Joe Pacitti: When engineers and marketers make magic

In a recent BBC radio interview, inventor and entrepreneur James Dyson gave his views on developing quality products through a process of innovating, and engineering, solutions to problems.

In a recent BBC radio interview, inventor and entrepreneur James Dyson gave his views on developing quality products through a process of innovating, and engineering, solutions to problems.

His ability to understand a market need and then conceive a solution to meet this is well documented. To then realise the production or creation of a product or service and deliver this in a scalable and financially viable way requires multiple elements across the entire product development chain.

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Hearing Dyson crystallised a thought: what do “marketing creatives” and engineers have in common? They have a hand in creating truly great products and services that change the world around us. Look, for example, at the genius of Steve Wozniak and the late Steve Jobs at Apple and how they have revolutionised the way we communicate.

We can all point to truly great products and without much argument, we would be able to accept they resulted from a marriage of strategic marketing and high-quality product design. Look at how the mobile phone market innovation has become “smarter” in the past decade, and who could ignore the fact that televisions have become thinner and optically more brilliant to the point of being almost immersive?

If we took the marketing and engineering involved in this collaborative exercise and gave them one additional skill – the ability to understand each other’s toolkit – then the process of clearer translation would be the way to reach this “great product” goal.

Great companies do this naturally. They have marketing and engineering professionals collaborating, developing years of experience and understanding of how they can support the goal of innovating.

Often though, these are large companies with sufficient bandwidth and headroom to allow this collegiate approach. They have worked out that success for them is built upon this ability to create great and differentiated products.

It is also true that many new start-ups also have this true connection between market demand and conceptual design, often as the entrepreneur at the heart of the business embodies this marriage of understanding the marketplace and what the solution should look like. It is not always easy for these small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) as they will have limited bandwidth and often face the inability to understand the true market breadth or have the capability to scale this economically through best use of design and into production.

This could mean mid-sized SME technology companies with significant higher staffing levels might not have sufficient bandwidth or headroom for their customer facing and design/engineering teams to use this collegiate approach effectively to make good ideas into great products.

To address this, we need to encourage a model of multi-skilling marketing and engineering professionals, or at least increasing awareness and appreciation of some of the tools and techniques each could use to work around this limited bandwidth situation.

Seeking ways to engage using informal appreciation through to deeper-taught elements of these disciplines must be one of the areas marketing and engineering professionals recognise and embrace.

Colleges and universities can play a role in this too. They can broaden their approaches to the subjects which students will need to study. The innovative and pioneering models being looked at also put problem and project-based curriculum at the centre of the learning process. Multi-discipline approaches and use of the latest technology to accelerate this now offer the opportunity for the future skills to be ready for the challenge.

Ultimately, market-savvy engineers designing market-driven products that have been conceived by technical savvy marketing folk must be the approach adopted by leading companies. Increasing the community of these leading companies will in turn drive economic growth with global trade opportunities and productivity improvements.

The ability to offer products with desirability at a value point that satisfies the customer and meets margin points for the producer means they can continue to invest in new products and continue the cycle – all by seeking out and creating greater commonality and understanding with engineering and marketing professionals.

Sitting in a privileged position as MD, of CeeD which embraces networking and promotes a multidisciplinary approach to best practice exchange and learning, and as the chair of the CIM in Scotland, I believe we are on the cusp of being able to create the greater dynamic connections needed – at least here in Scotland.

Joe Pacitti BSc FCIM is managing director of CeeD and chair of the Chartered Institute of Marketing, Scotland Region