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DEVELOPMENT OF A POSITIONING STATEMENT, 2 THEMES, AND MESSAGES Ad hoc attempts by engineering organizations and others to promote a positive image of engineering, although well intentioned, have often fallen short, in part because most of the promoters do not have the knowledge or experience necessary to develop, test, and disseminate effective messages. A key premise for this project, therefore, is that the engineering communityâand the committee itselfâwould benefit by involving communications and market-research professionals. To find the best match between this project and a professional com- munications/marketing firm to carry out research, the National Acad- emy of Engineering (NAE) developed a request for proposals (RFP) and posted a downloadable Âversion on the NAE website in early April 2006. Notice of the solicitation was disseminated to approximately 100 market-research firms via the Researcher Sourcebook Directory (on the website for Quirkâs Marketing Research Review, www.quirks.com). An additional 20 research and communications firms identified by a consultant to the project were notified directly. The maximum accept- able bid was set at $100,000, in keeping with the terms of the original proposal to the National Science Foundation (NSF). 39
40 CHANGING THE CONVERSATION Project staff conducted an initial screening of the 15 responses to the RFP to assess the qualifications of the responding organizations. The screening criteria related to the completeness of company descrip- tive information, appropriateness of the plan and personnel to carry out the research, relevant past work, and pricing information. Six of the 15 met enough of the evaluation criteria to advance to a second round of review, this time by the project committee, which conducted in- person interviews and then made a selectionâthe team of Bemporad Baranowski Marketing Group (BBMG; www.bbmg.com), a communica- tions firm, and Global Strategy Group (GSG; www.Âglobalstrategygroup. com), a market research company. Communications Audit Developing a vision for new messages requires knowledge of past and current efforts. With that in mind, BBMG and GSG (BBMG/ GSG) conducted a communications âaudit,â a wide-ranging review of previous messaging research (e.g., Davis and Gibbin, 2002; EWEP, 2005; Harris Interactive, 2004, 2006) and the kinds of communica- tions Âmaterials that were being used to promote engineering in the public arena (e.g., by National Engineers Week, www.eweek.org). The results of the audit, described below, were discussed with the project committee and used to inform plans for qualitative and quantitative research. The audit confirmed much of what had been reported in Raising Public Awareness of Engineering (NAE, 2002). â¢ Ad hoc efforts. Up to now, engineering outreach and message development have been mostly ad hoc. Few organizations or communicators have used written strategic communications plans. â¢ Scant data on outcomes. Measuring outcomes has been dif- ficult, largely because of the ad hoc nature of current efforts. Very few organizations have used metrics that produce results that can be tracked, although most of them believe their p Â rograms are successful.
Development of a Positioning Statement, Themes, and Messages 41 â¢ Lack of coordination. Outreach efforts have been poorly coordinated or not coordinated at all. Nevertheless, there is a strong desire in the engineering community for a coordinated campaign, especially in terms of communicating the contribu- tions of engineering to peopleâs welfare and the career benefits of engineering. However, coordination has been stymied by lack of clear leadership, limited resources, and inadequate infrastructure. â¢ Few attempts to reach youngsters. Most outreach initiatives have targeted older students (i.e., high school students) in an effort to prime the engineering education âpipeline.â Less attention has been paid to elementary and middle school students, when stimulating interest in engineering might also serve a âmainlineâ function, namely promoting technological literacy and increasing interest in mathematics and science. â¢ Local outreach. With a few exceptions, notably National Engi- neers Week, most outreach programs have been local. National Engineers Week is considered one of the most effective out- reach efforts, although no data have been collected showing changes in student attitudes about engineering or interest in pursuing engineering as a career. â¢ Diverse approaches. Engineering outreach efforts have used a variety of tactics and approaches, including design- and-build competitions, mentoring programs, and tool kits for teachers and guidance counselors. This wide variety of activities has made it difficult to deliver a consistent message and contributed to inconsistent messages, even from a single organization. In general, messages targeting younger children attempt to convince them that mathematics and science are easy and fun and that engineering is challenging, exciting, hands-on, and rewarding work. Encouragement (âYou can do it!â) is a common undercurrent. M Â essages for older, prospective college students tend to reinforce the excitement and rewards of an engineering career (engineering prepares you for success and gives you opportunities to use your knowledge in
42 CHANGING THE CONVERSATION creative ways that will improve peopleâs lives). For the most part, mes- sages that promote engineering have been direct, rational statements emphasizing the benefits of engineering. Typical messages for students include: â¢ An engineering education is a sound basis for a career. â¢ Engineering offers challenges, excitement, opportunities, and satisfaction. â¢ Engineering is worthwhile, challenging, fun, and within reach. A second recurring theme has been to link engineering to skills in mathematics and science. These messages frequently suggest that stu- dents must have a high aptitude and strong interest in these subjects to succeed in engineering. As part of information gathering for a planned larger messaging effort (ultimately funded by NSF and described in this report) NAE in April 2005 brought together several advertising and public relations (PR) professionals with decades of experience in engineering or tech- nology-related campaigns to discuss current and past messaging. This small focus group, funded by the S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, recom- mended that certain kinds of messages be avoided: â¢ Math and science are fun or easy. The challenge of studying math and science should not be trivialized, because engineer- ing does require proficiency in these subjects. â¢ Engineers improve the quality of life. This message is not unique to engineers and may not be readily believable. â¢ Engineers design and build things. Although this is what engi- neers do, the message does not do justice to the importance of engineering. At the end of the discussion, the group identified the following categories for the development of messages: â¢ Engineers are necessary. Emphasize the critical importance of engineering accomplishments.
