Sherry Chapman the VP of Marketing at Fortera, joins The Kula Ring this week. Sherry illuminates what Fortera, a green cement start-up, is working on; Building partnerships with counterparts in the industry, and drawing new road maps for economic development, for products that are yet to hit the market. This is a fantastic chat about green industry.
Concrete Marketing Strategies and Transparent Communication Advice for B2B Manufacturers 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: You know, I’m feeling rather resourceful, Jeff. I think people that are listening to this need to understand where we’re at here in the Kula Ring world headquarters. You know, it’s towards the end of January as we’re recording this. And so really, all of the Christmas provisions that got sent by kind people in nice boxes have all been consumed. And we’re now at the very we’re down to the very last bit. So I’m running on dill pickle peanuts, which I don’t know that I even knew they existed until getting this particular Christmas box out of South Carolina. Um, but I think it’s just reflective of where we’re at.
Jeff White: There’s some biscuits. But they’re suspect, I don’t know that I go there right now, but, you know, it is lunchtime in Nova Scotia for sure. But joining us today on The Kula Ring is Sherry Chapman. Sherry is the VP of marketing at Fortera welcome to The Kula Ring, Sherry.
Sherry Chapman: Thanks a lot. Really interested in diving into everybody’s last bits of Christmas food in their world. I think that’s a very interesting conversation actually.
Jeff White: There’s a whole other podcast genre out there that is not this.
Carman Pirie: The biscuit comment just caught me off guard for whatever reason. So anyway, we’re off to a good start.
Jeff White: Yeah, no, it’s, it’s never bad. So, Sherry, tell us about what you’re up to at Fortera and what your background is.
Sherry Chapman: Oh, thank you. And excited to be on the podcast. So yeah, working out Fortera briefly Fortera is a material technology company that has created a way to mineralize CO2 from cement producers’ kilns and to create a green cement product and early-stage startup pre-revenue. And we’re really on the journey from a marketing side of educating the world on green cement and why our solution, why the solution at Fortera is, is a path that we think is important. One thing to note in this space, we need lots of players. We need lots of solutions for global CO2, greenhouse gases from cement production is about 8% of global greenhouse gases. And so we need a lot of solutions. But we’re we’re really excited about what what we have and, you know, where we’re playing in the game. For my background, I’ve been working in different variations of manufacturing in hardware for my whole career. Started really with consumer electronics, hard goods, TVs, you know, displays, RAM chips, laptops, all those kinds of hard goods in the C space and really understand manufacturing. We’re taking a concept and an idea and a market position and then bringing it to the market, whether it’s to the consumers or to businesses and just landed at Fortera and just with an amazing opportunity. When I tell you this is a once-in-a-lifetime project and pretty much pins my pinch myself every day that I get to work on this.
Carman Pirie: I mean, it’s an incredible challenge, too, because, of course, you’re never really building a category, aren’t you?
Sherry Chapman: Yeah, it’s something I when I looked at Fortera in and what we have and really the whitespace right as a marketer you’re looking at not only you’re looking at the industry but you’re also looking at what can you occupy, what can you fill, where can you distinguish yourself from the market And early on, because of where we are and we could have a whole other podcast on the journey or Fortera.But when you think about this category of green cement and who really owns it, who and who has a product that is near-term ready for launch. And when I look at where we sit, we’ve got a pretty good case of having a product that can what I say, you know what I call, you know, could be the Kleenex of green cement. We could define this category. And it’s very exciting. And I guess working in the consumer electronics world from really the very beginning of my career, dating myself at CompUSA and, you know, launching personal computers and really, you know, trying to educate consumers why you need this big box on your desk and on your table to really enjoy all the things that the Internet has to offer in personal computers to why green cement and why ReAct is. And so I think you know, my history in consumer electronics with new technology and positioning has really helped Fortera and how we positioned our product line ReAct in the Greens in that category and how we elevated and own it.
Carman Pirie: How does yeah, we must talk about that because I mean, of course sometimes there’s a gift of having competition in an existing market because there’s already a bunch of people already talking about what it is you sell. And then of course you can talk about how you might be a bit unique or different or something that your solution does that somebody else doesn’t, and then they’re off to the races In this instance. Um, you know, you’re kind of having to start the conversation from scratch or at least redirected in some way. I have to think that at least puts a higher premium on PR in your marketing mix. I would assume that is maybe one change as a result of that. Does anything else jump out? Or maybe I’m wrong with my PR commentary too. I don’t know.
