How to Be a Future-Focused Manufacturing Marketer During COVID-19

Episode 76

March 24, 2020

With trade shows and conventions postponed due to the coronavirus (COVID-19), what can manufacturers do to showcase new products and services they had lined up for 2020? In this special episode of The Kula Ring, Jeff and Carman talk about how manufacturing marketers and other internal stakeholders can adapt to this new reality by moving parts of their business online and serving customers digitally.

How to Be a Future-Focused Manufacturing Marketer During COVID-19 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. Joining me today is Carman Pirie for a very special episode. 

Carman Pirie: That may leave our listeners with I guess maybe a bit… That may set an expectation that’s too high, Jeff. That’s all I’m saying. 

Jeff White: I think it’s up to us to try and fulfill and live into that. 

Carman Pirie: Indeed. I was wondering if you were gonna use that “live into” line or not. 

Jeff White: Oh, God. 

Carman Pirie: Why does his name… I remember his sister’s name I think better than his. Rosabeth I think something. Who’s the guy from Art of Possibility that you were just quoting? 

Jeff White: Oh, Ben Zander. 

Carman Pirie: There you go. 

Jeff White: Yep. If we can even be like 1/1000th as intelligent and helpful as Ben Zander, we’ve done a good job. 

Carman Pirie: See, there you go setting the expectations too high. 

Jeff White: Is there a TED Talk coming from this next? 

Carman Pirie: Well, and folks, I guess what really kind of makes this episode quite unique is that we’re not going to be interviewing any guests. Also very unique because we’re kind of coming to you in the middle of this coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, and so we wanted to take a bit of a hiatus from recording some episodes with guests, only because a key part of that, of course, is that we like for our guests to promote those episodes, too, and bring their colleagues along for the ride as those episodes go live, and they really… It’s kind of maybe not quite the most appropriate time for that to be happening right now. 

So, we thought we could continue with our podcast release schedule, but just kind of cover more marketing topics and kind of give you our own points of view on it. So, oddly enough, for two very opinionated folks, I don’t know how much we really give our opinions on this podcast very much, so we’re gonna take all the opportunity to do that now. 

Jeff White: It’s time to try something new. Yeah. I think today we’re going to obviously delve into the news of the day, and what’s actually happening now, and talk about where the opportunities are for marketers, and also salespeople in the wake of this pandemic, and the isolation that people are currently undergoing. All the people who are now working from home and trying to figure out how they’re going to do the jobs that they’ve been doing in an entirely different manner. 

Carman Pirie: Yeah, folks, and just to be clear, we’re not looking to be crass in any way with this, or just to think that it’s just an opportunity to think about making a big bunch of money or something like that. That’s not what we’re talking about. We’re really just saying okay, this is a new reality that we are living in right now, and how might manufacturing marketers and their sales organizations, as well, begin to look at their role shift, perhaps, what they’re doing or what they’re focused on, and in some way look to the future with more confidence?

So, I guess with that in mind, Jeff, let’s just jump right into it. I mean, I think the biggest… I’ve had to say that the thing that I’ve really been impressed by in the business leaders that I’ve encountered over the last while as we’re talking about COVID-19 is that there seems to be almost like two camps, if you will. There’s one camp that’s pretty doom and gloom and wants to shut everything down until this passes, and the other, and I think much smarter camp out there, knows that this could be a very, this could be a long haul. We could be talking about 18 months, two years, of a very different lifestyle. And not to say that the show must go on in exactly the same way, but it’s critical for our economy, and for the people who, obviously all of us who depend on its performance, to begin to look to how we can function in this new world. 

And I think the people that are… kind of have that kind of positive approach, and are staying calm and future-focused, I just feel that they’re on the right side of this, and if I were gonna choose one side to emulate, I guess that’s where I’m going. 

Jeff White: I think you’re absolutely right. I mean, you can go back to the last big recession, as well, and at that time, I remember reading an article that they’d interviewed Steve Jobs, and talking about this isn’t the time to cancel all marketing and cancel all R&D. It’s actually the time to consider doubling down on those things, so that when you come out of this, you come out stronger, and I think it’s a point that’s relevant to any manufacturer, really, is this is an opportunity to kind of take this time to reflect, and figure out what you’re good at, and continue to build towards what’s coming next. 

Carman Pirie: Yeah. Exactly right. Well, let’s… I guess when I think of the conversations that I’ve been in over the last week or so, what are we seeing? Well, for manufacturing marketers, they’re looking at a world, I think one of the biggest changes in terms of if we say just kind of tactically, if you will, or probably the biggest change for them in a lot of cases is that they no longer have, for the next little while, trade shows are not a club in the bag, if you will. So many manufacturing marketers would look at their budgets before this and say 70 to 80% of my marketing budget is for trade show attendance. 

And you know, we could be staring down the barrel of 18 months of no trade events at all, so if that’s the core of your marketing program, and you based a lot of your relationships, selling, et cetera, off of that as well, this is a very different reality. 

