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 Tina Hart, Vice President of Marketing, Labels and Packaging Materials North America at Avery Dennison Corporation about finding value for marketing initiatives in a conservative, sales-driven manufacturing company.
Making Room for Marketing in a Sales-Driven B2B Manufacturer 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, and joining me today from frozen Nova Scotia hell is Carman Pirie. Carman, how ya doing? I’m sorry. I’m in Orlando, Florida right now. It’s not so bad.
Carman Pirie: Man, I don’t know though, branding our home province as hell-
Jeff White: Well, frozen hell.
Carman Pirie: May be a little harsh, but it certainly is… Look, it’s nice to be joining, regardless of the weather, although I think that the mid-70s weather in Orlando looks a lot more appealing.
Jeff White: It does. It does. It’s not so bad, but I’ll be back on Saturday, so it won’t be so bad.
Carman Pirie: But joining us from balmy, sunny, Cleveland however-
Tina Hart: Right!
Carman Pirie: Where they’re currently experiencing a midwinter heatwave as I understand it, is Tina Hart. Jeff, introduce our guest.
Jeff White: Sure. Tina is the North American Vice-President of Marketing for the Label and Graphic Materials Division of Avery Dennison. Welcome to The Kula Ring, Tina.
Tina Hart: Thanks guys. It’s good to be here.
Carman Pirie: It’s fantastic to have you, Tina. I think what our listeners don’t know is that you and I had this side bet that Jeff would get your title wrong, and he just like won.
Tina Hart: He nailed it.
Jeff White: Ma’am. Ma’am, good notes, that’s how you do it.
Carman Pirie: Tina, why don’t you introduce us a little bit more to Avery Dennison and your role there, because oddly I bet a lot of our listeners have made the same mistake that Jeff and I frankly made, in that we remember Avery from the good old days back when we were trying to make labels on our laser printers, but that’s not Avery Dennison these days.
Tina Hart: That is not Avery Dennison anymore. Thank you. Avery Dennison is a private industry leading manufacturer of pressure sensitive material that’s used in labeling applications. I started with Avery Dennison back in 2001, so I’ve been in this industry for close to 18 years. Our division in particular, in its simplest form, supplies really large two meter plus rolls of material, that is paper or film. We put adhesive on it, in layman’s terms we’d call it sticky paper. Our customers then take that material, they cut it down into smaller rolls. They print labels on that and they put those labels onto products that you use every day in your house, from your shampoo and conditioner, to your wine bottles, to food products in your refrigerator, to the Amazon shipping labels on a box, so those barcode labels that make sure that your products get from a retailer to your house effectively. Then, even in more durable applications like on your HVAC equipment outside, so it’s products that have to withstand some real environmental conditions. We’re kind of everywhere.
Avery Dennison touches a lot of things, but we don’t make the labels, and that’s the big misconception about us. We make the material that goes into the labels. We supply about 2,000 different printers. We call them converters, in our industry, across the US and Canada. The division that I work for, and the region that I work for, is North America. Our customers range in size from anywhere from a small startup company that goes out and buys a very inexpensive digital press and starts an online business to print labels for you, because you’re making your own wine, or something like that, to really big, large multinational companies that are as global as we are.
We traditionally interact with these customers in a variety of ways, but usually it’s based on the size of that account, the potential strategic value to our business. We kind of have always followed the old segmentation approach with those customers. We let sales guide us on how we interact with customers at an account level. That’s something that’s evolving for us.
Carman Pirie: Wow. That’s a fantastic introduction, and I love that it turns a bit on its ear, our notion of what we think when we hear the name Avery. But nonetheless, you’ve also illustrated just how ubiquitous you are in the world.
Tina Hart: Right.
Carman Pirie: That probably everybody listening to the podcast has encountered your product today, in some way, shape or form.
Tina Hart: Right, correct.
Carman Pirie: I think one of the interesting things about Avery Dennison, and it’s sort of like a lot of B2B manufacturers find themselves in this place, where they perhaps look out at their more B2C contemporaries, and they say, “We’re behind. We’re behind in the realm of digital, and we’re behind in the realm of the customer experience that we’re delivering as an organization.” I know that Avery Dennison has come to that conclusion. Tina, I’d love to unpack that a bit, and talk about the path that you’re on to really transforming that business and the customer experience that you deliver.
