Harnessing Agility and Education to Market a New Brand

Episode 287

May 14, 2024

This week The Kula Ring is talking with Jillian Childs of Turntide Technologies. Jillian walks us through the intricacies of marketing a sustainability-driven startup. We discuss how much of the marketing effort comes down to education and its inherently circular nature. We also look at the similarities and differences between a startup of this nature and some of her previous work with luxury brands.

Harnessing Agility and Education to Market a New Brand 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. 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 you doing, sir?

Carman Pirie: All as well, all is well, I’m going to lobby our producer though to keep that little blip in. When you started the welcome to The Kula Ring bit because you know you do it, you deliver it so consistently that I would guess our listeners think it’s prerecorded. But guys you need to know that this is new every time.

Jeff White: Yep. I’m that consistent.

Carman Pirie: Yeah. Yeah.

Jeff White: 280 odd episodes in. Deliver that in my sleep.

Carman Pirie: If there’s one thing that you know about this show is that if I have a chance to throw Jeff under the bus a little bit for a glitch that’s completely unrelated to the show and its entirety, I will do that.

Jeff White: That’s fair. I mean, this is what we get for working together for 15-odd years. So.

Carman Pirie: Alright, well. That’s not what we’re here to talk about.

Jeff White: Not at all. I think what we’re here to really talk about is just sort of the agility that’s often required within startup manufacturing organizations. You know what a marketer has to be able to do in order to continue to move the organization forward and kind of you know, I don’t think anybody would disagree that there’s a few gymnastics in there, that it’s, you know, a particularly interesting way to move. And our next guest, I think, has some unique experience. 

Carman Pirie: Yeah. And it’s a different environment than we are often talking to because we often get familiar with talking to established industrial players, and established manufacturers. It’s you know, the challenges that are at play are just frankly different. And so it’s nice to have a more manufacturing startup on the show.

Jeff White: Yeah, Yeah, for sure. So joining us today is Jillian Childs. Jillian is the VP of Marketing at Turntide Technologies. Welcome to The Kula Ring, Jillian.

Jillian Childs: Thank you. I’m very, very excited to be here.

Jeff White: It’s great to have you on the show.

Carman Pirie: Jillian we’re yeah, we’re excited to have you on the show. And I guess let’s uhh. Excuse me. First things first.

Jeff White: I just like to, you know.

Carman Pirie: You’re going to throw me out of the bus. I always cough and hack. This comes from me like trying to, you know. smoke and have espresso just before coming on the show to try to get to a deeper voice. But it never really works.

Jeff White: No, the CBC Radio three voice?

Carman Pirie: Exactly that reference would be completely lost on everybody except Canadians and Canadians of a certain vintage at that. But nevertheless, let’s, let’s jump into it here. Jillian, I’d love to learn more about Turntide technologies, what it is you all are up to there and how you do end up there.

Jillian Childs: Yeah. So I’m going to take a little step back because I think part of my story starts very early in my career and then lands me at Turntide today. And I think part of that story is the luxury marketing that I started early on in my career and worked for Sotheby’s International, worked for PNC Wealth Management from a variety of industries. So had a different lens on marketing than most people do when they enter startups. And then from there went through a couple of other luxury brands before I landed at Tesla. And then really started my high growth experience in the startup world. From there, I’ve been through a variety of different startups in a variety of different industries. But the one piece that has driven me back to each startup is the mission around sustainability and making the world not to be cheesy, a better place, and trying to essentially electrify and become more sustainable in everything that we do and Turntide’s mission is to drive the electrification well, drive the decarbonization of global industries worldwide. So on that front, I am leading all of the brand growth and press comms marketing efforts, so to speak, as a one-woman show right now and handling a lot of different agency work. But I’m excited to talk about that. And I would say in terms of Turntide, I got here because of their mission and because it really felt true to what I wanted to be in terms of my career path. And on that sustainability front, how much that means to me just from a personal standpoint and from a brand standpoint.

Jeff White: It’s a really, you know, admirable goal to sort of leverage your career and the organization you’re working with for you know, moving towards more sustainable solutions and electrification solutions. You know, and you’ve been there, I believe, three years since you joined Turntide.

Jillian Childs: Yes.

Jeff White: Would you say your responsibilities have kind of shifted over that period in terms of who you’re communicating with and what your goals are with external-facing marketing?

