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.
In this episode of The Kula Ring, Courtney Sperlich—Marketing Director at The Duha Group, an international manufacturer of colour marketing tools—discusses her organization’s challenges in scaling and interpreting marketing content for global and local customers. Colour has universal impact, but its appeal can vary dramatically between geographical regions. Courtney talks with Jeff and Carman about her 16-year career at The Duha Group and how they approach digital transformation, content distribution, and marketing their expertise to a diverse range of buyers.
Creating a Unified Content Strategy Across a Global Marketplace 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, an agency made for manufacturers. My name is Jeff White, and joining me today is Carman Pirie. Carman, how are you doing, sir?
Carman Pirie: I’m doing exceptionally well, sir, and you?
Jeff White: I’m doing great.
Carman Pirie: It’s good to be chatting once again.
Jeff White: Indeed it is.
Carman Pirie: I’m excited for today’s conversation. I think, I don’t know, I kind of find that sometimes we almost run into two types of marketers in this world. There’s people that have been with their organization for kind of like a year, 18 months, and things are getting underway, or folks that have been with their organizations for a long time, and that are really using that experience to power transformation.
Jeff White: For sure, but are also in this case just getting underway with certain things, so it’s kind of an interesting amalgam of those two marketing types.
Carman Pirie: I think it, yeah, so it should be a fun chat. Let’s get underway.
Jeff White: Yeah, for sure, so joining us today is Courtney Sperlich. Courtney is the marketing director at the Duha Group, a person formerly of Winnipeg, Canada—so we have a certain connection there—but currently joining us from Melbourne, Australia. Welcome to The Kula Ring, Courtney.
Courtney Sperlich: Thank you. Thanks very much.
Carman Pirie: I’ve been almost trying to detect like the combination Australian, Canadian accent or something.
Jeff White: Yeah, there’s a certain Western Canadian sound to some things.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. Australians are just really warm Canadians, I always figure. Like yeah, really, but both probably-
Jeff White: Physically warm, though.
Carman Pirie: Yeah, and just, you know, as countries, we kind of over-index on drinking, so we share that.
Courtney Sperlich: There are many similarities between the countries, that’s for sure.
Carman Pirie: Well, let’s not do this spoiler alert for people who-
Jeff White: For sure.
Carman Pirie: You know, they should figure out for themselves and visit both countries, to see how alike they are.
Jeff White: Absolutely. I haven’t been there yet, but Courtney, tell us a little bit about yourself, and your storied history at the Duha Group.
Courtney Sperlich: So, I’ve been with the Duha Group for over 16 years now, and I started with them as a summer intern at the headquarters in Winnipeg, in Canada, and from there have moved into various different roles, from direct sales, as a number of years that was my role, in various capacities and various regions. Then I did a little bit of management, and logistics, and now I’m looking after sales for Australia and New Zealand, with a focus on marketing for the overall organization.
Carman Pirie: That is quite an evolution.
Courtney Sperlich: It’s a big change. It’s lots of varied experience.
Carman Pirie: It at least gets you out of the blackflies in Winnipeg, as well.
Courtney Sperlich: And the cold.
Jeff White: Quite right.
Carman Pirie: Yeah, indeed. Well, I wonder, I guess in that time, and especially with so much experience on the sales side, how have you found the buyers have changed over this time?
Courtney Sperlich: I think the biggest change from a buyer’s perspective is in the time that we spend with them. So, you know, in my early days of direct selling, I would find that you pick up the phone, and call a client, and if they don’t answer, they’ll probably call you back fairly quickly. You’d maybe go in and meet with them face to face within the next week or so, possibly having coffee, lunch, some sort of social occasion, and then you might even meet with them ongoing. You know, say every month or two. Whereas now, what we’re finding that the buyer has changed is phone calls are not always responded to, or if you’re communicating, communication is instead of being over dinner or a social occasion, is on a Zoom, or a FaceTime platform, texting.
And generally, that communication is only when you’re having a live project with them. If I’m prospecting a client, or trying to do any sort of cold calling, it’s very difficult. From a face-to-face perspective, it just doesn’t seem to happen as much anymore, so I think the method of communication, and the frequency of communication is certainly changing.
Carman Pirie: Yeah, I mean I look… I think it’s interesting, the people. We often talk about the difficulty only on the prospecting side, but it’s also interesting to think about just from a relationship-management perspective over time, even with those existing customers. You’re not in front of them as much as you used to be.
Courtney Sperlich: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Carman Pirie: So, I guess why not take us through a little bit about what your plans are at Duha Group for addressing this? How are we evolving how the Duha Group goes to market and presents themselves in order to kind of address this?
