How Distributors Can Support Manufacturers’ Digital Growth

Episode 126

March 16, 2021

As manufacturers adapt to a digital-first product experience, how can industrial distribution channels evolve to add value to the chain? In this episode of The Kula Ring, Sean Donovan, Digital Channel Manager for the Americas at MSA – The Safety Company, says most manufacturers are interested in investing in distribution channels that want to grow their brand versus commoditize their products. He shares examples of how distribution channels can help manufacturing brands come to life and provide value beyond the spec sheet.

How Distributors Can Support Manufacturers’ Digital Growth 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 you doing, sir? 

Carman Pirie: Delightful, and you? 

Jeff White: I’m doing delightful, as well. 

Carman Pirie: Nice. 

Jeff White: Yeah. 

Carman Pirie: Well, hard to do much better than that. 

Jeff White: Yes, indeed. Yeah. It’s a beautiful day outside. We’re recording a podcast. 

Carman Pirie: Yeah. Yeah. It’s beautiful inside, let’s get inside and record something. 

Jeff White: Well, it is minus-10. 

Carman Pirie: Exactly. We won’t even get into Celsius-Fahrenheit conversions for many of our listeners. 

Jeff White: No, exactly. The next thing, we’ll have to start converting currency. 

Carman Pirie: Yeah. It gets messy.

Jeff White: But I’m really looking forward to our show today. We’re going to be talking about a really interesting subject. 

Carman Pirie: I think it’s something that a lot of manufacturing marketers that operate through a distribution channel, through industrial distribution, I think it’s a topic area that is near and dear to their heart, but maybe one that they don’t always talk about at parties, you know? I don’t know. It’s like it doesn’t get as much exposure maybe as it should. 

Jeff White: Maybe not, and-

Carman Pirie: Not that we have parties these days, but if we did…

Jeff White: No, that’s true. If we did. But I do think it goes to the heart of a lot of the challenges that manufacturing marketers and sales teams face, is having to deal with this third-party distribution channel and its importance, and how you kind of get yourself positioned and promoted within it. 

Carman Pirie: Yeah. Yeah. And I mean it’s interesting, too, because the power dynamic is always if you talk to distributors, there’s always two sides to this coin-

Jeff White: Yeah, for sure. 

Carman Pirie: But we’re going to try to get at least one side of the coin today. 

Jeff White: I think so.

Carman Pirie: From a fellow Canadian, I believe. Or a fellow Canadian resident, although the accent is not distinctly Canadian, so I may request clarification once we get going. 

Jeff White: Yeah, yeah. No, we need to figure that out first. 

Carman Pirie: Yes, it’s suspicious, indeed. 

Jeff White: Joining us today is Sean Donovan, and Sean is the Digital Channel Manager for the Americas at MSA – The Safety Company. Welcome to The Kula Ring, Sean. 

Sean Donovan: Thank you very much. Nice to join you. Thanks for having me. The accent, by the way, is a South African accent. Resident in Canada for 20 years next month. That sort of explains the accent. 

Carman Pirie: That South African one is always a little sneaky for me, like I think I got it, and then it’s like-

Jeff White: Nope. 

Carman Pirie: I think it’s often confused with Australian for some folks. 

Sean Donovan: It is. 

Carman Pirie: Yeah, and it shouldn’t be. I mean, it’s so obvious the difference. 

Jeff White: Yeah, I think so too. 

Carman Pirie: Anyway. We can act all superior now. 

Sean Donovan: I feel it’s different, but yeah, then again I can’t tell many different parts of North American accents either. 

Jeff White: That’s fair enough. 

Carman Pirie: Yeah, I don’t know, I just talk like wherever I’m at at the time. You put me down anywhere near the Mason-Dixon Line and I’m starting with y’alls all the time. 

Jeff White: I have a hard time not using that in an email with so many people that we work with. 

