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 Sander Arts, CMO, Advisor, and Author of “Cut the Bullsh*t Marketing.” They discuss his role in growing a semiconductor manufacturer from the top 20 in the industry into the top 5, and how manufacturing marketers can cut through the BS to get results that really matter.
How Manufacturing Marketers Can Cut the BS 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. Joining me today is Carman Pirie. Carman, what’s shaking?
Carman Pirie: You know, you almost caught me in the middle of drinking water. And I know that for those regular listeners to the show, one thing that you will have heard in some of our introductions to the show and when there’s a lovely female voice on The Kula Ring and not just Jeff and I jawing on, it’s a team member of ours, Floyd, who had a long career in radio before joining Kula and she’s given me the advice time and again that you drink water with a straw when you’re on a podcast, but I don’t listen to her.
Jeff White: Yeah, I thought we banned straws.
Carman Pirie: That’s true. It’s not very ecologically sound, this advice that she’s given.
Jeff White: No, we ought to get stainless steel ones with the Kula logo on them.
Carman Pirie: Man, that paper straw business is just atrocious. I mean, they dissolve in the middle of… anyway.
Jeff White: I agree. I agree. Down with straws.
Carman Pirie: That’s not what we’re here to talk about.
Jeff White: No, it’s not.
Carman Pirie: I don’t know how we got over there.
Jeff White: Yeah, joining us today we have Sander Arts. Sander is a global CMO, consultant, author, board member, entrepreneur and advisor with a long and storied history, but certainly the reason he came onto our radar was a book that he helped co-author called Cut the Bullshit Marketing and I think kinda getting close to our hearts in terms of getting the crap out of the way.
Carman Pirie: And we’ve been really, we’ve tried since the inception of The Kula Ring to be almost G-rated in our language, which is not in the nature of this firm or the people whatsoever. But we’re going to be tugged into an R rating I’m sure right out of the gate because we’re just gonna say bullshit 40 times in this podcast. Sander, welcome to The Kula Ring.
Sander Arts: Thank you so much. I really enjoyed that introduction. I appreciate being on your show. I mean, we could be a little more politically correct by just calling bullshit BS, but I think the harm has already been done.
Carman Pirie: Yeah, that horse has left the stable. And for our listeners it’s also great to have Sander on as a … He’s from the Netherlands originally, although he’s been living in the Bay area for the last number of years ,and the Canadians and the Dutch have a special connection that’s gone back now more than 60 years, so it’s very, very cool to have you on the show, Sander.
Sander Arts: Yeah, we certainly do, and I really appreciate being part of your podcast series.
Carman Pirie: It’s funny, every time I’m in Amsterdam, it happens more often than not, that I get berated by an elderly woman who’s shocked that I’m not Dutch. Apparently I appear Dutch, but my lack of ability to speak it is evident. A mouthful of phlegm, I find, helps fake it a bit, but even then I haven’t been very good. Sander, why don’t you introduce our listers to you and a bit of your background and talk to us about the book that you co-authored, Cut the Bullshit Marketing. Just give us a brief introduction to that and then we wanna dive in and unpack that quite a bit further.
Sander Arts: Yup, alright. Well, so born and raised in the Netherlands. I worked for Phillips, which is a world-renowned organization, obviously. I learned a lot there. I worked there for like 12 years in the semiconductor division and then moved to the Bay area where I joined an American semiconductor company called Atmel. It turned out it was a very interesting company from a community-building capability point of view, and we may be able to talk about that later. I left because in an acquisition sometimes executive management teams get eliminated. That’s exactly what happened here. So, I left along with the rest of the executives after the company got acquired and decided to be my own sort of free agent and also decided to write a book because I believed we had something to say. So I co-authored this book, to your point, with two good friends of mine back in the Netherlands who run an agency in Utrecht. You’re probably familiar with that town as well. And we decided to write something that had examples, but also was very practical, had examples, but also of course had some theoretical framework for people to be able to build a fully integrated marketing plan by going through the book.
So, it’s a little bit of a workbook. And I’ve been fortunate enough with the fact that the book is being endorsed by all the CEO’s I’ve ever worked for, including a Professor at Stanford University. So we’ve been blessed by the endorsements from people that are being held accountable for growing PNLs and so it’s been great that people have sort of dubbed us with the ability to do marketing that adds value to both lines of companies.