Courtney Sperlich: So, we’re certainly recognizing, like many companies are, the importance of digital transformation, and what we’re doing is we’re actually building what we feel is quite a powerful team to identify some global trends, and then interpret them locally in many different ways. We have a team of about eight to ten members in different regions around the world, that are involved in varying degrees, as marketing may be just one aspect of their wider role that they have, and so what we’re having is a global editorial team who will be involved, and we’re just really excited about building this global database of information, and bringing success to our local clients.
We’re also aligning our different divisions, so headquarters in Canada, we also have other… So, Duha is a family business, and we have several… four family businesses involved in different countries around the world, as well as a division called Colour Hive in the U.K. They are an excellent authority on colour and on content, and so we will be connecting the world of colour through all of our different organizations and facilities around the world.
Jeff White: And I think just to back up and make sure that our audience knows fully kind of what Duha creates, too, because I-
Carman Pirie: I’m so happy you’re bringing this up, because I’m thinking we’re recording this late in the evening in order to sync up with Australia, which means I am less coherent than normal, which is saying something, and I was thinking, “Did we even cover what the-”
Jeff White: What you’re making? Yeah, so just tell us a little bit about the product mix, and how these different organizations around the world fit into that-
Carman Pirie: Tell us what you do, exactly.
Jeff White: Yeah.
Courtney Sperlich: Sure. Sorry, I was remiss in explaining that.
Jeff White: Oh, no. It’s not your fault.
Carman Pirie: No, no.
Jeff White: We forgot to ask.
Carman Pirie: Yeah, it’s our fault.
Courtney Sperlich: So, we’re a private family business with headquarters in Winnipeg, Canada. It’s where I started with the business, and our partnership…We’re a partnership network with four family businesses, manufacturing facilities in seven countries, and sales offices in nine. We sell to customers in over 100 countries, and at the moment, we’re in our third generation of the family involved with company management at the headquarters in Canada. We have about 700 staff globally, and our main customer would be a CMF individual, so colour, material, and finish. And the best way to describe it would be if you think about any product, you eventually have to decide a colour that you’re going to produce that product in, and with producing that product, there would be challenges around what colour you apply to that product. And then you have to decide how you’re gonna market that product, and include colour as part of that marketing. So, we supply information to CMF individuals to do their job, and also produce the tools that would assist in selling their product.
Some examples of our product would be colour chips that you would find in a paint store, or home center, fan decks an architect or designer would work with, colour cards that a DIY consumer would use as inspiration, and then we also produce, publish a quarterly magazine called Mix through our Colour Hive business, and that’s available through our Colour Hive membership. So, colour is the main aspect, main thread that flows through all the divisions of our business, and delivering tools to help our clients sell their products.
Carman Pirie: Well, look, Jeff, I’m glad we cleared this up.
Jeff White: I think so too, and I think that explanation brings to the surface, too, one of the challenges that you have as an organization, and that, and I can embarrassingly say that I don’t think we’ve replaced our Pantone swatch books in quite some time, so you know, the products that you create often don’t require massive, frequent updates, so staying in front of your customers, and staying relevant to them so that they consider you for new things and all of that must be particularly challenging, and lead to some interesting content creation… I’m gonna use the word challenges again, but you know what I mean, like it seems like that’s going to be particularly difficult to do.
Courtney Sperlich: Absolutely, and I think your comment about staying relevant is exactly right, and it’s staying relevant also from the perspective of the local colour trends, and the importance of making sure that you have the right colour at the right time, so you know, a colour selected for a product, you want to make sure that that colour doesn’t, or that the product doesn’t outlive the colour and vice versa. So, keeping that connection between colour, and product, and life cycle, product cycle in mind is where it becomes relevant, even though the product itself may not be reproduced for several years.
Carman Pirie: And I don’t want to put too many words into your mouth, but I do want to try to connect some dots, or at least what I think I’m seeing, which is… So, you’re seeing a changing buyer, and in order to meet that changing marketplace, you’re really beginning to pull together I think you said a seven or eight person kind of cross-corporate editorial team. Some people who don’t have marketing as their main role, but only part of what they do, to really help contribute to the thought leadership of the Duha Group overall, in order to kind of begin to establish that foundation to be kind of front and center with your customers more frequently, and stay top of mind on a more consistent basis. Am I taking too many liberties, or have I hit it reasonably right?
Courtney Sperlich: No, no, you’ve absolutely understood correctly. That’s exactly where we’re at.
Carman Pirie: Nice. Well, we can wrap it up then, Jeff.
Jeff White: What-
Carman Pirie: Sorry, I was-
Jeff White: No, it’s true. What are some of the early initiatives that you’re undertaking as you’re kind of transitioning into this more marketing-oriented organization?
