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.
Should B2B manufacturers step into the already-crowded podcasting arena? Iris Weeden, Director of Marketing at MacroFab, says the MacroFab Engineering Podcast is the company’s content engine with the added bonus of generating leads and revenue. She shares how the podcast drives traffic and conversions to the website, how they’ve grown to 5,000 downloads per week, and how they choose topics for the podcast and blog.
How Podcasting Fits Into a B2B Manufacturing Marketing Strategy 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 are you doing, sir?
Carman Pirie: I am doing well, Jeff, and I gotta say, I’m really excited about today’s guest. I think we’re going to be able to dive into the dynamics of improving site performance across a number of areas, and it’s just… I think it’s an interesting story to tell.
Jeff White: Yeah, and a lot of things that are certainly near and dear to our hearts, around content, and podcasting, and SEO, and all that other great stuff.
Carman Pirie: Yeah, you can be warned, fellow listeners, dear listeners, that this could be a podcast about podcasting, but only a little bit. We’ll try to keep that kind of… I don’t know, it’s like a turducken or something. I think it’s like every two or three episodes, I get a reference to a turducken in. We have to do a kind of a backwards analysis, go through all of our transcripts of Kula Ring episodes, and see how many times turducken has come up.
Jeff White: And it only offended one guest so far, who was a vegan.
Carman Pirie: Any time you’re talking about meat being stuffed into meat being stuffed into meat and then cooked, it’s going to offend a vegan. There’s no question.
Jeff White: There’s not much we can do about that.
Carman Pirie: No.
Jeff White: But joining us today is Iris Weeden. Iris is the director of marketing at MacroFab. Thanks for joining us in The Kula Ring, Iris.
Iris Weeden: Thanks for having me.
Carman Pirie: Iris, why don’t you give our listeners a bit of an introduction to MacroFab, and just tell us a little bit about what the company does, and how long you’ve been there?
Iris Weeden: Sure. I’ve been at MacroFab for three years, and it is… MacroFab, we’re entering our seventh year this year. We are an electronic manufacturing company, but we also have a technical component to our business, so we are an electronics manufacturing platform that allows engineers and purchasers to upload their files to our platform and they can get instant quotes, they can see their itemized billed materials. This is for printed circuit boards. And so, yeah, we’re both like a software company and a hardware company, if you will, and a manufacturing company.
Carman Pirie: It’s really, really cool. It’s a different type of manufacturing organization.
Iris Weeden: We like to say we’re redefining electronics manufacturing.
Carman Pirie: Nice. And you’ve been in the marketing role since your start with MacroFab?
Iris Weeden: I have. Yeah, I first started off as a marketing manager, primarily doing the content management and social media, and then quickly moved into a director role. That was about three years ago, and I have 14 years of marketing experience, just I’ve always done it, right out of school, so I’ve got agency experience and [I’ve been] on the in-house side.
Jeff White: So, you’ve been on both sides of the equation, then. What do you like more?
Iris Weeden: I have to say I like the in-house side more.
Jeff White: Yeah.
Iris Weeden: At first, I did like agency, because it was very busy, high paced, but I like being able to focus on one company. And there’s different departments within one company, different clients within one company, too.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. It’s the perennial debate in agency land, I think. That’s an entirely different podcast episode.
Jeff White: Yeah, we could do a whole episode on that. Yeah.
Carman Pirie: Iris, I know that you had a lot of success in driving organic traffic growth and conversion growth on the site. Before we dive into that, though, talk to us a bit about the podcast. Because you’ve been at podcasting for a while now, which is a bit unique for an organization such as MacroFab.
Iris Weeden: Yeah. Thanks. The podcast actually started before I came on board, and I was very excited when I was interviewing that they already had that going, because it is such a new medium, and a great new way to reach people. It is the MacroFab Engineering Podcast, and it’s a weekly podcast that comes out every Wednesday, and it’s been going consecutively, I want to say this is gonna be our third year, as well, so it started I guess a couple of months before I came on board.
But yeah, it’s our cohost and co-founder, Parker Dillmann, who’s our lead engineer, and Stephen Kraig, who used to be a MacroFab employee, who’s also an engineer, so they just really geek out on engineering stuff. They interview engineers. Talk about all different topics, like this week’s episode is gonna be, which is coming up in February, so by the time your episode launches, it might be a little bit later, but it’s gonna be talking about the coronavirus, which is the current news. So, we cover all, and how the coronavirus is impacting manufacturing. So, we try to cover anything and everything.
Carman Pirie: Wow. And I’m kind of curious, how much… Is it a big lift internally to produce the podcast for you folks? Has it become quite a streamlined thing over the years?