Carman Pirie: I know. But look, Sean, it’s great to have you on the show, and I’d love to start off by understanding a little bit more about MSA – The Safety Company, and maybe tell us what you all do and what you do there. 

Sean Donovan: You did use the word y’all. 

Carman Pirie: Intentionally. 

Sean Donovan: We all… MSA is a manufacturer of industrial and fire service and fixed gas detection products, and we have been in existence for over 100 years now. Started in 1914 out of Pennsylvania in the U.S., Pittsburgh to be precise, and yeah, we manufacture products for the industrial sphere. Fixed gas detection units, fire service products, including self-contained breathing apparatus, turnout gear, and then on the industrial side it’s harnesses and portable gas detection, hard hats, respiratory protection, and then also self-contained breathing apparatus for industrial use. 

My role specifically is as a Digital Channel Manager isn’t marketing channels, and a lot of people kind of go, “Oh, well, you deal with marketing channels.” No, I’m dealing with sales channels, and it’s a sales role, focused at improving our digital sales channels, how we go to market, how we best serve our digital channel partners and improve our overall digital offering for them, and ultimately our end users. 

Jeff White: Very cool, and how long have you been with MSA? 

Sean Donovan: Just over 20 years, actually. 

Jeff White: Oh, wow. 

Sean Donovan: Yeah. 20 years in Canada next month, and then a couple of years prior to that in South Africa, as well, I was with MSA prior to coming to Canada. 

Carman Pirie: Nice. Well, we have MSA to thank in some way for bringing you to Canada then. 

Sean Donovan: Yeah, we do, and I’ve been in a multitude of roles, mostly sales-focused, but I have been in marketing roles, as well. Regional territory manager roles, specific and strategic account type roles, that kind of thing. 

Carman Pirie: Well, Sean, I think the focus for today’s conversation is really how you interface with industrial distribution and how you go about bringing your brand to life and driving sales within that industrial distribution channel. And I guess in some way, the challenges in doing that here in 2021. 

Jeff White: Well, and I think that really gets to the heart of it, you know? What are you going through and what are you seeing these days that is truly making things different and difficult for you? 

Sean Donovan: Yeah, it does, and it’s certainly different now than it was a couple of years ago. Everything has changed a lot in the last 18 months, certainly in the last 12 months, and everyone’s talking about and there’s been a lot of discussion with regards to how it sped up this whole process of digital transformation, and there’s so much talk around it it’s probably nauseating at this point. But the reality is, it has changed a lot, and it has certainly evolved a lot, and for industrial B2B space where we live, we’ve had to cram a massive amount of time into a very short period of time, because retail’s been going through it for years, and even other more sophisticated B2B has been going through this same transition for many years, and for us it’s just been thrown at us really, really quickly. 

There’s a lot of opportunity for us to really ramp up and speed up, and with regards to the digital brand itself, everything is online now. A year ago, or this time last year, people were still talking about trade shows. People were still talking about seminars, events, making sales calls, that kind of thing. It’s starting to come back a little bit, but certainly no trade shows for the foreseeable future. Certainly, a lot of that touch, hands-on interaction is gone, so every single product experience now starts online. That’s where it is. You’ve got to be on the top of your game from that perspective in order to actually be relevant at all. 

Carman Pirie: As the pandemic has really driven you to double down on that digital presence and understand that it’s a bit of a digital-first world, have you found that the industrial distribution is I guess similarly incented to move fast and to change fast? Or what are you bumping up against there? 

Sean Donovan: I think they are, and they have. For the most part, they recognized the need, they recognize the opportunity. I think what they struggled with in many cases is how to go about it and how to do it, how to ramp up, what’s important, what isn’t, where the value lies, where they play a role in this, and I think in a lot of cases, they struggled with it. A few years ago, it was a case of we knew what we were doing, we knew how to do it, we’ve got this down to a fine art, we’ve got hundreds of salespeople, 70 branches or whatever it is, and it was just work the machine, oil the pieces that needed oiling and tweaking, and things would go well. 