Development of a Positioning Statement, Themes, and Messages 43 â¢ Engineers have answers. If not, they are the ones who can find answers. â¢ Engineers/engineering make(s) things happen or make(s) things better. â¢ Engineers connect things. Engineers link creativity and practicality. The BBMG/GSG audit also reviewed a message-development project undertaken by the Extraordinary Women Engineers Project (EWEP). From June 2004 to January 2005, EWEP conducted focus groups, online and in person, as well as surveys of high school girls, teachers, and school counselors; engineering students; and professional engineers (EWEP, 2005). The goal of the project was to determine girlsâ perceptions of engineering and the perceptions of the people who influence them. The overarching conclusion of the project was bleak (EWEP, 2005): High school girls believe engineering is for people who love both math and science. They do not have an understanding of what engineering is. They do not show an interest in the field, nor â¦think it is âfor them.â The report went on to note a disconnect between the messages being conveyed by the engineering community and the key career and academic motivators for girls (Figure 2-1). Career and Academic Messages Girls Hear Motivators for Girls about Engineering - Enjoyment of oneâs work or studies - A challenging career - Good working environment - Difficult but rewarding - Making a difference - Using math and science to solve - Good income problems - Flexibility FIGURE 2-1â Differences between known motivators for career choices by girls and messages from the engineering community. 2-1.eps
44 CHANGING THE CONVERSATION Reframing the image of engineering Based on the communications audit and discussions with the committee, BBMG/GSG advised us to reframe the way engineering and engineers are presented to the public. They recommended that we stop talking about engineering primarily in terms of benefits to the individual and required skills and focus instead on ideas and impact. Strategic Elements of an Effective Message Make It Personal To bring the experience of engineering to life, the message should ascribe authentic, vibrant personality traits to engineers. Engineers themselves should be central to the reframed image of engineering. They work with people, not abstract fields of study or career pursuits. The message should include humor, wit, and irony to convey a human quality to the tone and voice behind the message. Messages that break through the clutter must make an emotional connection with their audiences, especially a young audience. The message should use their language, not impose our language. Language and word choices have a direct bearing on the emotional appeal of a message. Show, Donât Tell From a marketing perspective, labeling something as âcoolâ sounds a death knell, especially when kids and teens are the targets. Messages should be evocative rather than didactic. They should use meta- phors, analogies, and symbols whenever possible. Messages should be embedded in stories that dramatize the rich legacy of engineering achievements. Engineering messages can be effective on television because engineering lends itself to visual images. Yet, most current images r Â einforce the stale, one-dimensional image of engineers as operators and Âbuilders. At some point, a robust visual inventory should be devel- oped and a serious investment made in developing an updated gallery of images.
