of processes are not innately set up or discussed. While there are standard split testing strategies that have been around for decades, how this actually functions is not always clear.
Finding out the “better” option when marketing an “A” and “B” means removing any extra variables which may affect the results. Ask a data scientist, and they will likely tell you that a large portion of split tests are not constructed in a way that warrants sure decision-making based on your test results.
What this means for engineers is the following: answers to the questions so often posed such as, “Which of these two is better for the user?” Or “would a user find this useful or did we create it out of our needs and not necessarily their needs?” are not easily found. Without an understanding of the user and the product, marketers are unable to aptly address these problems because of the inability to pose the correct question.
What would it mean for teams comprised of both skill sets if there was a better understanding of what each party could contribute?
Often times early iterations of software are tested using marketing strategies to provide early adopters on platforms that need testing and nimble changes based on user needs. How does one get those users? Well, in a lot of cases promotional development is the simple answer.
In the case they do pose the correct question, the tests tan can oftentimes leave some to be desired in the amount of data collected. Without proper knowledge or understanding of split tests, engineers are left with little to no actionable information regarding their product iteration. When lacking, the fusion between engineers and marketers leaves customers desiring more product features, while teams are unable to pinpoint the needs that would end up retaining more customers if properly addressed.
In both lines of work, the same issues or hurdles are often faced. Needing to create a superior solution than before, while learning from past mistakes, means that both parties are inherently creative-minded and results-driven. While processes are less emphasized in the marketing scope, oftentimes the most successful marketing campaigns are due to approaching problems with a process-oriented mindset. To better understand this process, marketing can be broken up into 3 different sections:
- Pre-Reach – includes any data mining, audience sorting, content creation, budget allocation, and planning.
- Out-Reach – includes any advertisements, calling, emailing, communicating, or usage of the aforementioned data.
- Post-Reach – includes any interaction with user, customer, or client, after a conversion action has been taken.
At every step, marketers should aim to optimize for their decided KPI’s. One way of doing this is speaking to the Product Managers and Engineers behind building the product. Those same engineers are actually often more-so marketers than they may believe, because the reason they likely built the product, was by listening to the needs of a customer and creating a solution. If we are to classify marketing very simply (and beautifully), it would be exactly that:
Listening to the needs of someone and facilitating a solution.
Take Salesforce, a CRM platform making technical skills more accessible and learnable for marketers and salespeople alike. An example of a marketing tool with more “technical” involvement than any other, leading to increased customer acquisition rates.
Take CuVo, an in-app, cloud-based feedback mechanism that creates actionable steps for teams to improve product quality. An example of a tool that engineers are using to better understand their product’s valued aspects and therefore increase customer retention.
Aren’t customer acquisition and customer retention both goals most businesses would aspire to reach?
If you are to take anything from it, take this:
The way that we categorize people and job roles when creating products and building businesses, as well as educating the next generation of leaders and entrepreneurs, is likely not focusing enough on the collaboration of the groups involved, but rather is focusing on the distinction and delegation of the groups involved.
If both groups – marketers, and engineers – can work to better understand one another’s equally important roles, business success is more likely.
If as humans, all of us can work to better understand one another’s equally important roles, our success is more likely.
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