Carman Pirie: And that’s no small feat. It’s one thing to write a book and have it… and with all respect and deference to the creative directors who may be listening, it’s one thing to have it endorsed by a creative director or somebody who’s more interested in the artistic endeavors associated with marketing, it’s quite another to have the book endorsed by folks, like you say, who have true PNL responsibility and in some ways live and die on the success that you’re able to deliver or not.
Sander Arts: Yup. Well, you know, I think we’ve all been in situations where the head of marketing walks into a board of directors meeting and you can tell by body language that people are relaxing a little bit and you go, “Okay, well I’m probably not the most important thing in this company.” And people have the tendency to look at marketers as sort of head of corporate entertainment and I’ve always been irritated by that fact, so I had the deep desire with my teams obviously over the years to go and build marketing programs that really add value, in the form of revenue preferably, to companies. And it changes the conversation, right? It gives you the ability to sit at the table, which I did in my last company, so I’ll just do one quick quote from Rick Clemmer, who’s the president and CEO of NXP, who wrote on the back of the book that this marketing approach helped take NXP from a top 20 player in the semiconductor industry to become one of the top five. Now, I realize that that wasn’t me nor marketing, but I think it says quite a bit around the capability of marketing to really have a lot of value.
Carman Pirie: Well look, there’s no effort like that that isn’t a team effort, of course, but I think we can all acknowledge that marketing must’ve played a heck of a role in moving that needle. Let’s unpack that a bit. Please take us through some of the key tenets of Cut the Bullshit Marketing. It obviously comes through in the title, your angst, if you will, with—
Jeff White: It’s a straight-shooting approach.
Carman Pirie: —some marketers being considered the entertainers of the corporate world rather than actually delivering value. So, take us through Cut the Bullshit Marketing, how it differs from what you see happening in the world of marketing these days, and let’s look at some examples along the way as well.
Sander Arts: Well, strikingly enough, or interestingly enough, even in my current engagements with multiple companies, I find that in the manufacturing space, if we zoom in a little bit more, there are still a lot of people who do a whole bunch of very, very traditional marketing and it’s mostly people that are being driven by product marketers who promised their wives and friends that they would have a press release about their latest product, a lot of trade shows, a lot of press releases, a lot of trade shows, and it’s mostly these companies are talking to customers that they already have, which is … that’s still a little bit over the heart, but demand creation and building the right infrastructure associated with the ability to create a whole bunch of demand with new customers preferably. I don’t see that a lot.
So, when we wrote the book and we decided to pick the title that we picked, we said there’s a lot of bullshit that doesn’t necessarily add to the bottom line of companies. What do you have to do to sort of cut it and use that money to do something else? Because we’ve all been in situations where you walk in and say if only I had an additional few million dollars to be able to do additional things. That’s always a hard sell with CEOs and CFOs. So the premise of the book is what do you look at, what’s the kind of conversation that needs to take place to be able to re-invest existing marketing dollars into something that has a little bit more potential of getting applause in the boardroom because it’s adding value to the bottom line or what have you.
Carman Pirie: I guess, how does that manifest itself? As we talk about, not abandoning the focus on customers, I’m assuming you’re not suggesting that, but rather just simply saying that’s not a substitution for demand gen-focused marketing that can expand one’s market share and presence. So, I guess what does that look like when the rubber meets the road?
Sander Arts: So we went on a journey of building what we call global integrated, mostly digital by the way, marketing campaigns centered around narrative associated with the products. So like I said, there’s a whole bunch of people that will say here’s my latest, and I’ll give you an example at a semiconductor space. The semiconductor space, they keep bringing new products to the markets. Those products are always sold—that’s probably a little too strong, but in the majority of cases those products are sold over the axis of high-performance, low-power, small footprint, right? If then the battle hasn’t been won, we will go and throw in price, which is probably the worst thing that can happen. And that speeds and feeds marketing and communications to the market as everybody is participating in and it doesn’t cut through any of the noise.
So, in the examples also described in the book, we went and built campaigns around a different kind of narrative, so think of technology competencies within organizations, think of application-focused guided campaigns, and what have you. And those campaigns are being created together with the product marketing and business unit organizations, and KPIs are being set between those teams so that everybody is walking in the same direction and has the same goals. Because this of course, you have to do this hand in hand with product marketing people because that’s where the majority of the content needs to come from. It puts quite a bit of pressure on organizations because all of a sudden people realize that they have to do way more than just write a press release or put up a nice booth at trade show X, Y, or Z.
