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Marketing to propellor heads

By training I’m a scientist. I’m also a salesman and a marketer. It is possible for those three skills to co-exist in the same person although I will acknowledge that people in the engineering or technical fields might not agree.  I affectionately call these nay-sayers  ‘propeller-heads’, and know a bit about them, not only because I’ve worked with them for over 25 years, but also because I am one too!

Propeller-heads derive pleasure from the ‘nitty gritty’, the minutiae of specifications and technical detail. Their jobs are all about careful design and product development, they revel in charts and statistics, and the technical aspect of their work is paramount. They’re not wrong about this, we need them, but they are often unable to lift themselves out of the known and into that ‘weird’ world of marketing that isn’t precise or has ‘answers’. In fact, marketing can be quite random and down-right baffling to the uninitiated!

Appealing to the technically-minded person does require a special approach.

I know that some propeller-heads have a low opinion of marketing, and of people whose job description has ‘marketing’ in the title. In order to appeal to them, we need to make sure the messages we deliver are informational and professional. We marketers need to engage them and get their buy-in. Gimmicks turn them off; slick graphics and Power Points are mere ‘puff’, but that doesn’t mean you should be boring.

Propeller-heads don’t believe they’re influenced by advertising, and they need to feel that their buying decisions are based on an assessment of technical facts and rational thought. So let them believe it, but remember they are human beings as well as propeller-heads, so they’ll respond to a certain level of ‘consumer’ style marketing. Straight technical copy can’t get attention, boring headlines won’t invite a reader into an ad, but being too clever will turn them off.  

In my experience, propeller-heads respond well to communications that treat them as knowledgeable, technical professionals in search of solutions to their problems. They want to be engaged and to have input. In short, they want to be heard! Hard sell frequently falls on deaf ears in this market - especially if it's not backed by facts. They need to feel their purchase decision is based on logic, not emotion. The buying decision for most of these products and services is what we term ‘high involvement’ – it’s a considered purchase, not an impulse buy. They rarely suffer from post purchase dissonance.

Don’t forget that features do need to be translated into benefits just as they do if you’re selling one margarine over another. But propeller-heads are a special case because the features ARE the product – performance characteristics, power requirements, technical specifications are what make up the product or service. Their purchase decision is largely based on how well you can convince them of the technical superiority of your product or service over your competitor’s. This is particularly important when selling to OEMs, VARs, system integrators and other classes of propeller-heads who buy intending to either incorporate your product into theirs or use your technology to solve a particular problem.

Oh and remember they love jargon, especially TLAs (Three Letter Acronyms). Not only does jargon tell them what they need to know, but it also makes them feel they are in an ‘exclusive’ club where only members know what’s going on.  It shows you speak their propeller-head language, that you’re a member of the same club, you both have some hidden knowledge that other people don’t.

And they love charts, graphs, tables, diagrams, anything that says ‘this is solid, technical information, not promotional puff'. Generally speaking, propeller-heads live with this sort of thing, it’s how they communicate, they’re comfortable with it, so use their language. No pun intended, but it pushes their buttons!

Certainly there are emotional components to the propeller-head’s buying decision, such as preferring one vendor over another. But for the most part they’ll analyse the features and technical specs in great detail. The approach must therefore be clear and logical, and not superficial or flippant. You just have to love propeller-heads because they mean business. 

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