The ‘Science’ Of Branding In The World Of Industrial Marketing
I ran into an interesting guy once a few years ago. I had just walked into a banquet room – a bit early for once – to attend a marketing association meeting. I’m not the most outgoing networker in the world, but I try to make an effort at these things to meet some new people, so I walked up to the first person I saw and introduced myself. It turned out this guy was the guest speaker, a branding research expert from a high profile brand consultancy out of the Chicago area. At first, he was politely going through the motions, making small talk with me while he glanced at anyone new that walked in the room. But that changed when I answered his question about what kind of clients we work with, and what kind of people they sell to. “Engineers! I am fascinated by them,” he said.
He went on to tell me about one of the intense exercises they do with target audience subjects on behalf of the clients they work for. One aspect of this particular exercise, he said, was boring for their researchers because it almost always yielded the same results, regardless of the type of people being observed. What they do is sit a person down in a chair, tell them to close their eyes, and proceed to ask a series of ‘what comes to mind’ type questions. When they get to a question that asks the subject to describe a situation that sets their mind at ease, most everyone answers with something like ‘sitting on a beach listening to the ocean.’ However, he explained excitedly, if the subject is an engineer, they will often answer with something like ‘the sound of one of their machines running smoothly.’ Imagine that. Sounds a bit geeky doesn’t it?
This story illustrates a simple but unique reality we have to consider everyday here at dgs. Technically minded people process information (and make purchase decisions) differently than the rest of us.
Branding can be a very important part of an integrated marketing program for companies that sell manufacturing equipment. That may seem counterintuitive to some marketing folks. Don’t technically minded people purchase things based solely on a detailed, process-oriented analysis, and therefore concern themselves only with the features and specs of a product? The short answer is ‘not exactly.’ There’s no question that their decision making process is more analytical than other business-to-business audiences advertising agencies may deal with. But we’ve learned from studying research and our own observations from years of doing this kind of work that technically minded people are in fact deeply affected by brand perceptions, and even emotions, much more than they might admit if the question is posed to them in a group setting.
Most of our clients sell a very expensive piece of high-tech manufacturing equipment. As a marketing service company for these types of clients, we do a lot of technical product marketing designed to inform and influence engineers, plant managers, scientists, and other industrial audiences. To do that effectively, you have to be able to get inside a technical person’s mind to understand how they think and what influences their brand perceptions. Besides traditional forms of marketing communications like print advertising, public relations, website development, direct mail and trade show marketing, the actual experiences a customer has using a piece of equipment, and the chemistry of their relationship with the people at the company making the product collectively contribute to that company’s brand image. So, at least for a technical audience, branding is much more than logos and slogans. To build a brand image, you better have your key messages right, and deliver them in a believable, creative, and, most importantly, compelling way.
There’s another interesting dynamic at play here, particularly for our clients. The machines they sell often run productively for 10, 15 or even 20 years before they are replaced. So, good or bad, the impression (read ‘brand image’) left with the user endures longer than most other company’s products. In many cases, that presents an opportunity. Through the life of the product, support services like applications engineering, training, parts and service, etc. can serve to enhance the brand image of our client, so we look for opportunities to include those things as part of our marketing communications approach. It’s all part of the science of branding in the world of industrial marketing.
I could go on and on about branding and technical marketing, but in the interest of keeping this blog post to a reasonable length, I’ll just close by offering to continue the conversation ‘offline’ with anyone that is interested. Please feel free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at 317-813-2220 if you have any interesting thoughts on this subject.