Jim Lauria is here to talk about some strategies that have worked well for him and Mazzei around content creation and marketing. Adding value to not only his own company but to Mazzei’s partners as well. Jim brings a ton of knowledge and experience on what content looks like done right, and how an AI will never replace the human touch.
A Water Treatment Marketer and Top of the Funnel Content Marketing 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 I’m joined today by Carman Pirie. Carman, how you doing, sir?
Carman Pirie: Jeff, I’m feeling like perhaps… You know, we haven’t lived up to what we could be doing here in the podcast. Well, I recently did a ChatGPT request where I asked it to rewrite the introduction to The Kula Ring, but to do it with the style of Hunter S. Thompson, and it sounded more fun. I think we would be decidedly higher were we doing what they were recommending. And just overall, I felt like I thought that’s where you were going. I thought you were gonna demo the new.
Jeff White: Yeah. Yeah. It goes a lot of different directions when you start refining a ChatGPT request to redo something you’ve been doing weekly for four years. It’s kind of hard to latch onto that Hunter S. Thompson persona, but we could try. We can do our best.
Carman Pirie: All jokes aside, I did actually try that with ChatGPT. It was fun. I would encourage people to check it out. But we will not try to incorporate that in today’s intro, but look, I do not think today’s conversation will be any less entertaining than had we had Hunter S. himself on the show. So, let’s just jump into today’s conversation and introduce the guest, Jeff.
Jeff White: Absolutely. So, joining us today is Jim Lauria. Jim is the VP of Sales and Marketing at Mazzei. Welcome to The Kula Ring, Jim.
Jim Lauria: Well, thanks a lot, guys, and that’s some big shoes to fill, Hunter S. Thompson, although as we talked about I am in wine country, but we’d have to consume quite a bit to meet his expectations, right?
Carman Pirie: Exactly.
Jeff White: Probably right.
Carman Pirie: Willing to give it the college try, however. Well, look, Jim, introduce yourself to our listeners a bit more formally if you would, and perhaps let us know who Mazzei is.
Jim Lauria: Yeah. Sure. We’ll start with Mazzei. So, Mazzei Injector Company is a company that designs and manufactures mixing and contacting systems for a wide range of water treatment applications. Agricultural, spa market, quite a bit of work in the municipal water treatment field, and industrial water treatment for waste water products in a wide range, produce water for the oil and gas, food and beverage applications, so anything water, that’s kind of what we touch with our equipment and our designs.
Jeff White: And how did you come to join Mazzei?
Jim Lauria: So, quite a journey. I’ve got a degree in chemical engineering from Manhattan College. Started my background as a process engineer, environmental manager, production manager in the sugar industry, and then got into sales and marketing of a wide range of filtration products for different applications. I had the enviable job of traveling around the world visiting all the breweries to make sure they were filtering their beer properly early in my career and spent a lot of time in the wine industry, as well. But over the last 20, 25 years, really been dedicated to water treatment, and so was with a number of companies, and going on about eight years with Mazzei. Really great company. Privately owned. Was started by Angelo Mazzei about 40 years ago, 45 years ago, and out of his garage. He was an industrial engineer and he saw a way to do a better job of putting fertilizer and nutrients into irrigation water with Venturi injectors, and that expanded into all those other applications I mentioned. Municipal water treatment, industrial water treatment, pool and spa applications. A real American success story and quite proud of what he’s done, starting, as I said, 45 years ago in his garage to develop this type of product.
Carman Pirie: It’s a fantastic and fascinating story and I think it… You know, I guess it’s kind of from that, that foundation, that really has propelled you to be taking the kind of marketing and sales approach that you’ve been taking, which is one that in some ways seems only open to the category leaders, right? This notion of educating the market in a very holistic, in some ways indirect way from a sales perspective.
Jim Lauria: Yeah, Carman.
Carman Pirie: Tap us into that strategy a bit.
