Commentary

Marketers, You Want Innovation? Bring On The Engineers!

  • by , Featured Contributor, November 9, 2017

The following was previously published in an earlier edition of Media Insider:

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.
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