Iris Weeden: It’s become pretty streamlined, yeah, so Parker mostly manages it, and there is a little bit of work in terms of coordinating schedules and guests, and managing that, but for the most part, he takes care of all of that, and then he just kind of… We record in the evening, so it doesn’t take a whole lot of his bandwidth during the working hours, and plus with Stephen, as well, who has another job, we do it based on his work schedule, too. So yeah, it’s been great, and we try to also get our guests to co-promote it, to just try to expand our reach a little bit, and promote it on social media, as well, and we’re up to around 5,000 downloads per week.
Jeff White: That’s amazing. I think it’s really interesting that a former employee was so engaged in the podcast that you were able to keep him on as a host after he moved on to a different position. I mean, it must be something he really enjoys doing.
Iris Weeden: Yeah, and they have a really great relationship with each other. I’m not an engineer by trade, of course, and so a lot of what they talk about is way over my head. They might as well be speaking a different language, but their rapport with one another is just so much fun, so it’s very enjoyable to listen to, and we didn’t want to lose that when Stephen left the company, so we were definitely glad that he decided to stick with it and keep it going.
Carman Pirie: And I would be curious, because you’re at 5,000 downloads now an episode, and has that growth been fairly linear over the last three years? Just kind of what has the dynamics of that growth been over the last little while? I think a lot of people, it can seem almost like blogging sometimes. It’s almost like you have to believe in it from a religious perspective first, and then it kind of bears fruit.
Jeff White: One day it will come.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. Yeah.
Iris Weeden: Yeah, we’ve done a lot of research on how to grow our blogs, and we’ve… Everything from improving the audio quality. We hired an engineer, because we found that a lot of that kind of stuff helps keep listeners and get new listeners, and any spikes that we’ve seen in our listenership and our downloads have been whenever we’ve had guests who have been on, who have co-promoted, and it’s… One example was when an Embedded company came over. They’re an Embedded podcast, as well, actually, so you know, the Embedded software and the hardware work really well together, and those audiences I think mesh really well together.
So, we got a lot of listeners from that, and some of our customers who are big advocates of ours, they speak about us at conferences sometimes, and so we’ll get a boost from that, as well. They speak specifically about the podcast.
Carman Pirie: That’s really neat. Do you find that it plays a role as an assist in the sales process, as well? Or am I being too ambitious for the lowly podcast?
Iris Weeden: Yeah, it does. I mean, it hasn’t, and it was never really meant to be like a huge sales driver. It was more meant to be just a way to generate content every week, just to get more content out there, so we don’t really promote MacroFab as much as we should, really, but it’s more of just a content engine right now. But, you know, one of the added bonuses is we do get… We do see some revenue and some leads coming from that, which is always nice.
Carman Pirie: And it sounds like it’s functioning as a really nice backbone to the whole marketing effort. I mean, if it’s being referenced by customers at conferences, that’s a pretty good sign.
Iris Weeden: Definitely.
Jeff White: How do you go about choosing topics for the podcast and for the blog? Because that’s certainly a component of how you’re able to drive the kind of traffic numbers that you’re talking about, and one of the things you’ve mentioned to us is just that people are spending more time on the site when they come, which leads you to believe at least anecdotally that they’re the right people who are arriving at the site, so how are you going about choosing the content that you want to create?
Iris Weeden: Yeah. I think that content and content idea generation is always a really hard challenge for marketers, and we have two different audiences at MacroFab. We have electrical engineers, and we also have the purchasing and supply chain people who are ordering circuit boards, and they have an electronic product that needs to be manufactured. So, we, in our early company life, we were primarily focusing on engineers, and they are definitely a large part of our customer base, and so in terms of content for them, it was really easy to write articles that were very engineering-focused and technical, maybe just like tips and tricks on how to improve your files, and different… There’s like via tenting, which is really getting into the weeds on circuit boards, and the anatomy of circuit boards, and how to improve your designs there.
So, a lot of educational posts, for sure, and then also what we have done is looking at our website analytics, finding what search terms people are using to land on our website, and if it’s a relevant search term to our business, then we will write a blog topic around that term, and hopefully rank higher for those search terms.
Carman Pirie: It’s a bit of a chicken and egg, though, isn’t it? Because of course, if the site isn’t currently optimized for that term, the chances of being found for that term would be-
Jeff White: Less.
Carman Pirie: Yeah, but I see the logic and the strategy, of course, that if you start to see some signal in the noise, and you begin to create more content around it to get more, that makes sense, as well, I guess.
