Six Things I Know For Sure About Marketing To Engineers
By Robert W. Bly

I am a chemical engineer and have been writing copy designed to sell products and services to engineers for 10 years. Here’s what I know about appealing to this special audience:

1. Engineers look down on advertising and advertising people, for the most part. Engineers have a low opinion of advertising—and of people whose job it is to create advertising.

The lesson for the business-to-business marketer? Make your advertising and direct mail informational and professional, not gimmicky or promotional. Avoid writing that sounds like “ad copy.” Don’t use slick graphics that immediately identify a brochure or spec sheet as “advertising.” The engineer will be quick to reject such material as “fluff.”

Engineers want to believe they are not influenced by ad copy—and that they make their decisions based on technical facts that are beyond a copywriter’s understanding. Let them believe it—as long as they respond to our ads and buy our products.

2. Engineers do not like a “consumer approach. There is a raging debate about whether engineers respond better to a straight technical approach, clever consumer-style ads, or something in between. Those who prefer the creative approach argue, “The engineer is a human being first and an engineer second. He will respond to creativity and cleverness just like everyone else.”

Unfortunately, there is much evidence to the contrary. In many tests of ads and direct mailings, I have seen straightforward, low-key, professional approaches equal or outpull “glitzy” ads and mailings repeatedly. One of my clients tested two letters offering a financial book aimed at engineers. A straightforward, benefit-oriented letter clearly outpulled a “bells-and-whistles” creative package. And I see this result repeated time and time again.

Engineers respond well to communications that address them as knowledgeable, technical professionals in search of solutions to engineering problems. Hard-sell frequently falls on deaf ears here—especially if not backed by facts.

3. The engineer’s purchase decision is more logical than emotional. Most books and articles on advertising stress that successful copy appeal to emotions first, reason second.

But with the engineering audience, it is often the opposite. The buying decision is what we call a “considered purchase” rather than an impulse buy. That is, the buyer carefully weighs the facts, makes comparisons, and buys based on what product best fulfills his requirement.

Certainly, there are emotional components to the engineer’s buying decision. For instance, preference for one vendor over another is often based more on gut feeling that actual fact. But for the most part, an engineer buying a new piece of equipment will analyze the features and technical specifications in much greater depth than a consumer buying a stereo, VCR, or other sophisticated electronic device.

Copy aimed at engineers cannot be superficial. Clarity is essential. Do not disguise the nature of what you are selling in an effort to “tease” the reader into your copy, as you might do with a consumer mail order offer. Instead, make it immediately clear what you are offering and how it meets the engineer’s needs.

4. Engineers want to know the features and specifications, not just the benefits. In consumer advertising classes, we are taught that benefits are everything, and that features are unimportant. But engineers need to know the features of your product—performance characteristics, efficiency ratings, power requirements, and technical specifications—in order to make an intelligent buying decision.

Features should especially be emphasized when selling to OEMs (original equipment manufacturers), VARs (value-added resellers), systems integrators and others who purchase your product with an intention to incorporate it into their own product.

Example: An engineer buying semiconductors to use in a device he is building doesn’t need to be sold on the benefits of semiconductors. He already knows the benefits and is primarily concerned about whether your semiconductor can provide the necessary performance and reliability while meeting his specifications in terms of voltage, current, resistance, and so forth.

5. Engineers are not turned off by jargon—in fact, they like it. Consultants teaching business writing seminars tell us to avoid jargon because it interferes with clear communication.

This certainly is true when trying to communicate technical concepts to lay audiences such as the general public or top management. But jargon can actually enhance communication when appealing to engineers, computer specialists, and other technical audiences.

Why is jargon effective? Because it shows the reader that you speak his language. When you write direct response copy, you want the reader to get the impression you’re like him, don’t you? And doesn’t speaking his language accomplish that?

Actually, engineers are not unique in having their “secret language” for professional communication. People in all fields publicly denounce jargon but privately love it. For instance, who aside from direct marketers has any idea of what a “nixie” is? And why use that term, except to make our work seem special and important?

6. Engineers have their own visual language. What are the visual devices through which engineers communicate? Charts, graphs, tables, diagrams, blueprints, engineering drawings, and mathematical symbols and equations.

You should use these visual devices when writing to engineers—for two reasons. First, engineers are comfortable with them and understand them. Second, these visuals immediately say to the engineer, “This is solid technical information, not promotional fluff.”

The best visuals are those specific to the engineer’s specialty. Electrical engineers like circuit diagrams. Computer programmers feel comfortable looking at flow charts. Systems analysts use structured diagrams. Learn the visual language of your target audience and have your artist use these symbols and artwork throughout your ad, brochure, or mailer.


Bob Bly is a freelance copywriter with 20 years experience in business-to-business and direct marketing. He has written direct mail packages for Phillips Publishing, Agora Publishing, KCI Communications, McGraw-Hill, Medical Economics, Reed Reference Publishing, A.F. Lewis, and numerous other publishers.

Bob Bly
Copywriter, Consultant and Seminar Leader
22 East Quackenbush Avenue, 3rd Floor, Dumont, NJ 07628
Phone (201) 385-1220, Fax (201) 385-1138