Marketers, You Want Innovation? Bring On The Engineers!

  • by , Featured Contributor, October 12, 2017

Marketing and advertising are sorely in need of innovation. Digital disruptions and changes in consumer behavior have turned upside down so many of the marketing and advertising practices of that past. Brands and retailers know that they can’t drive growth -- certainly not predictably and profitably -- unless they innovate across all of their commercial communications.

Old models won’t get them there, and shareholders and public markets are not showing a lot of patience. Just look at the showdown P&G faced at its annual meeting last week from activist investors.

What will drive this necessary innovation? Should you start with making it a clear priority, then seek out best practices from across the industry? Many brands have already hired consultants. Many companies now have internal think tanks, run “innovation labs,” attend industry conferences, go to Burning Man, replace cubicles with WeWork-like spaces, and hire newly minted MBAs, new-age-thinking liberal arts grads or millennials.



Any or all of these might lead to some positive results. But after working in the marketing and advertising industry for the past 25 years, I can safely say that -- without question -- these would not be the fastest and most certain paths to driving true innovation. Marketers, if innovation is what you seek, bring on the engineers!

As a group, the most creative thinkers and doers that I have worked with have been engineers. Yes, engineers.

There's a reason that Silicon Valley has driven so much innovation in the Internet era and the people that have delivered the best solutions have been engineers. (And I write this as a digital entrepreneur who is proud of his liberal arts education.)

I think that I’m innovative, but I’m no match for engineers when it comes to truly creating and delivering effective solutions into the marketplace. To the extent that my companies have had success in the marketplace, it’s because I’ve become pretty good at listening and talking to engineers -- and, hopefully, learning how to keep out of their way. I’m still working on that one, though.

Handing over the reins of their future is not something most marketers are comfortable with. Many aren’t that comfortable dealing directly with engineers. Many don’t take the time to learn how the systems they build work. Way too many rely on other people to “translate” for them when it comes to dealing with engineers.

That won’t work anymore. Technology is where innovation is happening now. Engineers are the ones innovating technology. If a marketer can’t communicate, manage and fully engage with engineers directly and truly understand what they’re building and why and what decisions and trade-offs they are making in building it, they will lose.

Many marketers assume that because engineers speak technical language that they don’t understand, they are left-brained, expert in science and math, and are not “creative.” Having employed hundreds of engineers over the past 20 years, that has not been my experience. Quite the opposite, in fact. My experience has been that people who pursue engineering as a career tend to be some of the most dynamic and creative thinkers I’ve ever seen. I’ve found more of them to be musicians, poets, writers and artists.

Want innovation? Bring on the engineers. If you don't, you’ll be working for engineers sooner than you think.
3 comments about "Marketers, You Want Innovation? Bring On The Engineers!".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, October 13, 2017 at 10:34 a.m.

    Dave, in a way, you are right. Engineers---or scientists---tend to be very smart people and they invariably start thinking about a new---to them---subject like marketing or media buying on a zero-based level, which has the advantage of getting rid of long entrenched bad habits, flawed assumptions, outdated practices, etc. The problem is that despite the pitfalls and lack of forward motion we see in traditional marketing/media buying, there are many lessons to be learned about problems that have been dealt with successfully. Even if new approaches should be considered they need to be evaluated in the context not only of past experience but also as they apply to real world communications between media content suppliers and advertisiners with real world consumers. By failing to do their homework and understand what branding advertising as well as media buying was all about, the scientists who laid out the digital media schematic have led it into a huge mess. This could have been avoided, had the scientists not approached their task on a purely theoretical basis.

  2. Dave Morgan from Simulmedia replied, October 13, 2017 at 10:44 a.m.

    Good piont Ed. However, with the entire foundation of marketing, media and advertising changing through digitizatoin and gloabalization, we also need ground up approaches that are derived indepdently from historical practices. For example,why is there still a separate "check-in" process for air flight? Only this month did Delta finally decide that if you use their app, you will immediately be issued a boarding pass 24 hours before your flight. No need to "check-in." All too often, industries hold onto legacy practices well past the time they should have been retired. Typically, the most successful innovations in technology-related fields, which ours certainly has become, have been ones that developed totally independently. Google didn't follow the lessons of Yellow Pages.
    That said, once they begin to mature, I totally agree with you that they need to understand and appreciate the norms and metrics and expectations of the industry that they are now part of. This week is a great example as Facebook goes to Washington DC and is scrutinized as a media company, not a tech supplier.

  3. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, October 13, 2017 at 1:38 p.m.

    Engineers: Working in tangent, not independently. See Kalia's column today about spying. Does any of this matter when the pied piper takes control ?

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