Scott Vosburgh joins The Kula Ring this week to discuss how Sierra Olympia Technologies is facing down much larger competition. Through marketing products that the competition isn’t. Ensuring their online presence is as clean and high-performing as possible. While also keeping an eye on where the big guns in the space are ranking and finding success in online markets to capitalize for themselves.
Competing Against Larger Brands By Choosing Not to Compete 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. Joining me today is Carman Pirie. Carman, how are you doing, sir?
Carman Pirie: I am delighted to be here. And, you?
Jeff White: I’m glad to be here as well.
Carman Pirie: Yeah it’s uh… Look, any marketer, I mean, it’s like you just end up rolling your eyes, right? And people say, oh, you know, we have to do more with less. It’s like I haven’t been listening to that for 25 years or so.
Jeff White: Water’s wet.
Carman Pirie: Right. But it is nice to tell a story about people who are challenged, frankly, with trying to figure out how to do more with less and compete against much bigger competitors, much bigger players and figure their way through it. Cause I do think it is a, you know, a challenge that a lot of marketers face, particularly early on in their career. I mean, not everybody’s kind of first marketing gig is with Fortune 100, right?
Jeff White: For sure. And I mean, you know, when you’re saying early on in careers, you can also be talking about new companies as well that are just kind of getting started like the case of our our guest today.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. Let’s get on with it.
Jeff White: So joining us today is Scott Vosburgh. Scott is the marketing director at Sierra Olympia Technologies. Welcome to The Kula Ring, Scott.
Scott Vosburgh: Thank you. Happy to be here. Yeah.
Carman Pirie: Scott, It’s awesome to have you on the show. Look, first off, why don’t you tell us what Sierra Olympia Technologies is/does, and then I’ll get into you.
Scott Vosburgh: Yeah. So Sierra Olympia builds thermal camera components. Some of the bigger companies in our area are Teledyne Flir or I guess Flir, is how they’re known now. But we build thermal cameras that go into manufacturing. They detect oil and gas leaks. They are often attached to drones and flying around movie sets, all sorts of solutions that our cameras provide for a number of industries.
Carman Pirie: That’s incredibly diverse oil and gas monitoring through the movie sets. This is a marketing challenge is already becoming quite obvious. Now Scott, how long have you been with Sierra Olympia?
Scott Vosburgh: I’ve been with them a little over two years, going on two and a half years soon. Before them, my career started in the ski industry. I was on marketing teams for a ski mountain in the middle of the heart of Colorado. And then I was in Los Angeles freelancing for a number of agencies, kind of in-house and remote. And then I worked at UCLA as a senior front-end developer building UCLA.edu and their admissions website and working on their Chancellor’s website and their big-name websites. Then I found myself doing work at Sierra Olympia.
Jeff White: That’s always interesting. The path from kind of, well, I guess it’s not always interesting because there aren’t that many people who’ve done it. To kind of move from a pure web development type role to a more marketing and strategist kind of role. How do you think that’s impacted your perspective?
Scott Vosburgh: Greatly. And to be truly honest, I started in design. I went to school for graphic design, and my first job was with a window manufacturer in Chicago designing all their pamphlets and print ads. So I started in design and then kind of slowly made that transition into developer and now have, you know, transitioned into marketing director. I think that the combination of design and development really influenced my ability in technology and my communication with technology. Being able to communicate with a designer from a developer’s perspective and vice versa, knowing how to bridge that gap. Also, as a developer, I’ve gotten the chance to work with a lot of marketers and so that’s kind of branched me into the analytics side, knowing how to track the links that I build, you know, knowing the tools that they use in diving into a lot more of that end in the past two years than I have been development in design. So it’s all three of those aspects combined that have really kind of hopefully given me that edge when doing my marketing work.
Carman Pirie: I like to be able to contrary on occasion, Scott. So I’m curious. Do you ever feel have you ever encountered a situation where like, man, that designer dev background gave me some blinders here, I didn’t see this one coming? I was curious about people, you know, our backgrounds give us a lot of, you know, advantages, obviously, as we encounter situations. But I’m always kind of curious about the dark side of it.
Scott Vosburgh: Yeah, sometimes I think over my career I’ve been very technology-heavy overall, and I think that’s kind of blinded me a little bit to other aspects like sales. In the past two years, I’ve had to jump a lot of personal hurdles in working with the sales team where I’m like, Oh, if that could only get these team members to use this tech. But it doesn’t always work like that. You need to be very flexible with them. If they don’t want to use the tech, you can’t you can’t force them. Their team has, you know, their own way of doing things that are successful for them. So it’s not always easy to just because you see the benefit of it doesn’t mean that it is actually beneficial for the team in the way the team works.
