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, Jeff and Carman talk with Drew Richards, Marketing Manager for Hernon Manufacturing, about refining marketing strategies to achieve accurate attribution for campaign reporting and lead generation on a lean marketing budget.
Demand More From Your Marketing Campaigns 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. My name is Jeff White and joining me today, as always, is Carman Pirie. Carman, what’s shakin’?
Carman Pirie: Well, that’s a seriously dangerous question. I will say, it’s interesting to be on this side of the microphone again. I feel like both of us have been doing podcast interviews a lot lately on other people’s shows and, frankly, I think it’s a lot harder. I was chatting with one guy Dennis Brown and he used the “Let’s unpack that a bit”.
Jeff White: That’s my question!
Carman Pirie: Dennis, like, what the hell? Maybe I’ll try not to use that phrase in this if I can and that will be helpful. I’m excited to be back.
Jeff White: I think it’s always good. If we wanted to unpack each other’s particular catch phrases we certainly could do that. Carman, I’m curious.
Carman Pirie: Yeah, yeah. Nah. Not good.
Jeff White: Joining us today on The Kula Ring is Drew Richards. Drew is the Marketing Manager for Hernon Manufacturing based in Orlando, Florida. Had the opportunity to meet Drew a little while ago and get a tour of the Hernon facility and it’s just fascinating. You wouldn’t think that adhesives and sealants and things like that could be so interesting but it’s really, really cool.
Jeff White: Drew, welcome to The Kula Ring.
Drew Richards: Yeah, thank you. I’m so excited to be on.
Jeff White: Fantastic.
Carman Pirie: Drew, why don’t you introduce us a little bit more to Hernon and give our listeners a bit of texture about the organization and your role there.
Drew Richards: Yeah, it’s my pleasure. Hernon Manufacturing is a large scale manufacturer of adhesives and sealants and various specialty manufacturing operations. They also manufacture UV LED curing lights and precision dispensing systems, including dispensing valves. A lot of these components are built right on site. It’s sort of a claim to fame that we offer a total solution for all of our dispensing situations and answers for many different problems.
The Hernon dispensing adhesives have been used really across the board. It’s as broad as manufacturing is. We actually manufacture ammunition sealants that are used to protect bullets and cartridges from water exposure and any other contaminants. So our claim to fame there is that it’s used by law enforcement and military groups around the world. We get a lot of pride out of helping our armed forces. Also everything from automotive to submarines have used our sealant to keep the water out. Even things as simple as nuts and bolts for thread locking and thread sealing for all sorts of sprinkler systems to engine gaskets. As I said, it’s quite broad and, really, every single industry uses some forms of adhesives and sealants, so we’re never going to run out of new ideas here.
Carman Pirie: That’s one thing I’ve really enjoyed about, as we’ve deepened our work as an agency with manufacturers over the years. I think the thing that really drew us to the vertical overall is just that there’s a lot of layers that you don’t see as a consumer to our economy and to how things work and I think it’s just a fascinating business. Thank you for sharing that. How long have you been with Hernon?
Drew Richards: I’ve been here for three and a half years, but the company has been around for forty-one years now.
Jeff White: I think I recall you mentioning to me that this initially started in the founders mother’s basement creating glues and adhesives?
Drew Richards: Yeah, it’s actually a real classic American success story, in that the founders are brothers and they are originally from Iran, and they moved at one point to Israel and they served in the armed forces for Israel. Then ultimately they moved here to New York and started this business. One of the brothers there was at New York University and the other had a mind for business and they got together in terms of the science and the business and really built this from scratch. You’re exactly right, it started out making adhesives in their mother’s basement and then ultimately they were able to reach volumes where they could buy a storefront, and they just continued building up with larger locations until 1995, they were able to move down here partly for business reasons with different export rules here and tax incentives for businesses here. Now it’s really just taken off. The business has hit traction, and it’s been growing double digits for the last six straight years in terms of percentage. We’re- It’s just really an exciting time to be a part of the company.
Carman Pirie: That’s an impressive string of growth and you’ve been with the company for half of that run so far.
Jeff White: At least half is because of you.
Carman Pirie: Congratulations, to both them and you.
