Engineering as marketing: How to grow your B2B company

I have always been excited about unconventional marketing channels that have the potential to bring a lot of traction while facing little or no competition. One such channel is engineering-as-marketing.

What is engineering as marketing?

About 5 years ago, I read “Traction: A Startup Guide to Getting Customers”. The book was instrumental in my job at the time as a Head of Marketing at a travel startup. It guided me into testing rigorously +10 marketing channels until we figured out which one had the highest conversion rates and ROI.

One channel that stood out as a smart way to acquire customers was “Engineering as marketing,” and it’s defined as:

“using engineering time to create useful tools like calculators, widgets, and educational micro-sites to get your company in front of potential customers. These tools then generate leads and expand your customer base.”

Gabriel Weinberg  and Justin Mares, authors of “Traction A Startup Guide to Getting Customers”

Most successful startups have experimented with engineering as marketing throughout their journey. But there are still many companies who never heard or properly leveraged such tools.

One immediate benefit of using engineering-as-marketing is that it’s harder to leverage than other channels because it requires engineering resources. Meaning, if you are a startup, implementing a smart tool that can complement your core product is an advantage as most conventional businesses will struggle to implement similar tools as they don’t have access to developers.

Moreover, as most companies compete with content and give away e-books or checklists, you can stand out by offering a useful and differentiated tool.


As it was difficult to find a definitive guide on how to use engineering for marketing purposes I wrote a small guide covering the following topics:

QUICK NAVIGATION

Examples of smart tools 🛠

The most common examples include pricing calculators, widgets, basic apps, micro-sites, evaluation sites, chatbots, and research tools to help you with your acquisition funnel.

Here you go my favorite examples:

1. Website Grader by HubSpot

Engineering as marketing - Website Grader

It helps you understand how your website ranks regarding SEO, mobile responsiveness, and other valuable information for your marketing team. Since HubSpot sells many marketing products, it’s an ideal tool to collect emails of leads who are actively looking for help.

2. Moz’s Free SEO Tools

Engineering as marketing - Moz SEO Tools

Moz offers SEO software as a core product; in turn, their team developed several free tools to help you boost your search engine optimization, allowing them to collect valuable leads.

3. Bing’s Visual Search: What Breed is That Dog? - by Microsoft

Engineering as marketing - Bing Visual Search

Microsoft developed the tool to showcase their computer vision service.

4. Don’t Track Us by Duckduckgo

Engineering as marketing - Duck2go

DuckDuckGo is a search engine similar to Google. Their main differentiation is that DuckDuck does not track users or store their personal information. Launching “Don’tTrackUs” resulted in a lot of press coverage and brand awareness. A simple yet effective way to attract people who are concerned with how much information Google collects.

5. Greenhouse’s blog

Nowadays, pretty much all blogs offer a widget powered by Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Greenhouse blog

Every time you see Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. sharing buttons on sites, you should consider that the company used engineers to create a marketing tool that’s embeddable on sites. Such tools drive engagement, traffic, and traction for each social media platform.

“Building noteworthy tools that your target audience finds useful is a solid way to gain traction that also pays dividends down the road by helping build your SEO. A simple roadmap to executing this technical strategy includes: Providing something of true value for free, with no strings attached. Making that offering extremely relevant to your core business. Demonstrating that value as quickly as possible.”

Chris Fralic, former Head of Business Development at Delicious and Half.com

Why is Engineering as Marketing Important? ⚠️

  • It creates value for your target users/customers.
  • If successful, it can bring potential SEO benefits as it often lives on a different domain using an easily discoverable keyword.
  • Smart tools bring the attention of journalists and may result in a PR boost.
  • Conventional businesses would struggle to compete.
  • At times such tools may bring so much value that you will have opportunities to monetize them.
"The project cost calculator has been generating new leads every day. Over the last few months, we have gathered more than 3,000 leads. In fact, it is more than we acquired during the whole existence of our company while using traditional marketing strategies. Furthermore, these leads are coming from people who have an interest in launching a web or a mobile app – thus they are an ideal target audience.”

