An Engineer Entrepreneur’s First Brand Lesson

Marketing for non-marketeers, lesson 2

If you’re an engineer starting a business, do you need to worry about the business’s brand?

In a word: yes.

You don’t need to make a big project out of it at the start. It can be as simple as a collection of notes. But simple or complex, you really need to start right away. Doing so will make things much easier down the road. The nice thing is that you can get started quite small. You don’t even have to call it a plan. At this point, it can just be a vision. (If the word “vision” seems too buzzwordy, then just call it “a bunch of ideas”)

What is it?

A brand has a lot in common with a person’s personality and reputation. It’s close enough that you can think in those terms. And, think, you should. Think about what you would like people (customers, employees, friends, family, etc.) to think and feel when they hear your company’s name.

What personality do you want your company to have?

  • Are you mean and gruff?
  • Are you nice?
    • Quiet?
    • Loud?
    • Helpful?
    • Athletic?
    • Sedentary?
    • Reliable to a fault?
    • Usually reliable?

Will you strive to be perfect, just okay, or a bit better than “good enough”? Do you want people to see you as having the best technology, or the best price? Go on with questions like that. Write down your questions, and write down your answers. You can carry a small note pad and pen around, but I suggest that you use a memo application on your phone. You’ll always have it with you, and it’s quick and easy to use.

When you walk into a grocery store, look at the signs. Do they strike you as inviting, or cold? When you get new tires for your car, watch how you’re treated. When you order parts online, consider how easy or difficult the web site is to use. Will any of that, or something similar, apply to your business? If so, jot down a quick note about it. Make a note any time you see or think of anything that triggers thoughts of what you want your business to be like.

You’ll collect all of these notes and clean them up a bit. These will become your brand attributes. They are the seed of a brand for your company.

Once you have this seed, you’ll use it to guide business decisions – all of them. For example; if financially fugal is one of your chose attributes, you won’t go out and rent a big office with mahogany paneling. If you want to be seen as leading edge in the media world, you might buy Mac laptops instead of clunky desktop Windows PCs.

Every thing you do and say, all of the time; it is all part of your brand.

A few example notes:

  • Am I cheap or expensive? Neither – I just want people to feel like they got a bit more than their money’s worth.
  • What about flashy? A little, but only where relevant. I don’t want fancy boxes, but I want them to look befitting of new technology.
  • I’m selling to engineers in banks, so casual suits if I’m in the front office, but no suits when I’m not.
  • Do I want people to envy my lifestyle? No, I want them to see me as a crazy workaholic.
  • What about getting in touch with me? I don’t think phone support is necessary for all of my customers, but I think email should be answered within an hour.
  • Am I “big industry”? No. I’m nimble and “new economy.” I should get a small office in a recently gentrified part of town, instead of in a mid-city office building.

Keep going. It can be as simple as that. You can get more formal and organized with it later.


What is Marketing in the world of Engineers?

Marketing for non-marketeers, lesson 1

Good marketing requires a black-box of arcane knowledge and magic spells – or does it? No, despite what many marketing folks would like you to believe, it does not. While marketing can seem mysterious, it really comes down to a few key tactics. Even in today’s hurricane of ever changing social media, the fundamentals still apply, and the challenge can be boiled down to manageable chunks.

The start-up engineer entrepreneur has a few more challenges than an established business has. First, the language and lingo commonly associated with marketing are so different than what is spoken in the engineering lab. Second, as an early stage start-up entrepreneur, you typically don’t have the money required for a solid marketing campaign.


At the most basic level, marketing is the process of describing what you do, to people who need what you do. To describe it, you need to translate from your language into their language. You also need to concern yourself with the presentation of that information. That doesn’t mean form takes precedence over function. What it means is that both form and function are important, and form cannot get in the way of function. It’s common to hear that spelling and punctuation don’t matter in the technology world; just the message matters. But, one only need spend a few minutes online to see how fast your audience can get distracted by “there” vs. “they’re.” Once that happens, you are no longer communicating. Your message is lost.

You need to find those people who need what you do or have. You need to find them, understand them, and go where they are. What do your customers read? Where do they read it? Do they talk amongst themselves about the sort of thing you do? Do they make the buying decision, or just give recommendations. A good example if this challenge is the example of children’s products. The child doesn’t buy it. The parent does. The child recommends it (sometimes quite loudly), so who do you need to market to? In the business world, this pairing is often an engineer and a purchasing agent with an approved vendor list. Engineers and purchasing agents speak a different language; have vastly different interests, and read different web sites Which do you need to sell to?