Andrew DeDonker is on the show this week sharing how RAM Mounts has developed their marketing team and strategy. They have an in-house agency covering B2B and B2C. We breakdown how they take advantage of their brand recognition on the consumer side to fuel their B2B marketing efforts. Come on by and learn a thing or two about how to synergize your team and your marketing streams, we sure did!
A Beautiful Marriage: Developing B2B and B2C Together Transcript:
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. Carman, how you doing, sir?
Carman Pirie: I’m doing well, and you?
Jeff White: I’m doing great. Thanks.
Carman Pirie: Nice. Look, I think today’s show is gonna be great.
Jeff White: Always is, but what are you thinking?
Carman Pirie: No. Better than normal. Well, I just really… I’m excited for the insight that today’s guest is bringing into kind of an interesting kind of component of manufacturing marketing where you sometimes have these conflicting zones of marketing directly to customers versus marketing to business. And so, it’s good to unpack that B2C-B2B battle a little bit, which I think we’re gonna be able to do today.
Jeff White: Yeah. I’m looking forward to it, as well, and our guest has a particularly interesting and unique perspective on it, as well.
Carman Pirie: Let’s get on to it.
Jeff White: Yeah, so joining us today is Andrew DeDonker. Andrew is the Director of Marketing at RAM Mounts. Welcome to The Kula Ring, Andrew.
Andrew DeDonker: Thanks for having me, you two. I really appreciate it.
Carman Pirie: Andrew, it’s awesome to have you on the show. Let’s first… I think once you start explaining RAM Mounts, everybody’s gonna go like, “Oh yeah, yeah, yeah.” But let’s first start there. Tell us a little bit about RAM Mounts and how you ended up there maybe.
Andrew DeDonker: Yeah. Absolutely. So, RAM Mounts was founded about three decades ago and we are a rugged manufacturer, or a manufacturer of rugged mounting solutions, so we make cell phone holders, device holders, basically anything you can think of mounting anywhere, we do it. So, that goes for a GPS, or a phone on a kayak, all the way to a dedicated computer or handheld PC on a forklift, or a large terminal in a military vehicle. We are based in Seattle, Washington, and we manufacture almost all of our products right here. We have diecast, rubber, plastic injection, vibration dampen, and testing facilities right here on site, assembly, shipping. The majority of our manufacturing is done right here in South Park, Seattle.
Carman Pirie: That’s very cool, and Andrew, how did you end up… How long have you been there?
Andrew DeDonker: I’ve been here for about six years and prior to that I was at a large seafood company in Oregon called Pacific Seafood for about seven years. Started as a product marketer. Came over to RAM Mounts in a similar position and once our previous Director of Marketing left about four years ago, I took that role.
Jeff White: I think the thing that’s interesting too, and that kind of aligns with that made in the USA model, is that your team is largely in house, as well, from a marketing organization perspective. Tell us a bit about how you’ve… the role that you’ve played in building that team and kind of what the thinking is around that model.
Andrew DeDonker: Yeah, so to your point, our entire team is in Seattle. We have no individuals anywhere else besides Seattle. We are a team; the marketing team is a team of 15 individuals. That includes customer service, so that was kind of a strategic move that I made is to incorporate the customer service team to get the voice of the customer, the feedback, all of that about our products, and kind of bring that into the marketing team on how we go to market, respond to product complaints, that kind of thing. We do not use any agencies. We are completely in house. And the building of this team has really… It’s been a result of this competing B2B versus B2C marketing strategy that we have.
About 70% of our business is directly to enterprise organizations for large fleets, large rollouts of products, tens of thousands of units in large scale, and then the other part of our business is directly to end users from our website, or retailers, Amazon, resellers, and that’s your dad on a kayak mounting his cell phone, and so how do we have a team that is dynamic enough and versed enough in both buckets to be able to successfully bring whatever product it is to market?
Carman Pirie: And you say it’s a 70-30 split for clarity?