Jim Lauria: Yeah, sure. You know, I always joke about this. It’s great to have a story like Angelo’s to tell on a regular basis like I’m doing today. One of the things that we really want to do is not only tell a story about Mazzei and our products, but also the story about the challenges and trends in the water space. Our philosophy is that it’s important for people to know what our products can do or our services can do, but we really… Our feeling is that in the water treatment field, if the general public doesn’t understand the value of water then there’s no way people are gonna pay for the value of our products and services. So, we have a philosophy of like a three-step process in how we tell the story. Of course, we have our brochures, we have our marketing collateral that tells specifically the benefits and advantages of using Mazzei’s products, but in order to tell a bigger story and get more people to understand what we’re doing, we have early stage content, which is basically why water is valuable, why you need to value it, how it’s valuable, and the trends in the industry. Then we have middle stage content that tells the story of all the different ways of treating water, including some of our competitors, what they’re doing. And then late stage content, like I said, how Mazzei is a better choice and some of the applications that we’re looking at.
So, it’s a strategy that incorporates all those. Early stage content, middle stage content, late stage content.
Carman Pirie: Arguably, this early stage content around just valuing water… I mean, there’s early stage and then there’s early stage.
Jeff White: It’s very broad.
Carman Pirie: Well, you would think anybody that’s a direct prospect maybe doesn’t need to be convinced of the valuing of water. It’s just interesting to me that you spend some time there at that stage, and get to that kind of level of halo, if you will.
Jim Lauria: Right. Well, so you’re right, Carman, that is important, but we feel that we want to build a reputation of thought leaders in the industry. And so, there’s only a subset, a small subset in the water treatment field that’s interested in Mazzei products, right? At any given time. But if we start to build our reputation as thought leaders and they see my name, they see the Mazzei name… I mean, it was fantastic. We were at a trade show last week with Angelo and his wife, the founders of the company, and somebody came by and I guess I had my badge turned around, and he didn’t see my name, and he looked up and he said, “Mazzei. You guys have a lot of great content on LinkedIn, and I’m always reading it,” and he really didn’t have any reason to want and know our product, but he learned the Mazzei name through that. And then I guess I turned the badge around and he said, “Oh, Jim. You’re the guy that I always read and keep up the good work.” And you know, I never met this guy before, but through LinkedIn, what I put in content around just early stage information, he knew the company and we got into a conversation.
And there’s an opportunity now that might not have happened if he hadn’t read that early stage content and just passed over what we put in as far as our brochures and things that we feel we’re good at from a company standpoint.
Jeff White: I think too, part of the lure of your content is your perspective, Jim, because you bring a certain turn of phrase to things, and you’re use of language I think is engaging in a way that a lot of content at this sort of level, with this kind application, doesn’t really necessarily go for. So, you’ve created a bit of a personality not just for Mazzei, but for yourself, that’s clearly resonating with the right types of people. And I think it’s interesting too that people aren’t often able to kind of inject their own personality into the things that they’re writing for the company, or for their clients, or what have you, but Mazzei’s recognized the value of that and kind of asked you to run with it a bit, haven’t they?
Jim Lauria: They have. They have. I mean, when I first joined Mazzei, they kind of recognized pretty quickly, the CEO, Geoff Whynot, and Angelo Mazzei, they recognized that by me getting out there and people knowing who I was, and I had some followings before with some of the other companies that I was working for kind of doing the same thing. I was fortunate to have another CEO before I was working for Mazzei that recognized that, as well. And so, a couple of things that they recognized right away was that people weren’t gonna just read Mazzei information. And by getting more of the people to read this early stage content, we were building a following. That was number one.
Number two, the other thing, and I always talk about this, is we’re much more valuable to our distributors and manufacturers’ reps. Because when we have engagement, we get the leads. We use Water Online quite a bit as our marketing platform, our content platform, and when people download this early stage content that isn’t necessarily focused on Mazzei information, we capture that information, and we share that with our distributors and our manufacturers’ reps. And why that’s valuable is the people that we’re sending it, the leads that we’re sending to them might not be interested in Mazzei products, but they could be interested in some of the other product lines that our reps carry, right? They carry 15, 20 water treatment product lines. Now they’ve got a contact at maybe a municipality, somebody that’s an operator, that they now have this contact that maybe they can sell some of their other product lines to.
And so, it makes Mazzei a more valuable principal for some of our rep firms, and they always compliment us and thank us for sending these leads to them for their particular territory that they cover for Mazzei.
Carman Pirie: I’ve got about 40 follow-up questions to that. Well, I guess let’s start with it is curious to me how I think we all know and see examples of brands who lean into having people engaging not through the lens of the brand, but allow it to get a bit more personal. And there’s a lot of benefit to that. I think obviously people connect with people more than people connect with brands. And nobody wants to be a friend with a brand, really.
