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B2E Marketing – What Infrastructure Firms Should Be Doing

Lots of people, whether they work in marketing or not, can tell you what the acronyms B2C and B2B mean, and a surprising number can also correctly identify B2G. Modern humans are a marketing savvy species, and are familiar with the terms and techniques used to persuade and coerce. I believe that those selling infrastructure solutions—especially solutions that are new or innovative—should think in terms of a new acronym; B2E, for Business-2-Engineer marketing. Here’s why:

Business-2-Consumer Marketing has little relevance for infrastructure marketers, because they’re rarely selling, say, laser scanning solutions to housewives. But ironically, the coercive, interruptive techniques of B2C marketing are so pervasive that marketing and communications executives in infrastructure firms may find themselves using B2C techniques unconsciously and automatically. They may, for example, rely too much on trade journal ads or on mass mailings with persuasive copy, but little factual content. For reasons discussed below, content-free ‘B2C-style’ advertising can not only be unproductive, it might actively help your competition.

Business-2-Business Marketing techniques are a better fit for infrastructure firms, but are still far from perfect. B2B marketers are often seeking extremely high volume, low margin sales and tend to emphasize cost and quality. This can obviously work well for some infrastructure products, but it doesn’t really apply to firms that are selling highly technical solutions, especially solutions that are relatively new. In these cases, infrastructure purchasers need to be convinced to try something new, and cost isn’t the first consideration; rather, they need to be convinced that the new solution is worth the risk (see my article, What Are Your Customers Afraid Of?).

Business-2-Government Marketing seems like it would be the best fit of all, since infrastructure firms are often selling to municipalities and government agencies. But much B2G expertise is based on negotiating lengthy government procurement procedures, where pre-qualified products are competing based mainly on price or on adherence to published specifications. Purchasers rarely have personal worries about the consequences of making a bad decision. And again, for those selling new solutions, these techniques are rarely relevant. Rather, you need to convince individuals within municipalities and big firms that your solution will save and/or make money if adopted; they need to feel—that is, worry—that the risks of not trying your new idea are greater than the risks of trying it out.

So, what kind of marketing does work?
Think about the people who actually give the go ahead on the purchase of new infrastructure solutions. They are often directors of public works at municipalities, supervisors at utility agencies, managers at large agencies, etc. Almost always, they are either actual engineers, work with engineers, or have an ‘engineer’s mindset’. Here are some things that characterize this kind of buyer:

They value factual, educational marketing material like white papers, case studies, charts, etc. In fact, studies of technology buyers show that they need to see a minimum of three to five pieces of factual content before authorizing purchases. And more is better; they will routinely read seven or more pieces of content, and they like the feeling of being well informed.

They will turn to Google for more information: a study of 3,000 technology buyers showed that nearly all buyers do online research when investigating a product, and more than half are sophisticated enough to use multi-word search phrases and operators. This is why low-content advertising techniques like magazine ads or brochure mailing can be counterproductive: if you pique a buyer’s interest in a solution they will turn to Google, and if your competitors have more relevant online content than you, they will get the sale. For this reason, infrastructure marketers need to get content online, and content should be effectively optimized for the search phrases your prospects are likely to use.

Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are not important to these buyers, at least not yet. This is based on my seven years experience working with and interviewing key figures in the infrastructure industry. And yes, this is a generalization with some important exceptions. But by and large, I see no indication that infrastructure firms should be making big investments in social media; engineers are not yet strongly interested. This is different from the bulk of B2B and B2C marketing, where such investments are justified. On the other hand, focused blogs can be very effective; see below.

As you can see, these prospects have enough unique characteristics to justify a unique, B2E, marketing approach. Those who think in terms of this audience’s unique characteristics are likely to do better in the infrastructure marketplace.

Getting Started
Here are two basic ideas to consider when crafting a B2E marketing plan:

Develop a lot of content and get it online. It really can be that simple. If your competitors aren’t actively competing for Google results, you may have the opportunity to get in first and ‘own’ important keywords and search phrases. If there is active competition, you’ll need to do more. You’ll need a lot of relevant content, you’ll have to pay attention to SEO, you may need to think about blogging or publishing online, and you might want to consider online ad campaigns. But the essence of what you’re trying to do is simple: develop a suite of useful relevant content and make sure it’s visible to search engines.

Think like a publisher. Typically, advertisers tend to think of themselves as making use of magazines, websites, newsletters and other publications in order to spread the word about their solutions and products. But in today’s media environment what, really, is the difference between advertisers and publishers? Consider what content marketing expert Joe Pulizzi has to say:

“The only difference is that a media company leverages content in order to sell paid content and sponsorships… and a non-media company does the same thing but not to get paid content or sponsorships—they do it to sell products and services.”

In other words, it’s possible to cut out the middle man and publish directly to your prospects. You can do this online of course, with blogs and e-newsletters. But paper is surprisingly effective, and your ‘publication’ can be as simple as a one-page newsletter or as elaborate as a self-published book. There are two keys to doing this right:

1) develop a specialized list of your ideal prospects
2) approach this list of prospects consistently with relevant content

If you do these two things, you will eventually develop a sales machine with a life of its own. Prospects will pass it to other ideal customers, and they’ll keep back issues around for reference. It can be tough sledding at first, but developing a targeted, in-house publication is one of the most secure investments you’ll ever make in marketing.

There’s more you can do of course, and I’d love to help you do it. Give me a call! I can take a look at your current situation, make content and strategy suggestions, and make your B2E marketing campaign profitable!

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Bio

Angus W. Stocking

Angus W. Stocking, L.S., is a licensed land surveyor who now prepares information marketing content for the infrastructure industry.

Contact

Angus W. Stocking, L.S.
P.O. Box 872
Paonia CO 81428
270.363.0033 office
angusstocking@gmail.com

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