Jillian Childs: Yeah, certainly. You know, I started here developing our field marketing strategy and what our trade show would look like, what our channel partner guidelines and channel program would look like dealing with all of the sales team and the internal stakeholders, their upwards to, you know, how we’re selling the brand to investors during our fundraising rounds and what that looks like in terms of getting brand awareness. Um from a very high level from the fundraising community. I would say we’re really honed in on what our focus is and our North Star now. So our North Star was always to provide the decarbonization of global industries through our technologies. But as we’ve gone through the iteration of the last few years, it’s become very, very apparent that North Star, through all of the changes within the organization, outside of the organization and the ecosystem, we’re really dialled into what that message looks like and how to grow significantly over the next few years.

Carman Pirie: I don’t want to assume too much, but often, I guess one of the paths I’ve observed in this type of world is that often you’re looking for kind of almost when you’re a pre-investor or at the same time as looking at seeking investment rounds, you’re looking for, you know, those types of early validation customers that can help prove the product. Maybe they’re more likely to be early adopters in the space, etc. But then at some point, you know, there’s a kind of a pivot that kind of a change afoot that says now we need to be a little bit more, broader in our messaging and maybe is so is that basically now just shifting from investors to lead attraction? But is that also a dynamic to the change type of customer?

Jillian Childs: So that’s a great question. Our core customers have remained the same throughout our lifecycles. We have a variety of products on motors, power, electronics and energy storage solutions and they serve a variety of industries. Some of those industries are construction, and some of those industries are agriculture. Some of those industries are commercial buildings. And we provide our component solutions into those applications and we work with the engineering and manufacturing process throughout any customer base that we’re targeting. I think what’s become apparent over the last few years is that we’re not going broader, actually, that we’re actually honing in on the specific market fit and the applications where we have found the most success. And so, you know, I think in general, startups always struggle with kind of figuring out their product market fit when they’re we’re in their beginning and it’s listening to the customers and understanding their needs. Where you combine with market research, where you really find that, I don’t know, the sweet spot in terms of being able to hone in your messaging, whether it’s a mission vision statement, whether it’s your positioning pillars or whether it’s your growth social content, press comms strategy.

Carman Pirie: Is it, that’s really interesting to me, this notion of, you know, brands being positioned as a brand to help save the planet and those sustainability goals are very worthwhile. And I’m assuming all of the industries that you sell into have an interest in advancing their ESG goals, etc. However, you’re saying you’ve found more traction in some areas than others. And I’m kind of curious, is that are you are you finding verticals that really lean into your why more like they’re bringing into that sustainability positioning more or is it just that your technology is a better fit for what they do, the hard nuts and bolts of the technology?

Jillian Childs: Sure. I think it’s twofold. I don’t think you can answer that question in one way. I think our technologies provide. So let me take a step back. I think if you’re looking at our target customers, they have a lot of sustainability goals themselves. You know, we’re selling into equipment manufacturers, we’re selling into, you know, indirectly with our buildings products. We’re selling into, you know, HVAC units and HVAC retrofits. And so there are a lot of government regulations that those companies need to hit with their ESG goals or with their electrification goals. Net zero goals, however, you want to say that. So I think they look to us because we are also driving the decarbonization, and that is our mission. But I also think the product itself helps drive their mission to get to their goals as well as their revenue targets or energy savings targets that they need to hit from a governmental perspective or from a corporate initiative perspective as well.

Jeff White: Something interesting in that because we’ve talked about this on the show before and kind of, you know, understood this in the larger manufacturing kind of marketplace that oftentimes the, you know, selling via enforcement of government regulation isn’t necessarily the easiest way to get their attention. It’s something they might have in the back of their minds, but it’s not necessarily the sexy thing that is driving them to use the product. Do you find that that’s, that they’re kind of looking for your leadership in how they meet those goals or are they kind of coming to you and saying, okay, we need to, you know, meet this sustainability goal? And it looks like your product can help us do that.

Carman Pirie: Is the question, Jeff kind of meeting the goal, the government regulations, is that a nice to have as they’re charging towards their ESG goals or is that their main driver for their interest? Is that the question?

Jeff White: Yeah. Thank you for clarifying what I said.

