Square Peg, Round Hole – Marketing for Engineer CEOs

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By now, you know I’m an engineering nerd CEO. So if math isn’t involved, the process of assimilation can be quite the exercise. Marketing Strategy is one of those areas in which I have recognized my deficiencies and tried to compensate. This is in part why I attended the best Marketing School in the world for my MBA

As CEO, my attitude had largely been “Do a quality job on time and at a fair price, and the customers will come.” Well that’s BS.

There is a phenomenon called COMPETITION that stands in the way.

Every market participant claims they can do an excellent job at a fair price. So what’s my differentiator? How do prospects decide between me and the next guy? How do I make sure I retain current clients in an intensely competitive climate?

One tactic we employ is sending gifts from Tiffany’s during the holiday season to our best customers. This practice predated my tenure, as did some more… shall we say, questionable traditions that I discussed in prior posts. In light of those traditions, I made sure to evaluate previous policies including this one to ensure that they aligned with our values and strategic objectives. Also, my frugality and strict adherence to spending on things that generated a return is a hurdle I have to overcome with every expenditure.

My engineer’s  brain seems to short circuit when the ROI for something isn’t immediately apparent. Marketing tactics tend to fall into an expense category that elude simple ROI calculations.  

So, do you keep this marketing tactic or not?


Our best customers had come to expect these gifts. You could say it had become a differentiator for, and a factor in their decision to continue to use our services. How important was it? I am not sure.

Here is a framework that I think is worth using when assessing pre-existing marketing efforts.

Do no harm…..except where strip clubs are involved

Not all marketing tactics are unsavory. This one certainly wasn’t. Our customers expected these gifts, even though I couldn’t tangibly measure its value, keeping the tactic in place was the right thing to do. It’s much easier to keep a customer than to win a new one. Don’t rock the boat if you don’t have to.

When customer expectations around traditions aren’t a diversion from your company strategy, you should meet them. Pick your battles. It’s easier to keep a customer than to win a new one.

Evaluate your marketing tactics against you company strategy

The idea itself was clever – Tiffany’s is a brand associated communicates high value, and that’s what it communicated to our customers. It not only communicates that they are special, but also that we are a premium service provider. Premium providers charge more which is good for our bottom line.

Evaluate your marketing tactics in light of each other

Tiffany’s gifts work for senior leaders, typically at the director level or above. But that isn’t necessarily the right holiday gift for a facility maintenance supervisor. He gets a premium Vodka brand. The message is the same. “You are special to us and it costs a lot of money for that Vodka so don’t beat me up too much on price.”  

Top rookie reads

The Ultimate Guide to Marketing Strategies & How to Improve Your Digital Presence

Developing a marketing strategy that aligns with your company is vital, and this guide can help.

Key insight: Developing a marketing strategy, whether physical or digital, is about recognizing the assets and practices you have and evolving those to create a consistent brand experience.

Summary: Developing a marketing strategy from scratch is often challenging, but this guide can be a useful resource whether you’re just starting or changing directions for your business. Although focused on digital, many lessons can also be applied to physical marketing strategies. 

How to Inject Personalization Into Your Marketing Strategy

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