Andrew DeDonker: About that, but I do want to add a unique differentiator, or unique kind of comment. We go to about 50 trade shows a year and almost every interaction at our enterprise, or I’ll call them B2B trade shows, almost every interaction starts with, “Hey, I have one of your mounts on my motorcycle,” or, “Hey, I have one of your mounts on my moped, or boat, or kayak,” and then from there the conversation goes to, “But I’m here today to look for mounts for my warehouse, for my forklift, or for a rack, or a loader,” or something like that. So, it’s a really cool kind of $2 segue and a really great way for us to bridge that gap and start talking about the brand and new products that we have while also touching on how they use our product in that consumer personal space.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. You hit right to the crux of my question that was coming. I was curious to what extent that consumer side greased the skids on the enterprise side. That’s fantastic. Because of course when you first said it, my knee jerk reaction was a lot of people would just be encouraging focus on the enterprise side. But it’s fascinating.
Jeff White: Are you able to actually draw significant parallels? Are you attributing some of those to the personal sale through to an enterprise sale?
Andrew DeDonker: Yeah.
Jeff White: Are you tracking it at all?
Andrew DeDonker: Absolutely. We can talk about attribution in a second, but just kind of at the core, we have a lifetime warranty on our products, and so people… They use our products, and they beat them up, and if something happens to them they get them replaced for free, no charge, shipped directly to their door. And so, then when they see a similar product in the sense of material composition, metal, screws, nuts, bolts, they can see the form factor and the functionality of it is going to perform at the same level that they experienced on whatever personal vehicle or vessel that they have holding whatever device it was. And so, it’s really easy for them to kind of cross over to like a, “Duh, that makes sense,” kind of thought of, “Yeah, I can see why you can hold my computer in my truck or my handheld PC on my forklift.”
And then in terms of kind of quantifying that, it’s really difficult, but anecdotally every single one of our team members who comes back from a trade show says that as the very first thing. We hire a new account manager in whatever vertical or industry space that is, and the very first thing they say is, “Oh my goodness. Every single person that I talked to had a personal story before we got into the enterprise discussion or opportunity.”
Carman Pirie: It’s interesting to me too to think that you… I can appreciate how difficult that would be to quantify and I can also appreciate the desire to try, and admire when you just say, “You know what? We don’t need to try anymore.” Like the Bob Dylan line, “You don’t need the weatherman to know which way the wind blows.” It’s like we don’t need to measure this anymore. We know. We’ve heard it enough.
Andrew DeDonker: Yeah. One quick comment too. It’s interesting, we have a pretty robust backend to our website, and individuals will come there, and they’ll purchase $4,000 or $5,000 worth of what is clearly going to be deployed in some type of enterprise function ecosystem, and then I’ll click on their orders. It’ll say there’s four, five, six, seven orders, and I’ll click on it, and then, so I’ll see like 20 tablet mounts with hardware chargers for a vehicle, and then there will be like a fishing rod holder. And I’m like, “I don’t think that this person’s mounting a fishing rod holder in a semi-truck,” so you can see the kind of comparison there, too, which is really fun. Again, pretty hard to quantify and extrapolate, but it’s fun to see. It’s a fun exercise.
Carman Pirie: I want to dig into this B2C-B2B battle a bit. Oftentimes, when that’s been talked about in the past, it’s usually about conflict with a distribution channel, and often comes down to pricing parity and things of that sort. So, let’s skip past those easy conversations about pricing for now. I’m curious. What are the other conflicts that you’ve found? Is it how to evolve the brand type of debates in a B2C versus B2B? Where are the points of tension or friction between those two things?
Andrew DeDonker: Yeah. I see two. One kind of quasi overlaps with the easy stuff you were talking about, but I’ll make it brief, is a lot of these companies that are distributing or reselling our products do resell our competitors, as well, so forget price, it’s just kind of mind share. It’s difficult to get mind share with these sales reps, or account managers, or business development managers. I think kind of where RAM stands out and sticks out is we do an incredible job of enabling those individuals to resell our products, so we really load up their toolkit. Buyers guides, PowerPoint presentations, spec sheets, sell sheets, catalogs, we do a fantastic job of gaining that mind share by giving them the tools necessary to resell.
