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.
Any time a manufacturer acquires new assets, the brand evolves along with their customer base. How do you manage your communications strategy to keep pace with mergers and acquisitions? Cathy Dodd, Vice President of Marketing for PolyOne, talks to Jeff and Carman on The Kula Ring about how PolyOne created a campaign called “Challenge Accepted” to bring clarity to their brand messaging across a broad range of industries using customer feedback, buyer persona work, and through consolidating their website to better serve as a solutions-driver for their customers.
How to Evolve Your B2B Brand Message After an Acquisition 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, an agency made for manufacturers. My name is Jeff White, and joining me today is Carman Pirie. Carman, how are you doing?
Carman Pirie: I’m doing well, sir. It’s good to be chatting again today.
Jeff White: Yeah. No, I’m looking forward to our conversation. Should be interesting.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. I know that a lot of marketers certainly… It’s funny. I think sometimes B2B marketers feel like they play kind of second fiddle sometimes, when it comes to brand-related conversations, to their B2C counterparts, so that’s why-
Jeff White: Rarely actually the case, but yeah.
Carman Pirie: Yeah, exactly. That’s why I’m excited about today’s guest, because I think we’re gonna really kind of unpack that in a very B2B-centric context, and I think they’ve done some fantastic work.
Jeff White: Yeah. No, I’m excited as well. So, joining us today is Cathy Dodd, the VP of marketing at PolyOne. Welcome to The Kula Ring, Cathy.
Cathy Dodd: Great. Thank you for having me today. I appreciate it.
Carman Pirie: Cathy, wonderful to be chatting with you, and I’m really excited for you to take us through the evolution that’s underway at PolyOne. I wonder if we could start with maybe just telling our listeners a bit more about you, and also a little bit more about PolyOne and what the company does?
Cathy Dodd: Certainly. PolyOne is a global specialty materials supplier. We provide solutions around the world that enable many industries, such as the automotive industry, aerospace, healthcare, and beyond. I joined PolyOne almost six years ago as the VP of marketing. I’ve got about 30 years of experience in B2B and B2C marketing. My current role includes everything from strategic insight and strategic planning for the company, marketing communications, and I also am responsible for our inside sales organization, as well as our IQ design organization. And again, I’ve been here about six years.
Carman Pirie: Wow. It seems like you’ve been up to a lot in that six years, too.
Jeff White: No kidding.
Carman Pirie: I know that when we were kind of getting introduced to PolyOne in our conversations in the lead-up to today’s show, that certainly, like a lot of manufacturers, PolyOne is very much heavy in acquisition mode. Lots of M&A activity over the past number of years. More than one a year, as I understand it. And with that has come some… I guess a requirement to bring clarity to the brand. I guess first things first, can you just give our listeners a bit of context around what kind of acquisition activity are we talking about and where was the starting point here for this kind of brand evolution that’s underway?
Cathy Dodd: Yeah, certainly. So, since I’ve been here for six years and well before that, PolyOne has been acquiring very core businesses to our area of expertise. Whether that has been in color and additives, engineered materials, and now an expansive portfolio of composites. So, we did and continue to acquire into, again, our expert areas. And any time you do that, your brand and your company evolves along with the customers that you engage with and their needs. And we realized that we needed to step back and make sure we were truly communicating to our customers what we could bring them in regard to solutions for their innovations, as well as making sure our associates that we had in the past and in the future understand the company they’re joining and the expertise they can help bring, as well.
Carman Pirie: So, would it be fair to say that in some ways, the company had grown so much that in some ways it just… You needed to kind of wrap your arms around the total capabilities that had evolved over that time? And it just, maybe the communications hadn’t kept up with the acquisition activity for a little while? Would that be fair?
Cathy Dodd: Absolutely. You know, oftentimes you kind of just do the top surface communications along the way, but if you think about a company like PolyOne, we have over 50,000 [Material Safety Data Sheet] MSDS sheets, which means unique solutions we provide to customers, along with touching anywhere from 11 to 13 different industries, which can include about 120-some market segments in those industries. So, when you sum all of that up, it’s not always easy to articulate what you can do for your customers in those many spaces globally.
So, we realized we needed to step back and make sure we gave that clarity, so people understood how we could partner with them.
Carman Pirie: Wow. You did a great job of summarizing the brand challenge.
Jeff White: The raw numbers come into play there. Yeah.
