The Kula Ring podcast is essential listening for manufacturing marketers who want to grow their digital presence and compete online.
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.
Sustainability is high on the agenda for a growing number of companies and individuals. Casey Jefson and PolyCore are doing some exciting work around sustainable practices and marketing. Casey gives us a glimpse and a helping hand on how to capitalize on the environmental work you are already doing.
Building Awareness Around Sustainable Manufacturing 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. How you doing, Carman?
Carman Pirie: I’m doing well. How are you doing?
Jeff White: I’m doing well as well.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. Nice to be back with our listeners, you know?
Jeff White: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, people don’t necessarily realize, but we generally record a whole batch of things, and then maybe we don’t record again for a few weeks, so sometimes it’s almost like you feel a bit rusty but hope we don’t come across that way after a couple hundred episodes.
Carman Pirie: One never knows. One never knows. And today’s guest, it’s an interesting conversation, I think, because at least we’re kind of hinging on the notion of marketing by helping other people market, which is… You know, it’s an interesting strategy for a good number of B2B manufacturing marketers. And it comes to life in a lot of different ways and I’m excited to be talking about it.
Jeff White: Yeah. And I think too the other thing that’s really interesting and probably very relevant to a lot of the manufacturers that are listening to this is coming at it from a real sustainability and environmental angle, as well, which there’s no question that this is a pillar of many, many a marketing strategy, or even an ESG strategy these days. You know, it’s certainly not going away and is probably forming an even bigger piece of the pie, but at the same time it also means that more and more people are staking a claim on similar benefits, so how do you stand out?
Carman Pirie: Yeah. That’s a great point. That’s a great point. And you know, it’s not like we want care for the planet to go away.
Jeff White: No.
Carman Pirie: It’s a good thing. But it does present a marketing challenge in that just because you care about it, no longer does it mean that you’re unique.
Jeff White: Yeah. Yeah. Exactly right.
Carman Pirie: Sounds weird to say.
Jeff White: You’re unique just like everybody else.
Carman Pirie: You’re unique. You care about this orb that we all live on. How could that ever make someone unique? But nevertheless, we digress.
Jeff White: Somehow it does is the thing. So, joining us today is Casey Jefson. Casey is the Director of Sales and Marketing at PolyCore Solutions. Welcome to The Kula Ring, Casey.
Casey Jefson: Thanks for having me. I appreciate being on.
Carman Pirie: Casey, it’s awesome to have you on the show. Look, why don’t you tell us a bit about the company and how did you end up there?
Casey Jefson: Yeah, so I work for a company called PolyCore, and what PolyCore is is a coating technology, and this technology that was patented by our founder, Arthur Chen, actually increases abrasion resistance by over 500% and also helps amplify other mechanical properties. And the cool thing about it is that it is one of the most environmentally friendly ways of coating out there right now. So, one of the ways that he actually did this was instead of using a solvent-based coating, which back in the day, if you were painting your house, you would get all those fumes. Well, nowadays exactly with paints, we use water-based paints, and we’re using a water-based coating. So, it’s a lot better for the environment, doesn’t produce as much volatile organic compounds, which is one of the main contributors to the ozone layer being depleted, and it is also a lot more beneficial for the aftermath of the coating process, which is getting waste in streams. It’s better for the water because the only thing going back into landfills or waste streams is just water itself. And it doesn’t have those nasty fumes for our employees that are actually doing the coating, as well.
Carman Pirie: And Casey, just to be clear, you may have said this but it’s coating of fabrics, primarily?
Casey Jefson: Correct. Yes. So, fabrics on synthetic fibers, so our primary things we coat are polyester and nylon, and with that we only use recycled nylons and recycled polyesters, as well, because we don’t want to be a contributor to the millions and millions of yardage of waste every year just from fabrics.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. Yeah. Look, I know that we’re going down more of a sustainability angle, but you mentioned abrasion resistance and I’m a motorcyclist, so do you guys sell to… Do you have a strong connection at all to that, kind of that type of apparel? Those types of garments?