Jillian Childs: Yeah, I think that’s an interesting question because I think it all depends on the customer. When you’re talking to, I don’t know, a very large-scale industrial manufacturer/OEM, you know, they might have experience in electrification, they might not. So that goes with midsize and startup companies as well that are actually producing the vehicles. And you know, I guess to a certain degree, sure, it helps as a conversation starter, you know, rebate programs with utilities across North America is something that helps our selling process greatly. You know, they’re getting they’re getting rebates for using our products depending on the state that they’re in in the States. But if you’re looking from a global perspective and you’re looking at selling into, you know, people that manufacture forklifts or high-speed rails or something of that nature or even marine, you know, you’re looking at a different sales cycle. And I think the question is not necessarily about the government regulations, it’s more so having a customer conversation and understanding what their experience is in electrification. And if they don’t have any experience that we’re that’s where we can definitely support you because we do have the experience and the years of expertise. I say that we’re a startup, but we also have years of expertise because we did acquire a number of different companies and all of our internal engineers and salespeople come with a variety of industry expertise leading to a more holistic conversation in terms of electrifying those vehicles. Now, if you are a company that has had electrification experience and you understand where you’re trying to build, we can also help you on that front because we understand how to build into the engineering process and the manufacturing process around that, where we’re not providing you with the basic education of how to even start electrifying your fleet if that makes sense.

Carman Pirie: I wonder what you would say is your biggest challenge as a marketer in this kind of organization?

Jillian Childs: To me, living and breathing this every day, it’s very much like the crossroads between being product-focused and being a missionary. And I think that is kind of where this conversation has gone as well, is like, how do you blend both? And I do think if you look at market research if you look at, you know, different industry reports, there’s this competing kind of mindset between short-term revenue and sustainability targets. And so where do we intersect and make sure that you understand that your energy savings or your fleet electrification is going to get you that long-term revenue while also producing short-term revenue? But like the cost implications of producing electrification vehicles, and electric vehicles in any possible way, there needs to be a blend of understanding and not just short-term revenue as being the only mindset that you have.

Jeff White: I can see a lot of connectivity here. Carman, I’m thinking of kind of we have a lot of experience working with packaging manufacturers and others where obviously sustainability is a pretty important component and it kind of plays into the last question that I had a bit because, you know, in a lot of ways driving especially recyclable film and plastics and things like that is actually, it’s taken government regulation to get organizations to be willing to spend the extra to get recyclability and to help them meet sustainability goals that they may not have had because their end customer wasn’t necessarily asking for it. Do you find that the customers that you’re working with are hearing the desire for electrification from their own customers as well? And are you leveraging those conversations?

Jillian Childs: Yeah, that’s that’s also a great question. It’s, you know, it’s very circular. You have the end user influencing the OEM or the manufacturer who’s then trying to find the right components or, you know, service providers to help get what the end user is asking for. So yes, I think it’s a two-pronged approach. You need to be able to influence your customers who are ultimately going to buy from you, but you also need to influence those end users on a front where they’re going to say, this is what we want in the market, whether it’s one year down the line, whether it’s ten years down the line, how do you influence those people to influence the buying decision that happens from the manufacturer.

Jeff White: Man and you’re having to do that? Plus, investors plus your customers? That’s a lot of tiers within every ICP that you have. You know, you’re having to look at all the points on that circle.

Jillian Childs: The never-ending onion.

Carman Pirie: One of the, hooking on your word, missionary. And I was just like that’s there’s, you know, that really drives at home like that level of how much education are you having to do in those very early awareness stages to even get to a point where you’re into a sales conversation? And I think you know that’s a dynamic that I think a lot of manufacturers have in certain components where maybe certain areas of the business where they’re innovating or what have you and they’re having to find a balance between how much time they spend educating people versus talking to the people that are already somewhat educated about this requirement. Have you, how have you thought about that balance?

Jillian Childs: Yeah, that’s it’s a really valid point. In terms of the education piece, I think in all startups that I have been at, it’s been education as a number one focus. I would say here, it’s more so that you’d need to showcase your expertise levels because I do think from a manufacturing, this is also another piece on the manufacturing front. These large-scale companies are very hesitant to work with new players on the block. They want somebody that provides, you know, they don’t want to take big risks, I should say. They want somebody who can provide reliability. That piece is a different messaging point than somebody that we’re working with who might be in a startup mode themselves and has a vision of where they’re going. And then we play within that product lifecycle and how do we sell into that product lifecycle? So the education piece is different depending on the customer, right? So there is a good amount of education about our products that we need to do and why they might be better than others in the market. But then that’s on a product level, you know, if you go one, one step deeper, you’re educating them on why they need electrification solutions, to begin with, or you’re educating them on rebate areas that they can take advantage of that could help them financially. And so, yes, it’s all education, but I think it’s a different type of education per ICP that you’re looking at and how you nurture them along the way.