And now, all of a sudden it’s all of that stopped, and you’ve gotta deal with an entirely new beast, and they recognize it, they’re not just quite sure how to do that and where their value fits in on that, and they’re obviously facing new competitors, new market entrants, digital native people that are… Just didn’t exist a few years ago. So, it’s tough for them to do that. It’s tough for us to do it, as well, as a manufacturer. We’ve gotta do it with them. It’s not them on their own. It’s not us on our own. We try to do this together. 

Jeff White: How have you adapted, because you talked a bit about those sales teams and how only 12 months ago people were still booking flights to go do sales calls and meet people at trade shows. How have you adapted those folks to this new role? Or this new world, I guess? 

Sean Donovan: From the sales side, obviously a lot of digital enablement on their part from technology coming to force, trying to do more online webinars, that type of thing. And then from a product side, we’ve ramped up our product content, the availability, the type that’s available, the attributes, the quality of the data, quality of the content, the images. We’ve done as much as we can to improve that because obviously recognizing that that’s where people are gonna go. Even our sales team in many instances are going to be having to share that online. And the branding has to be good. It’s wanting to maintain that branding honor. It can’t just be a piece of paper with all the features and benefits. That’s not gonna cut it. 

Jeff White: Yeah. Yeah. For sure. And I mean, if you’re creating all of this great new content, and your sales team is taking advantage of it, and they’re using their digital channels, how are you finding that the distributors are helping you bring that to life? Because obviously, those sales teams and those trade shows are… You’re bringing your brand presence, you’re kind of bringing that alive there, but when you don’t control that and when the distributors control a lot of the sales channels for it. How are you finding their adoption of this increasing quality of content and photography and all that?

Sean Donovan: I think for the most part, they aren’t doing a great job of that, and that’s because of where they were a few years ago and the mindset of certainly an industrial B2B company, that it was the brand’s job to look after the brand, and we would fulfill that demand. Fulfill the need and do whatever we had to do to warehouse it, stock it, keep it in, and a lot of the pretty pictures and everything was dependent on the brand itself. And we need that now, we need them to be more involved in that. We need to have our brand presence on there. With the commoditization of a lot of products, it doesn’t just affect ours. It’s across the board. 

Especially online, it’s so much harder to stand out. If you haven’t got a good brand essence, you’re gonna struggle to stand out from all the other commodity-type products out there, and we can’t do that alone. We need to do that with our channel partners, and they need to be the source of the research. I think a lot of them still feel that if they have good attributes and good product content, that will serve them well. It only gets you in the game. It doesn’t serve you well for your customers. As we know, everybody’s researching online. I mean, a year and a half ago they were talking about 60% of research starts online. Well, now it all does. There’s no percentage. It’s just that it does. That’s where it starts. 

If you’ve only got weights, dimensions, and measures for a product, then you’re not really researching. You can fulfill an order and you can certainly tell someone about it, but that’s not gonna help a customer research the product, and industrial buyers certainly have a very high level of requirements for technical specifications, white papers. They want to see more. They want to go to this website and if it’s a distributor channel partner website, do the research, understand the products, learn more about it, because if they’re not researching it on your site, they’re gonna research it on somebody else’s. There’s not much of an option for them to do anything else. They’ve gotta go on a website to research it, so it might as well be yours, so that you can at least catch the customer and hopefully capture the transaction as it takes place.

And if you haven’t got those tools, those white papers, the technical specs, the great 360 images, videos, good application shots, then you’re just a fulfillment. That’s all you are. You’re not adding any value into the chain. 

Carman Pirie: Do you find… I guess I’m curious. My guess is that industrial distribution varies greatly in their ability to in some ways intake, consume, and frankly distribute that content. The brands can invest in it and can create it, but they in some ways… some of their platforms are almost creating for the lowest common denominator, aren’t they? 

Jeff White: Yeah. 

Sean Donovan: Yeah. 

