Business Essentials for Utility Engineers: Marketing and engineering

Surfing the web to find new material for literature review can sometimes reveal surprises. When looking for “tap water marketing” related references I found a book titled Business Essentials for Utility Engineers by Richard Brown. I immediately proceeded to purchase a copy and am impressed with the comprehensive nature of the book, and I highly recommend it to all engineers working in the utility industry.

The author does, however, suffer from the type of marketing myopia seen in utilities and most commonly in engineers. I am not against engineers, after all; I am one myself. In the preface Richard Brown writes (emphasis added):

This book does not address a variety of topics that are typically covered in a business curriculum. Examples include strategy, marketing, organizational design, human resources, and business ethics. These topics are important in a general sense, but tend to be peripheral to most issues facing utility engineers.

With this statement, Brown moves marketing to the periphery of utility engineering, while moving economics and accounting in the spotlight through his book. The content of the book does, however, tell a different story. It contains over five hundred mentions of customers — more than one per page on average. Although Brown believes he excluded marketing from his work, it is in fact a central element of the book.

The issue at hand here is a misunderstanding regarding the scope of marketing. Marketing is not selling or advertising. In essence, marketing is: “customer satisfaction engineering”,[note]Kotler, P., & Levy, S. J. (1969). Broadening the concept of marketing. Journal of Marketing, 33, 10–15.[/note]

Marketing cannot be moved to the periphery of utility engineering. It is central to any organisation that seeks to add value to the lives of their customers. To move utility engineering to that space, we need to move from asset performance to customer experience.

Engineers should take an interest in marketing as it will help them to develop better products and services. Marketing for engineers is an essential skill for technical staff.

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