Jeff White: Man, I wish it was possible to hire and I say this as a designer who is now primarily a sales guy. I wish it was possible to hire more designers who had more experience with working with sales or maybe even doing sales, because I think it really does give you a very different business perspective than designers are typically taught. And, you know, we’re kind of are sort of taught to think that what we’re doing is dramatically improving, you know, at some extent dramatically improving humanity. you know, sometimes I think that does make it difficult to truly understand business realities. So you’ve probably had some really, really fantastic
experience on that on that front, I would think.
Scott Vosburgh: Yeah. Overall, you know, the the main goal that I think you learn is it’s it’s a huge team effort. You know, it’s no one person, it’s a good website, that makes the sales team look good, but a good sales team member drives people to the website. So it’s it’s a huge team effort. It’s no one person, you know, even in the small companies, it might be a one-person marketing team, it might be a one-person sales team. But together, you know, you’re a team and you’re all looking for that same outcome.
Carman Pirie: I want to kind of peel back the layers of your strategy here a little bit because, you know, it seems to me that, you know, Sierra Olympia is what I mean, like 40 people or so, you know, a reasonably small company and you’re going up against some heavy hitters. What do you think in the last couple of years have been some of the keys to success there? What do you think are the things that you’ve done to level that David Goliath playing field?
Scott Vosburgh: There are definitely some things in our products, You know, being a small company, we were probably one of the first in the thermal industry to offer I.R. cameras as components. When you go and shop at some of the bigger companies, they’re offering fully encased cameras. Some of them are, you know, whether rated ready to plug directly into your computer or, you know, whatever output you have for a visual screen. Our cameras are some of the first that are like, oh, you’re coming to us with a drone. We’ll outfit this camera component to fit on your drone so you can go off laughing and carry on with your custom projects. So that’s been one way that we compete where we’ve actually seen now some of the larger companies also offer that service. Another way is we don’t compete with them. You know, we piggyback often. My company in particular, since we build custom components, we have no problem buying hammers from our competitors that are close to what our customer wants and then adding value to them, outfitting them again for a custom project that you need. So we don’t reinvent the wheel sometimes. Sometimes if the wheels are there, we just modify it slightly, give it better treads, things of that nature.
Jeff White: I think that’s what’s really, really interesting. What, you know, one of the things you kind of alluded to is this idea of kind of working along, you know, not alongside the competitors, but kind of leveraging some of the things they’re talking about in order to promote Sierra Olympia. How are you kind of doing that?
Scott Vosburgh: Yeah, so our website is huge with that, the content that we create, our social media channels. The biggest difference between online and a trade show is we can appear right next to our large competitors online. That’s a lot easier for us to do than buying a really expensive booth that we have to build out at a trade show. You know, the last trade show I attended, was three stories. It was a Washington, DC It was a different show. I mean, it used kind of a bad pun here, but the big guns were literally on the top floor. The helicopters, the tanks, the Humvees, all the armoured vehicles. You know, you’re in those cases, these are, you know, multi-million, billion government contracts you’re trying to compete with. Like, we can’t really do that to get a build a trade show outlet or trade show booth on that floor. It cost us obscene amounts of money. You know, we’re on the third floor in the bottom towards the back with a ten by ten booth just so standing out as a trade show is really hard. So one thing that we do is, you know, we try to appear next to them on Google. One thing we’ve gotten really good at is creating really good content that ranks really high in SEO and appears next to the blogs that are searched with our eye against the Fortune 500, 100 companies. It’s a lot easier to appear next to them online than it is in person. So that’s been a big advantage to us that the Internet is the great equalizer, as I like to call it.
Carman Pirie: And this strategy of appearing next to them online makes total sense to me. When you talk about blog content specifically, are you just looking to see what they are already ranking really well for then, just trying to basically add a different lens of value and hook to it in some way, or are you trying to beat it at its own game?