Carman Pirie: And the sheer complexity of it all. So, how did you… I guess what’s the framework or process that you decided to follow as you went down this path? How did you decide to tackle this?
Cathy Dodd: Certainly. So, you know, a couple things came to mind as we began tackling it. We really wanted to make sure that we were true to our core elements and values of who we are. That really has not changed over the years, but again, as I mentioned, we may not have been clearly communicating that as we’ve evolved and as our customers needs have evolved.
So, once we identified and landed on Challenge Accepted, the goal toward that was to answer some important questions. Who is PolyOne? Why do customers choose to work with us? Why do investors choose to buy our stock? And why do associates choose to work for us? And as we began digging into that, we started understanding the essence of our DNA and what we stand for. You know, we really are result-driven, and we love to conquer challenges, and we wanted to make sure people knew who we were for them and for ourselves.
Jeff White: You undertook a great deal of persona work and voice of the customer [work] to help inform this. You really understood exactly what Challenge Accepted meant, right?
Cathy Dodd: And I can walk through that a little here if you would like. You know, when we did take a look at this, it was really about our customers and our associates. We wanted to land on the true essence of PolyOne, so we did some different internal workshops, so we could really dig at the valuable offerings we bring to customers, letting them understand what our products and expertise and services would bring, how we can help them bring their innovations to life faster. We also bring some components around regulations and issues that folks are facing today in the world, and how we could help them mitigate those risks, and we can also bring a single source to polymers, design, distribution, and manufacturing.
We know the breadth of what it takes from A to Z, and we can bring that expertise to them, ultimately making our customers’ jobs easier. We then took that to vetting that with our customers and associates, so once we crafted some areas that we thought were shaping who we were, we ran those by a group of our associates and our customers in different forms and fashion, and they confirmed our strengths. They confirmed our strengths of high-quality materials, and how we could help them develop and improve the process.
But it was really important that we got the voice of the customer from our customers. We spoke to them in different industries. As I mentioned, we touch about 11, 13-some industries, so we talked to individuals in the automotive industry, healthcare, and consumer, in various roles, such as designing, engineering, purchasing, and marketing. Again, to make sure we got the breadth across all the different individuals and functions we may engage with at that customer. And they really ultimately told us what was working for them was that we came in and helped them solve problems—that rose to the top of the list.
Carman Pirie: I wonder, well, maybe that was a surprise. I don’t know, but… Coming to that finding, and if it wasn’t, I wonder, were there any surprises in that process? As you began to go out there and talk to customers and really begin to understand why they choose PolyOne?
Cathy Dodd: You know, I think what was exciting is I don’t think we had any huge surprises other than what stood out is our customers consistently told us the same thing. The depth in which they see us as a solution provider for them, creating solutions and material offerings for them to bring their innovations just continued to speak from them, and so I think what was surprising is that it was really clear what we are and what we were for our customers, and that we just weren’t always communicating that. I think where the “aha” came was across our associates.
As we rolled out Challenge Accepted, this has resonated with everybody in the company, across all of our associates in our manufacturing sites, all the way up to our executives. It really doesn’t matter the role you play at PolyOne. Everyone embraced Challenge Accepted to be that problem-solving expert, that we could truly help our customers, even our communities.
Carman Pirie: I don’t want to put words in your mouth, Cathy, but I wonder if in some ways, if the customers were so consistent with their feedback, it almost seems like whether it was by design or not, PolyOne was being very good at communicating, at least in some way, the benefits of PolyOne. But did you find that there was a disconnect between what customers thought and maybe what prospects that didn’t know you thought? That maybe part of the job was just to shape up what customers believed about you, and to bring that to your public-facing prospect world, as well?
Cathy Dodd: Yeah. You know, I think you’re making a good point here. Hindsight, our communication probably was representing who we were all along, and to be a company to take on challenges, to do it with high levels of integrity, and really solve problems. I just don’t think we were standing on that platform and stating that and owning it on a regular basis. And I think to your point, when we were looking for new customers, new associates, maybe it wasn’t always clear to them at the beginning, but I think it was in our… and I know it’s in our DNA, so whether they felt it at the beginning, or eventually did, they probably would have seen it and come to the conclusion on their own.