Jeff White: For sure. Yeah. Are you doing anything around kind of… I guess they’re largely termed pillar posts, where you have a series of different pieces of content that are all related to one another that help describe a broader topic in more detail. Is that part of your strategy, as well?
Iris Weeden: Yeah, that is to some degree. We do have several topics around electronics manufacturing in North America, for example, because we are based in Houston, and a lot of our factories are in North America, ranging from Mexico all the way up to Canada, so we do talk about the different benefits of that in several different blog posts, and we have seen some… Those are kind of newer initiatives, and the thing with organic and blog traffic is it’s hard to see that growth. It’s kind of a slow burn, you know? It’s gotta take time to kind of cook and let Google crawl it, and let other finders read it, so the analytics on that are still kind of early.
Jeff White: And how have you leveraged, or rather not leveraged, but how have you resourced this? One of the things that we find a lot, especially with small marketing teams within manufacturers, is they don’t necessarily have the resources to craft content, and you’ve brought in one of your engineers to help with the podcast and all of that, but they’re not necessarily the people who are gonna be writing your blog posts and blog content. How are you resourcing that?
Iris Weeden: That is true, and yeah, at previous jobs it was really hard to get some of your team members to write blog posts. That is something that has always been a challenge, and… But we did have Parker. He would be… Parker and Stephen, when Stephen was on board, they would write engineering articles for us, and that was working really well, but as we have grown and their bandwidth has shrunk, I have had to go to Upwork, actually, has been a really good source for me, and find freelance writers who… I have a freelance writer right now who has an electrical engineering background, but he also has experience on the purchasing side, so he was a really great find, because he has experience with both of our audiences, and can really write and understand them and speak to them.
Carman Pirie: Yeah, it is a nut that a lot of people are trying to crack, really. How do you get the technical resources? Do you have it? Can you get it in house? Can you extract it from your existing team? So, it really does sound like you found a bit of a diamond in the rough there.
Iris Weeden: I have. Yeah. I’m hoping he sticks with it.
Carman Pirie: We’re bouncing around here a little bit, but I noticed, I have to say, in our lead up to today’s conversation, we were talking about some of the improvements in organic traffic, as well as site visits overall, and improved time on site, but then you mentioned that the average revenue per user is increasing, which would only seem tangentially related to any kind of site traffic increases, so talk to me about that, and what are you doing that’s driving that impact?
Iris Weeden: Yeah, I think a lot of it was we have shifted our messaging. We are primarily known as a prototyping company, and I guess traditionally speaking with manufacturing and electronics manufacturing, if you need to go into higher volume production, you have to switch your manufacturer, and so I think that maybe a lot of people didn’t realize that we also offer high-volume production, so as we changed our messaging to say, “Hey, no, actually you can do everything with MacroFab. You don’t just have to prototype with us. We also do the high volume, and the system integration.” That really started to resonate with people, and as we started targeting those types of audiences more, those supply chain people and those buyers, those product managers, I think that they really started landing and converting on our website, and so we did start to see more of that increased revenue per user as a result.
We haven’t gotten as much. It turns out that our signups have gone down a little bit, but it seems to me that the quality of the types of people that are coming through the door is definitely getting better. Now we just, our marketing challenge is how do we get more of the same type of people?
Carman Pirie: Yeah. It’s not always so bad when you get less if you’re getting just less noise and more signal at the end of it all. It’s just less crap to weed through.
Iris Weeden: That’s true. Yeah. That’s always been my philosophy. It’s not getting all the seats on the bus filled up, but it’s getting the right seats in there, you know? And so, if it’s less, then at least we’re happy with the quality.
Carman Pirie: Right. Absolutely.
Jeff White: Have you had any issue communicating those metrics to the C-suite, for example? Like, are there any concerns there? Sometimes you hear-
Carman Pirie: Yeah, sometimes numbers just have to go up and to the right.
Jeff White: No matter-
Carman Pirie: Right.
Jeff White: Quality be damned.
Iris Weeden: No. Yeah, I think that they’re on board with that, and they’re happy that the quality of our customers is improving, and so far, because we’re also, of course, responsible for generating pipeline for the sales department, and so far, those leads have been good. Of course, there’s always more work to be done, but it seems like we’re on the right track.
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Carman Pirie: And one of the things that you’re doing there, in terms of being on the right track, is I know that you’ve been piloting at least a bit of small-scale ABM initiative. Can you take us through that a little bit, and what you’re doing to dip your toe in that water?
