Engage and Nurture Specifiers

Reach This Influential Audience Via Education and Good Writing

One of the nuances of working in the business-to-business marketing and communications world is the need to engage with specifiers such as engineers, architects and interior designers. Although channels for reaching specifiers have changed significantly, one thing hasn’t changed – as a group, specifiers have two seemingly contradictory traits in common:

  • They are lifelong learners and are always seeking new information, but
  • They are also not likely to act on that new information when they get it.

Let’s break this down … Why are specifiers described as lifelong learners?

To excel at their work, they must acquire knowledge of new products and materials, new regulations, and new thought processes or industry trends. All of these can influence how they get their work done – if not now, then someday down the line. In addition, showing evidence of a certain number of credit-bearing continuing education hours is required to maintain professional association membership or licensure.

So when it comes to products and materials, specifiers are generally inclined to be interested in what’s new. But they are also risk-averse. If what they’re doing today works for them and their clients, they won’t be quick to fix what isn’t broken and open themselves up to liability and damage to their reputation.

Online education is one of the most credible ways marketers can engage and nurture this audience to new ways to get the job done. It offers both the manufacturer and the specifier great flexibility. Typically partnering with independent learning management systems like AEC Daily or the online university of a trade media outlet (example: Building Design + Construction University), manufacturers can deliver credit-bearing courses with specific learning objectives that have been approved by third parties such as the applicable professional associations.

Ultimately, the results of a concluding test will be submitted for credit directly through the learning management system. Manufacturers can link to and promote the course on their own websites, and can include mentions to it in paid media for even greater exposure. The test-takers become leads that can be nurtured through the marketing automation funnel.

The direction of a course coming from a manufacturer, or a trade association comprised of manufacturers, should lead down one or more of three avenues: (1) solve a common or thorny problem, (2) share specific expertise, or (3) explain trends in product advancements or a change in an industry standard. Should be easy, right?

The catch is that a discussion of any of the above demands a commitment to the use of neutral, non-promotional language. To be viewed as a credible authority by a specifier in an educational context, a manufacturer must scrub all communication of marketing lingo. Specifiers are downright allergic to content that doesn’t convey anything of substance. Give them the facts and they will weigh what they learn against their existing body of knowledge to determine where – or whether – it fits in.

However, writing in a neutral fashion does not come easily to many. It’s proven to be a valuable skill for a business-to-business agency such as Fahlgren Mortine, but it takes practice and constant honing. One resource I like is the Securities and Exchange Commission’s A Plain English Handbook. As food for thought, here are two noteworthy passages from that document: “Plain English means analyzing and deciding what information investors need to make informed decisions, before words, sentences, or paragraphs are considered.” and “Using plain English assures the orderly and clear presentation of complex information so that investors have the best possible chance of understanding it.”

When breaking through to the specifier is the Holy Grail, heeding the above advice – are we committed to using plain English? – is the first consideration. Get over that hurdle, and I have no doubt that manufacturers have many bodies of knowledge to share that specifiers need to know. And may act on if they are appropriately nurtured.


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