Tina Hart: Sure. It’s really interesting to me and I bet a lot of my other peers in B2B marketing could relate to this, but in the B2B space when you’re really an operations-driven company, a manufacturing type of company, we will spend money on technology that automates, we will invest in digital equipment and controls for all of our processes, because it’s really easy to calculate an ROI. If I add some control to my asset that’s digitally controlling how the asset produces material, I can clearly show how it’s going to make me more productive, and therefore save cost for the business. I’m not saying it’s easy to get capital, in an older manufacturing organization. Sometimes that’s a challenge in and of itself, but it’s definitely easy to tie an ROI to it.
Where we struggle on the marketing side is, we’re sort of a second thought, and we only have 2,000 customers, so why do you need to do any kind of special digital interaction with them? We engage with them via the sales team that we have. They go and visit, and that’s how we get business. We struggle with developing an ROI for commercial digital implementations, that it’s tangible. Our company always wants to know, well, how much are you going to grow? If we invest in a new tool for you, digitally, how will you grow with that? What is Google Analytics going to give you that’s really going to drive our business?
Where we’ve had the ability to invest—and the only places that traditionally Avery Dennison has been willing to invest—is in things like a CRM system, where you’re using it basically to guide your sales team and to measure opportunity pipelines. You’re not really using it to determine how to interact best with your customers or drive demand. Or, we do things like we try to upgrade our website from time to time, and that’s about the extent of it. Yeah, it’s a challenge for us in the B2B space to get your leadership team to buy-in to digital innovations for the business, and how you can use that data.
Carman Pirie: What spurred the flip of the switch, if you will? Because there has been… A lot of your work recently has been around reevaluating the customer experience and looking at the expectations that customers have of Avery Dennison. What led the organization to open up their hearts and minds, and indeed their wallets to the initiative?
Tina Hart: A couple of things I mentioned in our pre-call, we are in the middle of a big ERP project in our region. We had evaluated our systems. It had been some time before we had upgraded. I think it had been about 25 years since we originally invested in the ERP systems. We had a lot of assumptions about what our customers wanted to get out of that. As we were looking at that, we decided to expand beyond just the manufacturing controls and the supply chain and the logistics aspects of the ERP, and really look at, what other tools do we need to bring online to improve the customer experience?
The ERP led, so ERP we had a good ROI on productivity gains that we could get from that ERP implementation. We were able to tag on this customer experience portal piece of the project, which was helpful. Additionally, we brought in some outside perspective. We have brought in people from the B2C world, in a couple of key positions that are really prompting us to think differently about how we engage with customers, and really challenging us that just because traditionally this research type effort has only been done in a B2C world before, it doesn’t mean that we can’t apply it in the B2B space. We’ve been doing some good work there.
Carman Pirie: Let’s talk about the transition there, because of course, it really sounds as though your research is leading you away from some assumptions that your previous, shall we say, maybe more sales-led approach was leading you to believe. What are some of those changes that have occurred? What are some of the assumptions that you carried into this process that have been turned on their ear?
Tina Hart: I mentioned in my intro, we had traditionally always segmented our customers. The sales led that effort, the sales team. It was always based on, at an account level, how we looked at the customer. Is it a strategic partner that wants to interact with us? Do they have the size? Do we have a certain share position that we want to improve? Are they willing to partner with us? There was all these criteria at an account level, but the one thing we had never actually done any research on was really how individual customers wanted to be treated.
With our sales segmentation, we were heading down a path where we said, oh, every customer out there is a consumer, just like you and I, and they want an Amazon cart experience. We’ve got to work on investing in our ecommerce platform to give everybody this consumer experience that they’re used to when they shop at home. We ended up, before we invested in all of that… We started to and then we kind of paused. We did this research study of our customers, and the buyer journey, which actually led us to develop these four personas, which is very familiar to B2C marketers. They do that with their customers all of the time. What we did was we created personas for individual contacts at our accounts, and how they wanted to interact. Honestly, in my 18 years here, I’ve never seen us collect so much demographic data. The whole concept of why we thought customers wanted an Amazon cart was that industries, obviously the older people are retiring and we have all these young people coming in and taking over, so we better be ready for it.
What we really learned in that process was that probably 25% of our individual contacts at customers were ready for that and wanted that. The other 75% are average age 50, they don’t want us to take away all their hard copies of catalogs and things that we were trying to save money and cut cost and eliminate with the assumption that everyone was going digital. They still wanted all those tools. We were headed down a path to eliminate all printed copy, to build an Amazon cart, to drive ecommerce to all of our customers, and found out probably 75% of them wanted no part of that and weren’t ready for it. What it led us to do is think about, we have to build a bridge. We know we have this new generation coming up that’s going to change the way they interact with us, but you’ve gotta… You can’t lose sight of the core group of customers that still make up the bulk of the people you interact with.