Iris Weeden: Sure. Yeah, so we are a small team, and with a small budget, and we’re just getting our feet wet with the ABM strategy, so what we’ve been doing is our sales team will identify a company that is large enough that we think we have a good chance at going after, and they might have one or two contacts there that they’ve already met with, but we see a larger opportunity, and so what we’re doing right now is we’re creating lookalike audiences on LinkedIn, which they match the job titles of these types of companies, and the people at companies that we want to talk to, and the job title, the company type, all of that, and we create a lookalike audience, and then we advertise to them.
And so, and then we drive them to a specific landing page to try to capture their lead, and that’s kind of how we’re doing our ABM right now.
Carman Pirie: And I guess how’s that going? I mean, I have a fair bit of experience deploying, trying to deploy smaller-scale ABM programs via LinkedIn. I honestly say that the success has been varied. I have found that often the cost can escalate as the program matures a bit, but what’s been your experience thus far and how long has it been running?
Iris Weeden: It hasn’t been running for very long, I have to admit, and so our experience is that we are optimistic, so to be determined.
Carman Pirie: All right, cautiously optimistic is not-
Jeff White: I think that’s fair.
Carman Pirie: Yeah, and that’s not the worst result to have in the early days, that’s for sure.
Jeff White: You mentioned advertising to lookalike audiences on LinkedIn. What other sorts of paid initiatives are you engaging in and how are they working out for MacroFab?
Iris Weeden: We do Google advertising. We’ve done some Twitter and Facebook, and mostly on Facebook we do promoted posts towards engineers, and those seem to be doing really well in terms of generating leads and traffic. And then our Google remarketing has been our workhorse in terms of getting signups and leads, definitely.
Carman Pirie: Right.
Iris Weeden: I want to keep that going.
Carman Pirie: It’s interesting. You’re definitely zigging while others zag a bit when folks talk about targeting engineers and highly technical audiences on platforms such as Facebook. So, it’s interesting to see that, I guess, as part of your mix, and you said Twitter, as well?
Iris Weeden: Twitter as well. Yeah. We have a lot of engagement. We’re really lucky that our customers at MacroFab, they’re highly engaged with us, so the organic conversations around Twitter are always ongoing, so we figured, and to advertise on Twitter is pretty cost effective, so it’s not a huge investment to just experiment and try things out with that, and even though we’re a B2B company, at the end of the day you’re still marketing to people. And so, everybody’s on Facebook, if you can send them a resource while they’re already on Facebook, why not try it?
Carman Pirie: How much overlap is there? Or I guess to what extent do you leverage the podcast in your social media promotion? How big of a part is the podcast in all of that?
Iris Weeden: It’s weekly. We’ve played around with it. We used to push it several times a week on Twitter, but right now we get maybe just like one tweet, and we definitely share it on our own Facebook channel, as well.
Carman Pirie: But as a form… You’re paying to promote it, as well? Or just sharing it organically?
Iris Weeden: Organically. Yeah, we don’t pay to promote it.
Carman Pirie: Part of my curiosity around some of your maybe over indexing and success on social, I was thinking may come from having been at the podcast game for so long and there being connectivity between an audience that’s engaged in podcasts for that long and activity on social. But I’m maybe trying to connect too many dots.
Iris Weeden: I don’t know. I mean, I think Parker has a really good personality, and he already has a Twitter presence, and so I think a lot of it is that, you know? Just his personality really shines through, and I’ve definitely worked at companies where it’s been very difficult to sell the product that you’re trying to sell, and create content around it, and so when I came on to MacroFab, I was kind of expecting that. I was like, “I have to make circuit boards really appealing, and how am I going to do that?” You know? But the audience was already really engaged, and they really… I mean, they love our content, so it really makes our jobs a lot easier. I have to say that I’m very thankful for that.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. I’m almost just thinking we should just encourage our listeners to go listen to your podcast and then try to reverse engineer the magic that is Parker in some way.
Jeff White: Yeah.
Carman Pirie: You know, and then the other, the question is to… I guess what every marketer kind of wants to know is how do I get a Parker if I don’t have one? You know?
Jeff White: Yeah.
Carman Pirie: How do I get somebody to play ball with me that works in engineering, or similarly technical capacity?
Iris Weeden: Yeah. Some things that I’ve started seeing a lot are like the brand advocates, where they’ll just find whoever it is, whether it’s an engineer, just a super user of your product, and then maybe offering them a position to where they’re your community manager, if you will. And they can maybe create videos for you, or a podcast, or something like that. If they’re also maybe micro-influencers, and they might have a following, as well. That might be my way to approach it in the future, is yeah, finding that personality who’s also a super user of your product.