Development of a Positioning Statement, Themes, and Messages 45 Find âCampaignableâ Ideas Given the diverse activities and careers encompassed in engineer- ing, testing campaignable ideas was essential during the research phase of the project. A campaignable idea is derived from an overarching theme with enough emotional relevance and power to connect a broad range of specific messages. It represents a unifying concept, the tip of the iceberg, and gains traction by virtue of a strategic, integrated mar- keting and communications effort and enough time and resources to move the needle of public awareness and change attitudes. Campaign- able ideas can be readily adapted to appeal to different audiences and meet different needs. Find (and Mind) the Perception Gap Perhaps the most important prerequisite for reframing the image of engineering is having a clear understanding of the perception gap we are trying to close. To communicate the unique values of engineering, our consultants recommended we shift negative perceptions to more positive ones (Table 2-1). Developing a Positioning Statement Behind every powerful brand is a positioning statement that serves as a compass or guideline, pointing the way to the development of a robust communications program. As a guide to changing the percep- tion of engineering from a profession that yields personal benefits and requires certain skills to a profession based on creative ideas that have a beneficial impact, BBMG/GSG developed, and the committee endorsed, the following positioning statement (Box 2-1): Several recent campaigns have shown that seemingly fragmented industries, in which coordination seemed a distant reality, can rebrand themselves and cul- tivate new identities that shift public perceptions. A few examples of successful industry rebranding campaigns include cotton (âThe fabric of our lives.â; www.Â thefabricofourlives.com), milk (âGot milk?â; www.bodybymilk.com), beef (âItâs whatâs for dinner.â; www.beefitswhatsfordinner.com), and pork (âThe other white meat.â; www.theotherwhitemeat.com).
46 CHANGING THE CONVERSATION TABLE 2-1â Suggestions for Changing the Perceptions of Engineering From Current Perceptions To New, More Positive Perceptions Builders, operators, planners, and Designers, creators, and inventors maintainers Computer people Many types of engineers Geeks and nerds Creative professionals, âimagineersâ White males People of all backgrounds Boring Dynamic and exciting work that makes a difference Too difficult to learn Challenging but worth the effort A manâs job Engineering is a field for men and women Not as prestigious as a scientist A prestigious job that helps make the world a better place Less lucrative than law or medicine Supports a very comfortable lifestyle BOX 2-1 A Positioning Statement for Engineering No profession unleashes the spirit of innovation like engineering. From research to real-world applications, engineers constantly dis- cover how to improve our lives by creating bold new solutions that connect science to life in unexpected, forward-thinking ways. Few professions turn so many ideas into so many realities. Few have such a direct and positive effect on peopleâs everyday lives. We are counting on engineers and their imaginations to help us meet the needs of the 21st century. A strong positioning statement like this one is necessary for several reasons. First, it is a point of reference for all public communications (e.g., advertising, PR campaigns). Second, it encourages a consistent message (i.e., staying on message). Third, it clarifies the aspects of engineering that set it apart from other professions. Fourth, it makes a clear case for why engineering matters. As noted in Chapter 1, a positioning statement is the conceptual foundation for a communications campaign, but it is not usually
Development of a Positioning Statement, Themes, and Messages 47 shared with the public. However, even though the text of a positioning statement never appears in external communications, all messages and taglines are directly linked to it. In Chapter 1, we pointed out that positioning statements answer a number of core questions about the âbrand.â Here is how the proposed statement aligns with those questions: No profession unleashes the spirit of innovation like engineering (who). From research to real-world applications (what business), engineers con- stantly discover how to improve our lives (special needs) by creating bold new solutions that connect science to life in unexpected, forward-thinking ways (unique benefit). Few professions (competitors) turn so many ideas into so many realities (the difference). Few have such a direct and positive effect on peopleâs everyday lives. We (who served) are counting on engineers and their imaginations to help us meet the needs of the 21st century. Preliminary Themes and Messages Guided by the positioning statement, in consultation with the committee, BBMG/GSG proposed six preliminary themes and sample messagesâthree focused on engineers and three on the engineer- ing profession. The messages were later refined based on qualitative research (i.e., focus groups and triads), the next phase of the project (described in Chapter 3). Themes/Messages Focused on Engineers Limitless Imagination â¢ Engineers are âimagineers.â They see possibilities. They dream about making things better. â¢ Engineers are curious. They ask questions, âHow does it work?â, âWhere does it go?â, âWhat will happen if?â â¢ Engineers are creative problem-solvers. Like artists, engineers have a vision of how something should work, and they are passionate about that vision. â¢ It takes teamwork to bring creative ideas to life. Engineers work with other smart, imaginative people, such as animators, architects, astronomers, chemists, physicians, meteorologists, and physicists, to design and create new things.