Jeff White: Oh yeah. I mean, you’re going to… You’ll be meeting fewer people. You’ll be following up less with the prospects and customers that you already do have. And you know, we’re just simply going to have to figure out how to get by without all coming together in one city, in one location, for a little while, and it’s going to… There’s going to need to be redistribution of that budget within marketing departments to hopefully get the same or better ROI on their spend. 

Carman Pirie: You know, and I think there’s marketing teams out there that have been working for a year, two years, towards the big release of the new product, at this show, and now that isn’t happening. So, I think if I were just to get really tactical for a minute, I’d say to those folks, okay, well don’t give up the ship just yet. You’ve done a lot of preparation for that. You have a lot of the materials that you need in order to show the product in its best light. In some way, perhaps your trade show booth and presence that you were imagining having at that show can now be repurposed to set a bit of the stage for a webcast of sorts, or some other way of presenting or launching that product. 

And of course, the reason you were selecting a trade show to do it in the first place is because you know all your target accounts were gonna be there. Well, let’s find other ways to surround those target accounts. You can’t surround them at the trade show now. Let’s look at account-based advertising approaches, and email outreach and other approaches to get in front of those target accounts and successfully launch that product, and get moving. I mean, I think that there’s a… Yes, it’s not the way people intended or would have liked to have done this, but man, I still have to think that there’s some solid opportunity in there, and it’s coming at a time when people aren’t going to want to just completely collectively press pause on their entire work life, you know? 

I’m sure a lot of people out there are thinking the show must go on in some way, and I just can’t help but think, Jeff, that that’d be really well received. 

Jeff White: I think you’re absolutely right, and you know, the other… If we’re getting a little bit tactical right now, the other thing that I’m thinking of is we had a previous episode of this show with National Nail, if you recall, and huge product release schedule that revolved largely around trade shows, as well, but one of the things that they did that I thought was really, really smart was that they used their products and engaged with influencers long before the launch of the product at the trade show. And so, they were shipping units out to people with good social followings and other things like that, and getting them to demo, and show, and kind of compiling content from their existing community and user base in order to have that available for broader distribution. And it was one way that they could reach a much larger audience that wasn’t incumbent on being on the show floor. And also, getting those opinions and other information from people who actually had a chance to use the product. 

So, I mean that’s one way that you can look to launch a product in a more virtual world. 

Carman Pirie: Absolutely. And you know, I guess in some ways, at least somewhat connected to that, as you say in a virtual world,  you just kind of made me think of what we’re seeing right now from a point of view of e-commerce, and those people who have invested in e-commerce, even in our local communities, we see the local shops and restaurants and that have invested in e-commerce. They see a very unanticipated benefit of that investment right now in terms of their ability to quickly pivot, but… and we know that manufacturers are seeing that, as well. 

I wonder, Jeff, if there’s going to be… It would seem to me that this could result in at least a bit of a surge in people looking to more quickly advance their e-commerce presence, understanding that not only has the world changed, and it’s likely to be a bit different for the next little while, but it may cause some more permanent shifts in buying behavior that of course push us more online, as well. 

Jeff White: Oh, I couldn’t agree more, and I mean we absolutely don’t want it to sound self-serving as a agency that builds e-commerce sites, but I do think that there is certainly an opportunity for manufacturers who were previously choosing not to go down the e-commerce path, just because their budget was being spent primarily on trade shows and other events like that. It may be time to begin to consider this. We know from experience that e-commerce platforms take a long time to build, especially for manufacturers with a large number of SKUs, or configurability challenges and things like that. These are not simple sites to create, so the time perhaps to have built that e-commerce platform, as you were saying, was a while ago, but the second best time is now, and it may be a real opportunity for them to create new distribution channels using the web and e-com as the primary medium and vehicle for that. 

Carman Pirie: I’m curious if we’re going to see just even more online customer service, and maybe that could be a bit of the gateway to an e-com presence that takes a while to deliver. 

Jeff White: Yeah. 

Carman Pirie: Just kind of thinking out loud, you know, but it would seem to me that type of customer service experience is going to be much more in demand. 

Jeff White: I would think so, for sure. You know, certainly for connecting with manufacturers around fixes and other issues, having online service. It’d be interesting to see how the SaaS world has informed so much of how the rest of us market and sell now, I wonder if the SaaS model of providing trouble tickets and service issues for software online will begin to become more of a thing for manufacturers and people who create physical goods. 

Carman Pirie: The good news is it’s probably easier to stand up than an e-com site. 

Jeff White: 100%. Yeah. I mean-

Carman Pirie: You know, if you’re a marketer out there and you’re saying, “Okay, we need to do something online right away to address the fact that people can’t communicate with us in the normal way that we’re used to and we want to show that we’re being responsive to this new dynamic.” You could probably show that you’re being responsive to customers, in terms of serving customers, a little bit faster than you could show being responsive to prospects, if you will, with an e-com environment.

Jeff White: Yeah. No, I couldn’t agree more. And I mean, that entire thing, servicing your existing customers via digital means, is certainly one way to kind of extend the idea of maintaining good relationships with your customers, and I think that we also have to think about in this new world, how does that kind of relationship selling now translate all the way down to the salespeople at the front end of a customer relationship, and I think there’s a great deal of opportunity for salespeople to begin to truly understand and truly begin to connect with their prospects and with their existing customers, and manage that relationship in a more digital way. 