Carman Pirie: I mean, part of what you’re advocating for here is really just focus, to focus on the sales and marketing effort in even close to the same manner as you focus on, say, product development.
Jeff White: It kind of goes to a thing we’ve talked about on the podcast before, a lot of, especially in the manufacturing space, you’re talking about the sea of sameness where everybody has the same, effectively the same quality, whether you’re talking about the speeds and feeds of the semiconductors or whatever, you’re trying to differentiate yourself on a few megahertz here or a few watts there, but they’re not telling a story beyond that and kind of getting to a place where there’s true differentiation in the market. The horrible example that everybody always uses is Apple, but Apple doesn’t compete on speeds and feeds. They barely even publish them. They’re just not talking about that.
Sander Arts: That’s exactly right.
Carman Pirie: And Jeff’s right, we’ve railed against the notion, I mean manufacturers aplenty are… We have the best quality, delivering exceptional service by the best people in the industry—the quality service people, the QSP. I think a QSP isn’t the USP, right?
Jeff White: I’m gonna write that down and I’ll register the domain while we’re online.
Carman Pirie: It just isn’t, but people feel, Sander, I think when you say that, when you say look, you need to move beyond USP, I think sometimes what they hear is, you mean I need to ignore quality, service, and my people? And how do I do that and what do I talk about if I ignore that? I guess how do you answer them with that objection? What’s your response to that?
Sander Arts: Well, you know, there’s a few responses. One is we’ve all been in sort of service-oriented marketing organizations, right? That’s basically how all of these organizations are the minute I walk into them where the business unit with the largest PNL in the company… So let’s give an example. I’ve worked with people that say, well, you know, Sander, I’m 40% of the revenue in this company. That means that I need 40% of the marketing budget. And I’ve had conversations where people said I don’t see how I currently own 40% of the homepage, right? So I’m 40% of the revenue of this company, I need 40% ownership of the webpage. So I’m going well that’s not really what we’re here for. This isn’t a my-PNL-is-bigger-than-your-PNL kind of conversation.
So, that’s one. I go listen, we’re trying to build a story to the market that helps sell more product and in some cases that isn’t necessarily your individual PNL’s story, so that’s one. And secondly, the feeds and speeds or technical specs or quality, to your example, the story will still remain. We’re just trying to build additional narrative over and beyond the speeds and feeds communication that is taking place in these organizations. So, I’m not advocating for getting rid of it because that would be completely insane, but we’re trying to provide a different lens towards the market by taking a customer-focused approach, in some cases in new markets, and say hey, you know, if you want to package this thing taking into consideration your speeds and feeds, but maybe adding additional elements to the narrative, all of a sudden you have a very appealing story to maybe existing, but also new customers.
Carman Pirie: Well of course and if you truly are bolstered by those speeds and feeds numbers, the narrative can help get more eyeballs on those speeds and feeds specs. In some ways they shouldn’t—
Sander Arts: That’s exactly right. Well, there’s another element to these things, right? Most of these marketing organizations and business units have the tendency to go and broadcast how great they are. One of the things I’m always trying to put into the equation is just pure engagement, right? Because we always think we have something and we think we know what customers want and we think we know what they’re making decisions on and it turns out that once you throw something out there that has the ability to be morphed by engagement and conversation, it turns out that sometimes the value proposition is even different from what you had thought it was. And there are multiple examples around that, but it also makes it fun, right? Because all of a sudden you realize there’s a whole bunch of people out there with opinions and views, so if you open the channels and if you invite people to participate in the conversation, that really helps sharpen a value proposition or have it evolve over time.
Announcer: You’re listening to The Kula Ring, conversations on manufacturing marketing. Don’t forget to subscribe now at KulaPartners.com/thekularing, that’s K-U-L-A Partners.com/thekularing.
Jeff White: Back to, you referenced NXP earlier and their move from being a top 20 player to a top five player. If you had to wrap your arms around the top two or three things that you feel really drove that migration, that ascent if you will, what would you say that it was with all the benefit of hindsight being 20/20, as they say?
