Welcome to the 2023 State of Marketing to Engineers Report. This marks the sixth consecutive year GlobalSpec and TREW Marketing have partnered to better understand how engineers and technical buyers find the information they need to make purchasing decisions.
Our survey contains a mix of popular topics we’ve asked about consistently to monitor trends, along with fresh questions that take a deeper dive into buying behaviors. This year’s research touches on search, finding industry experts, podcasts, and in-person events.
The State of Marketing to Engineers Report is designed to:
- Help you better understand the information needs of technical buyers
- Provide critical insights to guide your marketing plans
- Educate and forge alignment with your leadership and sales organizations
Key Takeaways for Industrial Marketers
While searching online, 43% of engineers filter through at least 5 pages of search results to find the information they're looking for. In the process, about half of engineers actively avoid paid ads.
In line with 2022, engineers consider YouTube, LinkedIn, and GitHub the most valuable social media platforms for work. 29% of engineers use TikTok, and only 8% find it valuable for work.
46% of engineers say they usually review at least 6 pieces of content as part of their vendor consideration process.
42% of engineers find industry experts and pundits through technical publications. Some of them through social means by turning to LinkedIn, YouTube, and conferences.
73% of engineers listen to work-related podcasts, and over half prefer shorter episodes.
In 2023, 55% of engineers plan to attend in-person events at the same rate or more than they did in 2019 (pre-pandemic).
Engineers look for assistance from sales to validate their independent online research and better grasp concepts in the face of technical complexity. Only 5% percent of respondents said they'd prefer not to interact with a salesperson at all.
Forty-three percent of engineers will filter through at least five pages of search results to find what they’re looking for. Similar to 2020, when we last inquired about this topic, only four percent stick to the first page of search results.
When searching for work-related information using a search engine, how many pages of results are you willing to review before you select a page to visit or restart your search? (n = 697)
“Even in the era of Google’s snippets featured prominently on page one, engineers keep the mouse moving, searching numerous pages deep to find ultra-specific information from trusted sources. Leverage this behavior by running content campaigns centered upon customer pain points and niche applications.”
When searching online, 51 percent of engineers avoid paid search ads at all costs. However, if a paid link demonstrates a direct connection to search inquiry or clearly links to a familiar site, 44 percent will click.
To see how engineers interact with paid search links, download the full report.
Channels & Site Organization
Most engineers go directly to supplier / vendor websites when researching a specific product or service. Nearly half say they consult trusted industry resources like online trade publications and/or directory websites. New this year, respondents were given the option to select “LinkedIn” (rather than “Social media” more generally). Fourteen percent selected LinkedIn as a place to find product or service information.
Where do you routinely seek information when researching a product or service for a work-related purchase? Select all that apply. (n = 700)
“Top manufacturers and distributors continue to indicate they promote their products in key industry directories, like GlobalSpec, as they know their customers value the search tools and other content we provide in order to help them with their research and sourcing needs. They want to be in every possible search path they can.”
Once they land on a vendor’s site, engineers overwhelmingly prefer that content is organized by product or solution type.
How do you prefer business-to-business (B2B) vendors organize content on their websites? (n = 697)
About half of engineers say they review one to five pieces of content, on average, as part of their vendor consideration process. Thirty-four percent will review six to ten, and 12 percent—mostly in Engineering / R&D roles—are looking for more.
To see how many pieces of content engineers typically review before making a purchase, download the full report.
Consistent with years past, engineers find content with specific technical detail (e.g., datasheets and CAD drawings) to be the most valuable in their decision-making processes. Secondary to technical documentation, engineers find value in content that provides information on use and implementation (e.g., product demos, reviews, and case studies).
What form(s) of content do you find most valuable when researching to make a significant work-related purchase? Please select all that apply. (n = 699)
“Engineers want content with substance. They need hard product data to specify products for their designs, which is why deliverables like CAD models, PDF datasheets, and demo videos are critical for industrial manufacturers.”
Content attributed to engineering experts, technical product managers, and industry analysts are considered the most trustworthy from an engineer’s perspective. Still, technical authors aren’t trusted sources by default.
Technical content can be written and published by a variety of professionals. To what extent do you trust the following authors?
“It is encouraging to see our investment in providing compelling content from our engineering experts validated as the most trusted source of information for engineers.”
After a two-year slide, newsletter subscriptions may be starting to level off.
Weekly and monthly delivery cadences are most preferred—not too many, not too few.
To engineers, information on upcoming vendor releases and industry trends / news are the most compelling aspects of a newsletter, followed shortly by research data and case studies.
To see how newsletter subscriptions have trended over the past three years, download the full report.
Social Media & Sharing
YouTube, LinkedIn, and GitHub help engineers stay up to date on the latest trends and technology. TikTok was a new addition to our research in 2023; 29 percent of engineers use the platform, but only eight percent consider it a valuable resource for keeping up with the industry.
How valuable are each of the following social media platforms when seeking information on the latest engineering technologies, industry trends, and products?
When we zoom in on YouTube, LinkedIn, and GitHub, younger technical buyers are more likely to recognize these platforms as “extremely” or “very” valuable.