Jim Lauria: Right.
Carman Pirie: But of course, there comes a time when you probably don’t want to work anymore, you know? I mean, you did move to Napa recently, so-
Jim Lauria: Yeah. No, that’s right. But I love to write, and I’ve been writing since I was eight years old, and I have a 1947 Royal typewriter that my father had when he came out of the Army, and he would type up stories that I would write out back then, and I always had a love of reading and writing, but I also had a love of science and math, and that’s what led me to get my degree in chemical engineering, so I’ve always had those two things, and for me there’s nothing I like to do more than sit down with a writing pad and write out some ideas about what I’m gonna write about next, and taking photographs. I just took some photographs of some rain gardens in San Francisco before I left and I wrote an article about that and I published that on LinkedIn. And I was taking a walk along the Napa riverfront, and it’s a great story about flood plain protection, and took some photos of that.
And so, it’s an avocation, it’s a hobby, it’s fun, and I’m fortunate enough that it really helps my business life and my company to be able to do that. So, you know, retirement? I don’t see it. I don’t see it.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. And I totally get that, and I’m kind of curious about… But does Mazzei have to think about how does this get transitioned, how does this equity that’s being created-
Jeff White: Yeah. This isn’t like making sure the salespeople are capturing the leads in the CRM.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. It’s a different nuance.
Jeff White: Different. Yeah.
Carman Pirie: Have you given any thought to that?
Jim Lauria: Well, I have somebody, one of our younger sales engineers, sales managers. He’s coming up behind me and I’m training him on some of that stuff. I don’t know if it’s gonna be… if he’s gonna have the same inclination. I mean, he’s a really smart guy and he’s gonna do a great job as leading the sales team, but I told him. I said, “Even when I retire,” and we’ve got some runway there, “I want to still be involved.” And I think Mazzei’s interested in having me kind of do this as part of a contract basis, but whatever they decide is fine with me. I’m gonna continue to write about water issues, and tell stories, and have fun with it, so if it can be a benefit to them, and look, somebody else. I mean, I could do it for other companies, as well, so I don’t see myself slowing down anytime soon.
Jeff White: I mean, I do think, though, that there is… Part of what you’re doing, too, because you’re not just writing, either. You have a podcast. And I realize there’s nothing more annoying than podcasters recognizing when they’re interviewing somebody that each has a podcast and talking about how great podcasts are, but by engaging with people in other types of content than just article writing and the photography that you’re taking, you are opening it up to things that maybe younger generations might be more interested in contributing to if they don’t see themselves as die hard writers.
Jim Lauria: Sure. I mean, there’s a lot of ways to do it, and that’s what I always talk about, and one of the things I always like to talk about is content is very malleable, right? So, a podcast like we’re doing now becomes a post on LinkedIn. A LinkedIn post becomes a PowerPoint presentation at a conference. The PowerPoint presentation becomes a white paper. I mean, so I always like to look at how we can repurpose any type of content that’s produced. So, that’s a big part of our strategy at Mazzei. How can we leverage these things? Case studies become conference presentations. All those things, how can you make these things more beneficial and spread the word about A, water issues, and B, Mazzei’s solutions to some of those water challenges.
Carman Pirie: Jim, the other beyond the personality side of it that I was kind of curious about is as we… It seems to me that as you move more and more, if you will, up funnel with content into those very early stages, and especially when you move into content that is about educating a market in a very broad sense, it’s been my experience that often where those efforts get challenged is they get burdened with an ROI expectation that is maybe more suited to content production that’s more down funnel. The further up you go, the less you can connect those dots and maybe you can only connect those dots after a considerable number of months, years of investment. How has the company thought about that and thought about measuring the value of these efforts?
Jim Lauria: Yeah, so as I mentioned, we’re using Water Online as a platform, so the leads we get are part of that, right? And I mentioned how they’re beneficial not only to Mazzei but also to our channel partners. But what we’re also doing is as we capture those leads, we’re building our contact database, so these leads now become part of our own newsletters that we send out. So, it’s hard to really measure, Carman. You know the old joke about 50% of your marketing is worthwhile and the other 50% isn’t, but you’re not sure which is, right? So, you do 100% of it. And some of the cases in points, I mentioned this connection at the trade show that he came by our booth and recognized Mazzei just simply by the content that we produce on LinkedIn. It’s hard to say.