Courtney Sperlich: So, some early initiatives I think that we’re taking are actually internal and external, so because we’re a global business and we have team members in various different facilities, making sure that everybody’s on board from an early stage, and sort of doing that in various different ways. Depending on the individual, their other role that they have within the business, and encouraging the activities and what we can do to help from a personal standpoint, and in their individual region. So, that’s sort of more of an internal initiative that we’re starting with.
From an external perspective, we’re starting to really demonstrate to our clients and to the market the expertise that we have around colour, and the expertise that we have in various different industries, so you’ll see more increased activity on different social platforms, and just the information that we can have when we have in-person or Zoom, FaceTime calls, the content and the direction that we can take conversations. We’re bringing together a lot of the experience that we’ve developed over a number of years. I mean, the business started in 1948, so there’s a lot of experience within the business of people who’ve been involved. Not since 1948 exactly, but bringing together all that experience, so that we can make sure that the content and the information stories that are provided to our clients are just as rich as they can be.
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Jeff White: Very cool, and a lot of that is beginning to kind of take shape on LinkedIn and Instagram, I believe you mentioned-
Courtney Sperlich: Absolutely. Yep.
Jeff White: So, you’re sharing some content that you’re creating, and bringing to light relevant articles that are kind of pointing the way for the industry.
Courtney Sperlich: That’s right.
Carman Pirie: And I love the U.K. partner firm that can really help you on the trend-spotting side of things, stay topical particularly in a platform like Instagram, I would think.
Jeff White: Yeah.
Courtney Sperlich: Yeah, the content is incredible. From an imagery perspective, copy, everything. They’re real experts in creating that content and being on top of and ahead of the trend and direction for everywhere we’re going.
Carman Pirie: And you’re leveraging that across the group, not just with that one particular company brand?
Courtney Sperlich: Certainly, we are. We are. And I think what you’ll see is taking some of that information and applying it in different ways, so you’ll see some imagery that may apply specifically to a trend, so think of fake news, water scarcity, as a global macro trend. Some of that imagery that would specifically apply to that, how can we also… We’re looking at that from a different angle from a Duha perspective, and from specific to colour, specific to connecting the world with colour, and geographical applications, and really demonstrating how you can use colour in many different ways.
Jeff White: And I’m interested to know, because as an organization that previously was primarily very sales-focused, and certainly you had a large role in that early in your career, how is your internal sales team embracing this new direction, and what are they helping to contribute to it?
Courtney Sperlich: So, we’re very blessed with a wonderful sales team all across the world, and with incredible experience and different strengths individually. They’ve been really welcoming to the change. Happy to participate, happy to help with the success in our marketing initiatives, which I’m really lucky to have, and so what you’ll start seeing is, they already are starting to share some of the content individually themselves with their market, and their contacts, and they’re starting to understand and almost become content generators themselves in many ways, and willing to share with me some directions, and stories, and I connect with many of them individually. And that will only increase on a fairly regular basis, so just understanding and connecting what might be happening in one region with what could apply in another, and really sharing stories, and helping the initiative move forward.
Jeff White: Is there a particular type of content that you can foresee having utility in both the more marketing kind of space, and then in the direct outreach from a sales perspective, as well?
Courtney Sperlich: That’s a very good question. I think stories and examples, I mean what we often find is, and this is somewhat linking back to the olden days of how we used to do our show-and-tell. There may be something that a client would share in one region on a social platform that, just due to algorithms, you may not see in your feed, and so we can make sure that clients in other regions are experiencing that. So for example, a new marketing campaign comes out which we think is fabulous in one region, we’ll make sure that that’s visible in another region, and be that through a social platform, or in an individual sales call of sharing that and making sure that it’s top of mind and relevant.
And so, how you can take that content, and take that example of a campaign, or a product, or a retail environment, or a tool that’s produced, how can you demonstrate how that works in that one market, and that it would be transferred to the applicable audience in another market, based on that market’s trends, and culture, and the way a product would be taken to market in a different culture, different market.
Carman Pirie: It’s interesting to consider in some ways that colour is one of the more kind of culturally entwined, when you think of colour as a product…
Jeff White: Yeah. It’s-
Carman Pirie: And doing it and selling colour globally, what that really means.
Jeff White: Yeah, because it has, of course, universal impact, but not universally… It’s not universally understood, either.
Carman Pirie: It doesn’t have universal appeal across geographies, and it’s…
Jeff White: Yeah. Different colours mean different things in different regions, so that must affect things a bit, too.
Courtney Sperlich: It does, certainly. And we see that every quarter when we come out with our Mix Magazine, where we do our trend forecast, and we have the colour palette per trend, and you’ll see the regional differences, where from a global perspective, we may look a palette with a certain variety of colours, but that palette needs to be modified depending on the region that you’re working in and working with that particular trend and that particular colour. So, you know, a yellow may be fabulous in North America, not so fabulous in Australia. A purple may be different in South America to Europe. So, absolutely, absolutely. Color is universal, but the application, and the importance, and the strength, and I guess the intensity of that particular colour is going to change depending on the country.