Scott Vosburgh: It’s a balance. So we’ll look at our own keywords and look at what we’re already successful in. And, you know, we’ll we’ll gear our content towards those keywords. You know, some of the companies that we compete against, do a lot more than build thermal cameras. They build, you know, thermal cameras that are integrated into drones already. We don’t we don’t build drones. We’re not trying to compete in the drone space. So I’ll go and having a little bit of technology background, I’ll look up site maps and XML site maps and I’ll see you know, a quick shortlist of what they’ve written their blogs in. And I’ll say, Hey, we can write, you know, something adapted to us on that topic so that when someone searches it, we appear right next to them. You know, that’s that’s kind of the goal is that’s some low hanging fruit that we do, you know capitalize on our own strong keywords and look at what our competitors are writing about.
Carman Pirie: You know, it kind of surprises me a little bit in the category, like infrared cameras that we’re talking about written log content. In a lot of ways. How varied is your content? Do you still find a strong reliance on written or is there more video these days? I’m always curious about what people are doing versus what they’re finding is working because those aren’t always the same thing. Yeah, we do both. Even though I’m a small team, I do have a wonderful team member who’s our visual guy. He does all of our photos, edits all our videos and shoots all of our videos. So a lot of times we’ll write a blog and have a video to pair with it. Sometimes, you know, if it’s just social media, we have a cool 15-second, you know, thermal image shot that we got that we’re sharing on social media. You know, he takes care of posting that. So it’s a lot of both. You know, one of the channels that we use is YouTube. YouTube is a big attractor of new leads for us. You know, we’ve had more growth on YouTube in the past six months than at any other point in our YouTube history. You know, that being said, Google search results are our top. You know, nothing. Nothing’s going to even come close to comparing to our Google search results. But YouTube is another channel, another route, something to add to, you know, our customer funnel.
Jeff White: You know, when you’re talking about creating content that competes with huge competitors. The other problem that you have as a small kind of component manufacturer is that you want to talk about all of the things that often are also components of the total solution and maybe something that’s available to consumers. So you’re targeting, you know, defence and other manufacturers. They want to integrate your units into it, but you’re probably also getting a lot of, you know, junk traffic from people who just want to buy, you know, a version of this camera on Amazon or something like that. So how do you focus on the things that really matter and filter out that? I mean, you’ll never you’ll never be able to completely eliminate it, but how do you filter out that sort of junk traffic?
Scott Vosburgh: This is where my development background comes in. I was and still am a big WordPress advocate. I used to run when I was in Los Angeles. I was running a WordPress meet-up and I learned a lot just by attending WordPress meet. So I’m going to kind of give that community a little bit of a push here and say, if there’s a WordPress meet-up near you, that’s a huge resource for me or has been in my career by, you know, attending to those, I learned more about how to filter what’s coming in under your contact folder, Akismet WordPress plugin. It’s very cheap. It’s not an expensive subscription, but it blocks tons of spam. You know, there we still get people who are coming through, filling out contact forms manually, you know, submitting their sales pitch to us. We’re not going to be able to stop that. Those are people who are just doing their jobs, to be honest, trying to make a dollar like we are and we get some of that. But, you know, there are tools out there, there are spam stoppers out there that we do use and deploy, and they do keep a lot of that out of our hair.
Carman Pirie: And for clarity, Jeff, you’re thinking more about spam or is it just about kind of buying intent and trying to narrow in on component-level buying intent versus consumer intent?
Jeff White: Yeah, a little a little more the latter, you know, so I certainly understand what you’re saying. And, you know, Akismet has blocked many a spam message for us and our clients as well. It’s it is a great plugin, but I do sort of wonder about, you know, the consumers who are looking for not what you’re selling, but that your competitors might and, you know, not necessarily looking for those specific hi-tech components to integrate with other things.
Carman Pirie: And I don’t want to put words in Scott’s mouth, but what I will say is when I look at the Sarah Pearce site and some of the content there, it does seem that there’s a bit of a scientific or technical skew that may drive some of that weeding out. I don’t know how intentional that is.
Scott Vosburgh: The content on our Web site, it’s geared toward getting an engineer’s attention. So, you know, we’re a B2B company. There are other companies that will sell you a thermal camera that connects to your cell phone. We’re not really one of them. The people who are using our cameras are doing so. A lot of them are doing scientific studies, in pretty professional environments. They’re not really hunting scopes. They’re not really meant for you to, you know, do you… Well, I mean, you could if you want to spend extreme amounts of money inspecting your car engine. But, you know, I would suggest other cheaper cameras for daily home use, if that’s what you need a camera for. You know, that being said, I think a lot of people come to our website, we don’t list our prices. I think that would deter a lot of people from even asking. And you know, we do get questions that we can tell people probably don’t have the experience to plug in the camera and work with our camera and they’re pretty beginner questions when it comes to IR. Hey, can your cameras see through windows? You know, IR cameras, if you’ve studied them for more than a few hours, you learn that you know, they can’t see through windows. So there’s there are telltale signs of the leads that we’re looking for and how that works.
