Why engineers are “immune” to marketing messages…

On Friday, I read Rob McCammon’s blog entry titled The Right Requirements Plus Good Advice Result in Better Solutions Faster. The message is "don’t take requirements literally, figure out what the real problem is and find a solution for the real problem (not the solution implied in the requirement). Use the help of people that look at it from another perspective". I could not agree more! But the real interesting thing is the message behind the message, something about marketing in general. But before you continue reading, read Rob’s original posting, I want that you read it unbiased.

The message behind the message is a message about how marketing works. I read the blog two days ago, and the only thing I remembered was: "why did Rob need a neighbor to see a generator was the best way to go?". I know Rob. He is a really bright guy. So, why did he need his neighbor? Ok, I’m biased. Rob is a marketing guy, and we (engineers) don’t trust marketing. We want to know the "truth" behind the marketing message. Therefore, we read marketing messages more critical than other messages. Even if it is true (that he needed his neighbours help), it sounds to me like he tweaked reality a bit to make his point. This weakened the true point of his message (that we have to find the truth behind a requirement and that we need the perspective of others). I could not hear it. I got sidetracked.

So, the message behind the message is that marketing guys(*) "optimize" their messages by "tweaking" reality. But engineers want the real truth. We simply don’t believe in the slick marketing messages. We are a hypersensitive when marketing is "tweaking reality" to make the point. Even if the base message is true, the "tweaking" decreases its creditability and authenticity. This is the reason why many engineers are "immune" to marketing messages. We don’t trust the entire message if we have the slightest doubt on one of the sub-messages.

There’s another incarnation of the same problem in Robs posting. It is the use of buzzwords in the title: "The Right Requirements Plus Good Advice Result in Better Solutions Faster". What is "Right", "Good Advice " and "Better Solutions Faster"? It sounds to me like flashy marketing buzzwords. They have no value to engineers… We ignore it, similar to flashy animated advertisements on web page, known as Banner Blindness. We simply don’t see it, we don’t click on it…. The more you make it flash, the less we see it.

I don’t feel good dissecting and criticising Rob’s message, but it is such a great example of a marketing message. In some sense, I applied the advice he gave us in his blog entry. The requirement is to "effectively communicate with the community". The implied solution is "write slick blog entries". The method to come to a better solution is to use the expertise or perspective of others (in this case engineers) that are complimentary to your own. The shift in perspective is that slickness does not matter, its trustworthiness. The solution is to tweak the massage less and cope with the imperfect reality.

The real irony is that I have been struggling with this blog entry much longer than any other entry I ever wrote. I tried to tweak the words to get my point across. It’s so hard to "do it right", especially if your blog is supported by the company….

(*) Disclaimer: When I say "marketing guy", I don’t want to discredit any person working in marketing. Especially not Rob. I refer to the concept of what engineers think when they refer to "marketing guys" or people creating "marketing messages". Maybe the real problem is the prejudices I (and maybe some of my engineering colleagues) have about marketing. But that’s another story, and some "marketing guy" or "engineer" may comment on this. Let’s get some "blog-wars" started ;-)

1 Comment

  1. Rob McCammon

    Michael,
    Your comments on my blog about requirements provoked some interesting thoughts in response.
    The first is that initial attempts to communicate are not always 100% effective. Open and honest dialog is almost always needed between people to be confident that they have really communicated.
    This is especially true in cases where stereotypes, like those associated with the “marketing guy” or the “engineer” can interfere with that communication.
    As a result I think the two principles mentioned in my blog should be enhanced with a third one.
    Principle 3: Requirements are only effective when they are effectively communicated. It is important to be proactive in making sure requirements, like any other form of communication, are understood as intended and improved by dialog.
    Thanks for your comments,
    Rob

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