Marketing vs. Engineering: Can’t We All Just Get Along?

I’ve had the pleasure of working with engineers since very early in my career. Many marketing people wouldn’t use the word “pleasure” in this context. My experience has been at times challenging but at the same time I wouldn’t have been able to be successful in the tech industry without the input and support of engineers.

Traditionally, the worlds of engineering and marketing have been at odds. Most engineers believe that the value of anything is a function of its objective utility. The notion of a purely subjective value is not really understood in this world of numbers, measurements and data. They know that subjective values impact purchasing decisions – even in their own lives, but they distance themselves from it because it just doesn’t make sense.

In the world of engineering, marketing is a place where the laws of utility don’t apply. Marketing makes subjective decisions. Usually they work, sometimes, they don’t. Because there doesn’t appear to be any rational cause/effect relationship here, you can’t trust marketing. It is voodoo perpetuated by flakes. It is not a real discipline but, instead, more of a con job.

Marketers, on the other hand, haven’t helped the situation. Too many of them buy into the theory that marketing and engineering are foes. These same people tend to guess at solutions rather than develop fact based strategies through professional research techniques. I’ve met many marketing people who were flakes and who seemed to live off in the clouds, far removed from the reality of the manufacturing floor. It is no wonder that a chasm has developed between these interdependent disciplines.

The fact is, tech marketers need engineers and engineers need marketers. I even had an electronics engineer on my staff who interfaced directly with the client’s engineering team and our creative team. The result was smart tech marketing programs that enhanced the impact of both parties.

To bring these two camps together, engineers need to realize that marketing is a systems discipline. Markets are economic systems and the role of marketing is to facilitate the transfer of money from the market into the company by ensuring that the company is delivering value out to the market. This exchange obeys the laws of equilibrium. If either side of the system lacks what the other needs, the exchange doesn’t happen. If the right product, message and timing happens, the exchange is made. Marketing manages, defines and tracks this system providing a constant feedback loop for future development and refinement.

When marketers connect with engineers, amazing things happen: product ideas and refinements that hit the bulls eye with customers.


  1. Pingback: When Creating Software, Marketing and Engineering Disagree | Smart Software Marketing

  2. Frediano - January 10, 2012 7:24 pm

    The conflict between the necessary relationship between marketing/sales(not the same thing) and engineering is made painfully clear when either leaves a large company to go into business for himself and for a time take on both roles.

    Engineers sometimes tend to lump marketing and sales into the same tribe, just as marketers tend to lump R&D engineers and manufacturing or project engineers into the same tribe. And it is truly enlightening when a lone ranger/self employed businessman tries to be all at the same time.

    Marketing/sales drives engineering in a way that engineering alone does not drive itself. This manifests itself in the lone ranger scenario when an engineer temporarily wears his saleshole hat and finds it hard to hose himself over with unrealistic promises made to a potential client, whereas if the two roles were independent, your basic saleshole would have no qualms about promising the moon, because after making the sale, it is someone elses job to actually make it happen. It is harder for an engineer in a self-sales position to screw himself over and deliberately over-reach or over-promise, and thus, will not close as many sales. (Of course; when you don’t promise the moon, you make less sales than if you do. There is not much calculus in that determination.) It is trivial for a saleshole to make commitments for engineers far from the bar. And often, by doing that, the saleshole puts engineering in a position of having to grumble and make it work anyway, while the salehole takes on a bartab somewhere and pats himself on the back for making it all happen, because as he often tells anyone within reach, while still sober, nothing happens without sales.

    And somehow, that sometimes works out.

    But in large communal efforts these are generally unique tribes apart, with a natural and sometimes courted tension.

    So, how is that working out, America? It seemed pretty optimal for the carcass carving stage of the festivities, but now that the bones are showing and we are all uncomfortably at least starting to wonder about beast building again, who is actually going to build the beast using that model?


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