48 CHANGING THE CONVERSATION Enterprising Spirit â¢ Engineers like to invent things. They create new products, imagine new gadgets, and launch new companies to turn their ideas into reality. â¢ Engineers are nimble and quick, able to think on their feet and work wonders using the tools and technologies available to them. â¢ Engineers understand the practical applications of their work, how it will make a difference in peopleâs everyday lives. Free to Explore â¢ Engineers love to explore and discover. They see life as a journey, a quest for better ideas. Engineers dream up smarter robots, faster sports cars, new medical devices, and ways to reduce pollution. â¢ Engineers think outside the box. They take things apart to see how they work. They are constantly learning new things. â¢ Engineers are never bored. They adventurously seek out prob- lems that need solving. They are constantly being challenged and inspired to keep exploring. Themes/Messages Focused on Engineering Ideas in Action â¢ Engineering bridges the world of science and the real world. It turns ideas into reality. â¢ From the grandest skyscrapers to microscopic medical devices, engineering plays a role in almost everything we experience. â¢ Engineering is on the cutting edge. Engineers use the latest sci- ence, tools, and technologies to advance society and improve peopleâs lives. Shape the Future â¢ Knowing how to turn dreams into reality is totally empower- ing. Itâs a skill that lasts a lifetime. â¢ As an engineer, you can shape your future and the worldâs future. You can help solve tomorrowâs problems today.
Development of a Positioning Statement, Themes, and Messages 49 â¢ Engineering offers many lucrative career options in research, development, design, construction, sales, and management. Itâs worth the hard work it takes to become an engineer. â¢ Engineers say that seeing their ideas come to life, having a direct effect on peopleâs everyday lives, is far and away the most rewarding aspect of the job. Life Takes Engineering â¢ Engineering could not be more relevant. Our society is becom- ing increasingly complex. We must provide more food and energy for a rapidly growing population, and we must limit damage to the environment in the process. Engineering will play a big role in meeting these challenges. â¢ Engineering is good for our economy. Itâs big business, and it provides millions of jobs. It makes this country stronger, safer, and more competitive. â¢ Engineering makes a world of difference. From new medi- cal equipment and safer drinking water to faster microchips, engineers apply their knowledge to improve peopleâs lives in concrete, meaningful ways. Each of these messages and themes can be traced back to the posi- tioning statement. For example, the âLimitless Imaginationâ theme describes engineers as curious and visionary, as creative problem- s Â olvers who want to make things better. This connects to the descrip- tion in the positioning statement of engineers as focused on discovery, innovation, and creative solutions. The âIdeas into Actionâ theme suggests that engineering is a bridge between the world of science and the real world and is responsible for the technological improvements we enjoy. This theme connects to the notion of engineers turning ideas into reality, with direct, positive effects on peopleâs lives. Conclusion The communications audit conducted by BBMG/GSG identified recurring themes in current messaging and collected useful, although limited, data on what adults and teens think about the engineering
50 CHANGING THE CONVERSATION profession. Through an iterative process between the consultants and the committee a new more powerful vision of engineering emerged and was encapsulated in a positioning statement (Box 2-1). Several themes and messages based on that statement were developed by BBMG/GSG in consultation with the committee. Positioning statements are the core of successful marketing cam- paigns. In the case of engineering, the proposed positioning statement represents a dramatic shift in point of view. The focus is no longer on required skills and personal benefits. Instead, the emphasis is on the connection between engineering and ideas and possibilities. The new statement is an optimistic, aspirational expression of a field that has, up until now, been portrayed in much more pedestrian termsâa math- and science-dependent process for solving problems. Engineering is that, of course, but it is also much more. It is inherently creative, concerned with human welfare, and an emotionally satisfying calling. In short, the new positioning statement changes the conversa- tion about engineering. REFERENCES Davis, L., and R. Gibbin. 2002. Raising Public Awareness of Engineering. Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press. EWEP (Extraordinary Women Engineers Project). 2005. Extraordinary Women Engi- neersâFinal Report, April 2005. Available online at http://www.eweek.org/site/news/ Eweek/EWE_Needs_Asses.pdf. (July 16, 2007) Harris Interactive. 2004. American Perspectives on Engineers and Engineering. Poll conducted for the American Association of Engineering Societies. Final report, February 13, 2004. Available online at http://www.aaes.org/harris_2004_files/frame. htm. (JulyÂ 6, 2007) Harris Interactive. 2006. Firefighters, doctors and nurses top list as âmost prestigious occupations,â according to latest Harris poll. The Harris PollÂ® #58, July 26, 2006. Available online at http://www.harrisinteractive.com/harris_poll/index.asp?PID=685. (July 6, 2007) NAE (National Academy of Engineering). 2002. Raising Public Awareness of Engineering. L. Davis and R. Gibbin, eds. Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press.