You can forget price, or margin, or SPIFs, or anything like that. If I have all the tools I need to quickly and efficiently close a deal with the end user, then I’m more likely going to gravitate towards that product or that business. I already know that it’s a great product backed by a lifetime warranty, has the brand name, but it’s really a nice little leverage or catalyst rather to get that sold.
Sorry. The second piece of that conversation is really we have such a deep offering of products that it can be really difficult to train people on how to use that. So, it’s a little bit of a paradox against what I just said, but we do have such a wide variety of products that are so detailed and intricate that it can be difficult to get people confident enough to sell them. So, those are the two kind of major, major conflicts.
Jeff White: I would think too, I mean, one of the biggest struggles that we see with manufacturers is having the bandwidth internally to actually create all of the content that they want to provide to their distribution and sales channels. You know, nobody will ever feel like they’ve created everything that they need to, but it sounds like part of the reason that you’ve built this large internal agency is to be able to handle the kind of quality content requirements that your resellers need in order to be able to understand the product well enough to sell it in the way that you want them to. How much of the impetus for the creation of this department was as a result of wanting to serve your resellers better?
Andrew DeDonker: I think the majority of it was that, but also again back to how complicated our products are, agencies are very nimble, and they serve a lot of great functions and I’m not taking anything away from that, but it takes our team members on average probably a year or more to even learn what our products do, and so you can imagine attempting to get an agency integrated and involved enough to learn what is necessary to be able to effectively market our products is exceptionally difficult. So, I think that that’s really the crux of the strategy to keep the team in house.
The second is we like to be nimble like agencies. We like to respond quickly. And a little bit of it is ego, too. We’ve built this great team from the ground up that has a lot of skill and talent and we all just vibe off of each other, and get really excited with each other, and we have this secret sauce, I call it, that… It’s just really unique. I can’t tell you the amount of I would say Fortune 10 to 50 companies that we interact with on a daily basis that weekly are saying, “Hey, at the end of this call can you email me the name of your marketing agency that you have?” And those types of comments happen on a weekly basis. And it’s a great little boost for the team, but it’s kind of proof in the pudding of how well we’re executing our go-to-market strategy as a marketing team.
Carman Pirie: I love… I mean, as an agency owner, I must say I could easily lean into a debate on how fast one can get up to speed on complex offerings, but the thing I liked was that the acknowledgement of there’s a vibe that you’ve created, a team dynamic that’s been created, and I think you said part of it’s ego, but I mean… I just think it’s quite interesting to honor the uniqueness of that. Not everybody’s been able to create that that attempts it. Often it can be very difficult. They can often see a lot of personnel change in the marketing functions that kind of restrict their ability to build that team and cohesion that you’ve been successful in doing, so I think that there’s some very interesting guidance between the lines there.
Andrew DeDonker: Yeah. One more quick comment I want to make just to build on that is as we talk about the difference between B2C and B2B, we’ve carved out our team pretty equally in terms of their output and their focus on those two different categories, but it’s nice because people who are kind of entrenched in the enterprise space from a marketing standpoint get to also dabble in the consumer space. And so, they get kind of this back and forth, and kind of mind refresher and reset pretty often, which is nice.
You can see it in the team if they’ve been focusing heavily on an enterprise catalog or something like that for a decent amount of time. They’re just like, “Oh, man. I need to do something different.” And we’ll put them on social media, fan Friday, reposting user generated content, that kind of thing. And within a day they’re like, “Okay, great. I’m back. I’m ready. What do you want me to do next?” And I think that’s pretty cool.