Carman Pirie: And it must be challenging for a brand like MSA to stand out and to really… You’re investing more than your competition, you’re a premium brand, you’re a leader in the category-

Jeff White: How do you appear that way when you’re on one of the distribution websites? 

Carman Pirie: Exactly right. 

Sean Donovan: That’s exactly it. We’re obviously looking at how we do… We do audits of our key channel partners’ websites, have a look at it, go through it, measure the type of content they’ve got on there, whether they’ve got the most recent imagery, what sort of attributes they’ve got, and we had that all available for these people, and we’re going through it, looking at it, and saying, “Yeah, you have or you haven’t got it. How can you improve it? What do we need to help you to do it?” And you’re right, some of them don’t have the level of sophistication. It’s, “Well, we need to have an Excel spreadsheet with these columns filled up.” And you know, we only have the ability to have one image. And well, can you have any documents? No, we don’t have that. 

It is, and yet you’ve got the other extreme, where you’re large and industrial distributors who really have got all that ability and all that there as well, and you can do that, and it’s easy to do it, to migrate to them, but that’s not fair for all these other guys who really do have a lot of market share and a lot of potential. They struggle technologically to do it. And that’s where we can try and help them. If there’s another way we can give it to you, we don’t have to syndicate with you. We don’t have to use APIs and get all sophisticated on you, but is there something else? Do you have an FTP box we can just drop stuff into? Do you have a Dropbox account? We’ve created lots of digital catalogues with all our content, so that they can just download it, however format they want. Try and make it simple for them to digest and input, as well, because we appreciate that not everyone’s got $10 million type systems to do this platform. 

Jeff White: Do you think that this is primarily a technology limitation of the distributors just not being quite sophisticated enough? Or is it the word-

Carman Pirie: A limitation of desire? 

Jeff White: Yeah, like the word isn’t malicious. They’re obviously not doing this intentionally to try and make it difficult for brands to kind of get their messaging across. But do they just not value it? Or are they technically limited? 

Sean Donovan: I think it’s both. I think there’s a technological limitation on perhaps some of the small or medium-sized channels, and we have a lot of them. We don’t have as many as some of our competitors, but we’ve got a fair size of them, quantity of them, and I think for the most part, where they’re not technologically inhibited, they certainly lack the vision and feel that it’s just a- transactional site. Our ecommerce site is a… we have to have a website that can do ecommerce, because that’s what everyone’s looking for. They go about, and they do that, and that’s fine, but as we said, that’s entry stakes. You’re not even really competing at that point. You’re just scratching the surface. 

I think it’s both. I think yeah, there’s a technological aspect on some channel partners and distributors, but a lot of them I feel don’t actually appreciate what it is that their site really needs to be. It’s not just to do a transaction. If it’s just to do a transaction, there are a million other ways you can do it. 

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Carman Pirie: I want to try to stick with the Canadian content of today’s episode, and you know, the Wayne Gretzky quote about skating to where the puck is going, and I’m trying to think about where the puck is going here. We have the buying community changing. A lot of people would argue that COVID is going to cause a more rapid acceleration in the buying community, i.e., a lot of early retirements, things of that sort. New people stepping into procurement roles. The role of distributors, of the customers that they served, they’re certainly evolving. 

I guess I’m wondering, do you think that… you’ve painted a bit of a picture that there’s some that maybe just don’t get it. They don’t have the technology to power it and they maybe don’t value it all that much. Do you see that industrial distribution is heading towards any kind of significant correction where you’re going to have a reduction in the number of players in favor of those that truly understand how to deliver an online experience? 

Sean Donovan: I do. I think there’s certainly going to be some consolidation within the market. I think those that figure out what their value is in the chain and can recognize and play to that will certainly… there’s always a need for that. Those that don’t, that try to be everything to everyone, are probably not gonna succeed, and I think there’s certainly gonna be some consolidation in the market. I don’t think it’s gonna be horrific, and it’s not gonna be all within the space of the next five years. It’s gonna take a period of time, and who knows what would have changed in 10 years’ time anyhow? 

