Using engineering as marketing is building tools that people use that lead them to tell others and to become a customer themselves. I have done this only once before and forgot about this altogether. So I have to give credit to Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares whose book called “How Any Startup Can Achieve Traction” for reminding me of this and providing some contemporary examples. While this whole concept seems most appropriate to software companies, it can be used by many companies to develop a useful calculator, widget, or educational website.
My example was to create a calculator that led the user through the process of determining the value of using a customer relationship management (CRM) system. It asked questions about the value of customers, how many customers went away each year and so on. It was very helpful in getting potential customers to be able to put some rough numbers around something so intangible. So if you develop a usefully tool, you can host it on a single purpose site where it is easy to find and use but also has links to your main site to sign up for more. In a perfect world, you would pick a domain name for the site that includes one or more words people would use to search for such a tool.
Google’s keyword tool is ostensibly about finding out how much traffic a set of keywords might generate as well as to identify more keyword ideas. But once you use it, you are much more likely to use AdWords to get some traffic going to your site.
Another strategy is to develop a bare bones version of your product and offer it free. You just need to have enough functionality that it is useful as it is. But because you have so many more features in the paid version, once users like the bare bones version, you will get a healthy proportion to upgrade to a paid version.
The key lessons here are:
The tool or capability needs to be close or directly related to your core business or product.
Even if free, it has to offer genuine value with no strings or expirations. As a small business consultant I can tell you that it needs to prove its worth right away before the user looses interest.
So consider using engineering as marketing as part of your marketing strategy and your marketing plan.