All Posts by Mike Thompson

The Top 5 Ways That Engineering Sets You Up To Be An Awesome Marketer

At first glance, you wouldn't normally think that engineering and marketing are similar in many ways. In fact, if you're like most people, you would say that they are very different.

I know that I used to think that way. That was until I left my job as an electronics engineer at a defense company and jumped head first into marketing. In this article, I'm going to share with you some of the golden nuggets that I've learned along the way.

Engineering vs Marketing

First off, let's revisit what an engineer's role is in the world. In its most basic form, engineering is simply the bridge between the world of science and the world of practicality. In other words, engineers make practical things like products based on our current understanding of the universe, which is science. Successful engineers all have several things in common.

On the flip side of that, what actually is marketing? Isn't it just a bunch of smooth talking, party type people that work down the hall and make too much noise like they are always having fun? Maybe that was just my perception in the corporate world.

When I jumped into doing marketing, I had to redefine my world view about it. Guess what I discovered? Remember that engineering is the bridge between science and creating practical real world products? Well, marketing is the bridge between those products and the customers. If you don't have both bridges in place, a company will not survive.

The cold hard truth is that products, no matter how good they are, don't sell themselves. Marketers do. That's what I had to learn the hard way.

Marketing has evolved rapidly over the years. In fact, digital marketing is where all of the action is these days.

Now that we got the formal definitions out of the way, let's get back to how skills that you pick up in engineering can help you outperform many others in marketing.

1. Critical Thinking

What's the first thing that other people say when they hear that someone is an engineer? "Wow, they are smart" is a typical response. If you have ever dove into what the general population actually means by smart, it comes down to being able to think critically.

An engineer by the very nature of the job, pits their mind against the onslaught of problems that come when dealing with the laws of the universe.

It takes a lot of human work to put things into higher order, and that means solving hard problems. The only way to solve hard problems is with critical thinking.

Now pretend that marketing is just like engineering, except that instead of the physical laws of the universe, you are instead going up against the laws of human nature. That's right, while human behavior is definitely non linear, there are some basic rules and boundaries that it typically behaves within. And marketing is all about a numbers game, so if you focus on the averages, then you can pick up some big wins.

For example, a marketer's typical day goes something like this: you have a specific market demographic that you want to sell to, so you come up with a plan on how to get their attention and how to get them to do what you want them to do.

Usually, the actions that you take don't quite get you the results that you anticipated, so you have to revisit your assumptions, revise your theory about the market, and then redial in your actions. In order to do this well requires massive critical thinking skills. It's just like engineering problems when you get down to the core of it.

Another area where critical thinking comes in is being able to break down the different parts of a business into its working components, and then diagnosing which parts are working well and which ones are not.

As an example, say a simple business gets visitors to a website, then gets those visitors to buy something, and then makes a profit from that sale. An engineer will usually have built a three part block diagram in their head at this point and can talk specifics about each piece and how it relates to the others.

The problem is that the typical marketer, and even an actual business owner isn't able to naturally do this at all. In fact, my duties as a marketer often lead me into offering business strategy advice just based on the ability to think critically. Take a look at an example business growth exercise that I walk business owners through to help them do the very thing that we just talked about. Engineers usually just "get it", while others do not.

2. Split Testing

Building on the use of critical thinking, marketing is about 75% split testing. As a refresher, split testing, also known as A/B testing, is when you pit two designs against each other to see which one will perform better under the same conditions.

Sound familiar? Of course it's not just limited to two test subjects, as you can do as many as you want.

We do split testing a lot in engineering, but we just call it testing. We also use very tightly controlled testing environments in engineering, but in marketing, all we have is people.

It turns out that you can control the demographics of the people that you market to as well if you use the right tools. Facebook ads give you this capability.

Have two different ideas for your mechanical widget or code snippet for your algorithm? Guess it's time to test both and see which one performs better under certain conditions. It's no different in marketing.

The best marketers in the world know that they are usually wrong, so they deploy the best forms of split testing to quickly get the answers to their marketing theories.