Casey Jefson: Trying to. I live in Milwaukee, home of Harley Davidson, so I’ve been trying to get our feet through those doors, especially in the motorcycle industry. It would definitely benefit for that, as well.
Jeff White: I don’t know if anybody’s listening from Harley Davidson, but maybe The Kula Ring can help you reach them.
Carman Pirie: Well, you know, the people that need to be listening is Andy Goldfine, who owns a little company in Duluth, Minnesota, called Aerostich, which makes the finest motorcycle clothing really in the world, and they make textile motorcycle clothing. So-
Jeff White: Not far from Milwaukee, either, eh?
Casey Jefson: Not far at all.
Carman Pirie: Exactly. So, I think you need to… We’re gonna schedule a sales meeting after this podcast.
Jeff White: I once rode a bicycle from Duluth to the edge of Wisconsin, so you know-
Casey Jefson: Oh, my goodness.
Carman Pirie: Between that and the fact that I’ve crashed a motorcycle wearing one of Aerostich’s suits, between those two things we should have an in with these people, Jeff.
Jeff White: Absolutely. Absolutely. Casey, I thought one of the things that you said was interesting because you talked about depletion of the ozone. It’s funny, because we don’t really think of that as an environmental issue anymore. It almost felt like, “Oh, we fixed the stuff in the cans, so therefore it’s solved.” And it’s not necessarily part of the complex environmental issues that we’re dealing with now in terms of top of mind. It’s interesting that you brought that up.
Carman Pirie: Maybe dating yourself. A lot of people listening to the podcast probably wouldn’t even remember the CFC cans issue.
Jeff White: Yeah.
Carman Pirie: Think about how long ago that was.
Jeff White: It was a while. So, tell us a bit about yourself and how you wound up at PolyCore.
Casey Jefson: Yeah. It was kind of a coincidence of sorts. I actually was working for a truck company here in Milwaukee, and then at that time me and my wife were expecting our first child, and at that point I’m like, “I’m not really interested in doing trucks for the long haul.” And then it just so happened that my old high school football coach, his father-in-law used to be the president of JanSport. So, that’s how I kind of got my connection into the outdoor industry, was through him. And he partnered with his longtime colleague, Arthur Chen, and they’re the ones that started PolyCore. So, he heard I was looking for a job and kind of wrote me in, and it’s been great ever since.
Carman Pirie: I love how people come to their roles because it’s never the way we’re told you come to a job when you’re going through school and you’re 14, 15, 16 or whatever years old, and hearing about it for the first time. It’s fascinating.
Jeff White: Why don’t high schools have classes on networking, you know? Honestly.
Casey Jefson: They should. They definitely should.
Carman Pirie: The Kula Ring Podcast, ladies and gentlemen, where we address B2B manufacturing marketing challenges and challenges of our education system writ large. But look, let’s jump into it. Let’s talk about… We really have what is in some ways kind of an ingredient brand, isn’t it?
Casey Jefson: Yes.
Carman Pirie: You know, not dissimilar, I suppose, to Intel computer chips back in the day, or lots of other ingredient brands out there. And you said that really your approach is to go to market by helping your customers go to market. I guess unpack that for us a little bit. What are you up to?
Casey Jefson: Yeah, so to go onto that point, one of the key ways for us to sell our product is to sell the whole story for them to portray to their consumers, because that’s one of the main things going on right now is complete transparency throughout everything and anything. If you’re going to the store, I know a couple weeks ago I bought a dozen eggs, and on there they have a QR code, and it shows exactly what farm these eggs came from. And that’s what type of transparency a lot of people want these days, and that’s what my job at PolyCore is, to reach out to brands and tell them why it’s important to become more sustainable, more transparent, and how we can help them relay that story to the consumers, because that’s one of the things, nowadays, is that people don’t want to tread into sustainability because one, either they get hurt on greenwashing, or they don’t want to greenwash so they just don’t do anything. That’s where we come in to help them, is we give them a product, we give them all of the facts and information that they need to market their products to their consumers.
