Source: The Kula Ring

Using a Listening-First Strategy to Create Effective Marketing

Announcer: You’re listening to The Kula Ring, a podcast made for manufacturing marketers. Here are Carman Pirie and Jeff White.

Jeff White: Welcome to The Kula Ring, a podcast for manufacturing marketers brought to you by Kula Partners. My name is Jeff White and joining me today is Carman Pirie and we have on the line today, Jen Miret, who is the Director of Marketing at Bendheim, an architectural glass manufacturer based out of Wayne, New Jersey. Welcome to The Kula Ring, Jen.

Jen Miret: Hey, great to be with you guys.

Carman Pirie: It’s so wonderful to be chatting with you Jen. Why don’t we start by having you introduce yourself a little more fully to our listeners and tell us a little bit about Bendheim.

Jen Miret: Absolutely. I’m a little bit uncomfortable about that. We marketing people like to be in the background I thought. I’m Jen Miret. I’m Director of Marketing for Bendheim, which is an architectural glass company based in Wayne, New Jersey.

We also have a beautiful showroom that just opened up in New York city. But we work around the globe. Actually one of our most international projects ended up being one in Antarctica. So you can find Bendheim glass from our capital to New York city and all over the globe.

And if I could explain in just a few words what Bendheim does, it’s everything that’s special, decorative and unusual in glass for buildings. So it’s a great environment to be in. And the clients that we work with, as we said, are these creative, fun people that are always looking to push the boundaries of performance and aesthetics and user experience.

Jeff White: I have to ask what kind of glass did you install in Antarctica.

Jen Miret: It was actually a very interesting vintage inspired look that featured a chicken wire inter-layered in textured glass. And one of the biggest challenges was fabricating it on time. Everything is custom, everything is made to order to the specific requirements of the project. And we had to make that happen and deliver it on time before the winter came in Antarctica, which would have closed all shipping lanes.

Carman Pirie: That is, that’s very interesting. I didn’t think that’s where we’re going at all.

Jeff White: No. And I wouldn’t have even expected glass to be a thing in the Antarctic region. So yeah. Very cool.

Carman Pirie: All right, well I’m going to make the most awkward transition ever. And like I said, one of the things that I guess compelled us to get on the show today was Jen, you talk a lot about how Bendheim actually listens to the market and identifies opportunities to serve it better via the marketing you create. And I think that that’s a subject that resonates frankly with any manufacturing marketer. So I’d like you to take us through that and help us understand maybe first and foremost how you go about that process of listening and identification.

Jen Miret: Absolutely. So I feel blessed that I work in a market space where the clients are very well educated, very creative, very well informed. And it’s really about kind of participating in this educational process and showing architects, designers, the possibilities with glass. As you said you didn’t even think that glass would be used in a space like Antarctica, but it’s everywhere.

If you look around at all the buildings that we inhabit, from the surfaces to the ceilings, to the windows, the facades, there’s glass in virtually every building that we work and live in today. And our goal is not, this is going to sound kind of silly, but it’s not really about selling the product, it’s about presenting ideas and expanding the horizons and just showing new applications, new aesthetics and new possibilities with glass. So it’s fun, it’s rewarding and it’s a very creative space to be in.

And of course a lot of this is driven by what kind of is driving architects and designers, what they find important. Whether it’s a mix of sustainability and performance for a building, or it’s more about how the building makes users feel as they enter it, visitors, workers, residents.

So there’s multiple platforms that we use. Of course we use Google Analytics, we use listening social media tools, and PR tools such as Meltwater. But we also focus a lot on what we hear directly from the market. And hear our network of sales representatives, which are across the United States, we have, I believe approximately 60 people presenting the Bendheim brand. The questions, the ideas that they bring to the table are invaluable.

And of course participating in industry discussions. You’ve got to be part of that, you know, conference scene and hear what people are talking about and hear what are the new things that come out.

Carman Pirie: And I wondered to what extent, I mean it sounds fairly robust, of course, you’re in-taking the salesperson, like the folks that are actually on the ground, in-taking that information. As well as what you’re hearing in the trade environments. Letting search analytics also inform your thinking. And it seems all really quite formalized. That’s quite impressive. One thing that kind of came across in your commentary, that, I guess it, I think it may be a bit of the secret sauce, whether you know it or not, I might be wrong.

Jen Miret: Oh really? No, I actually never thought about it that way.

Carman Pirie: I haven’t even said what the secret sauce is yet. I think it’s—

Jen Miret: Seems kind of natural to me.

Carman Pirie: I think it’s something about tone here. You said, “Participating in the education process.”

Jen Miret: Absolutely.

