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Sponsored by Kula Partners—an agency committed to helping leading B2B manufacturers craft digital experiences that transform how they engage buyers, serve customers, and outpace their competition—The Kula Ring podcast features conversations about marketing, sales, and technology with top manufacturing executives from across North America.
The Kula Ring podcast is co-hosted by Kula Partners principals, Carman Pirie and Jeff W. White, both of whom are frequently sought after for their digitally-focused B2B expertise. They regularly share their insights with audiences including conferences like B2B Online and HubSpot’s INBOUND, the Gardner Manufacturing Marketer blog, and other podcasts focused on B2B marketing and technology.
When all the players in the industry are using the same visuals, how do you stand out? In this episode of The Kula Ring, Monique Elliott, SVP of Global Marketing at Schneider Electric, Industrial Automation, discusses their challenger approach to bring industrial automation to life through different visuals that also appeal to the end-user. She also discusses how core campaign pillars are used to guide marketing strategy from visuals to thought leadership to earned media.
Bringing Real Life Marketing Moments to Industrial Automation 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 are you doing, sir?
Carman Pirie: I’m doing well. I’m doing well. And happy to be here.
Jeff White: Yeah. Indeed. Indeed. And this I think is gonna be a special show.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. Yeah. Look, today’s guest without question was the guest that in the first, say, hundred episodes of Kula-
Jeff White: First hundred? First five. She was number three.
Carman Pirie: Yes, but I’m saying out of the first hundred, it remained my favorite when we did that kind of look back over the hundred episodes.
Jeff White: Tell all the other 99.
Carman Pirie: I know. I know. But I just thought it was really compelling, how to think about your marketing as a product versus a project. I think it’s incredibly instructive, timeless advice.
Jeff White: We’ve used it. Yeah. We’ve used it as an example in countless other podcasts of bringing this thought process to life and heck, we probably owe some royalties in what we’ve used to sell clients on.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. Well, let’s not… Huh oh.
Jeff White: Gotta be careful with that.
Carman Pirie: This is gonna be an expensive show now. But look, so yeah, I’m excited.
Jeff White: For sure.
Carman Pirie: It’s great to have today’s guest back.
Jeff White: Absolutely. And we haven’t had a ton of folks back on the show more than once, so it’s always nice when we get to talk to somebody again and understand where they are now, and our guest today is Monique Elliott, and when she joined us originally she was with ABB and now is with Schneider Electric as the Senior Vice President, Global Marketing for Industrial Automation, and really glad to have you on the show again, Monique. Welcome.
Monique Elliott: Thank you so much. Thank you, Jeff and Carman, for such kind words. It’s a pleasure to be back. I actually can’t believe it’s been that long, and a lot has changed, as they say. The world has changed since the last time the three of us had a conversation.
Jeff White: It sure has. Yeah. I think it was almost three years ago when we recorded with you originally.
Monique Elliott: Yeah. I think it was.
Carman Pirie: I think maybe we need to bring Monique on as a regular co-host or something. I think that would be better.
Jeff White: Or, you know, like a commentator.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. I mean, I’ve been trying. I’ve been wondering how to bring this up with you, Jeff, and-
Jeff White: She’s gonna replace me?
Monique Elliott: I didn’t realize this was gonna be an interview.
Jeff White: I don’t think we have… The Kula Ring budget, I don’t know.
Carman Pirie: I don’t know we could afford Monique.
Monique Elliott: Pro bono. I’ll be a guest commentator pro bono.
Jeff White: Nice.
Carman Pirie: Look, it is lovely to have you back on the show. For the guests that maybe haven’t tuned into the first episode, give us a bit of your background. Acquaint our listeners with you a bit, if you will.