Carman Pirie: Yeah, it’s interesting to imagine, as you said, you know, and then there’s that other the second order of it, I think is how you said it or, you know, even the requirement for electrification or why it’s even a thing. I can see a marketing decision where you’re like, you know what? We’re going to talk to people who are already kind of know it’s a thing. And now we’re going to tell them why our products are better than the other options.

Jillian Childs: Yeah, I think there’s a balance like, right, you have these customers that have been long with the in the industry for a very long time. They know what they want, but it can require years of complex engineering solutions to potentially get there and a lot of internal resources to get there. Whereas, you know, you look at a midsize or startup company that wants to do business with you and they’re more nimble and flexible and have the ability to adapt a little bit quicker. Then maybe one of the big players. And so, you know, it’s finding the right balance of your customer base as well. That’s not going to take all of your internal resources, but be able to get you short-term revenue plus long-term projections.

Carman Pirie: We’re really speaking about the importance of finding the right, the right person to sell to at the right time that has the right sales velocity based upon the stage of growth that our companies are at. I think if you were at a certain size if you were of a certain scale, you maybe could afford to educate people for five years before you get their money. But at a certain smaller size, you can’t wait that long.

Jillian Childs: Exactly. That, you know, and it does take that kind of 50/50 blend of how many customers are we trying to win in this category versus how many customers are we trying to win in this category?

Jeff White: Man and that, you know, that element of trust that’s required to be built, do you find that it’s easier to achieve that with those smaller, more agile players, or are they equally skeptical to the larger manufacturers?

Jillian Childs: Oh, that’s a good question. I think, you know, I think a lot of this comes down to personal relationships as well. I think that’s that’s something as marketers, I feel like we have put on the back burner in recent years the need for those personal relationships that you can take with you from company to company and the years of expertise that go along with that. And so while that’s a big sales function, right? The business development piece, all plays into the marketing, right? So how are we talking to the customers? Are we taking them through our engineering facilities? Are we giving them, you know, the deep dive into our functions and the manufacturing process? But to your point, I don’t think it’s necessarily easier one way or another. I think it’s more so that we all work with interpersonal skills and it’s a matter of how we’re working with those relationship-building functions throughout the entire sales process and the marketing process. So, you know, do they like working with our team? Are we providing exceptional customer service? Like those are the things that, you know when you get into manufacturing, are we responding quickly to any engineering or technical issues that they have? I think it becomes more so about the customer service experience rather than the marketing at that point. To be totally honest.

Jeff White: One of the things you said there that I thought was interesting was that it almost sounded like, you know, in the kind of sphere of electrification and how it exists more broadly. And you mentioned your background with Tesla and others. Do you find that there’s a lot of movement within the industry of people going, you know, moving to new players and moving to new companies and kind of bringing those relationships with them and then kind of, you know, I don’t know, germinating new relationships as they move across the different organizations that are involved in this because it is still a pretty new industry overall?

Jillian Childs: To your point, the electrification industry, I think the electrification terminology and clean energy is very much still a new industry, but I think some of the players that we’re working with, this is not a new industry. They’ve been in here for, you know, 20 years, 100 years. They’re legacy brands that we potentially are doing business with versus maybe somebody that is starting up with several grants that they got, you know, potentially in California or in a different state. So I, think having been in financial services and done the whole marketing for wealth management, I think there are a lot of parallels between financial services and kind of the sales process. When you look at different engineering and manufacturing brands. I do think that if you develop a personal relationship with XYZ at one organization and you do move, then you have the potential to start that relationship at a different organization. It’s not this, you know, it’s the networking interpersonal skills. But I go back to bringing the relationships movement within the industries, as you mentioned. Like I do think there is a movement across engineering functions. And if I look at some of the previous companies I’ve worked with, you know, when there’s a new startup in town, they’ll go head to that company because it’s kind of the bright shiny object or, you know, you just you look at who has the best engineering team and the and the testing validation engineering resources, product teams and what that roadmap looks like. And then you get really bought into that, the culture of that organization and whether you want to be there or not. So in banking, people are switching, you know, their banking roles every 3 to 5 years. They’re, you know, with a different bank, which is not surprising. They’re in the same role, but just with a different company. And I think that tends to lend itself a little bit here as well.