Jeff White: I wonder, too, because I mean, part of establishing this new brand, and new tag, and all of that, was of course putting in place new digital assets, and a new site. I mean, you were going from a large number of sites down to one, and simplifying the page count, and all of that. Perhaps it was just that maybe what made you feel that you might not have been saying it quite that way was just the disparate number of ways and disparate number of platforms you were using to do it previously.
Cathy Dodd: You know, you’re exactly right. When I joined the company six years ago, it was interesting. Some individuals were asking when and how are we going to promote the brand more? How can we go out and communicate more? And honestly, at the time I was hesitant, because I really didn’t want to drive traffic to our current website. It was not representative of what and who I thought PolyOne was when I joined.
And so, we did. We took 12 sites down to one single site, and really had to unravel about 7,000 web pages, which is now consolidated to about 2,000. The goal was to really, though, bring relevant business content that was actionable, continually updated, and that our customers could truly visit, and come in and solve problems to a point on their own, and know how to reach out and contact the right person on our end, that could then help them really get to that solution. It took us four, five months to really get all this done and unravel it, but within about six to seven months, we had launched a new website on an open source, and it has now kept us very agile as we do acquire new companies. It allows us to continue staying current on that website and the landing pages.
Carman Pirie: I think you’re to be congratulated for having done that in six to seven months.
Jeff White: That short a period of time. Yeah.
Carman Pirie: There’s a lot of people that would dearly love to move through that process that fast.
Cathy Dodd: Well, you know, it is Challenge Accepted, and it does fit our DNA.
Carman Pirie: This is true. I wonder, of course, traffic loss mitigation with your redirects and everything of that nature is kind of table stakes for this kind of a consolidation and redesign, but did you notice any kind of overall decrease in traffic or lead flow?
Cathy Dodd: You know, actually we did not. We saw it go up greatly. One thing that we did is we really put a plan in place. There was a roadmap put out, and we were cautious of the areas that we were concerned might cause a decrease, who already had some nice traffic. We were very diligent on how we approached the change, how clear we were, and with that pre-planning, we really saw no traffic decline. In fact, it immediately began to go up. From within the first month of the new website launch, we were seeing a great deal of increase.
We also added some other features. We already had a form you could fill out online, and we did have a call center, but we stepped up the call center training. We saw a great deal of increase coming in from the phone, and then shortly thereafter we added an online chat line, where people could just chat with some of our lead specialists, and that again grew the traffic significantly for us.
Carman Pirie: Nice. Nice. Seven out of 10 redesigns experience a traffic dip at launch, so it’s always nice to be in that 3 out of 10.
Cathy Dodd: Yes.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. That’s when not being in the majority is a very good thing.
Jeff White: Yeah, exactly. What was the process that you used to determine what pages to keep and what, how to consolidate, and all of that? Where were you going with that process as you began to look towards a more consolidated site?
Cathy Dodd: Sure. Well, first and foremost, it’s about the team that’s assigned to it. I had five or six folks internally that were dedicated to this. They had a day job, but they dedicated a significant amount of time over that six-month window. We did hire an outside firm also, to bring some expertise in, that was known for driving a return on investment on websites. And when they shared that with us at the beginning, that was where we wanted to land, so the team really just put the maps in place, put the roadmaps in place on how to go in and unravel, kind of piece by piece. We took it website by website, industry by industry, even product portfolio by product portfolio.
And once we broke it off in those sound bites, we were able to do this with caution, and really had a pattern that the team wanted to follow. So, I counted on a team here. A team of experts and individuals who knew what they envisioned, and had studied this, and understood websites, and website development, and content marketing and so forth.
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Carman Pirie: I wonder if we could… I’m just kind of curious. I really like the strap line, Challenge Accepted, and I love the extent to which the business really seems to be wholly adopting it. How is that… I guess how has that changed, has it clarified your position against your competitors? I guess any kind of texture you can give us there, in terms of the competitive dynamic? Because it seems like I find often in this space, often your competitive set can maybe be facing a bit of that jumbled up communications challenges that you were maybe facing beforehand, so when you bring clarity to your position and messaging, it sometimes stands in stark contrast, I guess.
So, I guess talk to me about that. Competitively, where does Challenge Accepted sit?
Cathy Dodd: Certainly. You know, I think it sits way outside of anything our competitors are doing. We really did not go out looking at our competitors as a benchmark in how we wanted to communicate who we were. We identified who we were, and we happened to realize that it’s almost, again, outside the industry of material. If you look at what other material providers are talking about, they’re using a lot of the buzzwords that anyone would. In fact, when we did study it, we were able to remove their known taglines off the piece of paper, and it was quite difficult to put them back in the right place.