Drew Richards: Thank you, but you never confuse a bull market for a genius there.
Jeff White: I’m going to write that one down and use it later.
Carman Pirie: Yeah, we could just use that as the title for this episode when we start promoting it. Drew, I’m really excited to chat with you today because, I think, as I chat with a lot of manufacturing marketers, well, it kind of seems like it comes into almost two different camps. There are those who are working in an organization that either are flush with cash or is very much committed to wholesale transformation of marketing and sales, an asset to have just dedicated a huge budget to it and massive departments associated with digital transformation.
And then there’s the other side that are, you know, it’s not that they’re not committed to transforming, they are, but they also exercise considerably more caution. And I think a lot of our listeners can identify with that. They’re working within organizations that, it’s not that the CEO or other leadership members don’t support marketing. I think that would be too harsh. They challenge marketing to be measured in its transformation and to show ROI along the way and to prove the results of that migration from traditional marketing efforts to digital. And then maybe they put a point of proof on it that’s a little harsher than others have to endure.
I get a sense in chatting with you that that’s been your path. That you’ve really been down a very interesting road of experimentation, and, frankly, I find it really interesting a number of things that Hernon has done to help support those experiments. I’d love to talk to you about that and just begin to help our listeners understand what that looks like. Lead us through that a bit.
Drew Richards: Yes, thank you. I’d love to. I would say that our administrative team has been a little bit of both there. Very supportive of exploration in digital marketing and even in print marketing. Very supportive in trying and really not being afraid to make mistakes on campaigns because that shows that you’re experimenting. And so, I’d say that we have a budget to really experiment with, but, at the same time, we’ve been growing a lot but we’re still not the size of some of our competitors. And what we have really is an outsized production capability. Our budget, just for marketing, they just don’t compete with some of the budgets that we’re coming up against.
So we’ve decided to take a different tact that’s much more specific, much more targeted with our marketing. We just demand a lot from our campaigns. With these smaller budgets we do not want to try to get into a branding war where we’re trying to capture every spot in a specific market. And so what we’ve focused on is getting as specific as we can with our analytics, and we do that a couple different ways.
We actually created a separate website, that’s separate from our main product website, which is Hernon.com or hernon-equipment.com for the equipment side, and we created a different website that is sort of a ghost website, if you will. We created this URL and we actually turned off the SEO robots, so the robots that normally crawl around from Google and Yahoo have been asked to leave our site alone. And that might seem counterintuitive, but there’s a reason behind it.
What this does is give us really clean data, and it allows us to link each campaign to a specific landing page we build and have really high confidence that any traffic on that page when we’re looking at the analytics is specifically from that campaign. We know it’s not going to be any drifting traffic from old campaigns or from any of the search engines, and that is very powerful because it allows us to put all our numbers there in black and white and feel really good about making a decision about whether our campaign is working or not after a few months there.
As everyone knows, digital marketing is just a madhouse in terms of trying to get correct attribution. There’s always the argument that people can see your advertisement and then look you up on a search engine later or follow up in some other way. And while it doesn’t completely eliminate all the variables, this is one of the ways we’ve helped our experimentation get a really clear view.
Carman Pirie: I must say, I don’t know that I’ve encountered anyone that’s really done that in that way, Jeff, have you?
Jeff White: No, no I can’t think of anyone. The closest thing would be using like a marketing automation tool to track attribution, but even that is going to get some bleed, you know?
Carman Pirie: Yeah.
Drew Richards: Sure, and, of course, we pair that with trackable phone numbers for each ad and your typical attribution, and we do have our own CRM in house. We use Salesforce, so that has been very helpful as well. But this just takes that clarity to the next level.
Carman Pirie: In this experiment, I guess I’m curious, in addition to the infrastructure you’ve built, what have been some of the more successful experiments that you’ve done as you’ve tried to migrate some of the spend and focus away from traditional tools to the new?
Drew Richards: Yeah, well, one of the most successful tools that we’ve targeted is actually email blasts. We’ve moved away from just broad scale brand marketing as I told you. We’ve found that email blasts, especially when we’re able to—there’s a lot of opportunities to sort of rent email blasts out there, and it allows, again—one of the reasons we go with this is because it allows that targeting that I mentioned before. It allows us to select an audience very specifically. We can focus on age brackets. We can focus on job descriptions, companies they work for, and really narrow that margin in so that we can demand so much from our campaign in terms of actually getting hard leads that we can follow up on and deliver right to our sales team.