For example, if you wanted to run some digital ads, then what you would do is decide which variables you want to split test for, and how many design variations you want to throw out there to see how they do. The different variables could be gender, age, education level, relationship status, and so on. The different designs would appeal to how you think your targeted demographics will respond to your products.

Then you can rinse and repeat the test over and over again by tweaking your designs until you have totally maximized the performance of a specific ad that survived the gauntlet of tests and outperformed all of its competitors.

Another great example of split testing at work is called conversion rate optimization. It's basically where you keep changing how a website page looks in order to maximize the ability of that page to get visitors to take the action that you want them to take. I've got more details on how it works if you want to take a look here.

Split testing like a champ is the difference in paying $2.00 for a facebook page like versus paying $0.01. That's a 200x difference and imagine what that kind of advantage it gives you over your competitors in the market. I got this exact result by split testing country, interests, and ad pictures in a facebook campaign.

Engineers are already equipped to be able to split test well based on their skill set that they pick up in their craft.

3. Automation

But can you automate it? Why yes you can. Engineers are always looking for a way to get rid of the mundane tasks out of their life and hand off the same type of work to machines or software.

In marketing, there is a lot of simple tasks that are ripe and ready for automation. If you can code, then you are way ahead of the curve.

Most marketers that don't have a technical background are left to only use whatever tools are already in the market place. Which means that what they use is available to all of their competitors as well, and that they are tied to the human limitation of 24 hours in a day, or how much they can spend to hire others to do the work.

An engineer can come up with crafty ways to automate these tasks, which makes them seem like a 100 marketer team instead of just one person. This has huge implications, and the gift of automation keeps giving.

I can't tell you how many times in my experience that there have been many tasks that were taking about 5 minutes per each one, and a typical day of good performance required around 100 iterations per day. That's a solid 8 hours of work, for just one type of task. Usually, there's several tasks that need to be done together.

With automation, I was able to remove the 5 minutes per task, and break through the limitation of only 100 per day. I then automated several different types of tasks in the same way and the results were a game changer.

Automation is the only way that you can out scale your competitors. Engineers happen to be pretty good at it.

4. Discipline

If you survive the many years of hard work that it takes to get through an engineering degree, then it prepares you for the discipline that it takes to be successful at an engineering job. It's a hard grind for your mind, thinking hard and deep for extended periods of time, every day for decades.

The typical marketer on the other hand probably was a business major (if that), and is not used to the heavy loads on the mind.

In fact, it's not uncommon for the average marketer to quit early and head to happy hour if they ran into a few medium level problems that day.

The engineer on the other hand can run mind marathons without blinking an eye. When you combine that discipline with critical thinking skills, the ability to run wide scale split testing, and leveraging automation, then that's when magic happens.

5. Patience

The final advantage is simply patience. If you made it through engineering school, then you've already proven that you can wait an extended period of time without getting a direct reward.

While patience is commonly found in engineers, it's something that is missing from modern cultures where everyone wants the reward right now.

The problem is that it takes time to build great things. Marketing is no different. So patience is a huge part of the game.

If a marketer is not patient, then they are not going to go the distance that it takes in a marketing campaign that will bring in massive results. Whether it's one more split test, or one more problem resolved, it all adds up. If you can't go just one more round, then you most likely won't cross the finish line in the marketing marathon.

Engineers overcame the patience problem in school, and continue overcoming it on the job site. It's built into their very DNA.


In closing, I want to come clean and admit that when I was doing engineering, I had absolutely no idea what marketing was all about. In my mind, it partially didn't exist, and if it did, it didn't matter. That was until I jumped into marketing and got a huge wake up call.

The engineering bridge from science to products is critical, but just as important is the bridge from products to customers. A successful company cannot have one without the other.

Little did I know in my engineering days how much the skills that I was gaining would give me a huge advantage in a completely different type of job. The critical thinking, split testing, automation, discipline, and patience all come together to provide an insane advantage over the average marketer out there today.