Hopefully, we eventually get out of COVID by then, but there’s certainly gonna be some consolidation in the market. There just… There is. I don’t know if it’s gonna be a reckoning where all of a sudden you turn around and say, “Gosh, within the last three months, 20, 30% of the distributors have all merged and suddenly consolidated.” I think it’s gonna be quite a gradual shift. 

Carman Pirie: I wonder. You know, I don’t know, I just think that we’ve seen a sea change in eCommerce behavior certainly on the consumer side over the past year. That hasn’t been maybe quite as pronounced in B2B ecomm, but it’s darn close. 

Jeff White: It’s not far behind. 

Carman Pirie: Yeah, exactly, and I just wonder if at some point it’s gonna get busy living, get busy dying type of thing, you know? 

Sean Donovan: No, I think it will. I mean, I do agree with you that there is a sea change. I don’t know if it’s as pronounced as some of the retail has been. I think retail certainly… Your high street stores that had no need to have a website 12 months ago have had to, so they’ve absolutely had to. Most distributors already had… They already were on the growth there. They weren’t maybe as sophisticated as some of your big retail chains or groups, but they were on the path already. They had some investment there. People have been talking about this for a while. 

And in a lot of cases, their customers have been demanding it. If you have a contract with your local pulp mill or whatever it is, chances are you’re gonna maybe have some EDI type level of ordering from them. You’re gonna have a website of sorts that their people can select products from. Although the shift has been dramatic in terms of catching up to retail ecommerce from a big retail perspective, I think the sea of change that you’ve seen on the retail side is more from the small people that have had to just suddenly change their entire business models, which hasn’t happened in B2B. They haven’t changed their entire business model. They’ve had to just shift. It’s a pivot as opposed to an entire 360 or 180-degree change. 

Jeff White: Right. 

Carman Pirie: Yeah, it’s a fair point. 

Jeff White: I wonder. I mean, one of the things that we’ve heard from other B2B manufacturers is that this could push them in the direction of doing their own ecommerce fulfillment to compete somewhat directly with their distribution channel, and I want to make clear to all MSA’s distributors, that’s not necessarily what we’re saying, but you know, is that something that you think a lot of manufacturers are considering now, when maybe they weren’t before? That they might accelerate their own ecommerce offering? 

Sean Donovan: I think people are investigating that. I think brands are looking at it. As I said earlier, if your only function in the chain is to fulfill a transaction, and if you don’t carry inventory, and you’re not actually doing anything else, then some brands are gonna look at that and say, “Well, what’s your value?” I think there’s certainly an element of that that’s happening. Every brand is obviously investigating that. Every brand’s gonna be looking after itself. I mean, first and foremost, that’s what we have to do. 

And where there’s that opportunity, we will. I think MSA’s perspective on that will be that we will partner closer and invest more heavily with distributors that actually want to help us and help grow our brand, as opposed to simply commoditize our products and offer a me too type solution. We would prefer to do that, but we really don’t want to, because it’s not what we do. We’ve done really well as a company by really sticking in our lane and swimming in our lane and doing what we do well. And you know, fulfilling individual orders to multiples and multitudes of customers is just not something we’ve ever really wanted to do, or yeah, it’s beyond us at this point. 

Carman Pirie: Yeah. I think it’s interesting, because the debate is often framed as one of manufacturers rolling their own, versus working through distribution partners, but I think this is the change that’s actually going to happen, is they’re gonna go to the distributors that are pointing to the way to what’s next and actually playing well with others, if you will. And helping that brand come to life. And those that are just commoditizing it are going to find themselves without as much supply over time, you know? 

Jeff White: Yeah. I think you’re probably right. Yeah. Sean, what do you think in terms of helping to bring your brand to life? I mean, we’ve spoken a bit about the quality, the upping of quality of content, and making things available in whatever way possible you can to your distribution partners. What do you think is next in terms of truly kind of helping to bring your brands, helping manufacturing brands come to life on distribution channels? Where do you need to go? Where do distributors need to go? What are you excited about? 