Jeff White: I was told this would be more like an x-ray camera like I was promised in the back of the Superman comics when I was a kid.
Scott Vosburgh: Yeah, yeah. We don’t get much of that, but we do a lot of Bigfoot hunters. That’s probably the most of what we get.
Jeff White: For real?
Scott Vosburgh: Yeah, well, we’re also located in the Pacific Northwest, so kind of Sasquatch country up here.
Jeff White: That’s fantastic.
Carman Pirie: I mean, I think you need to have some video showing infrared images of a supposed sasquatch. This would be a huge driver. I can’t. Like, this is just. This is a license to print money At this point.
Scott Vosburgh: That’s always been an idea for a blog to take viral.
Carman Pirie: I like how you just excuse the other way to say, well, but we’re in the Pacific Northwest, so sasquatches are a thing here. Like it makes total sense. Oh, my goodness. Okay, okay, back, back to eye on the prize here, Jeff, We’ve got. We’ve got a show to run here. We just can’t kind of get sidetracked on sasquatches. If we get sidetracked on every sasquatch that came by, I mean.
Jeff White: It happens too easily. Well, we get we can, like, easily transition that into the next question, you know, because sasquatches, of course, are reported in the media. Your competitors have, you know, at their scale, They’re much different access to the media than a start-up might. And you mentioned in a bit of our earlier conversation that you know, you’re not able to just call up a Wall Street Journal reporter and and feed them a byline. It’s a little bit more effort than that. So how does that impact how you’re going to market, you know, kind of that access to the media to talk about the product and the space?
Scott Vosburgh: You know, that’s like I said, where that’s where the Internet comes back in the great equalizer. We don’t have the money to send lobbyists to Washington. You know, one of our competitors, their government contracts are somewhere around 30% of their revenue. So they’re in there working directly with the government, sometimes setting, you know, regulations themselves, like for our oil and gas detection camera after the leak detection camera, you know, we follow the regulations that they’ve worked on with these companies sometimes. And that’s not to discredit these companies like they’re just in there working with them. And, you know, they’re the ones providing the labs and the science and that’s the access that they get through their contracts and all. We don’t necessarily have that. So the federal government isn’t coming directly to us for these cameras, which is kind of a bummer. We’d be more than happy to sell them cameras.
Jeff White: When you don’t have that kind of direct access to lobbyists who are helping set the regulations and to the media that to report on that and get, you know, that the coverage that that you can get as a large organization is significant. And you know, that often leads to additional interest in sales that you just can’t buy necessarily.
Scott Vosburgh: Yeah, that’s that’s true. And I’ll be honest, the first year that I started here, the company that I’m at did spend money on a commercial that ran nationally and you know we didn’t see much benefit from it. It kind of wasn’t worth our purchase at the time because we weren’t able to pair it with, you know, more media buys someone that we compete against. Someone that we compete against. You know, I’ve seen them, one of their marketing directors, you know, like hosted on The Today Show and then they have, you know, a 15-second clip on the the news that night on the same channel. You know, we don’t have access to things like that. We can send out something on the EIN press wire, you know, which will go out to a couple hundred local news websites. But that doesn’t seem to be as effective. And the question that I have that I would love to know is if the bigger companies actually see a return on that, how do they track that? How do they know that that’s something that’s monetizable for them? You know, even at the larger institutions that I worked at, like UCLA, I was a web developer there, but they’re on the news all the time and I never really got insight into how that was tracked or or returned to the school.