Sherry Chapman: First of all, I’m very much a believer in competition and that you have to create a category player in that category very hard to be, you know, to just be one solution in a category. And don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of companies that are in the space, a lot of startups that are in the space who are offering products in the category of green cement. In fact, we’re part of a consortium called DC2 where, you know, we have a group that, you know, as startups in this space. We work together, especially on policy and lobbying. But when we look at, you know, who is going to lead this category, I really want to position ReAct as that. But I do we do want a lot of players in the space. Again, we need a lot of solutions. There’s not going to be one Band-Aid for our greenhouse gas issues that we have in the climate space. And, you know, education’s huge and PR and we could do it again. The whole podcast on PR and how PR has evolved and really what PR means and it’s multilayer right for us, our agency. Yes, we’ve got, you know, the mixed messaging and, you know, press releases, but we’re also finding our PR partner is great content producers. We do a lot with LinkedIn and I’ve rolled our LinkedIn and social strategy as part of our PR engagement as well because the messaging is very similar. A lot of what we do on the content side could be elevated to a release, but there are also a lot of releases if you really look at them, really are just bite-sized pieces of interesting content that we can we can push out to our LinkedIn audience. So yes, I would say PR is a very, very important aspect just because of the education that we need to do around the space.
Jeff White: We also have the unique challenge that not a lot of marketers except maybe those I mean, it’s it’s interesting you see this in kind of in the startup community and you also sort of see it in the publicly traded side of things where marketing may have a role, not just in marketing the product and working with sales, but also in investor relations. And when you’re in that kind of startup mode, you know, how are you choosing to talk to the venture capital community and the clean tech community maybe in a way that you aren’t necessarily talking to the potential customer and client base?
Carman Pirie: I think it’s an important distinction to Jeff because we’ve had lots of people on the podcast talking about messaging, about sustainability and whatnot, and bringing sustainability messaging into their category, but I don’t think any of them feel like they’re having to talk out of both sides of their mouth or to different audiences. They’re mostly just changing how they talk to their customers. But in this instance, you’ve got I’m just imagining these clean tech investors versus the concrete or cement industry and kind of those two people don’t look, they go to the same parties.
Sherry Chapman: No, it’s a really good point. And I will say, you know, our CEO Ryan, we’re a very transparent company extremely transparent. What helps us in the concrete cement industry is our transparency and how we speak to them and that we want to work with them. And so that allows us that that level of transparency gives us I’m not going to say leeway, but they realize that we are their partner and we want to bring them along on our green journey, our green cement journey. So as we’re taking them on our green cement journey, that’s really where we meet the investor community and the climate tech community. We in no way do we do we ever message out about, you know, the demise of the cement industry. In fact, one of our taglines is, you know, concrete creates, cement creates civilization. It’s huge. It’s it’s why we are cement is the reason why we are who we are today. If you know, if you just look at the past as we’ve developed in cities and as a culture, it’s because of cement. So we partner with that industry because we’ve been so transparent. Then when we speak to the press, when we talk about what we do, what we’re doing, the cement industry is not feeling that we’re an adversary. They know that we’re bringing them along with us because our success is their success. And they and, you know, the industry knows it. You know, this is amazing feedback from the world of concrete. The industry knows and the value chain knows that these types of solutions need to happen. So we very much and the executive team at Fortera very much ensure that the cement industry concrete industry construction industry knew that we were on their side. So then when we can go out and talk to the investors and talk to climate tech, they know that we’re bringing them with them instead of leaving them behind. If that makes sense.
Carman Pirie: It does make sense in this thing because I think it feels to me that you’re avoiding what is sometimes a bit of a common trap, it seems of kind of sounding a little holier than thou, and you’re the one bringing in the more environmentally driven solution to an industry that may not have a big, you know, may not have a great environmental reputation, you know, it sounds like you’re really taking the approach of almost like working to make change from the inside. We’re not it’s not about kind of imposing change from the outside.