Jeff White: Do you find that they’re… You mentioned a bit about how they might be reticent about greenwashing or something like that. Do you find that they’re… Are they immediately open to the idea of exploring how they can promote themselves as more sustainable simply by using a PolyCore solution? Or is it the sort of… Does this require convincing?
Casey Jefson: A little of both. It really depends on the view. I always try to push for brands that are like minded when it comes to sustainability. It seems like the people in those companies are a lot more understanding and have already convinced themselves that this is the way of the future, where others it does take a little bit more convincing in the sense that this is something that you need to do, and this is what has to be done. Otherwise, you’re falling behind, really.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. I mean, I would think that if a brand is already committed to a sustainability agenda and a sustainability go-to-market message, the one that comes always immediately to mind as we talk about that is probably like Patagonia or somebody like that, then they’re probably also extra sensitive about charges on greenwashing. They’re the last ones that want to be viewed to be only paying lip service to the challenge. They want to do the right thing and they want to be able to promote that they’re doing the right thing. So, I’m assuming that that’s really where the sweet spot is for you, because you can come in here, and provided you have the proof points to back up the story, it’s a story they want to tell.
Casey Jefson: Exactly. And that’s what we’re seeing a lot more nowadays, is sustainability in general is becoming a lot more inclusive, especially as the new generation of buyers is coming in, which is the 18 to 26-year-old demographic range. They’re really into sustainability, making sure that everything has been recycled prior, and they’re also willing to pay more for a more sustainable product, and that’s where we’re really getting into those sweet spots with these companies like you said, with for example like Patagonia. They’re already one of the premier focused companies on the planet. It’s just helping them push it even farther.
Carman Pirie: I’m curious. Do you formalize the tools that you present the prospects in any way? I guess I’m trying to figure out how you help them tell the story and if there’s a degree of formality to that. Or the marketing tools that you create, or sales enablement tools that are dispatched as a result.
Casey Jefson: Yeah. First off, we only send a company our company lookbook, which tells a little bit about PolyCore, what we’re about, and how we can help them with their sustainability and with their durability, as well, because that’s one of the key factors that we want to help with, as well as one of the best things that you can do sustainably is make something that will last forever, or a long time, without ending up in a landfill.
So, we have this lookbook that goes and tells about us, but then we’ll also help them have a specific one pertain to their company, so that’s one of the things that we help with, as well, is that we kind of make a lookbook for them telling them what procedures that they should take, what type of certifications that they should run through, and how we can actually… We do that already for them and let them know that. So, it’s pretty cool tools that we use, and then as well as just sample books to send them our fabrics, just because that’s kind of the key thing is to make a cool product, as well, with our fabrics and coatings. That’s one of the best parts of us is that one, we’re sustainable, but also we can make some very durable and very aesthetically pleasing products, as well.
Jeff White: I think it’s interesting that you’re taking… You know, the notion of a lookbook is almost fashion industry oriented, you know? It’s a thing that is often kind of used to create trends and kind of showcase those trends and bring people along with you. Did you pull that idea from the fashion world or was it something that they were already thinking of doing and you helped extend it and bring it to life?
Casey Jefson: A little of both, actually. It was an idea that we were internally thinking about for a while, but then one day I was at a trade show, and I saw a different brand had kind of a look book just showcasing their stuff. I’m like, “That’s a great way for us to implement what we do but then also bring that into them, as well. Combine the best of both worlds with us that consumers can see and understand quickly that this is a sustainable product with this certain brand.”
Carman Pirie: So, I’m curious. Any success stories that you can point to or brands that maybe some of our listeners may know of that benefit from partnering with you and your coating technology?
Casey Jefson: Yes. One great company is called GROUNDTRUTH Global. They are a company based out of London and they have made fantastic bags and packs if it comes from a standard backpack, travel bag, and even they do sled covers, and they are a very new, up and coming technical backpack. Yeah. You gotta check them out. They have great stuff on their website.