Sean Donovan: I think the crown jewel in all this would be to have a totally syndicated platform type scenario where we manage all our content on a channel partner distributor’s website within the parameters that they define. I don’t know if that’s a realistic expectation within the next few years, but I think the next step would be for us to be able to better show the brand. Have things like brand landing pages that highlight the MSA brand, have more of the digital type content we’re able to offer. Have a place for the documents, the sell sheets, the white papers, technical briefs. Overall, to be able to just display the brand better. To even have our logo, for one. 

That sounds like-

Carman Pirie: I’m not asking for much, Sean. Throw a brother a logo, here. 

Sean Donovan: Let us at least have our product with a logo on the page. Just things… Yeah, there’s obviously… There’s smaller steps we can take and then there’s much bigger steps, and that depends on the sophistication of the distributor, so…

Carman Pirie: There’s one distributor that shall remain nameless that actually goes so far as to reframe part numbers and use their own numbers. Not only will we not let you have a logo, or mention your brand, but we won’t even let them search by the manufacturer’s part number, because we’re going to-

Jeff White: Which seems like you’re just shooting yourself in the foot. I mean, if you are-

Carman Pirie: Certainly, leveraging your space, but yeah… 

Jeff White: I mean, if you’re a buyer that’s used to dealing with a specific product and you want to get it at the best price for your company and you know that part number, you’re Googling that part number. 

Carman Pirie: You search that part number. 

Sean Donovan: Exactly. Yeah. I mean, and yeah, I’m all for it. If having your own numbers is part of your system and it works, that’s great. But suppressing our part number in favor of yours and not ever being able, that’s not helping me as a brand grow, and you’ve got a really captive audience to be able to do that. I mean, good for you. But from our perspective, it’s like, “Well, how do I grow on that?” I may be able to fulfill the existing demand, I may be able to fill people that are looking for the commodity-type product, but that’s not gonna help me as a brand grow, and I’m really interested in growing my business. I’m not interested in status quo, because that’s not gonna help me down the line. 

The only way I can grow my business is to improve my brand position and the only way I can do that is actually have more branding. I don’t think we’re asking for channel partners and distributors to plaster MSA branding all over their website, so it just looks like an MSA page. In fact, I wouldn’t want that. But have it so that it stands on its own, so that you can clearly identify and determine, “Hey, this is the MSA product,” and give us the opportunity to have a little bit of an MSA feel on the PDPs, or on a landing, a brand landing page. Just something so we can work with that. That’s gonna help us a lot. 

Jeff White: Yeah. I think that… I mean, it shouldn’t be a bridge too far to kind of get to the point where the brand is well represented so that you’re not just seen as just another provider of a product of which maybe there’s many. I don’t know. 

Carman Pirie: Yeah. Exactly right. I mean, I think Sean you’ve painted certainly a compelling picture that we’re not asking for too much here. 

Sean Donovan: No, we’re not. Especially not with just the logo. I mean, we are asking a lot in some senses, and for some distributors it may be a lot. As you mentioned, some don’t want that. They don’t want to have that. They feel that having five hard hats, for instance, on offer, and they all meet the same standard, and they all have four-point suspensions, and they’re all white, is good. They want to be… their customer to choose the lowest price one out of those five. 

That’s not helping me. I think for that guy, we’re asking a lot. If we want our logo on there, we’re asking a ton. 

Carman Pirie: But I guess what we’re really saying is that it would be nice as the industrial distribution channel evolves that it evolves to showcase other elements of value versus just price, rather than trying to drive all other components of value creation down to a spec sheet, basically, and then ultimately supply based upon price. I think most manufacturers would move beyond the point where it’s just a race to the bottom from a cost perspective. And it’s more about what are the unique innovations that they can bring with certain applications and certain use cases, and frankly get a premium for those niche applications, and that’s just the world of modern manufacturing I think. 