You know, they’re probably not flying out and visiting their factory nearly as much for any time in the near future or medium term, so how are they gonna manage that online? And how do they keep those relationships strong? 

Carman Pirie: It’s interesting to consider what this does just in terms of how it encourages experimentation. I mean, whether it encourages it from the point of view of freeing up potentially 70% of your marketing budget, because you no longer have to spend it on trade shows. Maybe now is the time when you can begin to experiment on some other items, or whether it’s salespeople being in some ways encouraged/forced to experiment with new ways of connecting, because simply they just don’t have the other options available to them. 

I’ll be really curious to see what we generate in the middle of all this. 

Jeff White: Yeah. There’s no question there will be a very new normal, I think, coming out of this in terms of how people work, and what they maintain, even after things go back to somewhat normalcy of what we’ve seen before. The skills that’ll be required will be different. The metrics of success are going to be different. And what people actually need to do in order to stay in touch and maintain those relationships is going to change. No question. 

Carman Pirie: I wonder, in addition to the conversations that we’ve been engaged in around the shift in trade show presence and kind of responding to that, and the e-commerce side of things, I think one other kind of really interesting thing came up this past week. We had one client who, they have a… Their product development research facility is having to pause operations for some time until they sort through how to do that work in a more socially-distanced way, and that organization was looking at that type of talent. They didn’t want to lay it off, because frankly, they didn’t want them to go elsewhere. Those are very difficult people to find. 

So, they were going to simply send them home with pay, and wait for things to blow over a bit. And the marketer there, I think, just really cleverly and smartly said, “Hold on a minute. You can work from home and help me create expert-grade content that I’ve been wanting to create forever, but you guys were always too busy.” And I was just like… I just thought that was just fantastic. I mean, I don’t know. It’s just nice to see something positive in the middle of all this, and it was a marketer just taking advantage of the situation to say, “I can get something done that I’ve been needing to get done.” They feel good about continuing to contribute to the business. 

It just seems like a real win-win for everybody, and of course, customers and prospects will get better information as a result of this. 

Jeff White: No question. I mean, if your engineers or researchers, or others that are kind of involved in the day-to-day of designing and building product are now more available, why wouldn’t you find… I’m sure every marketer has a list in a Google Doc or a spreadsheet somewhere of all the things that they have wanted to be able to write about, or create content about in some way, shape, or form, and now they may have the opportunity to do that. 

Carman Pirie: Yeah. I may even extend that to members of your sales organization, which are having to potentially take a bit of a pause right now, or reevaluate how they engage and connect. If they find themselves with extra time on their hands, so often marketers are also looking for that kind of expert assistance from their most senior salespeople, and it can be some of the hardest assistance to get. 

Jeff White: Oh, 100%. I mean, we all know salespeople who have a list of things that they’re used to dealing with in the process of bringing a customer onboard. The objections that they hear regularly, all of those kinds of things. Now may be the time for them to sit down, create a list of those objections, and craft a piece of content around each one. It’s an excellent thing to have to respond quickly when somebody asks, “Well, what about this? Or how come it doesn’t do that?” The opportunities to provide that content will go on long into the future, as we’ve seen with the ability to reference old blog posts and podcasts from years gone by, the same issues crop up frequently. 

Carman Pirie: Yeah, no question. No question. So, I guess really, as we kind of wrap up this kind of unique episode of The Kula Ring, if we were to recap, I guess what we’re really just telling people is for the marketers out there that find themselves in obviously this very unique time, there’s a few things you can think of. You can look to see how you can take advantage of those specialized resources in your organization that may have some extra ability to contribute right now. Content creation’s a great example of that. 

I guess we also would say that you can also begin to consider how you can move certain aspects of the business online, in a reasonably rapid way, whether that’s a minimum viable e-com environment, or a way to serve customers digitally. There’s lots of opportunity there. And last but certainly not least, I guess, is really grabbing ahold of that account-based approach, and using that as a way of capitalizing on what you typically would have used trade shows for. Just kind of redirecting that effort, and getting refocused on doing that in a different way, and I think there’s a lot of potential success on the opposite end of that for folks who really bend to that task. 

Jeff White: Yeah, I think you’re quite right, and there’s no knowing really how long we’re going to be in this extreme new normal before things start to transition back to somewhat the way they were, so there’s I think a lot of opportunity to grab hold of the extra resources and extra time that people have and really take advantage of it. It’s going to be a very different world, I think, in the latter part of 2020 and beyond. 

Carman Pirie: Yes, indeed, and look, I know that maybe it’s a bit easier for us in some way. We’re used to working remotely. Our agency has all of the technology required to work remotely for very much an indefinite period of time. But I do really appreciate that there’s a lot of folks out there where that isn’t the case, and they’re beginning to adapt to this new way of working, so I guess best of luck for all of you out there with that, and stay safe, and keep your chin up. I think just stay future focused. That would be the best advice I could give. 

Jeff White: Thanks a lot, Carman. 

Carman Pirie: Likewise, good sir. 

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

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Jeff White



Carman Pirie


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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