Carman Pirie: Raises an interesting point of this background and kind of marketing of luxury brands and the high net worth individuals that were being targeted, etc.. What, I would be interested to know if there’s something else that jumps out to you that really translates from that world into this world, or alternatively, something that absolutely doesn’t. Both of those would be interesting to me.

Jillian Childs: Woo I need to think about that for a second. So I think there are a lot of parallels. I think the biggest piece I learned in my luxury marketing days was simple messaging that speaks to whoever is looking at the end content. So make it dummy-proof, make it simple, give them exactly what they need, and provide a really great experience. Whether that’s a UX experience on your website, whether that’s through your customer service teams or your sales teams, provide the highest level of service to your customer, no matter who that customer is. Now, on the other front, something that I would say doesn’t resonate, It’s a good question. I think there are actually more parallels than I want to admit, to be totally honest. And I’m trying to think of something that maybe doesn’t bring itself from a luxury marketing perspective over to startups. Oh, I will say this. I think the internal culture of a company is much different in a startup than it is with a luxury marketing brand and the mindset that you have to have to be successful in a startup and in startup marketing specifically, you have to you’re not going to have this playbook that’s been revised a couple of times for you, but it’s been really the playbook that a company has used for their lifetime, especially if you’re a legacy brand and you’re just kind of going through the motions and you know, somebody else comes in and they’re like, oh, you know, I had this playbook to work from the previous person. Sure, I’ll give a little bit of my flair to it, but I understand what my role and responsibilities are very clearly from a day-to-day perspective. I think what completely changes when you enter the landscape of marketing in a startup is that it’s a rollercoaster. You’re going to experience a lot of highs, you’re going to experience a lot of lows, you’re going to experience wearing multiple hats, probably not in marketing, but across the organization you’re going to experience every type of marketing that you could possibly think of, every different area of expertise. You’re going to jump five steps forward and probably fall three steps back, and you’re going to do that again and again and again until you get it right. And even when you get it right, it’s probably not right for the first six months from now. So I think the ability to be nimble and to, you have to throw your ego out. There’s no ego at startups, especially in startup marketing scenarios. You’re not going to be the expert in the room all of the time. You need to test and learn from a variety of different strategies and be able to adapt to testing and learning. And I think that’s the biggest piece that I have seen from legacy brands to startups is just, you know, it tends to weed people out very quickly that can’t handle that type of culture.

Carman Pirie: Yeah, when you’re a picture that you painted about how you finally got it right and it’s maybe only right for six months.

Jeff White: I applaud your ability to continue to roll with the punches and be adaptable to what’s coming next.

Carman Pirie: And I applaud you for joining us on the show today. It’s been wonderful to have your experience and expertise shared with her listeners. It’s I’ve really enjoyed this conversation, Jillian. Thank you so much.

Jillian Childs: Thank you. I really, really enjoyed it as well. You guys have great energy and I appreciate I appreciate being on here. Thank you.

Announcer: Thanks for listening to The Kula Ring with Carman Pirie and Jeff White. Don’t miss a single manufacturing marketing insight. Subscribe now at kulapartners.com/thekularing that’s K-U-L-A Partners dot com slash the kula ring.

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Jillian Childs Headshot


Jillian Childs

VP of Marketing at Turntide Technologies

Jillian Childs is the Vice President of Marketing at Turntide Technologies. She leads global marketing initiatives to drive the decarbonization of global industries. Jillian oversees marketing strategy, growth marketing, press/comms, demand generation, and market expansion across various sectors, aligning with Turntide’s goal of advancing clean energy adoption globally.

Her background includes impactful roles at Tesla, Indigo Ag, and dosist, where she’s been pivotal in driving innovation and change. With a start in luxury brand marketing, she now excels at guiding startups to become established brands.

The Kula Ring is a podcast for manufacturing marketers who care about evolving their strategy to gain a competitive edge.

Listen to conversations with North America’s top manufacturing marketing executives and get actionable advice for success in a rapidly transforming industry.

About Kula

Kula Partners is an agency that specializes in maximizing revenue potential for B2B manufacturers.

Our clients sell within complex, technical environments and we help them take a more targeted, account-focused approach to drive revenue growth within niche markets.


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