And the distribution channels I think would be well served to recognize that and recognize that the buyers that they so want to serve are receptive to those other types of value, and it’s not all about price. 

Sean Donovan: I think that’s an important aspect, that it ultimately… we’re in this to sell to the buyer and satisfy the buyer’s demands. And looking at it from a selfish point of view, where it’s like, “Well, what do I want out of this?” That’s not gonna help satisfy your buyer’s demands. Your buyers are researching, and people are going online. They’re not just using your website as a transaction tool. They should be using it as a research tool. If they’re going online to research the product, they need that. In most cases, they’re gonna want that higher level of information more so than a retail chain would. I don’t care what’s in things that I buy in the grocery store. I couldn’t tell you what’s in some of the things I buy, which is probably bad, but I don’t know. 

Whereas an industrial buyer has to know. They have to know everything that’s in it. And they have to know what these pieces are made of. And they have to know what kind of temperature they can withstand. Because that’s important to them. Industrial ecommerce has to be better than retail ecommerce, especially from a research perspective. 

Jeff White: No, that’s an interesting point. I mean, you don’t even think about that. If somebody specs the wrong safety product, somebody’s going to die. It’s different than buying cauliflower pasta versus wheat-based pasta, you know? 

Sean Donovan: It is important. 

Carman Pirie: Somewhat related, just the other night we tried this very heavy protein-based pasta. Delicious. I mean, it’s a wonder what they’re doing these days. But it’s just… You actually led me down the path of thinking about… You think about say a cereal box on the shelf at the store or something, what percentage of it is marketing and branding versus what percentage of it is ingredients and nutritional information? And in some way, that almost needs to be inverted in terms of-

Jeff White: Importance. Yeah. 

Carman Pirie: … in some way for the buyer, but at the same time, part of what we’re saying is here is that brand’s important too, though, right? 

Jeff White: Yeah. 

Carman Pirie: It can’t be completely gone away. There may be a bit of an inversion, but it’s not a complete elimination of that. 

Sean Donovan: No. 

Carman Pirie: On the cereal box. 

Sean Donovan: Yeah, I agree. It’s not a complete conversion, because it doesn’t negate the fact you still have trust in a brand. People buy MSA products because a lot of times they have faith in the brand, they have faith in the product that we manufacture, we have traditional rugged products that withstand good, traditional, rugged environments where a lot of our products are used. There’s a huge difference between a gas detector that can withstand a 10-foot drop versus one that looks pretty but it’s much like my computer I’m using. If I had to drop that 10 feet, it would just shatter in a thousand pieces. Might do exactly the same thing. But it’s the environment it gets used in, so that kind of thing, people have faith in the MSA brand for that. We want to make sure that they see that brand and they go, “Oh, well, it’s an MSA one.” That changes the discussion a little bit as opposed to, “Okay, well, this is XYZ versus this is MSA.” I know MSA. Now I can do a bit more research and understand what it is. 

Carman Pirie: Well, Sean, it’s been a pleasure to chat with you today. I thank you for bringing your perspective to the show. It’s always nice to chat with somebody up here in the Great White North, as well. 

Sean Donovan: You’re welcome. 

Carman Pirie: It’s been great to have you on the show. 

Sean Donovan: Thank you very much for having me. I appreciate it and I hope everyone finds it a little bit useful. 

Jeff White: Wonderful. Thanks, Sean. 

Sean Donovan: Great. 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 That’s

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Sean Donovan

Digital Channel Manager for the Americas

With over 25 years of experience in the industrial B2B market in various sales and marketing roles, Sean is responsible for managing the Digital Sales Channel strategy for the Americas at MSA Safety, the global leader in the development, manufacture and supply of safety products that protect people and facility infrastructures. Sean is passionate about the opportunities that Digital Sales Channels provide industrial B2B Distributors and Marketplaces in meeting the growing needs of their customers.

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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