Carman Pirie: That was going to be my next question is how you were measuring those, so it’s basically coming straight up-down to the quantity of leads being funneled to sales. Is there a level of qualification being put on those at that stage, or is that being left to sales?
Drew Richards: Yeah, absolutely. So in our business, adhesives and sealants and these suspense equipment that I mentioned, each application is very, very specific. The application for any manufacturing system here is going to have unique substrates, going to have unique temperatures that the application has to deal with in terms of cycling and how it’s being bonded, when it’s being bonded, how is the adhesive applied. And all of these things add up to a real custom solution for almost every single customer.
So we have to be very specific with our questions, and when we get a lead in, it’s very easy to tell right off the bat whether the customer is familiar with this process or not, because the ones who are familiar with and realize how much specificity there is under each application, they’re going to write a lot more than those that are just exploring. So someone who is just exploring might fill out the name, the phone number, an email address, of course, and just a few little details. And someone who has been around before and understands this process, they’re going to write us a paragraph about exactly what they’re doing and how much adhesive they think they’re going to need, when they need the testing done. That’s how we can really get a feel for how hot the lead is and when it is likely to close.
Jeff White: Do you a sense of the percentage of leads that are very informed, like the one you just described versus those that may need a little bit more education before you can get them into your system and process?
Drew Richards: I don’t have a great sense of percentage-wise there. Part of the trick here is that there are multiple ways to qualify the lead. I gave you one, and our leads actually take quite a while to close. So our sales process is probably two to two and a half years long. We can often close standard equipment deals faster than that, but when we’re talking about integrating a new adhesive into a car assembly plant, this is not something that is going to turn on a dime.
I’ve been with the company for three and a half years and I’m only just now starting to see really good information on how I was performing when I first started working here for the first year because I get to see which ones of those leads start closing. There’s a huge lag to the process that makes the attribution process a little bit more difficult, and that’s another reason why we have to get it so clear in the beginning so we don’t have these questions hanging over us the whole time.
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Carman Pirie: I think it’s interesting there have been a few instances where actually the demand for more information, and I believe we chatted about this in the lead up to today’s show, is that you found that adding more information requests on forms and whatnot have actually lead to better lead qualification, lead routing, and, frankly, higher-quality lead generation efforts. I’ve seen this a number of times before, and it always seems quite counterintuitive, because we’re taught as marketers to minimize friction, but in this way you’re basically suggesting that the people who know how complicated this process is they want the friction because they understand the complexity.
Jeff White: Are you suggesting that selling adhesives requires more stickiness?
Drew Richards: I think you could definitely say that.
Carman Pirie: I don’t think I was saying that, but you did. I’m not going to own that line. You’re going to have to own that. That’s as dad a joke as it’s going to get, and you’re the dad on this podcast.
Drew Richards: That’s alright. I’ve got some kids. I’ve got it, too.
Carman Pirie: Alright, alright, alright.
Jeff White: Thank you, Drew. Thank you.
Drew Richards: But, yeah, you’re absolutely right. As I said, this isn’t selling a pair of jeans. It’s not going to fit for everybody, and each application is unique. It has been helpful in some areas, we see this particularly with our Request a Sample campaign. In years past, we’ve run Request a Sample campaigns for new products that have come out that are really attractive in the attributes they offer. I’ve spoken to you guys in the past about one of our impact-resistant adhesives, which is our fusion-bond series.
We actually had one that really broke all our expectations in terms of how much impact-resistance it offered, so we approached it with gusto and did a really large sample campaign. We got a lot of responses, but we didn’t end up seeing all of the sales that we wanted to see come from that campaign. Part of the reason was that a lot of people were not really prepared to buy yet. As I mentioned, it’s a really long process for larger manufacturers to make a change to their process, to their manufacturing operation. So everyone that is requesting a sample is not going to be the best sample to actually send a sample to. So we need to do some weed out and figuring out is this person serious? Do they actually have an application process in mind? One of the ways we do that is by adding a test state to our forms and asking, “Are you planning to test this in three months?” and “What is the specific application?” The more they tell us the better we feel about pursuing the lead.