“Engineers love learning and researching on YouTube. It’s a great platform for vendor-created and community-sourced product demos, deep-dive topical learning, and the occasional wacky project build. Hot take: keep an eye on TikTok, I have a feeling it’s poised for major growth in the science & technology space.”
When reflecting on their time on LinkedIn, research data is the most eye-catching, with 77 percent of engineers saying they’ll always or sometimes stop scrolling to check it out.
To see what kind of content makes engineers stop scrolling on LinkedIn, download the full report.
Eighty-four percent of engineers turn to some sort of expert(s) or pundit(s) in the industry. Fifty-five percent look for information on industry trends, 39 percent seek trusted opinions, and 34 percent are looking for vendor endorsements. Of those who say they don’t follow industry experts, 79 percent are over the age of 45.
Fill in the blank. Select all that apply. I look to specific industry experts / pundits to __________. (n = 640)
“Content developed under a thought leadership label gets sidetracked into promoting products instead of valuable insights. In Forrester’s 2021 Content Preferences Survey, 63% of respondents found vendor content to be more focused on style than substance.”
Forty-two percent of engineers find industry experts and pundits through technical publications. Some find influencers through social means by turning to LinkedIn, YouTube, and conferences.
Think of your go-to industry expert / pundit. How did you discover them? (n = 528)
“Articles in technical publications remain the most effective way for individuals and companies to establish and maintain a reputation for technical expertise. In this world of ephemeral marketing, technical articles will document and preserve the history of innovation and contribution for decades.”
In line with 2022, 73 percent of engineers listen to work-related podcasts. Forty-five percent spend less than an hour listening to podcasts, while another 28 percent listen for an hour or more—up slightly from last year. Of those who don’t listen to work-related podcasts, 74 percent are over the age of 45.
Of those who listen to work-related podcasts, 82 percent would prefer a duration of 30 minutes or less. Fifty-five percent say 15 minutes tops.
What is the ideal length for a podcast? (n = 470)
Most engineers who turn to podcasts are seeking educational “how-to” information, industry expert opinions, or details on trends and news.
When thinking about the year ahead, 28 percent of engineers plan to attend about the same amount of in-person industry events as they did in 2019 (pre-pandemic). Twenty-seven percent say they’ll be attending more.
Seventeen percent say they’re planning to attend fewer in-person industry events than they did pre-pandemic. Most engineers cite travel/transportation logistics, the availability of virtual industry events, and budget cuts as the main cause for this change. Budget cuts are not confined to any particular industry.
To see what elements most influence an engineer's experience and decision to attend an in-person event, download the full report.
Interaction with Sales
Engineers still spend much of the buying process online. Forty-one percent spend between a quarter and half of the buying process online, and 33 percent spend over half of the buying process online.
Thinking back to their most recent work-related vendor purchases, engineers say they were motivated to interact with sales to validate the research they’d done online independently. Technical complexity was also a major factor. Only 5 percent of respondents said they’d prefer not to interact with a salesperson at all.
Think about your most recent work-related vendor purchases and fill in the blank. ______________ motivated me to interact with a salesperson for the first time. (n = 539)
Consistent with 2022, 51 percent of engineers prefer their initial salesperson interaction to happen via email. 23 percent would prefer a phone call. In-person meetings are still less desirable with only 9 percent selecting this as their preference. Chat adoption remains low, dropping one percentage point since last year. New this year, participants were offered the option to select “LinkedIn direct messages;” only one percent preferred this option.
For additional insights, download the full report.
Watch the Webinar
Join Wendy Covey and CJ Haight as they share important findings from the research on the content, online search, and buying preferences of engineers and technical buyers.
- Learn how your audience views the industry shift toward online and content marketing
- How to effectively apply this knowledge to your marketing efforts
CEO and Co-Founder
Wendy Covey is a CEO, technical marketing leader, author of Content Marketing, Engineered, one of The Wall Street Journal’s 10 Most Innovative Entrepreneurs in America. Over the last 25 years, Wendy and her team at TREW Marketing have helped hundreds of highly technical companies build trust and fill their pipelines through inbound marketing.
Content Marketing Manager
CJ Haight is the Content Marketing Manager at GlobalSpec, where he focuses on creating and improving all customer-facing elements such as collateral, media kits, GlobalSpec’s Marketing Maven blog, social media presence, and websites. He is also a strong brand ambassador, making sure we are presenting our brand identity appropriately.
GlobalSpec is a provider of data-driven industrial marketing solutions designed to help companies promote their products and grow their businesses.
Our audience of engineers and technical professionals relies on the GlobalSpec family of brands as a trusted resource for content, community, and engagement at all stages of the research, design, and purchasing process. Our clients count on us to deliver deep industry intelligence, customized marketing programs, and measurable campaign performance.
About TREW Marketing
TREW Marketing, headquartered in Austin, Texas, is a strategy-first content marketing agency serving B2B companies that target highly technical buyers. With deep experience in the design, embedded, measurement and automation, and software industries, TREW Marketing provides branding, marketing strategy, content development, and digital marketing services to help customers efficiently and effectively achieve business goals.