It was a little bit of the same thing on each one. We looked at B2C companies. We looked at service companies. We looked globally, to see where else did we fall and what were some common language that we could consider that we felt fit the DNA of who we were, and that’s where we landed on Challenge Accepted. I will also tell you we’re a bit different than our competitors, because we offer such a variety and a spectrum of product offerings, oftentimes our competitors only offer a subset of what we bring. So, we bring a complete portfolio solution, and do have that advantage.
Carman Pirie: It’s interesting. Did you use brand archetype theory at all in your work in arriving at Challenge Accepted?
Cathy Dodd: Yes, we did. We used brand archetype. We looked at the personas of our customers. We walked through that in great detail, in fact, to make sure that we were not only thinking about the archetype of who we were, but the audiences, the breadth of audiences that we would touch with our communications.
Carman Pirie: So, have you arrived at an archetype that you use in your communication, and do you communicate that internally to the team, to say this is who we are, this is how we act?
Cathy Dodd: We didn’t really build that into it. It’s more the foundation and behind the scenes of who we are. It is really written down below, within the content, so as we lead with Challenge Accepted, and we talk about that in the different functions, in the different globe, around the globe, of when we communicate this, it becomes part of the content that we provide. Because again, once you get past the headline of Challenge Accepted, we will then go down into very granular, to a certain product, or certain industry segment, and that’s when we bring that archetype to life.
Carman Pirie: Cathy, I wonder, what was the hardest part about this work? I mean, I know that you’ve been… I mean, a very, very experienced marketer, both B2B and B2C, so I think frankly when somebody’s as experienced as you, you can just make it sound really easy. But was there a part of this that you found was heavier lifting than others? Or caused you some sleepless nights?
Cathy Dodd: You know, I think sometimes it’s the internal sell and the positioning of it, to make sure everyone feels like they’re a part of it. And that can be the hard part, but I’ll tell you how we actually mitigated what I think could have been more difficult, was during our internal launch, we really brought a lot of representation to the table across our different functions. That included EH&S, and legal, and our business partners, and finance, and HR, so that they all felt they had a say, and they could all help bring it to life once we had identified what our position was within Challenge Accepted.
So, as it then got rolled out to the various internal departments, and to the executives and leaders, they felt that they had been properly represented. And so, I do think we mitigated a great deal of problems we would have had if they did not feel that they had been represented. When you’re in a B2B company, it can be filled with a lot of very smart intellectual, analytical people, who need to understand the process we took, and that’s what we were able to do.
Carman Pirie: How do you… I’m always kind of struck, because I guess, look, I understand that people rarely accept something that they didn’t have a part in creating, and that getting into a position of co-creation with members of the team, et cetera, will certainly help with that level of buy-in. I always contrast that with I guess the non-Frosted Mini-Wheat side of my personality, that’s like, “Ah, just you know what needs to be done, and you don’t necessarily want a lot of opinions in bringing it to life.” So, I guess my question is how do you guard against asking people for their input, when everybody gets their say, but not everybody gets their way?
Cathy Dodd: Yeah. It’s a great point you’re making, and I have had many points in my career where I’ve just gone and told, and realized that that often wasn’t the most successful way, but there is quite an art to it, and a balance. We did have, again, kind of a process we wanted to approach. We had a core working team of about five people, and from the very beginning it was clear that we had veto rights, that we were gonna guide it on behalf of the company. There’s also a great deal of history with the team, with the new website that was launched, bringing Challenge Accepted a little later, we had also gained a great deal of credibility. And that does help among our community of folks when they see certain people on a project, they have a high level of confidence that we’re working on behalf of them.
So, we had those five core folks, and then we would tap into these other resources when we thought it was appropriate, and it was sometimes a bit already baked. It was something they could react to. It wasn’t just a plain white piece of paper. So, there are some guardrails we put up. We would also then try to listen and pull from them if they would stretch us a little past the guardrails, because oftentimes they would have something good and value adding to say beyond what we were asking of them. But we set the roles and responsibilities in place at the very beginning. We also had permission from our executives to do this, as well. They understood it from a top-down, that there was a subset of individuals that were going to manage to this, and that was also agreed on from the beginning.