Jeff White: I think that’s really interesting because, in a lot of cases, and a lot of the manufactures that we speak with, it’s just as hard to sell in the idea that they need to develop an ecommerce platform, at all, let alone one as advanced and intelligent as what they experience on Amazon, let alone to then lead them away from that, based on the research that you’ve done. What was the reaction of the executive when you presented this idea of, here are our true personas, and this is their actual buyer’s journey?
Tina Hart: Well again, it’s a manufacturing-led company in many ways. Originally the response I got was, “What do you mean we segmented our customers or developed personas? We know everything there is to know about our customers.” But honestly, it’s led to some really great dialog with our leadership team. Our general manager in the region really embraced it. At the same time we were doing this, I mentioned, we’re starting to talk about our commercial digital strategy and where did we need to go with that? It actually helped frame a lot of the work that we’re just starting to do in terms of thinking through, what does that technology roadmap look like? How do you add value without leaping too far ahead of yourself? Because the worst case is that you overinvest and it takes 10 years for your customers to catch up, and then nobody believes you anymore that it was necessary. Again, we’re a company where results and execution and ROI are measured and monitored. I can’t leap too far in advance, or then you lose interest from the group. But the reaction has been really positive.
I think we have a diversity challenge in our industry. Probably only about 20% of the employees that we surveyed, and we had a really good response rate, about 20% of the customers that we got survey results from when we did this research study were female. We know we have an aging industry, and how does the industry react? It’s really interesting because we have an industry association that we’re very active in. Some of these are key strategic pillars for the association, because it’s affecting the entire industry, and how the industry moves forward. We’ve been able to help there as well.
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Carman Pirie: It seems to me that one of the delicate things here is that a part of you is challenged to be skating to where the puck is going. You said it yourself, you have these new buyers entering in these roles and those personas potentially carry with them different expectations, that 25/75 split that you referenced. I understand the notion of not wanting to get too ahead of yourself, from a point of view of trying to lead customers down an experience. Then, at the same time I’m looking at it saying, it’s not just the customers that need to be led down the experience, but in some ways, internally you have to use these tools for a while before you get good at them, before you understand how to really leverage them super effectively for your customers, et cetera. How are you thinking about that, that kind of balance about, how far out over the skis do we get here?
Tina Hart: I mentioned it, we’re on a journey a little bit within Avery Dennison in this regard. I think our approach, and we do this in quite a few areas of our business, but our approach is to create small hypotheses about what we’re trying to achieve and what we think the results will be, and then pilot things. We’re a little bit on the conservative side, I think, in terms of investment, and as well we should be. We’re a publicly traded company with a commitment to our shareholders and our employees to deliver results, so we have to be somewhat careful.
We have taken this approach of trying smaller pilots. As an example, we did this buyer journey research, which by the way, was a learning for me. It takes a long time. I thought we would do this survey and we’d have all the results in a couple of weeks. It was probably a good six months of effort, that it took us to get to the results that we got. But we are piloting now out of this, a different methodology using our CRM. We’ve basically tagged customers based on their persona, and we are approaching some pilot efforts around communication.
I have this one small group of, we call them innovative enthusiasts, and they’re the people who really want to be interacted with digitally. They want to know all the latest and greatest, and they spend a lot of time on their phones. That group, we’re tagging them in that way, and so as we develop our communication plans or our campaigns that we’re working on for whatever it is, a product line, share a focus for the business, we are literally creating campaign plans that gear towards that segment one way. And maybe in that group, we’re not sending them anything in hard copy. It’s all digital. But then we have another group who are, we call them standard fare, and they’re people who just really want your catalog. “I gotta get my job done. I don’t have time. I don’t want to talk to you. I don’t want your emails. Just send me the hard copy.” That group, we send the catalog.
Another group is very focused on the interaction they have with their sales team, and they’re still very reliant on their representative to bring them information. In that group, it’s sort of the combination of both. We use a little digital, but then we give things to the sales team to walk into that account, so that sales rep drives value there. That’s like a first pilot that we’re doing with this persona data. We’re literally, like I said, on this journey where we’re just stepping into that. It’ll be interesting, maybe we can talk in about six months, and I’ll give you an update on how it’s going, and if it’s having the impact.