Sander Arts: Well, you know, I always call that thing my unpaid MBA because the history of the company was that it got acquired by a consortium of private equity people. The private equity people aren’t for the faint of heart. I remember them walking in and I was sitting there very proudly managing a budget of multiple tens of millions of dollars and they just kept coming in and asking me to cut it and they didn’t use the word bullshit, but they were essentially using the word bullshit. So we had to go down significantly in budget and I realized that that was gonna be a race to the bottom that wasn’t gonna help us at all, and I didn’t want to have to go and fire people. So, if you have to, you have to, but I thought there were ways out of it. So we went on that journey of building these campaigns for us to be able to make sure that we could show returns.
Now, it takes a while in semiconductors because the typical design cycle is between 12 and 18 months, right? So you do something in the marketing side of the house and you generate a lead or what have you and it gets handed over to sales and of course there’s the typical battle between sales and marketing where the sales guy says well, I was already talking to this person and all that, so it’s hard to point to hard sales results associated with a campaign with a design cycle that is as long as it is in semiconductors, but we manage to get on the journey together with the business unit because of course people wanted us to be successful and build these campaigns where we could show returns.
A few of these examples are described in the book and then we repeated all of that from a concept point of view when I joined Atmel, who was at the heart of the internet of things and a company that was designing and manufacturing micro-controllers, so we repeated that process and there are examples that are also listed in the Stanford case, so there’s a whole Stanford case around the marketing journey that we went on at Atmel and there’s an example in there of a marketing campaign where we invested a few tens of thousands of dollars resulted in 30 million dollars of identified sales potential, seven of which with new customers. Now that’s something you can take into a board of directors.
Carman Pirie: Look, you’ve piqued my interest and so I guess do the heavy lifting for me and talk to me about that case a little bit more. We can obviously get greater detail in the book, but I guess pull that out for me a bit further.
Sander Arts: Yeah, well, the interesting thing was the angle that Stanford took when they approached me was a little, well I’m a little cynical because I was born in the Netherlands and it was pretty funny because the professor, who also endorsed the book by the way, came to me and says you’re in the semiconductor industry, which isn’t necessarily the most sexy industry in the world. He goes, you seem to have taken a business-to-consumer kind of approach to a manufacturing organization in an industry that isn’t perceived as sexy and by the way, your target audience doesn’t like marketing, right? We all know that double E’s are very rational people and they supposedly make decisions based on speeds and feeds, which we talked about already. So essentially he said unsexy product, unsexy market, what the heck have you been doing to be able to have built, because we built one of the largest social media footprints in the semiconductor space within that company. He goes, what have you been doing?
So that thing has been documented for months and resulted in a business case that’s still being used at Stanford, but also Carnegie Mellon and INSEAD back in Europe and it walks people through what it is that you could be doing when you’re being faced with a commodity product essentially and how you could make that stand out in a market that is incredibly crowded.
Carman Pirie: I wonder how many examples it’s going to take of supposedly very rational people making very critical decisions-
Sander Arts: With their heart.
Carman Pirie: Through the lens of narrative with their heart rather than their heads. Exactly right. I wonder how many examples it’s going to take before that gets through all of our heads.
Sander Arts: Well it was funny because, so this is a few years ago, right? So that particular organization, Atmel, didn’t have social channels that were open to the people so I joined and I said okay, we need to start blogging, which is pretty basic. And this is 2012, right? So just be reminded of that. And we opened up the channels and we said hey, you know, here we are on social media kind of thing, but it was difficult for us because we didn’t have a lot of content. The first blog post is always being read by your dog and your mother in law and then the second, your dog, your mother in law, maybe your brother, so that takes a while. But we had customers tweet to us how they loved the product and I took those particular tweets into a board of directors meeting and I said hey, you know, you guys think that these people make decisions based on speeds and feeds, but apparently they have their heart into this thing because they tweet us the word “love” associated with our products. I go, that means there is something else going on as opposed to bright people just sitting behind a desk, making a decision on the lowest power kind of solution.