Carman Pirie: I like the honesty around the veto power, and just saying, “We’re asking you for your input here, and know in advance that we really want to hear it, and at the same time we’re gonna do what’s right based upon what we hear.”
Jeff White: Yeah. Yeah. I think so. One of the things I found particularly interesting about this work that you’ve been doing is just the success it’s had. You know, you spoke already of the traffic increase, but talk to us a little bit about how it’s driven leads, and how your sales team has kind of reacted to that.
Cathy Dodd: Certainly. I will. It’s been really pretty amazing. We’ve had… It’s been multiple levels of increase of leads that we’ve had. We’ve probably quadrupled the amount of leads within a given year, but we’ve also improved the quality of those leads that have come in, because when people were coming to our website, they can really begin solving toward their questions, and then do an online chat or a phone call with someone, and they might be one or two steps away from actually purchasing, which again is unique in a B2B company.
In doing this, it made us realize that we were not tapping into a particular channel to market, and that is what we refer to as the inside sales team. This is not an uncommon group of folks that many companies have, but ours are basically sellers without a car. They are not just customer service reps. They really are individuals that have accounts they manage. They just manage them from the phone or from the computer. This allowed us to be more agile and quick to respond to these online chats and phone calls we would receive.
The website also removed a lot of friction to buy. We were able to really just get into the essence of what they needed. They didn’t feel like someone had to come and always visit them. And we were able to again, fill this channel with the inside sales team. Now, to compliment that we have a fantastic external field seller group, and when the call or the chat would come in, and the account was a little more complex, we would then feed these leads to our field sellers, as well. And they would take those and get those into the sales funnel and close them, as well. But I will tell you, this has brought an amazing amount of return on investment to this website, and the investment the company has made and continues making toward it, and that is not easy in B2B companies.
Carman Pirie: Quite right. And the inside sales team reports through to you, correct, Cathy? But does the field sales, as well?
Cathy Dodd: No, the field sellers report in to our business unit, so we’ve got three business segments today that they report into. We work closely aligned with them. I mean, our goal within corporate marketing is to be an enabling partner for all our sellers in the company. The inside sales team happens to report because a good amount of what they lead on comes from our digital sources today, and continues to grow, so we felt it was best suited to have them report into marketing at this time, and it seems to be working very well.
Carman Pirie: And of course, I’m assuming that helps with… I mean, it’s not about integrating, because they’re part of the exact same team, so it couldn’t be more integrated in some way. And I’m assuming the marketers must love having access to that kind of voice of the customer on a day in, day out basis from the inside sales team.
Cathy Dodd: They do. They’re learning, actually, to tap into this as a go-to team, that they can go and sit down with, that aren’t busy out in the field and having to drive somewhere. They have easier access to them, and we do a lot of piloting through the inside sales team because of their availability.
Carman Pirie: Very cool.
Jeff White: Yeah. Makes a lot of sense.
Carman Pirie: Well, Cathy, thank you so much. I’ve really enjoyed this conversation, and exploring how PolyOne has brought clarity to the brand. I guess any kind of parting advice to the marketers out there who may be staring down the barrel of a similar challenge? And that haven’t consolidated a website in six months as an example, et cetera, et cetera? Anything they ought to be keeping eyes open for?
Cathy Dodd: Yeah. I mean, I think a couple key points that I’ve already hit on. One is to identify a solid team in-house that can stay consistent and see the project through. Again, you mentioned earlier, give them the veto rights. Make sure they’re empowered to do the job they see and have a clear goal and vision, but really tap into what that customer is needing. Make sure they know what their customer and their audience really needs from a website, and truly listen to it. We were all about having an external-in view, not an internal-out view. It wasn’t about what we’ve done before with PolyOne. It’s what can we do for our customers?
And if you keep that as your mantra the whole time, you’ll land where you need to for that website.
Jeff White: Nicely wrapped.
Carman Pirie: Yeah, exactly. And great, great advice, Cathy. Thanks so much for joining us today and sharing your expertise on the podcast. We appreciate it.
Cathy Dodd: And the last parting words is Challenge Accepted. Announcer: Thanks for listening to The Kula Ring with Carman Pirie and Jeff White. Don’t miss a single manufacturing marketing insight. Subscribe now at kulapartners.com/thekularing. That’s K-U-L-Apartners.com/thekularing.