Lukas Horak, CEO of PLATFORM
  • It demonstrates the engineering skills of your organization.
  • Other channels are saturated and hard. Content marketing requires continuous effort. SEM / paid social is costly, and it stops delivering once you stop spending. Last but not least, it’s hard to measure offline activities.
“Marketing is largely becoming about algorithms, instead of catchy jingles. How it’s become about optimization instead of “grand openings” or “launch dates.” Data instead of instinct.”

Gabriel Weinberg  and Justin Mares, authors of “Traction A Startup Guide to Getting Customers”

Playbook for leveraging Engineering as Marketing 📖

1. Focus on one persona 🎯

It will be difficult to develop a tool that solves multiple people with different jobs, daily struggles, and objectives. You will need to focus on one persona as a point of departure and build something that solves a specific problem for him/her.

My advice is to start with the persona you understand best.

“There really is no limit to the number of ways in which you can use a set of well-crafted buyer personas. For marketers, they can (and should) dictate the emails you send, the calls-to-action your contacts see, and the website experience they see. For your sales team, it should influence the topics and tone of the conversations they have. If you’ve got a customer service team, it’s useful to them in the same way.”

Jeffrey Russo, Product Marketing Manager at HubSpot

2. Brainstorm ideas 💡

Once you identify which persona you will target, consider that any side-product/tools you develop must be complementary to your core product. The more related the tool, the higher the probability of attracting potential business opportunities.

Consider the website grader tool by HubSpot I mentioned above. The tool generates a ton of leads for marketing bundles from HubSpot and, in particular, their “Marketing Professional Service,” which is one of their core products.

“Since it launched in 2006, HubSpot's award-winning free tool, Website Grader, graded more than 4 million websites. Website Grader gave marketers advice on how to improve many aspects of their websites and encouraged millions to bring their website presence to the next level, all for free.”

Lauren Hintz. Senior Marketing Manager at HubSpot

Be strategic about how you name the tool. I would advise you to pick a name consisting of words with a really high search volume on Google, even if the name sounds silly. If successful, you will have plenty of opportunities to drive traffic to your website.

Consider the following, Markd.co launched a tool called ColdEmailTemplate.cc and in just 12 days got the following traction

  • New visitors to ColdEmailTemplate.cc: 2240
  • Click-through to markd.co: ~6.6%
  • New visitors to Markd.co: 320 (including traffic from sources outside of ColdEmailTemplate.cc as part of the campaign)
  • The majority of click-throughs to markd.co is from the description tagline at the top of the page

Launch 🚀

By now, you have chosen a persona to focus on, identified what idea to test, and secured a domain.

Next, you need to build the tool and launch it. Note that you have two options:

If you are building such a tool for the first time, my advice would be to use one of the above-mentioned companies and avoid involving internal resources.

Remember, the service must be free. You are not building a new product. Think of it as a lead magnet.

Assuming the tool is valuable and people are using it, you should be receiving more and more traffic. Therefore, make sure users understand your core business’s affiliation with the new tool, e.g., “powered by [company name].”

Most businesses focus on collecting email addresses, but in some cases, it can actually encourage people to sign up for a free trial straight away.

Key Takeaways ⚠️

Walking away, I hope you remember to:

  1. Read “Traction: A Startup Guide to Getting Customers,” especially if you are running a marketing team or a startup.
  2. Study success cases of “engineering as marketing” tools.
  3. Focus on one persona, preferably the one you understand best.
  4. Ideate about tools that would directly complement your core product.
  5. Remember that you need to pick high intent keywords when choosing the domain to maximize discoverability.
  6. If you are building such a tool for the first time, use third party tools rather than forming an internal team. It will save you time and money while getting the necessary insights.
  7. Launch it fast, even if it’s not perfect, learn and iterate until you see traction.
  8. Repeat.

Bonus - more inspiration ✨

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