The Benefits of Specs and Standards Marketing

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I grew up in a technical environment. My Dad, a mechanical engineer, VP of Manufacturing for ITT Europe, and disciple of William Edwards Deming, was always reminding me about the importance of science and technology. (That’s probably why I wound up working in high tech and then founding MarkeTech.) Many years ago he sent me the following.

“How Specs Live Forever (author unknown)

“The U.S. Standard railroad gauge (distance between the rails) is 4 feet, 8.5 inches. That’s an exceedingly odd number. Why was that gauge used? Because that’s the way they built them in England, and the U.S. railroads were built by English expatriates.

“Why did the English people build them like that? Because the first rail lines were built by the same people who built the pre-railroad tramways, and that’s the gauge they used.

“Why did ‘they’ use that gauge then? Because the people who built the tramways used the same jigs and tools that they used for building wagons, which used that wheel spacing.

“Okay! Why did the wagons use that odd wheel spacing? Well, if they tried to use any other spacing the wagons would break on some of the old, long distance roads, because that’s the spacing of the old wheel ruts. 

“So who built these old rutted roads? The first long distance roads in Europe were built by Imperial Rome for the benefit of their legions. The roads have been used ever since. And the ruts?

The initial ruts, which everyone else had to match for fear of destroying their wagons, were first made by Roman war chariots. Since the chariots were made for or by Imperial Rome they were all alike in the matter of wheel spacing. 

“Thus, we have the answer to the original questions. The United States standard railroad gauge of 4 feet, 8.5 inches derives from the original specification for an Imperial Roman army war chariot. Specs and Bureaucracies live forever. So, the next time you are handed a specification and wonder what horse’s butt came up with it, you may be exactly right. Because the Imperial Roman chariots were made to be just wide enough to accommodate the back-ends of two war horses.”

While many consider this piece urban legend, it taught me, in a humorous way, the relevance of technical specifications and standards.

As CEO, Chief Technology Officer, or engineering VP, chances are that you’re leading—or about to lead—your company’s participation in one or more specs and standards programs. While you’ve, no doubt, nailed down your business case for doing so and committed resources to the effort, you may have overlooked the powerful role that marketing and PR can play in supporting your specs and standards objectives. 

If so, you’re not alone. My quick Google search revealed how little has been written on this topic. (OK, I’ll admit that MarkeTech surfaced as the very first hit in my search. But that’s because our principals have done it successfully for their own high-tech companies and for clients.)

From personal experience—participating in spec meetings, leading Marketing Special Interest Groups (SIGs), stirring up technical controversies when appropriate, and getting more ink than my competitors—I know that a targeted marketing/PR campaign synchronized with a specs and standards program can deliver tangible benefits.

It can help you:

  • (Re)position you and your company as an acknowledged authority and subject matter expert
  • Enhance your technical credibility among industry peers
  • Impact standards committee members’ perspectives
  • Grease the skids for recruiting new strategic allies to support your technical spec position
  • Influence current customers in supporting your position to protect their existing (and future) investment in your technology
  • Become recognized as an industry thought leader 

I’ve found no cookie-cutter approach to specs and standards marketing. Each company, each situation is unique. That said, to implement a well-crafted campaign, I typically draw on a mashup of proven marketing/PR methodologies and tools, e.g., market relations, social media activities, announcements, white papers, speaking engagements, feature articles, and guerrilla marketing tactics. I’ve found that the key to success is to focus messages and activities on hot technology issues, technical challenges, industry-wide business conversations, and the like. This means avoiding explicit promotion of my clients’ products and services. 

At this point, you may be thinking that this type of marketing/PR program will only work if you’re the proverbial 800-pound gorilla in your market space. Not true. For a real-world example, read our blog David v. Goliath: Specifications and Standards. There, Patrick Potega, our Chief Strategic & Tactical Officer, describes how MarkeTech helped a client get its technology into a government-mandated specification and global standard going up against 800-pound gorillas like Airbus, Boeing, and General Dynamics. 

Feel free to submit your specs and standards marketing question or issue here as a comment, or contact me directly at Prez [at] MarkeTechcom [dot] com.

In closing, the irony of this blog is that, in the second grade, one of my homework assignments was to write a composition about what my Dad did for a living. Telling me that he was an “engineer” put visions in my head of a train conductor (visor cap and all). What are the odds that decades later I’d be posting a blog about him, railroads, and technical specs and standards?

Other Relevant Blogs
David v. Goliath: Specifications and Standards
Code Word “Interoperability:” Danger Will Rogers!

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