Carman Pirie: I would love that. I’m also always curious when having worked through, I don’t know how many persona exercises I’ve been a part of over the years now, and I’m always curious, what has been the reaction by the sales organization? Have they looked at the personas that have been developed and said, yeah, these kind of align with the people that we see in our day to day? To what extent have you seen some homogeneity in those personas across the client organizations? I guess, do you feel like you’ve got that nailed with the four, or do you feel like, maybe there’s some evolution of this over time?
Tina Hart: I think definitely there’s evolution over time. We started socializing this concept with the sales organization and actually when we first started that project we were calling it segmentation. We had to stop saying that because, to sales, segmentation is what they do. We had to start really referring to them as personas because it’s not account level, it’s individualized information about their accounts. I think our key objectives have been to grab onto the early adopters and focus on those sales reps who are interested in these sorts of tools, and this data that helps them be more effective at their job. We’ve kind of put our arms around that group.
Interestingly enough, the group that has really embraced it on a commercial side is our customer support team. It’s the customer service organization that takes calls for orders and helps customers find samples of material and all those sorts of things. They’ve been a real early adopter in it, how they can then restructure their organization to better serve those customers that want more hands-on interaction, versus the ones who just want to interact electronically. But definitely, it’s early days and we still have iterations and opportunity there to improve that linkage with sales.
I think our other challenge, just as an additional thing is, is the difference in getting people into the mindset that there’s an account strategy, and then within that account you could have all four personas represented within that account. It’s not necessarily… That was the hard learning for the organization. It’s not about this customer, customer A, B, C. It’s about Joe Smith at customer A, B, C. That’s been a learning as well for them.
But what is interesting is now sales is starting to help us tag customers. We had probably, like I said, about 500 respondents to the research study that we did, so we were able to tag them, based on the results. Then, now we have a small group of questions, which are really the questions in the survey that statistically drove the persona that they were put in, and so we now give them that questionnaire and they can quickly run through it with a customer and tag that customer, so we continue to build that database. We went from about 500 to 700 tagged over a course of a few months.
Carman Pirie: Oh, fantastic. Now, is customer service doing that as well, or just sales?
Tina Hart: No. It’s a little bit of both. We have our customer service people, we always give them things to talk about with the customer at the end of the call, so we’ve tried to utilize that group to help us do this. We have another group that does presale technical support, so we’ve engaged with them. They’re also part of the customer service organization, so that we’ve engaged with them to help us with this exercise. We plug it in wherever we can. Our largest trade show was last September. We have it every other year, so we had a big customer event, a hospitality event, and we had surveys at the door that we made them fill out as they came in. Put your name down, and fill out these questions, and then we use that as an opportunity as well. Wherever we have a chance to engage, we try to capture as many customers as we can.
Carman Pirie: Jeff, I can say, I think we’ve… I don’t know. How many persona exercises we’ve been a part of, but I don’t know that I’ve ever heard somebody describe the adoption of persona via customer service in that way. I love it as a way in, I don’t mind saying.
Jeff White: No. I completely agree with you. It’s a unique way of doing things. I think that sales is a… Yeah. And that sales would adopt it as well, and begin to kind of notice, oh yeah, this is the wrong name of course, but this is our marketing Mary persona at this particular customer. Then, there are these three others that are also at this account, and being able to see that with, especially the larger buying groups that are involved in a B2B buying decision these days. It’s fascinating that everyone is getting onboard to adopt these different ways of speaking to people, because it’ll also give them an opportunity to glean new information, because they’ll be talking to each persona in a slightly different way.
Tina Hart: Right. Right. We saw the buying group data come through in our research study as well. Even at the smallest accounts, people aren’t individually making decisions, buying decisions in our industry anymore. That was a good learning for us as well. I think our organization has thought through that over the years, and we’ve used different tools that are public tools out there, to try and figure out account strategy and how do you capture all of the people who influence the buying decision? This gave us some real data to show how that’s impacting decisions in our industry.
Carman Pirie: I think that’s going to be a huge hinge of the debate over the next several years, because if the B2B buying committee continues to increase in size the way its been doing, the CEB Gartner folks have been tracking this probably more than anyone, and they continue to show that just year over year, the average B2B buying committee size is increasing. With that comes an increased propensity to just do nothing, to make no decision. Then as marketers, I’m fond of saying that the art of crafting buyer personas is the art of writing checks that your content strategy has to cash in the future.
