Why I find engineering as marketing so damn fun

How many times have you landed on a website that offered a free tool that was incredibly clever, helpful, or fun to use? Maybe it was a pricing calculator, some type of widget, a friendly chatbot that interacts with you in an amusing way, or an entire educational micro-site.

I always think about how somebody conceptualized the idea and actually sat down and figured out how to create the thing and make it functional. Then they collaborated with other creative people such as designers and UX writers to make it beautiful, intuitive, and simple to use.

Engineering as marketing is both amazing and fun. In my humble opinion as a lover of tech, it’s a celebration of the human need to play, create, and connect with others. From a business standpoint, it’s a great way to build relationships with customers, expand your reach, and gradually generate more revenue. Here’s what it’s all about.

engingeering as a marketing blog post featured image

What is engineering as marketing?

Engineering as marketing does exactly what it says on the tin. It’s about using your engineering power to create free tools or products to place your company on the radar of potential buyers. These tools can be effective growth levers, especially when it comes to acquiring and engaging new users.

how engineering as marketing works

If engineering as marketing is so effective, why are there so few tech companies that are using it?

There are a couple of main reasons why not many companies use engineering as marketing:

  • It requires resources (both money and time)
  • It’s a “nice-to-have”, not a “must-have” in marketing
  • Measuring attribution is not always clear since engineering as marketing mostly targets top of the funnel and aims to increase brand awareness
  • C-level executives tend to favor tried out marketing tactics (investing in engineering as marketing might seem a bit risky as the ROI is not clear)
  • There are other priorities such as focusing on improving the main product 

However, I strongly believe that the above list should push you toward engineering as marketing instead of it discouraging you from pursuing it.

What is the business value of engineering as marketing?

The value of engineering as marketing is that it implies going the extra mile to offer something truly useful. In most industries, the bar for creativity and innovation is not that high. This means that, just by thinking outside of the box and by getting the buy-in both from your tech team and the management - you could launch something awesome.

The idea is to create simple free tools that are adjacent to your main product, and then use other marketing tactics for promotion. For example, if you identify that there are solid keyword opportunities you can use to optimize the landing page where you published an interactive calculator, you can boost your brand’s visibility in search engines.

Some brands such as HubSpot use engineering as marketing in a very smart way. When you think about it, it could be an evergreen tool that requires an investment upfront. But do it right and you’ll need minimum maintenance throughout the time and it will just keep on giving.

I mentioned HubSpot for a reason. Their Website Grader is a tool that evaluates your website for free by looking at site performance, SEO, mobile responsiveness, and security. However, what’s interesting is that it’s actually used as a lead generation tool.

hubspot engineering as marketing

The user can get a free score of their website but only after they leave their email address. Their contact then gets automatically added to HubSpot’s list of subscribers and so they can start nurturing them and slowly push them toward converting.

The results?

  • More than 3 million websites have been checked via Website Grader since it got launched
  • Website Grader generates approximately 50,000 new leads every month

Even if just a fraction of these leads are to be considered qualified, it’s still a huge win. In marketing, the toughest thing is to get the prospect’s attention. Once you achieve that, you already have one foot in the door.

Because it provides so much value, engineering as marketing is great for attracting potential customers. Not only that, but it brings them closer to the “aha” moment as they begin to understand the value of your main product.

What are some other examples of engineering as marketing?

HubSpot is a renowned company that has a significant marketing budget and well established presence. But all companies can benefit from engineering as marketing, even if they have a smaller team or a more niched audience.

Here’s one engineering as marketing example I consider a good one.

Hostfully is a property management software created for vacation rental businesses. If you snoop around their competition, you can see that their direct competitors aren’t quite transparent about pricing. For example, Guesty asks their potential customers to reach out for a quote, and Hostaway has a similar approach.

So here’s what Hostfully did on their pricing page:

hostfully pricing

Complete pricing transparency!

Users can drag the slider to match the number of properties they own or manage, and the monthly price increases accordingly. Only the biggest property management companies that own more than 250 rentals are asked to contact the company for a custom quote. Otherwise, everything is there: transparency about a one-time implementation fee, as well as the minimum price for the property management software per month.

This engineering as marketing example is very smart. Here’s why:

  • Hostfully automatically stands out from the competition because they “dared” to share the price upfront
  • Additionally, the company automatically disqualifies prospects that might object about the price
  • In the mind of a potential customer, Hostfully is trustworthy, honest, and transparent, because the team used engineering as marketing to make the process of decision making easier
  • The prospect doesn’t have to contact sales and get dragged into the process because they found the information they need on the website

One of my favorite engineering as marketing examples is The Slavery Footprint.

calculator example

The website was launched with the help of the US Department in 2011 by Justin Dillon, a musician who got involved in an anti-slavery movement hosting benefit concerts. Since then, millions of people from 200 countries have visited the website to discover their connection to modern-day slavery. 

This website serves multiple purposes.

The most important one is to increase awareness about modern slavery and help people understand that, just because they are not directly involved in criminal activities doesn’t mean they don’t contribute indirectly through their consumer habits. Secondly, it’s a driver of traffic for the company called FRDM which helps companies achieve their ethics and sustainability goals. In a nutshell, they help companies transform their supply chains to minimize the risk of bad worker treatment, child labor, and more. The end goal is to eradicate slavery from the modern production. Engineering as marketing at its finest.

Has Plainly done some engineering as marketing?

What kind of a fan of engineering as marketing would I be if I haven’t tried it myself, eh? Plainly has created free tools so that anyone can enjoy a glimpse of our main product. We did it because we thought it was cool and frankly - why not?

I think the engineering community is exciting, vibrant, and incredibly inspiring. Everyday the limits of what’s possible get pushed a little bit further. I mean, tech people invented open source projects, which is the ultimate proof of collaborating and brainstorming together to make things happen.

free ecard maker from plainly

For now, we have three free tools that yes, we could call engineering as marketing. They are sort of like an invitation for you to explore the features of Plainly.

  • Tool #1: Product hunt leaderboard: If your product landed among the top 3 on PH, we applaud you! As a matter of fact, we invite you to spread the word across social media by sharing the social media video we created automatically. Yep, it’s updated in real-time.
  • Tool #2: Animated chart creator: Pick a template, add your data, and turn it into an animated video completely free. It’s that easy and it’s super cool.
  • Tool #3: Free Animated eCard Maker: Do animated eCards have to be cringy? I don’t know, you tell me. Send animated eCards to your coworkers in just a few clicks with our free tool. Pick a template, add their name and picture and send it away!

Key takeaways about engineering as marketing

Engineering as marketing is an incredibly exciting and unexplored field. I believe it has amazing potential because when you combine human creativity, marketing minds, and engineering talent, the sky is the limit. Other forms of marketing are also important, but offering something that provides unique value in a different and innovative package could give your company a competitive edge.

If you want to learn how you can incorporate personalized video into your marketing mix or maybe even combine it with engineering, book a demo for Plainly. I’d love to chat with you!

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