So we started digging a little deeper and it turns out that people really appreciate the simplicity and the ease of use around products which goes, that’s already one layer over and beyond your speeds and feeds, and we started tapping into that. We were also lucky enough to have had the core of a product called Arduino, which is probably the largest development tool, the most widely used development tool in microcontrollers in the world. People start companies and all of that. So we were also able to tap into a very active community of people, but these people didn’t necessarily choose the product because of the speeds and feeds that I would get on my desk over and over again from the business unit. It turns out that it all had to do with ease of use and simplicity and a community around it of people where people could freely share lines of code so that they could quickly go to market.
Carman Pirie: Very often, when you work with a company, and of course you look at their external messaging, it can be fairly easy when you’re on the outside looking in, you can kind of read the label if you will and be able to see if they’re the type of firm that is heading down that QSP road rather than the USP road, as we talked about. But then I find that it’s when the conversation shifts to the sales folks and you ask about what objections they get in the sales process and you ask them about the shape of that sales process and when the only thing that comes up is a price objection, I feel that that’s when you’re almost certain that you know you’re dealing with a company that needs this help from a differentiation perspective.
Sander Arts: Yup.
Carman Pirie: Is that what you find? Do you find that this kind of permeates, without, if you will, the differentiating story and that narrative, like you say it’s just a race to the bottom, it’s just commodity and it’s just price and boring.
Sander Arts: Well, yeah, oh yeah, for sure. Most sales people that I know, and I have a little respect for the people that I know and sort of friends, but they are not that great at storytelling to begin with and of course have the tendency to be a little linear and transactional just by sheer nature of their job outside of the person obviously. Yeah, they need to be helped by marketing and need to be equipped with the right stories and the right content and the right collateral, because in some cases they are fighting the battle in the trenches and it’s sometimes, or mostly, a price thing because everybody has driven each other down the value chain and it’s hard to go and get out of that particular equation.
We’ve tried to do that in my companies. I’ve also tried to instill narrative within these executive teams where we said, hey, you know, sometimes it isn’t about price, right? Sometimes it may be about things like how easy it is that we are to do business with. So, if you’re easy to do business with, which isn’t necessarily happening in the hand-to-hand combat of salespeople versus customers, but just in systems and websites and availability of content and all that, it helps a great deal and gives a lot of air cover to salespeople that are fighting the day-to-day battle, which is pretty difficult.
Carman Pirie: I think that’s a solid perspective because of course, we don’t wanna beat up on the sales folks. It is a difficult job.
Jeff White: No, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard a better description than hand-to-hand combat. It really is.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. And I do think it’s interesting to know that the goal isn’t perfection there. We’re not gonna get away from a price objection or price being a dynamic of the sales conversation. That’s not where we’re going to get, but a narrative can get us to where it’s less of an issue or brought up less frequently and that ought to be considered a win.
Sander Arts: Yeah, and I think, so just for the record, I never, especially when you sit on an executive management team, it’s not my goal to go and create camps within our organization, right? So I said the head of marketing needs to build the stage for people to be able to perform and look their best in front of customers. The head of marketing needs to make sure that the salespeople get incredibly rich because marketing people like rich friends. So I’ve always collaborated across the organization because I know that the sales guy needs to close it and marketing people sometimes aren’t closers, and I know that the product marketing people are very much needed because that’s where the deep intellectual capability, but also knowledge around the product comes from. It’s the only place where real product marketing information can come from, right? So I’ve never created camps in any of the organizations. I’ve always said listen, I like rich friends and it’s a pretty good premise to operate on.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. It’s hard to get a salesperson to argue with that motivation. Sander, this has been a great chat. I thank you for your perspective and your encouragement to our listers to cut the bullshit in their marketing and get focused on delivering that serious ROI and breaking down those barriers of thinking about organizations as B2B versus B2C and stepping out of that narrative and into something a bit more progressive. I think you’ve done a great job today of showing the way there.
Sander Arts: Well, thank you so much and thanks for having me and if people wanna engage a little deeper, I welcome them to do so. It would be a little shallow of me to try and sell the book, so that’s not what I’m after, but if people wanna go and find me, I’m on all social media channels and I love conversation and engagement with people and I’m available to chat.
Carman Pirie: We’ll be sure to link that up in the promotion of the episode and we won’t force you into pimping your own book, we’re happy to do it for you. I would encourage anyone to take a read. I think you’ll find lots of practical examples and lots to learn in there. So, thank you for joining us on The Kula Ring today, Sander.
Sander Arts: Thank you.
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