Carman Pirie: And very sustainability forward in terms of their corporate messaging and things of that sort?
Casey Jefson: Oh, yes, and that’s actually how we came together is that they were first focused on sustainability, and that was the number one thing that they had going into creating this backpack brand. And one of the first things that they had a conversation with us is that they were partnering with a Canadian company called Carbon Upcycle, and what they do is they collect carbon from the air, and then they create it into powder, and they can actually create things with it. So, we actually infused our coating with this powder, so there’s also our sustainable coating, and then they’re also taking CO2 out of the atmosphere and putting it into the bag itself, really.
Carman Pirie: Man, we managed to get Canadian content into this podcast. Those craft Canadians, man.
Jeff White: It’s true.
Carman Pirie: Time to pull out an eh, Jeff. Jeff usually uses… He has a quota of about two or three ehs per podcast episode, I find.
Jeff White: It’s true. It’s true. I do… You know, you mentioned that they had this desire to use recaptured carbon. You know, are you finding that you learn as much from the customers that you’re working with about other sustainability initiatives and other types of products that you can incorporate as you go through this? It almost feels like doing environmentalism properly is a… It’s a bit of a team sport. As you go through, you teach other people how to do things and how they can leverage your technology and your clean processes and all of that, and then at the same time you’re learning, oh my goodness, there’s this whole other thing over here that we can incorporate and then use with other customers down the line. How much of your product is being influenced by what you learn from the customers you work with?
Casey Jefson: Oh, so much. And you’re exactly… You said it correctly. We learn so much from what other companies or people are doing, and that’s what helped us create a couple of our products, which is a new one that we called Eco-Shield, which is a TPU replacement, or like a replica, and what we saw was a lot of new… A lot of backpack brands are using this TPU, which is just a thermoplastic PU coating on the face, and then the backpack kind of has a little plasticky look on it, and we saw that obviously that’s the way that the trends of coatings and backpacks are going. Is that something that we can do?
And we actually went out and did that, so yeah, we definitely take and see what other people are doing in regards to sustainability and see if we can do that ourselves to make it even more sustainable.
Jeff White: How are your customers bringing the PolyCore brand to life? How are they representing it? Is a bit of an Intel Inside kind of thing? Are you a badge on the backpack? Or are you just part of the ingredients list? How does your-
Carman Pirie: Yeah. How prominent is your brand in their marketing, really?
Casey Jefson: For example, on GROUNDTRUTH Global’s website, they have a whole page talking about PolyCore and how it is used within their bags, and they even have a quote from our founder on there. But again, it can be used in multiple ways. You can also have a little hang tag on your bag, as well, where it possibly has a QR code that comes to our website. There’s many different avenues. But Intel is exactly kind of my framework on branding because it is an ingredient, but it’s an important one.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. It’s gonna be a long time before marketers forget the Intel Inside initiative, isn’t it? It really does stand out there as an outstanding example of ingredient brand marketing. In a somewhat non-traditional space, too.
Jeff White: Yeah. It must be the mnemonic that kind of sticks with you.
Carman Pirie: They did a good job. You gotta hand it to them.
Jeff White: Yeah. For sure.
Carman Pirie: For the longest time the mark of whether or not a computer was good was whether or not it had an Intel sticker on it. Not the brand of the computer itself.
Jeff White: Oh, man. Where that story of course falls down is when Apple went full Intel and never mentioned it anywhere on the packaging.
Carman Pirie: The only brand that could get away with it.
Jeff White: Yeah. Exactly. It’s almost like when you go with a bigger brand you have less of an opportunity to kind of insert your own there. Yeah. No, that’s-
Carman Pirie: Interesting. I’d be curious, Casey. Do you have a sense of the percentage of customers that actively promote your brand versus those that keep you as more of a white label nameless ingredient, shall we say?