Carman Pirie: I just find that interesting. Are most people, do they have an existing application and that they’re already kind of accomplishing it in one way, and you’re maybe introducing new technology, like the higher-impact adhesive that can potentially do it better, or are most people a net new application in whatever it is that they’re creating?
Drew Richards: Yeah, that’s an insightful—you’re correct. A lot of people will have an application process already in place, but typically there are problems with it. It’s not as smooth as it could be, sometimes it takes too long, often times it’s messy or requires a lot of maintenance on their dispensing machines, and so they’re already in operation, they’re already in business, they’re creating products, but maybe they’ve experienced an adhesive failure or maybe they’re just tired of wasting so many man hours cleaning up a mess and they are looking for a cleaner system. For example, we’ll often get those types of requests for our UV cure systems. Our UV curing hardens instantly under the lights or within a second or two, and so any kind of mess or drip is just really minimized with that type of application, so it’s very attractive to someone who has been doing a lot of cleaning and their team is getting tired.
Carman Pirie: Yeah, I think the distinction from marketers often is are we marketing into a group that already knows they have a problem, like they’ve got a messy adhesive application process and they want to change that versus, “Jeez, I didn’t know adhesive could have this level of impact-resistance.” Therefore, you’re almost having to create demand for something that they didn’t even know exists. I’m kind of curious, do you encounter both of those and, if so, how is marketing different between them?
Drew Richards: Yeah, we do encounter both of those. As you know, adhesive technology has grown a lot that last 20 years or so. It’s just growing leaps and bounds, as all our technologies are, so when we encounter a new structural adhesive that can offer what would have previously categorized as really specialty properties, then we do need to advertise it as- and we have to sort of recognize that this is not going to be picked up by everyone that is currently in operation because now that this adhesive has this property, there are new design techniques that can be applied here. The actual structure of products can change based upon what technologies are available to put that product together.
We see this a lot with light-weighting for aerospace or for automotive. When you have adhesives which disperse stress across a broad area, close to rivets or welding which is going to focus stress at the points, now when you’re using the adhesives instead your stress is dispersed and you can actually thin the materials that you’re using because you don’t have to have the bulkhead entirely able to support this spike of stress at this one point. You can thin the entire bulkhead down and really reduce the weight of the product and make it a much more efficient product as well.
Carman Pirie: Well, I think we’re at a dangerous, dangerous juncture in this podcast.
Jeff White: Oh, yeah. We could go all in on geekery about different light-weighting things as it applies to-
Carman Pirie: And never get to a practical suggestion on marketing for our dear listeners at any point.
Jeff White: No, can we talk about carbon bike frames? Pretty sure I can find some interesting points there.
Carman Pirie: So, okay. I’m going to try to challenge us to do that then. So, Drew, if you had to just look at your three year track record of experimentation and your product knowledge here is unquestionably deep, and it’s obvious to anyone listening to this, I guess I’m just… what are the… If you had to try to give the top three things that have either worked well for you or bits of advice that you’d like to give yourself looking back to three years ago, I’d be curious what you’d offer there.
Drew Richards: Email blasts as I mentioned before is really helpful with the level of specificity, and we see a really good level of return on our costs for those types of campaigns. Also, we really consider SEO as part of our marketing, just as much as any other campaign. That’s just… We see so much traffic come through Google searches and some through Yahoo and Bing as well. It’s just, it’s almost surprising to see how much effort we have to put in and how much money we have to put in to even compete with the generic search traffic.
We really value that search traffic and I would just encourage everyone to think of that as a campaign in and of itself that you really need to optimize your site for search terms, follow all of the latest recommendations, get your loading time down, and even add text descriptions to your pictures. Just every single, check every single one of those boxes to make yourself as attractive to search engines as possible and think about what your customers are looking for.
Then lastly, we’ve actually pulled away from some print media, which we’ve seen diminishing results on, as the age-old struggle with print media is that it’s always even more difficult to attribute the source to if you don’t know exactly which magazine people saw it in, especially when they go online and search through Google now. We’re trying to figure this all out.