But we feel confident that there is the return on investment, the return on investment not only in terms of the leads, but also… Look, I’m on this podcast talking to you guys, getting the word out about Mazzei based on what I put on LinkedIn, right? And so, that’s pretty much proof that it does work, and I don’t know how many people are gonna be listening to this that end up buying a product from Mazzei, but you know, it’s something that we’re gonna promote, we’re gonna promote on LinkedIn, we’re gonna promote everywhere we can so that people hear the message.
Carman Pirie: I mean, if I’m reading between the lines of all of that, I think part of it is that the company’s kind of okay with not having to draw those exact connections every step of the way. They certainly are enthusiastic when you see those direct signals, like we know we’re getting X number of leads from Water Online, et cetera, and then there’s another part of it that I guess is in some ways a little bit more like religion, which is the part that I always kind of find fun when we as marketers acknowledge that there’s still a little bit of mystery in what happens, you know?
Jim Lauria: Yeah. Exactly. I mean, there is that, and anybody you speak with is the best way to do marketing is storytelling, right? And so, when you’re telling stories, it’s not necessarily that it’s gonna resonate with everybody or today, but it’s gonna resonate. And if you keep telling those stories, and keep connecting with people, it’s gonna connect to the people that are going to buy your product, they’re gonna be interested in hearing more about your product, so that’s kind of how we look at our content marketing strategy.
Jeff White: It’s very much content as the 401(k) model. It doesn’t pay today but it is a bit of a long game.
Jim Lauria: Yes. Exactly. I like that. I like that terminology.
Carman Pirie: What’s surprised you the most about this approach? I’m sure you could see some of the success kind of predicted in advance, but what has surprised you?
Jim Lauria: Yeah. That’s a really good question. So, I guess how it’s resonated outside the water industry. People know me in the water industry, right? And so, they know my background, I’ve been in the industry a long time, I’ve spoken at conferences, I’ve seen people, they’ve seen my content on Water Online for a long time, but the way people can… I mean, just speaking with you guys is a big surprise, that somebody would reach out and talk to us about pretty much non-related water issues around marketing, and to recognize that what we’re doing can be applied for other different products, different market sectors, and so that’s kind of a surprise, right? I mean, that’s a really big surprise. I’d say that, that how I’ve connected with other people and been able to get the word out through other channels other than what would be typically looked at in our water treatment field, more or less.
Carman Pirie: Do you see any major additions or pivots to this strategy, or any kind of anything on the horizon that has you excited about maybe what’s next?
Jim Lauria: Yeah, so one of the things I’m playing around with is writing and producing content using AI, artificial intelligence. And I just started looking at it. I haven’t really delved into it, but I think it’s gonna make it a lot easier, because I produce a lot of content, and people are surprised at me, and I do it… Like I said, I do it as a hobby. If I’m watching a football game or a basketball game, I’ve got my notepad out. I’ve got my reference books. I’m jotting down ideas. Like I said, I walked around at the rain gardens, then I’m on my phone looking at, “Okay, what’s being written about rain gardens around the world?” That kind of stuff.
And so, for me, it’s easy. But I’m trying to see how can you turn people that don’t have this inclination and feel that writing is a struggle. It’s never been a struggle for me. So, how can we use AI to do a job if you’ve got some ideas about what you want to write about and how can you kind of coalesce those ideas into something that people want to read?
Jeff White: I love that we started this episode talking about how we used ChatGPT to create a Hunter S. Thompson-esque intro to the show and now we’re talking about AI-generated content from the perspective of somebody who respects the content. I really like that. The other day I forwarded a tweet to Carman about a marketer who was sharing that he had figured out how to connect ChatGPT to Google Sheets and had generated 387 localized blog posts with over 400,000 words automatically, and how great it was to be able to have this volume of content for search, and it’s kind of like, “Okay, that feels gross.” But the way that you talk about it is like I’m taking these inputs, and this knowledge, and this understanding of an industry, and leveraging it to be able to create content. I mean, this is part of how you create a strategy for succession, really. There’s ways of thinking about this leveraging current technology, but it’s still informed by an understanding of writing and an understanding of the subject matter.