Sherry Chapman: That’s you nailed it. That’s exactly what our strategy is. Again, we utilize the cement partners, CO2, their you know, their CO2 from their kiln. And that is part of our feedstock. So we are utilizing them and we’re giving them a new solution for their customer base because we partner so far up the value chain in the cement world, we’re working directly with the cement partner and we’re providing them a solution, a green cement solution that they can then offer. And so we will have agreements with cement partners. But then also the ready mix, which is, you know, you’re getting a little bit further down the chain, but we’re very much at the cement producer level. So, yeah, we are working inside that was part of really the strategy for the executive team here. And really just the brilliance of this team is the cement producers have the whole infrastructure, they have the feedstock, they have sales, they have distribution. Why would we burden such an important product with having to recreate the wheel? And imagine if you will, like having to go and source your own, get your own query, you know, get your own, you know, limestone. Why not utilize the feedstocks with the cement partners? And again, it’s a brilliant strategy for the executive team.
Carman Pirie: Now, very often as people are bringing, you know, more environmentally sensitive solutions to the market, not always the case, but often one of the characteristics of them is that they’re more expensive. How are you? You know, I guess is that the case or how are you navigating that component of the transition, that price objection? And you know, I, I can think of a number of categories where I hear the, oh we will change when the customers begin demanding it, which of course is a nice way of saying until the customers tell us they want to spend more money, we’re going to stick with what we got it.
Sherry Chapman: It’s a great question. The financial model that we’re playing with and always exploring is not to burden the price, not to charge a green premium. Now, it’s interesting from a marketing standpoint because we’re really slightly acting as kind of an OEM, if you will, because we’ll sell directly to the cement partner and then they will resell it out. So and my, I guess what keeps me up at night is, you know, I lose some control in that in that scenario because now the cement partner is taking our ReAct product and how are they then positioning it to their customers and then how our let’s say, the ready mix customers, position it to the architects in the construction industry. Whereas if we had a, you know, our product and we sold directly I control that message more and so that’s really the next leg of this journey is when you know our new Redding plant is up and running and we’re actually selling the product how is the market and how is the supply chain, the value chain talking about our product and where do we need to fine-tune it? But from an economical standpoint, we are from what we can control, we’re not charging a green premium. Now, it would be very interesting how the market translates, you know, potentially with will the ready mix suppliers charge a green premium and then what does that adoption look like? So you lose a bit of control in some distribution models. And we know from where we’re sitting, we’re not charging a green premium. But I have a feeling there may be a bit of that down the supply chain as it gets as people are adding on some costs. So that’s going to be yet to be seen.
Carman Pirie: That’s a fascinating kind of challenge, isn’t it? Just trying to navigate that discussion in my head. Because of course, I mean, I would think, you know, somebody building a building, for example, that let’s say thanks to their use of your technology, they get a higher LEED certification for their building.
Sherry Chapman: But also the story right? Our story is very valuable. And, you know, we spoke to some builders last week at the world of Concrete and that green cement story for builders as they’re building new apartments is these were some folks in L.A. And you know for their cohort. How does that resonate? Oh, this, you know, this building has been, you know, was we utilized green cement solutions. Will they get more tenants because of that? it’s all very new. It’s all very interesting and I think it’s very important for Fortera and as marketing to keep those you know those channels of communication open all the way down the supply chain to to really understand how people are talking about it.
Jeff White: One of the things that you that you’ve mentioned in this conversation, you know, you want the ReAct product to be the Kleenex brand that that you’re a bit of an OEM. I mean in reality, Fortera is a bit of an ingredient brand really and you know what you’re talking about right now in that story that your customers can tell, their customers can tell their customers. That’s pretty important, you know, to be able to craft that messaging that can then be leveraged by others. You know, we’re building this this this high rise with the Fortera-based concrete or whatever that happens to be. And then that has a whole story behind it. And reason for being and methodology for creating a premium green concrete product. But it also is more difficult to communicate than, say, a specific widget, even if that widget is part of a larger component. I think it literally is an ingredient. So how are you approaching that? And, you know, what’s the strategy for crafting that story that can be carried on by the people who are leveraging your brand to make theirs better?