Monique Elliott: Sure. Sure. Absolutely. So, as Jeff mentioned, I am currently the Senior Vice President of Marketing for our Industrial Automation Business at Schneider Electric, but I have been in the B2B marketing space for over 20 years, probably close to 22, 23 years now, with a few large industrial manufacturers. I would say very traditional manufacturers in the space of power, healthcare, just across a wide variety of industries, and having always been in B2B marketing, it’s a passion of mine to look at all of the great techniques and trends that are going on in the consumer space and how do we bring that into the B2B side, which always tends to be just a little bit behind everyone else in marketing.
So, I love it. I think it’s a space where there’s a lot of runway and little effort goes a long way in the B2B industrial marketing space, so that’s what I’ve been doing for the last 20-some-odd years.
Carman Pirie: And you know, you can’t spend that much time in B2B industrial marketing without having a few observations about what you might say are the trends in that space, and a bit of the sameness that seems to erupt in the space, one might say I think visually, creatively. I think that’s what we’re really so excited to talk to you about today, Monique, is just I know you’ve been taking a different approach with how you bring industrial automation to life and really a way of humanizing it. So, I want to unpack that a bit, but I guess first, what drove you to even… I’m sure it just wasn’t a frustration that things looked the same. What drove you to kind of begin to consider taking a different approach?
Monique Elliott: So, you know, it all started… It started before me. So, when I joined the company and stepped into this role within Industrial Automation, the great team that I have was down this path, revamping what we call our big global campaigns. And so, this was how do we revamp what we call industries of the future? So, I came in with the benefit that some research was already underway to take a look at the way that we were going to market with our visuals, with our messaging, kind of that whole package of the big, global brand campaign. And through that, we also did some research as a good marketer should around the competition, and direct competition, as well as some ancillary competitors in the market, and we were trying to get a feel. It originally started with we were trying to get a feel of the big conversations that were happening around industries of the future. Whether that was digital, around efficiency, around resiliency, and we found an interesting fact when we did this was that everyone was sort of talking about it the same way. And not just in the messaging, but also in that visual look and feel, and I think a lot of times it’s the picture that tells more than just the words, and so that’s what really uncovered it for us as a team.
So, I benefited that they were down that path and that it was very eye-opening when we looked at this great research that was done in anticipation of launching this big campaign.
Jeff White: And I have to think, too, if you examine any of the trade publications, and the trade websites, and all that sort of thing, it’s surprising as you leaf through them just how consistent… Other than the logo, you would be hard-pressed in a lot of ways to differentiate between the brands at the level that you’re talking about. And even the ones who aspire to be at the level of Schneider, they’re all talking about it the same way. They’re showing the same things. Photography’s the same. The messaging and taglines are so consistent, it’s really hard to know what the difference is.
Monique Elliott: Well, and to be honest, Jeff, we were equally responsible in this as well, right? So, we looked at ourselves in the mix, because of course you’re comparing to yourself, and you know, it’s not that any of it was wrong, right? The message that was trying to be conveyed was that the industries, and when I say industries, I mean big markets like CPG, and metals and mining, were trying to digitize. And looking to digitize operations in order to be more efficient, in order to be more resilient, and so when you think about that as a concept, what do you think of? You think of, “Oh, a really high-tech looking factory, and maybe there’s an individual, and they’ve got an iPad, and maybe there’s some blue streaks and flashes of light because it’s very modern and it’s very contemporary.”
So, it’s not a wrong image to convey the message that you’re trying to get across. It’s just that when everybody is using that same imagery, how do you differentiate? And it’s particularly hard when you’re not number one, right? It’s one thing to have that type of imagery if you’re number one or number two, but when you’re not, how do you break through all that noise?
Jeff White: I think when I last looked, some of the best images on Getty Images with lots of sparks and things had hundreds of thousands of downloads. I mean, honestly, if you look at photos like that, you should just kind of walk the other way very quickly.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. You know, everybody in the space has been guilty of it in some way. I guess two things. You’re speaking primarily, I think there, of the visuals, but I’m assuming that extends into copy, as well, maybe, and I have felt that it often seems like it’s driven by the notion that you’re selling to engineers and therefore it needs to be all data, all facts, all the time.