Do you think that… It’s a bit of a thorny issue, but do you think that’s going to matter going forward? Or are we just going to be inundated with AI-generated content that just is so banal that it’s not worth consuming?
Jim Lauria: Yeah, that’s a good question, Jeff. You know, I struggle with it, right? Like we started out the podcast that part of what people read is my personality, and I talk about my wife, Lori Lauria, that’s always humorous for people to hear, right? And you know, the places I’ve traveled to, the things I’ve seen, the photos I’ve taken. How is that gonna marry up with artificial intelligence-produced content? I think it’s gonna be a mixture of both. I think it’s gonna be that how can I generate this usable content faster, and for people that don’t have the inclination or the time to do what I do, it’s gonna be part of the process. But you’re right. I mean, is there gonna be just so much stuff that to use a water metaphor, an ocean of material that’s coming at you like a firehose that you just… I don’t have time for anything, right? And so, that’s the question, and I think there’s always gonna be that human element of personality, and rather than just content that’s just spit out with AI, but who knows? Who knows?
Carman Pirie: Before AI, we had kind of mediocre content being just churned out by content factories around subjects, right?
Jim Lauria: Right.
Carman Pirie: And what did we learn? We learned that content produced by real people that have in-depth knowledge of a sector in an industry and are willing to share a bit of their personality and personal lived experience along with that knowledge will always rise to the top. And I don’t know that that rule’s gonna change with AI. It’s just the starting point’s a bit different, but the success will still be… I think will still go to the folks that are willing to bring that level of vulnerability to the content production.
Jeff White: I don’t think anybody’s willing to go to a conference to listen to ChatGPT give a session on water.
Jim Lauria: No. No. I’m sure not. I’m sure not.
Jeff White: Kind of a frightening idea.
Carman Pirie: It’s like, “Now where do we go?” Where do we take this podcast, Jeff?
Jeff White: I don’t know, Hal. I think you have a certain age to get that one, I suppose.
Carman Pirie: Yes, indeed.
Jim Lauria: Yeah. No, I totally got it. Yeah, good one. Good reference.
Carman Pirie: Jim, I think we probably should wrap up our time together as we kind of come up upon the half hour mark, and I just wonder any kind of… any advice that you would give our listeners? Especially if you could… I’m curious, just advice today or something you wish you could tell yourself 25 years ago? I’m curious about either of those answers.
Jim Lauria: Yeah, so a couple of things. So, first of all, I have a motto, and I picked it up from a friend a number of years ago. Never underestimate your ability to influence other people. And I really feel that’s important, that if you have something to say, whether it’s about your business, or something that you can impart to people to have an understanding of some issue or something, go out and say it. And so, but also remember that works both ways. Never underestimate your ability to influence other people can have a negative connotation, as well. So, just be careful what you say and present, but know that it doesn’t fall on deaf ears, that it’s gonna affect somebody. And so, the content, repurposing that content, and telling stories is really the important part of marketing and understanding.
As far as my younger self, my path has been… I’ve been very fortunate to follow a path. I’ve been to all places in the world and learned from so many people, so many cultures, picked up some ideas about all kinds of things, including, and it’s what I write about a lot, is water treatment. And we don’t have all the answers here in North America. There’s a lot of good work that’s being done around the world, so learn from other cultures, pick up ideas, and follow what the good things that people are doing that can help both in terms of water treatment also, but also in terms of life. And I’d say that’s kind of what I learned on my journey through my career.
Carman Pirie: Jim, it’s been great having you on the show. Thanks so much for sharing your story with us today.
Jim Lauria: My pleasure. My pleasure, guys. I really enjoyed the time.
Jeff White: Wonderful to have you. Thanks.
Jim Lauria: Thank you.
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Jim LauriaVP of Sales & Marketing at Mazzei
Jim Lauria is VP of Sales & Marketing for Mazzei Injector Company, a fluid design company that manufactures mixing and contacting systems for a wide range of water treatment applications. Since graduating with a Bachelor of Chemical Engineering degree from Manhattan College, he has traveled the world benchmarking and documenting the best global water management practices. His blog posts have received accolades from all levels of industry and government. Jim can be contacted at email@example.com or connect with him on LinkedIn