Carman Pirie: And, but you didn’t say, “Leading the education process.” You didn’t say owning it, you didn’t say, you know, there was a sense that you were joining a conversation and a professional discussion that’s already taking place. And it’s taking place with very smart people that are very good at what they do and you’re just seeking them. You know, work hard to meet them at their level and help shape that conversation. And I guess, I mean I haven’t examined the content that you create as a result of this strategy, but it seems to me that—

Jen Miret: You didn’t?

Carman Pirie: No, I like to stay a little fresh for these conversations. You know, you can’t be too prepared.

Jen Miret: I love how you phrase that. I actually never really thought about it that way, but it’s exactly how you presented. We each bring our own strengths to the marketplace and it’s a very collaborative process, especially in the area that we occupy, which is the building industry, architecture and design. Everybody has their strengths and weaknesses. And what we bring to the table is a very deep understanding of glasses and material. And how far you can stretch it, almost to its limits to get it to perform the way you want it. So we, it is absolutely a two way conversation, always.

Carman Pirie: Take us through an example of how you’ve kind of practically done this in bringing a product to market, for instance, or something of the sort.

Jen Miret: So one of our interesting experiences was overall, over the past few years, slowly we’ve been turning from a traditional building material supplier company to more of a design assist company where we get very involved in the design process early on. And one of the products that actually ended up getting us farther and farther into this territory was a new line of decorative exteriors that have also performance benefits.

They prevent moisture and wind from entering the building and attacking the building. But they also create a completely new face, a new personality for the building. And with this, they affect how people who are using the building feel about the space, how they like it, how they like working, living in these types of environments.

So going into the market, having had no experience with this or little experience with this particular technology, first we have to understand how people are framing the discussion around it. What terms are being used, where there’s a missing kind of chunk of information, where people are hungry for more knowledge.

We even discuss this example. One of the terms that can be used to describe this technology is a windscreen because it’s stop this cold unpleasant moisture bringing in from coming into the space, from attacking the exterior facade of the structure. The glass essentially acts as a raincoat, as a protective shield.

But just using a very basic tool that’s available to everybody out there. Google AdWords—the search tools. We realized that most of the results associated with windscreen were actually car windshields. Clearly not a good fit for our audience.

Another thing that was interesting was, going to conferences and listening to, by the way, a lot of the conversations that happen at conferences don’t get published. You can’t easily read about them online. You can’t find information, all that, you know, immediately. So very important to listen and participate in these industry events. So we found that there was missing kind of a link there of materials such as glass that had additional benefits other than just stopping wind and moisture. And that was the aesthetic benefit.

I think that also the third, which was a big surprise after all this research and taking the product to market, we thought that most of the questions we got from clients would be, “Well, how exactly does this work?”. And we were surprised to find that a lot of architects and designers already knew exactly the principle and they said, “I get it. What I’m having difficulty with is how I sell it to my client. How do they understand the benefit? I get it because I’m an architect, I’m a designer. I’ve been trained in these types of technologies and understanding how buildings work.” But clients need a different way of phrasing the conversation.

So then we look back at our projects and we said, “Well this is an interesting challenge.” And we realized that at least with one of the projects we have recently completed, there was over 100% return on investment for the building owner after having installed this new facade.

Carman Pirie: Just from the energy efficiency gain?

Jen Miret: No, actually it was, it was really about rebranding the building. It was a commercial space. It was—

Carman Pirie: Okay they were able to rent it more and more effectively.

Jen Miret: Yes, they were able to rent it right away and then a year after the renovations and the new facade, they were able to sell it for a tremendous profit.

Jeff White: I think there’s a couple of things that I want to touch on based on what you just said. And one of them is very tactical. You know, you mentioned trying to find out how people might look for this kind of thing or trying to use the words that you think of and what the purpose of this rain facade is, and then finding, you know… We see this an awful lot where a set of keywords is not necessarily being used with any intent to look for the kind of product that you’re selling.

So windscreen being primarily seen as an automotive product as opposed to an architectural product. I mean there—

Carman Pirie: I’m just going to come to the defense of motorcyclists here and say that I always thought motorcyclists owned windscreen and cars owned windshield. And I’m going to go to my grave with that.

Jeff White: Yeah, I think that’s fair. I think that’s fair. But we’ve also seen a tremendous—

Jen Miret: I think you’re absolutely right. Keywords can be tricky.

Jeff White: —amount of paid search campaigns over the years where people were buying keywords that really had absolutely no intent for their particular product and they’re throwing a lot of that budget away.

Carman Pirie: And I do think it’s interesting, too, to think through how the keyword conversation is different when we talk about how is an architect searching for this product potentially versus how their customers are seeking education on it. Because what you just said there is the content that you’re asked to create and come up with was really, help our customers sell to their customers, which to me is—

Jen Miret: In a way it is.

Carman Pirie: —a different layer of translation and a different layer of potentially market vocabulary at play as well.