Monique Elliott: So, that’s an interesting point, and so one of the I would say kind of key pivot points for us when we looked at how we were going to address this differently for the markets that we served, there were certain… Certainly, the imagery around it, but then to your point, there was also the way that you talk to the market. And one thing that we did that was different and a little bit risky is we also decided to talk to the end-users. And that’s what drove a lot of the visual changes. So, whereas before we were talking primarily to the companies to which we serve, so the system integrators, the OEMs, the other big manufacturers to which we serve, and therefore the language was, you’re right, very technical in nature. Here’s what we can do from an efficiency perspective, or a liability perspective. How do we help your operations? We decided with this campaign we would also put messages out to the end-user, meaning it’s not just the food and beverage manufacturer that we want to talk to anymore. I also want to talk to that individual who’s eating the ice cream, or maybe drinking the refreshing water that’s just gone through a desalinization process. I also wanted to talk to the person who’s riding the bicycle and where did that metal come from? I want them to know that that metal was produced sustainably between Schneider and our customer in that case.
So, we took it one step further, which actually made a lot of folks a little bit uncomfortable, because we weren’t talking technical specs anymore. We weren’t talking about the functionality of our products and our offers. We were talking about the moment that is created in someone’s life because of the solutions and the offers that we’re selling. So, you’re very far down the value chain when you start marketing at that level.
Carman Pirie: It’s interesting because you changed who you’re talking about, if you will, in the creative. Did you change who you were talking to? Or did you still focus it towards those system integrators and those people that you’re trying to influence, but just try to expose them to the-
Jeff White: Yeah. Do it from the lens of the end user?
Carman Pirie: Right.
Monique Elliott: We did both, actually. We did both. So, from a visual campaign as well as the messaging, there was two. There was two paths that we took, and we actually called it our… We had an industry package and then we had what we called our end-use package, as well. So, in some cases we were. We were talking to the person who’s having the ice cream, and it was something to the effect of it’s great to have a sweet tooth, but isn’t it even sweeter if you knew it was made from a sustainable process? So, in that case, you’re really talking to the individual who’s enjoying that ice cream.
And then in some cases there is a different suite of assets and messaging that was around the industry user, which was then talking more about their operations itself and how to make that ice cream if I keep using that example. So, we had two parallel paths, Carman, to really get that message out into the market.
Carman Pirie: Interesting.
Jeff White: I think too, you know, you weren’t just doing it to the end-user and your customer. You’re also doing it internally, as well, and targeting your own folks within Schneider. Talk to us a bit about kind of the approach you took there and what the benefit was.
Monique Elliott: Sure. That was… You know, to be honest, that was actually one of the best parts of this whole process, was taking the industrial automation leadership team along with marketing on this journey. And so, one of the first things that we did is my team helped put together what we called a challenger exercise, and we said, “Look, we’re gonna refresh our branding and we’re gonna refresh our big global campaign that we do around industrial automation, and we want to do something a little different, and we want to really challenge the market.” So, we had these interesting discussions around are we a challenger brand or are we challenging the market around us, which is a very empowering position to be in if you say, “I’m gonna challenge everything that’s going on around us,” and we took them through the process.
We said, “What are the key pillars that we want to be known for with this campaign?” We want to be next-generation automation. We want to be more human in the way that we talk about the importance of industry. We don’t want it to be the cold blue factory with the sparks. We want it to be very emotive so that everybody knows that everything that you have around you comes from some sort of manufacturing process or some sort of food and beverage process, as well, if you’re talking more on the agricultural side. And we took them through this, and we showed them different visuals, and we played around with copy. I actually had them vote on different copy and different visuals that they liked. All the way through. They probably thought I was like the new crazy marketing lady joining the team.
But at the end of the day, not only did their thinking, of course, help us get to a better outcome. The sense of pride that was established around this and the advocacy that I now had with my peers across an organization that hadn’t really had this type of marketing experience before was invaluable, right? They were able to say that they went on the journey with it. So, it was a really fun process. Maybe painful at times for some people, but a lot of fun.
