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Top 5 Trends for Engineering Marketers in 2017

Engineering marketers are doubling down on five successful campaign tactics for 2017. At the same time, they are reducing their budgets or even abandoning other activities that used to be mainstays.  

In this post, we’ll look at which marketing activities are being emphasized and which ones are in decline. The results come from a survey of industrial and engineering marketers that included both off-line activities such as print ads and trade shows, as well as digital activities like banner ads and blogging.

Here are the marketing tactics that we asked about. Our question asked whether marketers are allocating more, less or the same amount of budget in 2017 as they did in 2016:

Blog Post 20170308 Image 1 Tactics Used New-1.jpg
The answer to this question highlights five strong trends in 2017 compared to 2016. We also compared the results to prior years to identify longer-term trends.

But first a little background. Overall, engineering marketing budgets were up in 2017 over 2016, with 39% of marketers reporting larger budgets while only 15% reported having less money to allocate.

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This means that many marketers have flexibility to increase their budgets across several activities.

The top five marketing trends for 2017

The following chart shows the marketing tactics that the marketers said would receive more budget in 2017.  The first column indicates that 37% of all respondents said they plan to increase their spending on video in 2017 compared to 2016. 

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Shawn Fitzgerald of marketing agency Thomas RPM said, “The industrial space is finally figuring out how to use video for more than product promotion, maintenance, and repair — they’re getting smart about using it to generate leads. As it becomes easier to do professional effective video marketing, it will become part of the norm for industrial marketing.”

Increasing budgets for video are not the only story, however. The top five trends for engineering marketers in 2017, in declining order are:

  1. Video
  2. Search marketing
  3. Webinars
  4. Case Studies
  5. Blogging

Marketers are hoping to turn SERP ranking into Leads in 2017

The data shows that engineering marketers are planning to increase their search marketing spending in 2017.  A major driver of this is an increasingly competitive market for industrial marketing keywords.  If you use a service like Google Adwords or SEMRush you’ll have noticed the upward trend in keyword cost.  Just to illustrate the point I searched the three terms that came to mind most quickly – PLM ($12.94 USD CPC), IIoT ($10.12), injection molding ($11.20).  That’s not chump change, and given that only a fraction of clicks turn into revenue it’s no wonder that increased competition is raising everyone’s cost of acquisition, and thus spend on search. 

Engineers and Marketers Agree that Webinars are Effective

Engineers enjoy attending and participating in webinars, so it makes sense that marketers are continuing to spend dollars to access engineers this way. This trend was strong last year as well - at we saw a 50% increase in webinars from our advertising customers. The main driver for the increase in webinars is that marketers can get a triple boost. First they can count attendees as leads, thereby helping to reach their lead generation targets.  Second, webinars also provide real prospects with an opportunity to engage with a sales engineer leading to an opportunity to create sales pipeline. Finally, your presentation typically has the engineer’s full attention, which is more than can be said for virtually any other kind of marketing tactic.

Many marketers are reluctant to run webinars because they are concerned about the effort it will take to come up with a strong presentation. While that may be true, you can often create a good webinar by repurposing content you have elsewhere, such as in blog content or technical presentations. 

Case studies and blogging are hard to do, but marketers are committed to doing more

The last two top trends were case studies and blogging. Case studies are very valuable middle-of-funnel assets, so most marketers know how important they are. However, my conversations with marketers have revealed that although many of them want to increase their budgets for case studies, most run into challenges in getting their customers to sign off on testimonials. As a result, every year marketers vow to do better, and in most years they fail to generate as many case studies as they want.

I spoke with one marketer who has had phenomenal success in getting case studies over the years. He said that their “secret” is to make it a core part of the sales process. When customers ask for a discount, their sales reps reply that a discount is available if they will become a reference account, and an even bigger discount it available if they agree to a case study.

We have also found that engaging a publisher to tell a customer story can greatly impact that customer’s perception of value. For example, customers are often more open to speaking with a writer from than they are to speaking on the record with a marketer from a vendor company.

Blogging rounds out the top five areas of increased budgets. Although most engineering marketers have made blogging a core part of their marketing plans for years, they are increasing their budgets for two reasons. One, they are increasingly reliant on content to drive relevant traffic. And two, the cost of creating blogs is going up as marketers strive to make their blog posts truly excellent to ensure that their stories thrive in an ever-more-competitive landscape for content.

On a personal note, we have increased our budget for blogging as well. I used to write relatively short posts on a single topic. Now, thanks in part to having a lot more research to reference, I can dig into topics in a lot more detail. It’s more work, but we are seeing more shares and more views on our posts as a result. I hope you find this post worthy of sharing.

Content marketing is driving four of the top five trends

Out of the top five trends, all but search marketing are clearly activities that are part of content marketing, and even search marketing often supports content efforts.  So why are four out of five of the top trends related to content marketing?

Blog Post 20170308 Image 4 More Content Marketing.png

This chart shows the percentage (87%) of engineering marketers who said that they were using content marketing versus those who said they were not (13%). When we asked marketers using content marketing whether it helps them deliver qualified leads, 4 out of 5 said yes. Even those who said that it wasn’t working aren’t prepared to give up. Only 1% said that they were planning to reduce their efforts on content marketing.

Note that increases in trends do not mean that these are the largest budget areas. For example, video still warrants a relatively small budget for most marketers despite several years of increasing budgets.

The top three trends for 2014 - 2017

You may be curious about trends of trends, as in, “What trends are no longer trends?” The following table tracks the top three trends from each of the four years since we started running this survey. You can see that social media marketing was the biggest deal in 2014, but now it no longer makes the top three. This year, 22% of respondents said that they would have a larger budget for social media, whereas 51% said that their budget would stay the same. This represents a maturity in social media marketing, as compared to 2014 when budgets were expanding rapidly.

Blog Post 20170308 Image 3 Increased Spending New.jpg

This longitudinal data shows that video, search, case studies and webinars are perennial favorites when it comes to increasing budgets. This is all part of the larger trend of increasing budgets for marketing overall and increasing budgets for content marketing and distribution in particular.

The anti-trends. What activities no longer work for engineering marketers?

The following categories are the activities that marketers said would see lower budgets in 2017:

#1 – Trade shows

#2 – Print magazines

#3 – Banner ads

Note that trade shows still command a large share of most industrial marketers’ budgets. In fact, 68% of marketers say that they will dedicate more than 10% of their budget to trade shows and events. But that doesn’t mean they are happy about it. Almost 20% of industrial marketers say that they will be reducing their budgets for trade shows in 2017.

So there you have it, content marketing is on the rise and offline activities like trade shows and print are declining. I hope you found this information on what your fellow engineering marketers are doing worthwhile. To learn more, read the full 2017 engineering marketers research report, and let us know your thoughts in the comments.

Until next time, 



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