Jeff White: Do you find that with the guests that you have on the podcast, and the customers that you have, that they do a lot of that work for you? That they’re kind of promoting MacroFab to their colleagues who may not know about you at all? Or is that even trackable?
Iris Weeden: Yeah, we haven’t seen it a whole lot. I mean, I think there is definitely some word of mouth that goes around, and you know, whenever we ship out a package to somebody, we send out stickers and things like that, and t-shirts, to hopefully get the word out, but we do want to kick off a referral campaign this year, to try to encourage more of that, like, “Hey, do you love us? Please tell your department about us. If you’re an engineer and you work at a large company, tell your purchasing team about us.” You know, or vice versa. If you’re a purchaser and you need some prototypes in the future, let your engineering staff know about us.
Carman Pirie: This is the second time t-shirts have come up. Folks, I gotta tell you. Iris is completely outmarketing us today. We’re on the SquadCast platform, so we can actually see each other as we’re recording the podcast, and she’s like in branded MacroFab swag, and we’re sitting here like a bunch of dolts, and I don’t know, I’m in a black t-shirt, and Jeff’s wearing plaid. I mean, it’s like-
Jeff White: It’s the Canadian lumberjack look.
Carman Pirie: Yeah, we’re trying to rock Canadian lumberjack fashion. So, now that the t-shirt’s come up twice, and you’re sending them to customers, we need to get Kula t-shirts now. That’s all there is to it.
Jeff White: Yeah.
Iris Weeden: Yeah, we do team t-shirts every quarter, so yeah, some of our new team members are like, “I just need two more shirts and then I have one for every week.” So, any day of the week you’ll see lots of… And we call ourselves MFers. You’ll see lots of MFers with random branded shirts.
Carman Pirie: There’s at least one joke or two to be had in there, and I’m leaving it behind.
Jeff White: Just put that where it is.
Carman Pirie: This is a family podcast, Jeff.
Jeff White: Well, you spoke in that answer to that last question about what you’re planning to do this year, and some of the interesting things that you have. What else is on the go for 2020, and what are you looking forward to?
Iris Weeden: So, yeah, it’s mostly sales enablement, and pipeline generation, demand generation, for sure, and some things that I’m excited about, which are more traditional but haven’t done a lot at MacroFab, is more of the field marketing aspects of it. Getting some more trade shows, and conferences, and generating leads that way, and following up, as well. So, more expanding our ABM, expanding our boots on the ground presence, just kind of growing in different departments and different areas.
Carman Pirie: That’s an ambitious agenda for 2020.
Iris Weeden: It is.
Jeff White: It’s also completely the opposite of what we normally hear. You know, you don’t normally hear people who are doing great podcasts and digital content looking to do more trade shows. It’s usually the other way around. You know, doing a lot of trade shows and we just need to know how to get a podcast done.
Carman Pirie: Yeah.
Jeff White: Yeah.
Iris Weeden: I think it’s funny, because we were so nimble, when I first started, we were like 20 employees deep, and so it’s like, “How can we reach and create content, but do it in an agile way?” And so, I think that’s what the podcast generated, and now that we’re growing, we want to expand and meet more people, it’s like, “Yeah, we need to do the more traditional methods of that.”
Jeff White: Very cool.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. Yeah. Totally makes sense. Iris, I wonder, you’ve mentioned before that you have an extensive marketing background, both agency and client side, and you’ve certainly grown in your role with MacroFab. In our parting minutes here, I wonder what advice you might give to somebody just starting out in a manufacturing marketing role, that is maybe at the first couple of days or months of that three-year horizon and path that you’ve been on. What advice would you give them, that you wish somebody may have given you back then?
Iris Weeden: Yeah, I think just in general with any marketing role, learn as much as you can. Coming from an agency background, you have to have several clients, and you really need to learn all about their industry, and their business, so if you’re coming into a manufacturing role, just learn all about your company, all about the industry, network, expand your network, just become known in your network, as well. It’s kind of one of those things where the more people that know who you are and know you, they see you as an expert, and I read something once where if you focus like one to two hours every day for a year, within that year’s time, you’re gonna be an expert, so it doesn’t take a lot of time to really grow and advance your position that way.
Carman Pirie: See, this is how… I can only do that for about a quarter of a year at a time, which allows me to be a partial expert on a wide number of things.
Iris Weeden: I think that’s me, too. Jack of all trades.
Carman Pirie: I appreciate that advice. Timeless advice, in fact. And thank you for joining us today on The Kula Ring. It’s been a pleasure chatting.
Iris Weeden: Yeah, it’s been fun. Happy to do it anytime.
Jeff White: Thanks very much.
Iris Weeden: Thank you.
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