Jeff White: More painful for them or for the marketing team?
Monique Elliott: Oh, probably more painful for them.
Carman Pirie: Did you end up adopting what you felt was a more challenger position through this campaign? Did you feel like you succeeded in some ways in being a bit contrary, one might say?
Monique Elliott: I will say that we definitely feel like we have a completely different look and feel from everyone else. You visually can see it now. We got a lot of reactions from it, which is fantastic. When we started, before we started down this path, our share of earned media, and maybe just allow me to kind of describe what that means in our terms is the number of media mentions that are either earned or that we proactively go seek out with a lot of tier one media and press, was rather low. It was kind of hovering at a pretty low threshold for what we considered best-in-class.
And for the first six months, the first six months of launching the new campaign, and that includes the new visuals, and the copy, and all of that, we’ve been able to increase that share of earned media by almost 10%. So, that is a good indicator that we’re certainly getting more eyeballs to look at what we’re doing and to certainly that’s gonna help with the further demand generation, right, of the campaign. I think the other aspect around this too is the more defined messaging around thought leadership, because that’s a piece that we haven’t talked about.
So, there was definitely the visuals, and the copy, and all of that, but this was more than a creative campaign. So, this also included thought leadership pieces. It included big strategic events that we were doing, granted, they were still digital whilst we were doing all of this, as well as getting a lot more customer stories. So, it changed the way that we also looked at our customer stories that we wanted to partner with and put those into the market, so yeah, probably a longwinded answer, Carman, but we certainly feel that we adopted that position and have been making a dent.
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Carman Pirie: How much of that earned media is being driven by the thought leadership itself?
Monique Elliott: Oh, that’s a good question. We can bifurcate it out. I would say a fair amount. A fair amount. I mean, one thing that we’ve been doing that we really weren’t doing too much in the past is really putting a lot of our subject matter experts and our senior leadership team more out in front of the media. So, whether that’s through interviews, or speaking at conferences — and what’s nice is they now have a nice package of material that they can lean into so that we’re all speaking very consistently with the messaging. There’s a good share of that has come through with the thought leadership. Especially, if I can add, because one of the pillars of the campaign is all around the next generation of automation.
So, that is very much a forward-thinking message around how the future of automation is changing.
Jeff White: Have you noticed any of your competitors take notice? Have they started to follow a little bit?
Monique Elliott: That’s an interesting question. Visually, no. We haven’t seen yet any kind of adoption of that. I think it’s a little bit harder on the messaging side. To your point earlier, there’s only so many ways you can say efficiency, and sustainability, and all those terms, so I think to a certain extent that’s a little bit harder to differentiate. I think it comes down to the how you demonstrate it. So, when you talk about sustainability, or when you talk about efficiency and reliability, it’s less about using the same words and it’s more about showing and demonstrating how you actually achieve those aspects for your customers. But I can say that from a visual perspective, we’re still pretty unique in that regard.
Carman Pirie: It’ll be interesting to see if some copycat versions start creeping in. Always kind of an interesting sign that you’re on a really cool path.
Jeff White: Yeah. Exactly.
Monique Elliott: True. True. And you know, it’s a compliment, to be honest, right? It’s a compliment.
Carman Pirie: Absolutely.
Jeff White: Some people get very offended by it, but I think it means that you’re doing the right thing.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. Well, I’m kind of curious, can you speak to how this has resonated specifically with that kind of engineering subset? Either research that you’ve seen or alternatively just qualitative assessments on how it’s been received?
Monique Elliott: Sure. I mean, I think it’s a little bit harder when you start to want to talk about your big key offers or your big innovations, so when you’re talking at this — what I’ll call that top level, that first layer of the cake, so this first layer of the cake is really around the thought leadership piece. When you start to dive a little bit further down into the core pillars of the campaign, so I talked about next gen automation, so what’s the proof point of that? The proof point of that is the innovation in your products or your offers, and when you get down to that level, which might be the second or the third level of the campaign layer cake, then you certainly do have to start talking more about the benefits of the product, why it’s different. You’re getting into a more technical zone.