Carman Pirie: Now, I hesitate to ask this question without already knowing the answer, but sometimes I guess B2B gets looked upon as a bit of the ugly stepsister to B2C by what I often consider to be more ill-informed marketers. But I’m curious. Have you noticed any kind of dynamic in your team that tends to prefer one over the other? I know in the example you just cited people were coming back to the B2C side to get refreshed. But I’m wondering, does that just happen to be the example or is that the consistency?
Andrew DeDonker: It is consistently… Obviously, people gravitate towards things that they do more often and interact with more often, so they’re just thinking personally. However, the enterprise business really keeps the light on here, and so generally speaking we’re I’ll say more motivated to execute and to deliver on those enterprise marketing solutions, and collaterals, and toolkits, and our sales team is looking for that, and ready for it, and they’re excited about it. So, generally speaking, the excitement level is there. I think it’s just introducing a little bit of a mix to switch it up for people and get them kind of re-excited about a product that they don’t or can’t use in their day-to-day life.
But again, that’s why we divide the team. We have a B2B marketer who loves that space and doesn’t go kayaking, and doesn’t prefer those consumer products, and likes that enterprise space, and that’s perfect for him. And we have a product marketer who loves to get into the weeds with specs, and details, and measurements, and listings, and all of that fun stuff, and he gets really excited about that.
Jeff White: I was going to ask, and I think you half answered this in your last answer, but how useful is the fact that you are also a consumer, that you do sell direct to consumers, in recruitment for the agency team? How many of them are showing up saying, “You know, I love this thing on my kayak, and I want to work for the company in the enterprise way.”
Andrew DeDonker: I should have led with this before, but the only reason why I’m at this organization is because I had a RAM Mount in my car and I was like, “I’m looking for a change. I have my wife, who lives in Seattle. I’m living in Oregon currently. Let me just look and see if RAM Mounts has a job that is close to what I’m looking for.” And boom, exact title. Exact title. Just transferred right over. And so, to your question, I ask in every interview. Obviously, it’s easy to get at least an applicant, an application in now these days with easy apply and that kind of thing. You can apply for hundreds of jobs in a day. But you took this interview. I’m trusting that you at least did like five minutes of research and know who we are. And I would say eight to nine times out of ten, everyone kind of has at least a little bit of a RAM story.
We just hired an office administrator, and I asked that exact question. And she goes, “Actually, two of your individuals in your company came to my middle school when I was 14 years old or 13 years old and showed us about manufacturing, and how cool these phone holders were, and it was right when the first iPhone got launched or something like that, and we took them home to our parents.” And here she is working in our company and re-saw the two individuals who were in her classroom a decade ago or whatever it was. It’s pretty cool to hear these RAM stories.
Carman Pirie: You just ask if they have a RAM story and if they don’t know what that is, you just cancel the interview.
Andrew DeDonker: Yeah. Yeah. Exactly.
Carman Pirie: Exactly. One of the curiosities that I would like to dive into further and understand its application in your marketing strategy is how you’ve leveraged the creation and protection of IP. Not just at the product level, but at the marketing level, because that’s something that, seems to me, spans both your B2C and B2B approaches to going to market. So, help me understand that, because I think it’s the focus, and the emphasis seems to be quite unique.
Andrew DeDonker: Yes. We do have a pretty strong focus both at the engineering and product level, and also the marketing level. It’s one of our core competencies and something that we focus on very highly or heavily. And the reason for that is we are a… I don’t want to say household name, but we are a well-established, well recognized brand in the spaces that we serve, and people have learned to ask for RAM Mounts, and they’ve learned to compare RAM Mount build quality or manufacturing quality to others and use those specific terms.
We want people to address our product categories and our specific products as a brand almost. We don’t want people to say, “Hey, I’m looking for that RAM Mount that has the spring thing that holds the thing that grabs your phone that has some metal on it.” We want people to go, “Hey, I’m looking for a RAM X Grip.” And that also helps us for counterfeiters that attempt to mock our products or come against our products and create a dupe of it. They can’t say, “This is a RAM X Grip” or they can’t say “like X Grip” or “Compatible with X Grip.” That’s our name and people are looking for it by name. Their customers have to search for looking for spring holder phone mount thing.