Jen Miret: That’s correct. And at the same time though, I’m a big proponent of keeping things simple. Even if you’re speaking with an end user versus the creator, I think that as people we respond to the same triggers. If you make something simple enough for me to understand, I’m obviously going to be more invested in it, I’m going to feel more comfortable with it.

So yes and no, but yes, keywords are very tricky and you definitely have to do your legwork. Just running a search on what’s the most popular key phrase doesn’t necessarily yield the results and doesn’t yield the targets that you want to approach. It has to be, some research and legwork has to be involved where you actually look at what is each keyword that your results suggests associated with in real life? Which companies are using it, what they’re using it for? Whether it’s motorcycles, cars, or architecture.

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Carman Pirie: I’d be curious, have you had any kind of, what you would classify as really homeruns, if you will, where you, you kind of chose to create some topic, some content and bust out a content area around a niche, a conversation that just seemed to have taken off? Am I putting you too much on the spot?

Jen Miret: No, it’s a great question actually. Well, the rain screens, were I would say our biggest success in terms of approaching a market that we have relatively little knowledge of and being able to pin spot, to kind of pinpoint exactly where there was that missing link, where the conversation was lacking. Within six months of launching that new, excuse me, the new product line we were ranking as the number one authority on Google for glass rain screens. And our technical team was one of the most published in that space in terms of technical articles, case studies, a lot of information.

But to give you an example of where we could have done this, but I think that we were just ahead of the curve. A few years ago, we’ve realized that bird-friendly glass, in other words, glass that is not a threat to birds, they wouldn’t collide in it, was important. Not just because we love birds and we love nature, but because there’s so many glass buildings going up around the world right now.

So we invested in testing our products. We went to this beautiful nature facility, a bird reservation in Pennsylvania, we tested our products in a wind kind of tunnel facility, completely safe for the birds. And so to our delight, our decorative glass was visible to birds or was very safe to use in buildings. There’s now municipalities throughout the United States that are actually implementing legislature to protect buildings and to make sure these glass structures don’t accidentally kill birds.

But that was a few years ago and only now I’m seeing more and more of that discussion entering the mainstream. And that’s probably again, because you’re seeing now legislations starting to make its way through the, you know, through the United States kind of a legislative system. So I think that in that instance we were a bit ahead of the curve.

Carman Pirie: I think that that’s super, I mean what a great product, too. But it just shows the benefit of actually being, not being afraid to be out in front of a topic a bit. I mean the search benefit of that now comes two, three, five years later as the legislative action heats up, this actually becomes a topic of conversation. And it’s hard to know which bets are good bets at the time.

Jeff White: Yeah, yeah exactly. And as we know, the content that’s got more longevity and has been around longer is going to perform better over time, especially as it’s out there for awhile. Jen, I want to, I want to talk a little bit about… We’ve talked about the importance of listening to your customers and listening to the industry conversations that are going on and using various tools to do that. One of the things that we talked about before was the importance of then conveying that information internally and sharing it with your team to educate them about what your customers are potentially looking for, and what architects are looking for, and their customers, too. Can you tell us a little bit about how you operationalize the information that you receive with the rest of your team?

Jen Miret: Yeah, that’s a great question and a great way to think about it, because as marketers, as we just mentioned, you have to take risks. You have to pursue the things you believe in. Maybe they’re going to work out right away. Maybe we need to wait a few years. Maybe they won’t pan out.

But the other thing is, in order for everybody in the organization to buy in, you need to communicate your findings. Here at Bendheim we have at least bi-monthly marketing meetings where we come together, not just with the owners of the company, but also with the managers of the different divisions, with the sales managers. And we discuss what’s going to be big in the next couple of months and what we need to focus our resources on.

And another thing, as you work with a lot of manufacturers in this industry, you know how difficult it can be to generate content without the input from your internal team.

Some of our strongest team members for the marketing team that are obviously not marketing employees are actually our technical staff, our engineers, our designers. Because they too are at the forefront of this. They work day in and day out with our clients, with architects, with designers, creating projects together.

So definitely as a marketer you have to keep your eye out and put yourself always in the client’s shoes. What are the challenges they’re facing? What do they want to talk about? And then be able to translate this back into your own organization to get the support you need to create the content that moves the needle.

Carman Pirie: Do you have any pro tips on how to get those engineers helping with content on a more regular basis? Or how do you do it? How do you get the benefit of their contribution without asking them to actually do the content creation themselves?

Jen Miret: Everybody has their own approach, I feel. Obviously it’s all about relationships. So keeping in touch with everybody, even if you’re working remotely from home some days of the week, it’s important to keep personal touch with your team members. Going to events together, going to these conferences together. It’s also important for you as a marketer to have somebody that’s smarter than you, to kind of translate some of these terms and these industry concepts back in language that you can understand and then put into your content creation efforts.