And so, what we did is we definitely thought differently about that first layer and went to market with that different look and feel. But as you translate the proof points down, you do start to pull up a lot of the technical benefits. You start to pull up a lot of the value that’s in the innovation of the product itself. So, it’s not missing. But to maybe more directly answer your question, we had to show the business that that was still there. It was just in a different part of the campaign structure that we really wanted to go big and bold on that big thinking thought leadership piece, and that we would ensure that it was linked down, all the way down to that offer level.
So, there are different elements of the campaign where, yes, you may just want to market and target a population of customers around that offer, and within that, you can become very technical and have a lot of expertise around the offer, and the campaign reflects that. The marketing material reflects that. But it’s linked up to that higher kind of big picture thought leadership thinking, so it’s in there. But we had to show them the connection, right? We had to show them the connection.
Historically, we were just kind of operating more at that level of the more technical level and that offer level, so what this really did is it put a nice wrapper around all of it.
Jeff White: Have you found that the perspective that you’re putting on that thought leadership and the offers that you’re putting together, has that influenced your R&D team at all? Have they started to think about things a bit differently as a result of the challenger position maybe in terms of new products or new technologies?
Monique Elliott: Well, actually it’s a bit of the other way around. So, when myself and the team embarked on this journey, the innovation and the R&D team have been working on some really cool stuff that is changing the landscape of industry around really open universal automation, so it’s an interoperable, very portable, it’s almost like an app store approach to automation. So, they were down that path of doing it and the benefit that we had is that was in the pipeline coming, and so what a great opportunity to be able to use that as the launching pad for the messaging and for doing things differently because from an innovation and an R&D perspective, we were just about to do that.
And so, marketing was able to get in right at that point to say, “This is fantastic. I want to capitalize on this.” And this is a perfect time to make this change, right? It’s a perfect time to think differently about our marketing because the innovation is coming around it. So, we took it as an opportunity to market prime and market seed, which is something we haven’t talked about yet, but even before our new offer around universal automation and open automation, it’s called EcoStruxure Automation Expert, even before that launched we started priming and seeding the market with this thought of next-generation automation, using the campaign to do this, and that was different too because historically we would wait until the offer was ready to go and then we would push the marketing campaign, but now we said, “No, it’s okay. We know it’s not ready but because this is so new, we want to take the time from a marketing perspective to really seed and prime the market before the offer even is ready to go.”
So, that was actually a very fun part of the process with our innovation team.
Jeff White: I think it’s really cool that you can use this prospect of new and innovative products and new and innovative technologies can allow you to, and the visual language that you’re creating around the rest of it, can allow you to kind of seed that information out there and get people prepared for what’s to come.
Carman Pirie: I’m curious. I would like to use a little bit of the time we have left to dig out Monique’s crystal ball here. I want to know, you’ve been in the space a while, you mentioned… I think you said 22 years. I did not. And many of those years very much at the height of industrial B2B marketing, frankly. What’s next? What’s around the corner? What is it that you think maybe some other people aren’t seeing that you can maybe see?
Monique Elliott: You know, I think it’s interesting, because I just spent a week in a training class with a very well known university that was sponsored through the company, and it’s been very, very eye-opening, and I will tell you the one thing that kept coming back to the table, and now this was in the context of marketing, but the one thing that kept coming back to the table was we continue to not leverage all of the data that’s available to us to really better understand our customers. And I continue to see not so much that it’s a crystal ball, but the importance of being able to have that analytical skill set and people on the team who are these data scientists, but for marketing.
So, we talk about that a lot in the context of broader operations of companies, and certainly all the data that’s coming off of the products and the connected products that we all have, even in our personal lives. But to be able to really lean into that from a marketing perspective, I think we’re gonna see marketing teams become much more analytical focused, much more strategic. I know today we’re talking a lot about brand, and creative, but I think the future of marketing is heading in the direction around the analytics and the data, and how do you make sense of all of it in order to really better understand the customers and the markets that we serve.