Sherry Chapman: Oh, I’m going to rapidly admit and, you know, as I look down at my computer and see the intel core icon on my laptop, you know, listen, it’s, you know, it’s not broken, don’t fix it. Intel, I think, really set the bar for having an ingredient brand ingredient solution. But then developing programs, partner programs that incentivize your partners to talk about you. And so that’s kind of laying the foundation and, you know, taking some learnings. Again, consumer electronics background. I was early on when the Intel Inside program launched all the way back when they had the spacemen. So it’s a fundamental tool in the toolbox is to create partner programs and so that’s something that we’re starting to scope out in when we do have a product, what are the incentives that we can create or the partnerships that we can create to ensure that people are still talking about ReAct and what it is that we do and we have a cohesive message and in that could be, you know, utilizing ReAct as itself. We’ve got, you know, naming phrases that we’re putting together as well as if because to understand the process, our cement partners, they may have their own product, their own green cement product that they want to promote. How do we ensure that we’re still in that conversation? So a bit of partner program development, I think is really what needs to happen to ensure that we stay in the conversation.
Carman Pirie: I think it’s going to be fascinating to watch and you can tell like a just a this is one of those times when I wish it was a video podcast that people could see kind of three marketers on my screen here, kind of we’re all trying to get, you know, nobody wants to because we’re all kind of saying the market is going to recognize some level of value, enhanced value in this end product. And of course, we want to get, you know, we want to capture as much of that value for the company as possible. It’s really interesting to see this evolve over time, whether or not paying the green premium becomes a dirty word or not, you know, maybe people will be quite willing to pay a green premium in order to have that story. And it’s kind of a I suppose in some way that’s the challenge ahead is how good a job we do on this intel inside job is going to tell the tale about how much of a premium we can get.
Sherry Chapman: Yeah, but I think on our end upfront and it’s interesting because it’s we Fortera, I would say we’re not going into this expecting a green premium, but I believe so strongly in the message that it will be interesting to see down, you know, the supply chain who is able to capitalize on it, who is able to capitalize. There will be dollars added in and who can capitalize it, I think Fortera will see it will just see it in in increased supply. Right. We’ll see it in people demanding our product. But it’ll be interesting to see where the pricing pops if we have a good message.
Carman Pirie: Some of this work is also involved. I mean, you have to basically create economic models for and kind of more advanced discussions with these buyers about, you know, how they ought to be thinking about pricing their product. And I guess I’m just kind of curious how far we’ve gone there.
Sherry Chapman: Great question. We’re we’re at the level of it. And again, it’s just a little inside baseball on the cement world. It’s it is a very regional world. It doesn’t travel well. So you want to be within a certain range of the site. Right. So you’ve got your regional players. And so within that ecosystem of the region, you’ve got, you know, ready mix suppliers. And so just briefly, you know, you’ve got the cement plant which will sell directly to the ready mix to make concrete or you could sell to the ready mix suppliers. So the next stage in the game is really engaging with ready mix and seeing how they will talk about it and then how they will position it.
And those are conversations we’re starting to have as we’re setting up those partnerships. And so again, we’re very much in the early stages are our first, you know, full commercial scale plant is set to open later this quarter. And then we should have the ReAct product out by Q2. So it’s it’s a very exciting time right now. And there’s just going to be a lot of learnings of how in a lot of it is going to be on Fortera about my group is how do I arm the value chain with the materials and that they need and really kind of getting them set up. I’m very thankful in my career where I’ve worked with many layers of distribution of a product, whether I’m selling directly to the consumer or I’m selling to a retailer who needs to then sell to the consumer as your product goes through the gatekeepers, how do you provide the necessary materials and messaging so they can to ensure that they’re selling it the correct way and they’re getting as much value out of that product as possible?
Carman Pirie: It’s kind of struck, as you were giving us that answer and the, you know, you mentioned the brand name ReAct a number of times. Of course, the company’s name is Fortera. There was a brand decision made there to have the product name differently within the company. And any insight that you can give us there, what your thinking is for Fortera on a path to making a wide number of products that function similarly to ReAct, etc.?