Casey Jefson: I would say for the most part the brands that I’ve been working with, they’re more than willing to promote or advertise that they’re working with us because as a brand, we’re so focused on transparency that there’s nothing… They wouldn’t be hurting anything by talking about us, or promoting us, or I think they would hurt more by trying to hide us if anything because of how much positivity we bring, how much transparency, how upfront we are with everything that we do.
Carman Pirie: A real interesting benefit for marketers to consider, I think, as they look at this. Because it’s easy to imagine you get to the other side of this and if the people aren’t willing to engage in promoting your ingredient as part of their brand, well, in some ways their whole strategy falls down. To Jeff’s point, if everybody would have taken Apple’s approach and nobody put the Intel sticker on the computer, all of a sudden it’s not nearly as successful. I think that’s great advice, Casey, to say look, if you’re leading the charge, if you’re showing the way towards transparency in your sustainability commitments, if you are the brand that helps people keep their environmental and sustainability promises, not helping them greenwash, then chances are they’re going to want to help promote you in return.
Casey Jefson: Exactly.
Jeff White: We talked a little bit before about how, and this goes to the point you just made, Carman, you’re already looking… When you’re looking for prospects to become customers of PolyCore, you’re looking for organizations that are already holding up environmentalism as a key benefit of their brand. Where do you look for that? Is it just kind of, “Oh, Patagonia’s good. Let’s go after Patagonia.” Or the GROUNDTRUTH Global, “We’re hearing about these guys. Let’s reach out to them.” Are there certain places that environmentally conscious brands that use coated fabrics hang out that you are able to leverage in order to find potential new customers?
Casey Jefson: I wish. I wish that there was a group and a place where likeminded individuals, maybe like a Facebook group or a LinkedIn group, but mostly I do some Google searches and try to find them on LinkedIn, and let them know about us, and about our impact, because they’re already likeminded. It’s just letting them know about us. Because sometimes that’s the hard thing about us being so small and still a startup is that people are interested, they just don’t know that we’re out there yet. So, getting our name out there is still a big thing for us at PolyCore.
Jeff White: It’s not like they’re… Yeah. You’re not necessarily going to have the industry group publication specifically about companies who raise their hand to say that they’re particularly environmentally conscious. It’s a surprise there isn’t yet, but yeah, that probably makes it a lot harder to build a target account list.
Carman Pirie: I would think there would be some organization membership list if you could at all… I’m thinking like there are companies that, for instance, belong to 1% for the Planet. Anybody that belongs to that that has fabric in what they make, there’s a target, right?
Casey Jefson: Right.
Carman Pirie: Not that those organizations are actively publishing their membership list, but their members are typically actively promoting that they’re part of that group, so some kind of reverse lookups might be able to get you there. Not to try to solve in the middle of a podcast for a target account list question, but that’s the way my mind works, I guess.
Jeff White: Yeah.
Carman Pirie: That’s very cool. I’m curious, Casey, you’ve been at this a while and it’s not like any strategy like this just comes to life automatically. It takes hard work. And you probably stubbed your toe a time or two along the way. Any advice that you would give to our listeners as we wrap up here in terms of if they’re looking to head down an ingredient brand strategy, any kind of top things for them to maybe be mindful of or keep in mind as they move down that path?
Casey Jefson: Yeah. For sure. Always make sure that the factories are Bluesign certified, the fabrics are GRS certified, making sure that you have all of your ducks in a row, especially if you are trying to get into the more sustainable road with your products. And it can be a lot, but that’s what we’re here for, to help you push the boundaries of sustainability to make sure that everything that you want in your bag, you have it. And that’s what we’re here to do is to help build your brand as much as we can and be a partner with you in that.
Carman Pirie: I think it’s good advice to even think about people who want to be like you, but in their category, that if that’s the strategy you’re employing, you need to have those certifications. You really need to double down on a lot of the credentialing, if you will, in order so that you can pass on that credibility to your customers if this is a strategy you’re looking to employ. That’s great advice, Casey.
Thank you so much for sharing your experience with us today on the podcast. It’s been great to have you on the show.
Casey Jefson: Yeah. No problem. Thanks for having me on.
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.