Another thing that I personally do is, of course with permission, but when I sit down with our engineers to talk about a project that’s very technically challenging for me personally, is I record the conversation. And then I go through my notes. So a half an hour conversation could easily take four or five, six hours to actually digest and to translate into meaningful notes for me. So I hope that helps.

Carman Pirie: I love that because we try to share with other team members to try to give them the context and the benefit of that. And the more complex the topic becomes, the more I think this becomes a challenge for marketers. I mean they, first and foremost expert at marketing, not expert at—

Jeff White: Engineering glass wall systems.

Carman Pirie: Right. Right.

Jeff White: Yeah. I think it’s, it’s a really interesting, you know, taking almost a journalistic approach to working with your team.

Jen Miret: Yeah. I never thought about it that way, but I guess you’re right because it’s a very similar process when we speak with architects and we ask them to walk us through the project and what made them choose Bendheim as the glass facades or the glass interior solution. What kind of other things they considered. Yeah, that’s a great way to put it. It’s journalism in a way.

Carman Pirie: I wonder, kind of changing gears a bit, I’ve got this nagging question in my head, I think a lot of manufacturing marketers wish that they could talk about… You notice that we haven’t talked about price once yet. This is not a conversation or a sales discussion it seems like, that is generally led by price. And it seems like part of that is the comfort level that an architectural product company would have with speaking of aesthetics.

Jen Miret: I actually tend to disagree because for us price is the second question that comes up immediately after the question of. “Is this going to work for my building?” has been solved.

If the answer to your first question is yes, this is definitely going to work for my design aesthetic for what I’m trying to accomplish here. The next question is, “Would my budget carry it?” So I guess it’s kind of different in architecture because we are all, at the end of the day we’re beholden to what the client can afford to put in their building to a point where they do want to achieve that kind of beautiful space they’re all proud of, that people want to come to live in and to work in.

Budgets are important. It’s actually one of the reasons why I think over the years we have become much more involved in the early stages of the design process where we can thoughtfully and carefully value-engineer some of our solutions in order to not compromise any of the aesthetics or performance, but still be able to fit in the budget.

Carman Pirie: And then getting in those conversations early of course, enables you to frame that ROI conversation and let them understand how the use of your product, and frankly a superior aesthetic that it can deliver, real market benefit as you just illustrated what, 10 minutes ago in that example.

Jen Miret: Yes. And a lot of it, marketing has become more than just selling product. It’s about selling experiences. So when you can show that your product can enhance the user experience, it makes a difference. Right?

Carman Pirie: Absolutely. And I think it helps you drive the conversation at least for a moment, potentially away from price. I mean if you’re talking about user experience of the building, I think it’s—

Jeff White: It’s a higher level discussion.

Carman Pirie: Seems to me to be the place to be.

Jeff White: Yeah. Yeah, yeah for sure.

Jen Miret: It is. And yet at the same time we’re selling value products. They are not cheap, but they’re not expensive either. It’s really how you use the product. And with, we have over 2000 varieties of glass in stock and about 90% of what we do is completely custom.

So you take something that looks like glass and you make it look like a waterfall. And we have a lot of flexibility with that. We can tweak the product in a way that can still, like maybe change the sizes of the pieces, that can make it much more affordable in that situation. So to me price has never really been a challenge that we’ve had to tackle in marketing, but maybe that’s unique to our industry and our kind of working space.

Carman Pirie: Yeah, I was kind of, I guess that’s where I was initially kind of curious about it. I was wondering if you get a, if that does give you more flexibility or if there’s just, maybe I’m more industrial B2B, marketers just need to buckle up and—

Jeff White: And have those hard conversations structured around ROI.

Carman Pirie: And not be afraid to talk about something different.

Jeff White: Yeah.

Carman Pirie: Anyway, I don’t know if I have a point there or not, but the good news is that—

Jen Miret: Oh, I think you did.

Carman Pirie: I don’t really have to have much of one because I think we’re kind of—

Jen Miret: It’s about the value, not necessarily the price. Right.

Carman Pirie: Yeah, no question. I think this has been a fantastic conversation, Jen, and I thank you so much for sharing with our audience the benefit of your experience and knowledge in this regard. Thanks so much for being on The Kula Ring.

Jen Miret: My pleasure it was great to actually hear somebody from outside chime in and kind of help me phrase and interpret things a little bit differently here as well. Very fun.

Carman Pirie: Excellent. And yeah, we can obviously provide you this recording as podcasts are quite transferable. And then you can just use it as, in your own personal marketing from here on out. What do you think?

Jeff White: Exactly. Thanks a lot, Jen.

Jen Miret: Well, my pleasure guys.
Announcer: Thanks for listening to The Kula Ring with Carman Pirie and Jeff White. Don’t miss a single manufacturing marketing insight. Subscribe now at kulapartners.com/thekularing. That’s K-U-L-A partners.com/thekularing.

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