Tina Hart: Right.
Carman Pirie: Because if you’re going to customize, as Jeff just mentioned, content for every persona, and if the buying committee continues to increase, and the number of personas that we need to talk to continue to increase, we can obviously see the challenge. Have you looked at that to say, you know at some point we need to cut that off, we need to focus on the people that we think are most influential in that decision? Have you tiered that in any way, or thought about structuring your personas in a way that prioritizes, in some way, folks that are more likely to be decision-makers versus not?
Tina Hart: Yeah. I don’t know if this’ll answer your question. I guess as we look at our customers, so the buyer group influence really impacts us at an account level. It’s not so much the persona level where that is an influence for us. We have certain products that are bought, not sold, so they’re just kind of day in, day out inventory type products that our customers buy from us on a regular basis. A lot of the individual personas are those buyers who are just estimating a job, yeah, your price fits. I go ahead and I buy that stock from you so I can run the job next week. Those are kind of day in and day out. It’s when we approach customers from a larger supply agreement perspective. We want to be your primary share supplier at this account, that the buyer group is much more impactful to us.
I think for us, we have to look at both ways. We have to think about the most influential people in the buying group, to capture the hearts and minds of that account as a whole, and to gain a position at that customer. But then there’s a day to day basis of the guys who actually execute regularly for that account, maybe at a lower tier in the organization, or a lower level in the organization, that the personas really come into play, so making sure they’re informed about new things that are happening in the way they want to be informed, but that they always have the most recent information at their fingertips, whatever way they access it. I don’t know if that answers the question, but that’s how we’re looking at it today. We may learn something in six months that changes that perspective, but that’s how we’re approaching it.
Carman Pirie: No, that answers it very well. Thank you. Well of course, that’s just the nature of marketing in this day and age. It certainly will evolve over the next six months. It’s the one thing we know for certain.
Tina Hart: Right. Exactly.
Carman Pirie: Well, I guess with our bit of our futuristic lens on as we near the end of our time together today, Tina, what do you have on the horizon as you look 6, 12, months out? What really has your attention and curiosity as you steer the Avery Dennison ship?
Tina Hart: For me, I am really interested in analytics and data. We do very, I would say, today we’re doing very surface engagement metrics. How many unique site visits do you have? How are customers moving through your website? But it’s really high level kind of data that doesn’t actually drive decision-making for our business. What I’m very interested in and we need to wait until our implementation is done and it’ll be part of this customer experience portal that we’re developing, but how we can actually dive a little bit deeper into the analytics of how customers actually truly behave in our website, and how they make buying decisions. We’re going to enable some things in our customer portal that haven’t been there in the past. I’m sure we’re going to have some hiccups along the way as we learn, but things like giving them the ability to get a price online, which sounds really simple but it’s just not something that we’ve ever done. How do we make sure that that experience is really positive for them and they keep coming back, and they don’t just run away because it wasn’t the price they were expecting, kind of thing?
But analytics for me, we are a company with more data than we even know what do with. It’s a competency we don’t have in our organization, so there’s been quite a bit of conversation, I know. I engage quite frequently with our IT partners as we think about this commercial, digital strategy and what are the elements that are missing for us today? And that’s an area, it’s not just technology, but it’s competency and how to go after it. That’s to me, the next big area.
Avery Dennison as a corporation has just invested in the digital realm in the fact that we’ve hired a CIO. It’s been a longtime since we had someone at that level in the organization. He’s really looking at, strategically, how we think about our digital transformation across the business. I’m really, this is an area for me. One of his pillars is around building competencies in the organization, because to me, that’s a gap for us and an area of opportunity. Honestly, I don’t think any of our… I don’t think people in our industry are doing it yet. It’s truly an opportunity for our business to be first to get there.
Carman Pirie: I think an awful lot of people find themselves in that situation where they’re awash in data, but they haven’t developed the competency around an ability to actually unearth insight out of it and to make that a systematic part of decision-making in the enterprise. I think that’s an incredibly exciting to think about as you get this new portal ready to role. I look forward to updating in six months, a year’s time and seeing how it all works out.
Tina Hart: Yeah. That’d be great.
Carman Pirie: Tina, thanks so much for joining us on The Kula Ring today. It’s been a real pleasure chatting.
Tina Hart: Thanks guys. It’s been great to be here.
Jeff White: Awesome. Thank you.
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