So, that’s a big focus for us, and we’ve seen it be very effective.
Carman Pirie: Oftentimes, what I’ve found as a company goes down this path is that they’re starting down the path as a branded house, but sometimes they get distracted, or sometimes a product brand that doesn’t reference the mothership in some way takes off, and then they almost find themselves… They’ve kind of stumbled into a house of brand strategy that they didn’t intend. Is that something that you’re very conscious of managing and how have you approached it?
Andrew DeDonker: Yes. We definitely have experienced that. Our attempt is to stay as close as possible to the core functionality of the product when coming up with trade dresses or naming conventions. We’ve been in a couple of scenarios where we’ve put something out there that we kind of overthought and it’s not searchable, it’s not Google-able, it’s not… You can’t find it. There’s no real SEO richness there. It’s just there, to your point, and it hasn’t necessarily hurt us, but it just doesn’t make sense sometimes. So, as we’ve kind of recalibrated, we have I guess been more intentional about if we need to use a trade dress or a trademark, and if we don’t, then we just simply do not do it.
Jeff White: There’s a real practicality about that that I like a lot, that I think… Oftentimes, you think every marketer is just trying to hit a homerun or swinging for the absolute parking lot with a product brand or something like that. In reality, they should be thinking how that fits into the overall structure of the brands that you manage and the idea of thinking about it from a search perspective is a bit unique, as well. I like that.
Andrew DeDonker: Yeah. The search piece is… I mean, I could talk about that all day long. That is very complex and a very unique facet of our go-to-market strategy, especially as we come alongside some of these major OEMs who have their own device names, device brands that we can’t touch from a trade dress or IP standpoint. But we still want to rank really well when people are searching let’s say for a Samsung Tab Active3 mount. We can’t take over any of that trade dress, but we have to kind of piggyback on that with our own naming conventions and product brands that build off of their OEM branded trademark and trade dress.
Carman Pirie: And do so in a way that enhances the RAM Mount brand.
Andrew DeDonker: Exactly. Correct.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. A couple of interesting overlapping priorities there. What would you do differently if you were starting this job today?
Andrew DeDonker: It’s a really good question. Probably created a greater delineation and separation between our B2C and enterprise marketing functions earlier. This is something that we’ve really developed in the last two years. I came into the role really focused again on things that I liked, and I was interested, coming in with my personal cell phone holder that I thought was really great, and cool, thinking of new ways and places that I can mount it, to maybe I was a little stubborn and hit some roadblocks pretty severely because I didn’t really want to touch the enterprise space or didn’t appreciate how valuable that B2B and enterprise space was.
So, I would have probably flipped the focus level, the energy level from the start. We have that well established consumer equity, I call it, and we needed to focus on building our enterprise equity, and I had that flipped at first. But I feel like I course corrected and we’re in a good spot right now, and on a good path, but that’s what I would have done differently.
Carman Pirie: It’s fascinating to me. It’s not what I expected, to be fair, but I don’t… Not that I know what I expected, but it wasn’t that. That’s very cool. I mean, I guess it’s easy to go where the passion is, right? And it’s where your personal interest is coming into a gig, yeah.
Jeff White: Being able to separate that is a… It’s a remarkably mature thing, you know? And I think it takes some… I think you have to be a bit humble about recognizing that that may have been something that you could have done differently, but clearly the way that you’ve structured the team since then has resolved that.
Andrew DeDonker: I think learning the product, too, is… So, I literally took flashcards when I started this job in attempt to learn part numbers, product names, that kind of thing, and short of drinking corporate Kool-Aid, you need to get yourself engaged in the product enough where if you don’t love it you’re at least interested in it, and you know it, and you can speak about it, and then maybe the love will come a little bit later. And that wasn’t the case for me. I loved the product to begin with. But as we talk about maybe some of these more enterprise applications that there’s no possible way I could use in my day-to-day life, I really needed to learn how our end users in that space were benefiting from it in order for me to get excited about teaching people about it.