Carman Pirie: Yeah, it’s interesting because I think sometimes when you’re working with one of the smaller competitors in the space, the assumption is, is that everybody that’s bigger has more sophisticated marketing attribution and is measuring the impact of a variety of things in a more intensive way. I’ve actually found very often the opposite is true. There are the people that are trying to do more with less money that actually have their attribution sorted. They tend to be a little bit more digital in nature, which lends itself more to measurement and the larger competitors. Sometimes with that comes a larger tolerance of lack of measurement in certain instances. Right. And a greater inclination towards what we’ve just always done it, like we’ve always sent out a press release. So therefore we continue to always do it. I don’t I know this isn’t your podcast, and I wasn’t supposed to answer the question, but again, I figure that turnabout was fair play there. So I’m curious as we kind of approach the end of our time together, I’m and this may go nowhere, but I’m assuming, like, you know, two years in two-plus years in a company that’s small and nimble like this and hungry, trying to grab market share, there’s got to be something along the way where you had to work kind of hard to convince people to do it. Like it can’t have all been like, Oh, yeah, I know, Scott said so. So I’m wondering, does anything jump out as like, man, it took a lot of convincing, but that was a real home run, like where the juice was really worth the squeeze on that convincing.
Scott Vosburgh: Absolutely. It was the investment in the website. You know, when I was hired, they expected a new website in the first three months, and it took time to be like, Hey, it’s going to take a little bit longer than three months. Like we have some brand work to do. You know, there’s some style guidelines that we need to meet to ensure that this website looks good and then, you know, we need to really make sure that the sales pages we’re making, our sales pages that are needed, that pages that people are looking for, you know, So we had to balance out what our market solutions were. Write that content and have a design all before we even start to build a website. And then when we built the website, the website build went fast compared to some website builds I had been a part of, it was efficient and on the cheaper side. And it’s a highly effective website that’s been, you know, growing in leads for the past year while it’s been launched a little over a year now, but it’s been growing in leads every month. It’s been a great, huge, effective tool that, you know, took some patience, but it’s now been very much worth it.
Carman Pirie: That was really the sell job then wasn’t as encouraging of the patience to make something that worth having isn’t going to be built in six weeks.
Scott Vosburgh: Yeah yeah. You know, there’s that Venn diagram of, you know, do it fast, do it cheap, you know, do it well.
Jeff White: I always find the first time I ever saw that was on the wall of the first print shop I ever used.
Scott Vosburgh: Yes.
Jeff White: Struck by its absolute honesty. It’s just perfect. But, you know, one of the most I’ll say over the years of working with B2B manufacturers, you know, one of the most common things that we’ve seen, especially with new marketers coming on stream within those teams, is that they’re often tasked with the website. You know, it’s usually it’s not uncommon for it to be the first kind of thing that needs to be worked on whether that was known when that person was hired or that marketer came in and went, Yeah, guys, we’ve got to rebuild this website. This is terrible. Do you have any advice for people who don’t have someone like you on staff to kind of lead the development and design of that? You know, someone without the technical chops? What do you say to somebody who is looking to hire somebody to do that work for them?
Scott Vosburgh: Yeah, I would say, you know, you don’t need a perfect website to rank well, on Google, there’s a tool called Lighthouse scores, you know, and it divides your website into four different categories. I believe it’s performance, SEO, accessibility and best practices. And so if you can find a developer that knows how to, you know, get green, high ranking scores in all of those, I would say that’s a good start to being in good hands, you know, And there’s always tools that you can measure your the performance of your website. There’s Google Analytics, there’s Google Search Council, you know, learn how to read the numbers in those tools and you can judge how well your website is performing. You know, other than that, it’s it’s I spent a lot of my time Googling. There’s a lot of words in the web industry that you just start learning the definitions of and you can start putting the pieces of the puzzle together. And, you know, there’s no one clear, direct way online, but there’s a lot of ways to do it.
Carman Pirie: Scott, It’s been a pleasure to have you on the show. It’s been fun to kind of explore what the Sierra Lamp is doing and kind of look at this kind of David versus Goliath story a little bit. And I’m excited to see where you go with it. I think the next two years will be even cooler for Sierra Olympia. Thanks so much for sharing the experience with us.
Scott Vosburgh: Yeah, it’s been great to be here. Thank you for having me. Yeah, it’s been a lot of fun.
Jeff White: Yeah, great to chat.
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 kulpartners.com/thekularing that’s K-U-L-A partners dot com slash The Kula Ring.
Scott VosburghMarketing Director
Scott Vosburgh is the marketing director for Sierra-Olympia Technologies, an infrared camera company in the Pacific Northwest. Following a love for art, he graduated with a BFA in graphic design from Columbia College Chicago and spent his early career in print and branding. Being proficient with technology he transitioned into web development and has built websites for some of the largest institutions in the USA. Scott’s current passion is combining his artistic and digital sides to tell the brand’s story and track the outcome through technology.