We’ve actually added a technical writer to our team, so we’re now doing a little bit more organic content advertisement with articles and white papers, and sometimes we’ll even take out a page or two and write an advertorial just to get the text out there about what our products do and exactly how they work. Again, this is all very important for manufacturers who are looking for unique and specific solutions. They need to see the actual data and they need to see actual attributes on how this product is going to solve their problem.
Jeff White: The amazing thing about content, too, I mean, is that the burn time on content to deliver leads, especially via organic and then things like that, is probably not much better than the close time of bringing on a new prospect into Hernon and getting them into your regular production queue and manufacturing an adhesive for them. It takes time to get that content out there, to have it indexed, seen as an authority, and drive relevant traffic. It’s not an instant thing at all.
Carman Pirie: So using this paid approach tends to make sense. It gets it out in front of people sooner, and advertorials in the right space aren’t discredited in some odd way as much as they used to be, when you seemed to be paying your way in versus getting true earned media. I think in many trade areas that line has sufficiently blurred.
Drew Richards: Yeah, and we can blur that line further by the quality of your content. If you’re reading an advertorial it’s pretty easy to tell right off the bat whether it is going to be mostly fluff or whether, are these people actually including hard data? Are they including the results of their testing? Is there a graph in there that shows you something useful for your business? That’s where people are going to start paying attention to advertorials, even though they have that little disclaimer at the top.
Carman Pirie: One of the things that I found for manufacturing marketers that are looking to migrate away from print is that they often get tempted with that print publication’s online option, which of course is a newer development that that publication is trying to fire up because they know that print is dying. Often, it seems like the same pricing structure carries forward to that digital platform, but I’m not sure the results do. Do you have any advice there? Have you had any experience as you’ve been migrating away from print in trade specifically?
Drew Richards: Yeah, we’ve shared that struggle in terms of looking at the click-through rates. It’s actually, for generic digital ads, the click-through rates are shockingly low. And for our industry, we have to do a sort of calculation. You can see the click-through rate from the publisher on a general ad, and then we see about a 5% conversion rate for visitors to our site that will actually fill out a form.
So if I’m doing a lead calculation it really boils down quickly from a 20,000 impression campaign on digital to just a handful of leads that we’re going to see from that. Then you have to… what’s your cost per lead? They way we’ve combated that is looking for some digital options that are going to sort of capture the audience a little stronger. We do one digital ad with a machine design magazine, and they have an ad that captures the audience for a few seconds when you’re a new visitor to the website. If you haven’t been to the website for I think the past month or so and you visit it for the first time in a while, you’re going to see our ad dead center on your screen and the rest of the website is going to be grayed out for about four or five seconds. What this actually is very effective at driving up the click-through rate and really makes digital ads plausible as an option for a campaign.
Outside of that, in similar ads where it’s doing a little extra, I really haven’t been able to find that digital ads make sense in terms of creating… they’re great for branding, but are they going to create hard leads? I wasn’t willing to take the risk on most of these.
Carman Pirie: Yeah, and it’s really hard to try to really value or quantify the value associated with those brand impressions. I think that usually has more to do with who’s selling it than reality sometimes.
Drew Richards: Of course, it also has a lot to do with your product, so we actually have to do a different calculation for our adhesive side versus our machine side. When we’re talking about $100,000, $200,000, $300,000 custom machines, it may be a huge problem solver for our customers, but it’s a big investment and therefore it can justify and can carry more weight per lead, a lot more cost per lead. It’s not just a different campaign, it’s a different calculation for each product.
Carman Pirie: I think this has been a fantastic conversation. I think you have given our listeners a lot to think about and to digest. In addition, I have found it to be fascinating to get a deeper dive into this world of adhesives, so I really thank you for joining us today. I thank you for the insight you’ve given us, and I wish you all the best.
Drew Richards: Thank you so much. It’s been my pleasure. It’s been really exciting the last few years, and we know that with this marketing it’s really going to keep on being exciting, so thank you so much.
Jeff White: Thanks a lot, Drew. Cheers.
Drew Richards: Yep. Take care.
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