And I think that’s the same thing on my team is I put a huge focus on training the team in the first year because I want them to at least know enough to be dangerous, know enough to be able to speak about it passionately, even if they’re not in love with the product line or the use case for it, and I think that that’s been an effective little path or strategy, if you want to call it that, to get people excited, and engaged, and involved in that space that they may not be passionate about. I always give the analog to my team, RAM Mounts and mounting solutions may not be sexy to everyone, and it may not be what people are thinking about at night before they go to bed, just like I’m not thinking about lipstick, or face lotion, or beauty products. That doesn’t mean that I couldn’t go and be a marketer at a fashion company or a beauty product company. I just have to retool the way that I’m thinking about this product, and who’s using it, and what benefits my brand is giving to someone who does use it and who is interested in it, and it is sexy to them.
Carman Pirie: And I think the added benefit once you get to that place as a marketer is it allows you to do better marketing because you can approach it a lot more… You can read the label from the outside the jar then. If you always have to be so personally invested, you can only be personally invested in so many things.
Andrew DeDonker: Exactly. Yeah.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. And sometimes a bit of the professionalism and discipline can go out the window if you’re too personally invested, so it’s an interesting double edge. Andrew, as we end our team together today, I wonder. What’s the thing that has you most either interested or concerned about where marketing is going in the next three to five years?
Andrew DeDonker: That’s a very timely question. I may ruffle some feathers on this one, but I’ll go ahead and say it is I’m a little bit concerned about some of the tools like ChatGPT and other AI and automation software that is coming to fruition and is easily accessible by marketers. I have asked my team not to use any of those tools. I’m a bit concerned about the effect and the impact that those will have on SEO and how the major search engines are going to respond to content that is generated by AI. I have currently instructed my team and led with the strategy of maintaining true human-generated content, words, sentences, structure, all of that. I hope that’s the right path to stay on, but I’m a little bit concerned not necessarily on an unraveling, but on a quick progression of and response to this technology.
I hope that we can slow roll it and use those types of tools to maybe enhance things that we already have in our brain, and that we’ve already put out there authentically and personally, but I’m really skeptical and worried about using it and saying, “Hey, we’re launching this new product. It costs this much dollars. Here’s the features of it. Write me a product brief, or write me a content this, or this, or that.” Really concerned about how that’s going to impact marketing in the next couple of years.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. I feel like of course AI is on the tip of every marketer’s tongue, but it is either through the lens of they’re concerned about keeping their job, or they’re looking to see how they can use it to make everything that they hate go away. Yeah. So, I appreciate your lens on the matter, because I think like a lot of things, it’s not the immediate impact that is the real… the headline of this story. I think as marketers we still don’t know what the impact of it will be. But I really appreciate your insight into how you’ve aligned your team around it, as well. It’s interesting to hear how others are navigating this challenge.
Andrew DeDonker: Interesting one. I’m a little concerned about it but I’m also excited for its potential. I think that if we do it right, we can have a very impactful and innovative solution that will help us and not displace us.
Jeff White: Yeah.
Carman Pirie: Andrew, thank you so much for sharing our expertise with us today. It’s been just lovely to have you on the show.
Andrew DeDonker: Thank you so much for having me and I really appreciate it.
Jeff White: Thanks very much. 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-Apartners.com/thekularing.
Andrew DeDonkerDirector of Marketing, RAM Mounts
Andrew DeDonker joined RAM® Mounts in 2017, focusing on B2B and B2C go-to-market strategy, planning, and execution. As Director of Marketing, Andrew manages all product marketing, design, ecommerce, social, and customer service teams.
Andrew’s professional experience includes product marketing and strategic planning for globally recognized consumer brands. Andrew is a Cornell University certified marketing strategist and received his undergraduate degree in Business Administration from Seattle Pacific University.
Outside of work, Andrew enjoys spending time with his wife Monique, and daughters Sloane and Blair.