And so, I think there’s a lot there. That’s kind of off the cuff, right? That’s the first place I go where I’m like this is gonna get more and more intense as we go along, and we need to upscale, and we need to find people who really understand that and want to bring that expertise into the marketing function.
Carman Pirie: To me, it feels like… It’s kind of like Lucille Ball on the chocolate or candy line or whatever. It’s like organizations trying to figure out how to make sense of this data, and meanwhile they’re creating so much more of it-
Jeff White: It’s still coming!
Carman Pirie: Yeah, exactly.
Monique Elliott: It’s still coming. Hey, and by the way, I can help you automate and make that manufacturing line more efficient, too.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. It’s a problem that an awful lot of marketers don’t even… It’s easy to say, “Okay, yeah, you eat the elephant one bite at a time,” but when the elephant keeps exponentially growing in size every five minutes it seems, it just doesn’t seem like, and people just don’t know how to tackle it so often.
Jeff White: Yeah. Terabytes of analysis that you should be looking at in order to understand where to go next.
Carman Pirie: Certainly, it’s an interesting time in marketing as it often is, but I think largely driven by that dynamic, Monique.
Jeff White: Yeah. Well, and I like to see this idea. If you’re looking at the analytics and the data that you’re going to be moving into going forward, it doesn’t often intersect with the brand side of things in quite the same way. Those two things, the data and analytical marketing people, and the brand and messaging people don’t always talk. So, I think it’s really interesting when you can marry those two things.
Carman Pirie: But there will be a convergence. I mean-
Jeff White: There has to be.
Carman Pirie: … it used to be the case of digital and traditional didn’t talk, and now that can’t be the case, right?
Jeff White: No. No, it’s not.
Monique Elliott: But it’s almost the birth of this performance marketing organization, right? Where it is that blend of it’s not marketing and it’s not the analytics side, but it’s the performance marketing coming together, and I think the legacy, or I should say the history of that, we used to call it marketing operations. And they were the ones that would look at, okay, well, how did the campaigns perform? How did this perform? How did that perform? And now it’s almost, it’s not a separate team, but that should be one and the same, right? It should be, everybody should be asking those questions. All marketers should be asking those questions.
Jeff White: Yeah. I think so. For sure.
Carman Pirie: Well, look. I really enjoyed this chat. It’s been wonderful having you back on the show.
Monique Elliott: Likewise. Thank you.
Carman Pirie: I look forward to the co-host role in the coming-
Jeff White: It should be noted it’s really cold and miserable here in Halifax. You’re gonna want to stay remote.
Monique Elliott: Everything’s digital. Everything’s digital. No problem.
Jeff White: Exactly. You don’t have to come here. No, it’s fine. That’s all right. The weather here will be changed completely by tomorrow.
Carman Pirie: Yeah.
Monique Elliott: No, it’s been an absolute pleasure. I mean, look, the one thing that I would say is whenever you can, take risks. I’ve been really blessed in this role and with this team that I have that we’ve been able to take some risks and we’ve had really good leadership to allow us to do that, and I think that’s been the most fun that we’ve had, is we’ve been able to push the boundaries a little bit and really, really take some risks with our marketing, and it’s yielded great results and we’ve had a good time along the way. And we questioned ourselves. We challenged ourselves along the way, right?
As they say, if you don’t disrupt yourself, someone else will. So, take the opportunity to do that and yeah, thanks for having me again, guys.
Carman Pirie: Look, I encourage our listeners to check out the creative. We’ll do our best to link it up in the show notes and what have you.
Monique Elliott: Absolutely.
Carman Pirie: But once again, Monique, thanks so much.
Jeff White: Yeah, and I think it’s wonderful advice to tell people to try and be self-aware about what it is that they’re doing and realize how you can make change based on that. Yeah. Thanks again for joining us.
Monique Elliott: My pleasure. Take care.
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