Sherry Chapman: Yeah, that’s a great question. So you know we are we’re a CO2 solutions company and currently, yes, we are creating a green cement solution, but this, you know, this product is, you know, reactive calcium carbonate that we’ve created. You know, are there other areas for that? So to answer your question, yes, creating a brand architecture that allows space and breathing room for other categories of product and business segments and having Fortera as a CO2 solutions company and then having our different product categories although we are extremely laser-focuseded on, you know, reactive the green cement space and get it and kicking this off. But yeah, there’s a lot of very, very smart PhDs and business people at this company who are looking out and saying, you know, where else can we apply this science in this technology?
Jeff White: I want to shift gears as we wind down a little bit here because it’s not lost on me that, you know the primary industry that you serve is construction and, you know, building materials and concrete and that sort of thing. You know, typically an industry that’s pretty male-dominated in the more technology startup space is less so kind of an industry that certainly is a little bit more inclusive one hopes but you know, how are you finding kind of tackling that and kind of bringing your perspective to an industry that isn’t typically, as you know, there aren’t as many women in it.
Sherry Chapman: it’s you know, it’s a great question. It’s it’s interesting like working in technology, I’ve often had this as a lot of times being the only woman at the table and in a situation. So I will say just from my experience, I’ve learned how to navigate that. And that’s been a long career of oftentimes being the only woman in the room. And but I will say with the, you know, the climate tech space and the construction, the cement industry, I’ve felt no resistance. I would encourage women to get into the engineering fields and to get into, you know, the cement and concrete and construction. And there are. But I think it can potentially not be intimidating because I think women are easily intimidated. But I think, you know, you just feel that maybe there’s a barrier. But I’ll just say I’ve felt nothing but, you know, being part of the group and, you know, really having the seat at the table, I mean, Fortera has been very open with, you know, bringing women in and really getting, you know, different views on what we are and what we need for the space. So I would just encourage women to really enter the engineering fields and really to see it, because there the diversity is needed and it’s a real diversity and thinking that we need and men and women bring different things to the table, both equally important. But, you need, you know, you need different thoughts and the way people approach things. So I urge women to get into the construction and cement and concrete industry things I say now. But it’s true. I would encourage it.
Carman Pirie: Well, and I think the cleantech space, you know, sometimes it’s just that some of the traditional industries, like construction and what have you, it’s not that we don’t have women participating in those sectors that they maybe haven’t always been as attractive to them for a variety of reasons. I mean, there are you know, a lot of the executives that I know of that are excelling in marketing and clean tech are women. So I think that there’s an interesting intersection there and my goodness, couldn’t be more correct. The industry needs their help, you know. Yeah, there’s no question about that. It’s been a fascinating, fascinating conversation. Sherry, I’ve just really enjoyed having you on the show. And it occurs to me that we’ve probably driven some people crazy in using cement and concrete interchangeably when they’re very, very different things. And so I apologize to your colleagues in advance for when they listen to this.
Sherry Chapman: Yeah, no, it’s fine. So it is very easy and you know, and the market didn’t help by having both of them start with C’s but it’s it is very it’s very much a common, common, common mistake. But you know, we’ll get there. It does you know regardless of what word you say, you know give the green cement movement a chance and you know, follow it. We’re in Fortera. We’re excited about what we’re doing. And thank you for your time. I’ve really enjoyed chatting with you all.
Carman Pirie: Thank you for sharing the story. We look forward to watching the growth in the coming years.
Jeff White: It’s been wonderful. Thanks.
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Sherry ChapmanVp of Marketing at Fortera
Sherry Chapman is the VP of Marketing at Fortera. After graduating from Cortland State University with a Bachelor of Communications, Chapman honed her skills in marketing and brand management in the tech and wellness world working for companies such as Duracell, SHARP with Foxconn Companies, Ergomotion/Kesson Technologies, and several start-up launches expanding into consumer and business verticals. Chapman has proven to support some of the most innovative products through sales strategies, channel marketing, brand management, business development, and revenue growth.
In her current role at Fortera, an award-winning material technology start-up, Chapman leads all marketing, global strategy, product positioning, and launches. In addition, she tracks industry trends and utilizes research to develop data-backed plans to help build awareness and engagement with Fortera and the company’s innovative green cement product line, ReAct.