Carman Pirie: I wonder. This is going completely off script now, but why not? Because, well, a percentage of our listeners are manufacturing marketers working within an international context, and I just wonder in your colour trend spotting, as it were, are there any patterns around… I don’t know, regions that tend to lead? Like for instance, something’s hot in one area one year, then you can pretty much know 24 months from there it’s going to be hot somewhere else? I’m probably oversimplifying, but-
Courtney Sperlich: I mean, I think years ago, you used to say that we would look to certain trend shows in Europe, and then that would follow in different regions, as you said, 12, 24 months following. So many clients and so many companies are now attending those shows themselves, so the speed at which a colour is adopted I think has changed, as well. And be that globalization, digital, social media, or physically people going and attending these shows, I think there are certainly leaders in colour, but I think the speed at which that’s transferred has increased over the years.
Carman Pirie: So, the leaders still exist, but people can follow really fast these days is kind of what you’re saying.
Courtney Sperlich: Absolutely. Yes. Absolutely.
Jeff White: I mean, that’s really interesting, and I mean that has to present a particular marketing challenge, too, because 10, 15 years ago, there is no way that you could have known right away. You would have had to wait for the magazines to come out a month later to showcase a particular colour trend coming out of Milan, or L.A., or something like that, and then seeing it show up in other countries at a later date. But now, we all see it on Instagram pretty much immediately, so it’s created a more homogenous world in some ways.
Courtney Sperlich: Absolutely. Yeah. Be it people doing Instagram Stories, instantly taking a picture and uploading it to their Instagram account, or yeah, it’s the… and you know when the show is happening, so you’re watching for it, and you’re waiting for the information. And we publish that with Colour Hive through various different shows, and different trends that they’ll be following, and applications, seminars that they’ll be going to. It’s live. It’s in the moment. So yeah, the information transfers instantly.
Carman Pirie: Well, I’m glad I’m not really in the business, then, of colour trend spotting.
Courtney Sperlich: They’re experts. It’s absolutely, it’s a very specialized area.
Carman Pirie: Yeah, it’s pretty interesting. We need to do a whole follow-up episode on this, and actually get those people on the podcast to take us through kind of the in-depth of how they do colour trend spotting. I’m now really curious.
Jeff White: Do you think that would change your black t-shirt wardrobe?
Carman Pirie: It’s funny, I was like… I was thinking about that earlier in this podcast, like it’s just a matter of what shade of black t-shirt I wear. Oh my God, I’m terrible.
Jeff White: But it is an agency, so it’s expected.
Carman Pirie: Yeah, it’s just it’s the path of least resistance.
Jeff White: For sure. For sure. So, Courtney, what’s next? You’ve been starting to build out this program, and work with your team, and begin to formulate a bit of a content strategy. Where are you going from here, and what do the next… I guess to look at a similar time period, what are the next 24 months look for you?
Carman Pirie: Yeah, like what excites you about 2020 and beyond, you know?
Courtney Sperlich: So much is exciting. I think you’ll start seeing some specific campaigns, some new types of content will be coming out. The platform will probably stay the same, but in terms of content, website, the content itself and the method of communication of content will be different. I think you’ll start seeing a lot more conversations around colour, and connecting the world with colour, and making that global transformation applicable to regional is really exciting.
So, say in 24 months, where will we be? It’s a bit of a crystal ball still at this stage, but we’re really excited. We’ll certainly be… Hopefully the hashtag of connecting the world with colour, the Duha name, the Colour Hive name will be widely known. Our customers will be enjoying some of the content that we’re providing, and having conversations with us, and being active with us, and engaging in what we’re doing. And you know, I think two years is a bit far out for us to forecast at this stage, but we’re excited to where we’re heading. Yeah.
Carman Pirie: Man, I love it. I remember being in business school, and you were taught the five-year plans is where it was at, right? You do cash flow forecasting five years out to the nickel.
Jeff White: Good lord.
Carman Pirie: We all know that that’s just not reality now, but Courtney, I really thank you for joining us on the show today, and taking us through your work with the Duha Group. It’s been fascinating to chat with you.
Courtney Sperlich: Thanks for the opportunity.
Jeff White: Yeah, and I look forward to doing a follow up episode. Maybe not in 24 months, but perhaps we’ll give it six to twelve, and see where things have landed at that point.
Carman Pirie: Indeed.
Courtney Sperlich: That would be great. That would be great. Thank you.
Carman Pirie: Take care now.
Jeff White: Awesome. Thank you.
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