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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.
Jacki Lutz, Global Head of Marketing Communications and Intelligence, talks with Carman and Jeff about how Sensata Technologies made a product portfolio change last year, causing them to pivot midway through a major marketing campaign. The campaign was centered on their legacy product, Schrader valves—a product they were no longer selling.
Managing a Major Campaign Pivot During a Product Portfolio Change 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 is Carman Pirie. Carman, how are you?
Carman Pirie: Look, Jeff, all is well, but you know what? We’ve been advised that our intro-
Jeff White: Pre-show.
Carman Pirie: … pre-show banter is always the same. We’re talking about the weather or something, and it’s completely not helpful to visitors.
Jeff White: True.
Carman Pirie: So I’m just going to commit now publicly that we’re going to bend to the task of changing this, but I have no idea what we’re going to do.
Jeff White: What it’s actually going to become? Yeah.
Carman Pirie: But I know that we’ve got a great conversation teed up for today-
Jeff White: We do have that.
Carman Pirie: Because we’ve talked a lot about, or at least in some ways on this show about what happens with acquisitions and brand consolidations and things of that sort, but we’ve never had a story that’s quite this unique. I think there will be some interesting learnings in this for our listeners, I know there is for me, and I’m really excited for this guest. So let’s introduce them.
Jeff White: Joining us today is Jacki Lutz, Jackie is the Global Head of Marketing Communications and Intelligence at Schrader. Welcome to The Kula Ring, Jacki.
Jacki Lutz: Thank you. I’m very excited to be here.
Carman Pirie: Jacki, we apologize for you being the first guest to have to endure this really clunky attempt at what might be a new intro someday, maybe, but it’s certainly wonderful to have you on the show. I’m wondering if you can just start by telling us a little bit about yourself and letting our listeners know what exactly you do at Schrader because that was a heck of a title. I know there’s a lot packed into it.
Jacki Lutz: Yeah, it’s a fun transition in my title, actually. As of about a week ago, I was the Head of Global Marketing and Communications. I have one of the best jobs in the world. I get to take any after-market type brand of Sensata technologies, and I’m the one that gets to bring it to the world. My team gets to brand it. We do all the brand strategy. We do all the communications globally.
It’s a really fun role. Now that they added marketing intelligence, it’s a way for me to just engage myself a little bit more in our industry to really be able to understand dialogues that are happening, acquisitions that are happening, and just making sure that our eyes on the industry and how we can use that information to better communicate to our customers and be the first, in many cases, to bring on that information to our customers and make sure that we’re thinking ahead and making sure our customers are prepared for any changes in the market. That’s where my role evolved into in the past couple weeks here.
Carman Pirie: Very cool. In a couple weeks. So it’s a fast-moving position.
Jacki Lutz: It is. Yeah.
Carman Pirie: I wonder if you can tell us a little about Schrader and Sensata and what the relationship is there.
Jacki Lutz: Yes. Schrader has been around for a very long time. They were both an OE company and an aftermarket company. A huge OE presence, especially in tire pressure monitoring systems, also the global leader in aftermarket TPMS as well.
Sensata came along, who is another global leader in all kinds of temperature and pressure-type engine management sensors, and they acquired the Schrader brand a few years ago. The OE part of Schrader was, I guess, sucked into the Sensata brand, but because of Schrader’s heavy aftermarket presence and the power of the brand there, they kept the Schrader brand as the tire product aftermarket brand of Sensata Technologies. Sensata Technologies was more or less the mothership, and Schrader is just one of the aftermarket brands of Sensata Technologies.
Carman Pirie: Understood, understood. That’s incredibly helpful context for this next bit because Jacki, what really interested us in having you on the show was that this last year has been full of turmoil for you as a marketer as you were presented with what I understand as basically that the heritage legacy part of the business, the valves part of Schrader, which made Schrader famous initially, was actually sold off. Sensata sold that off to another entity that continues to operate under the Schrader brand as well.
So we in some ways have a brand … You’re now competing against your own name in some weird way within the same tire space, although you do very different things. I probably did not do that justice. Can you take us through that a little bit? Because I just think it’s a fascinating brand evolution and challenge that you have as a brand manager here.
Jacki Lutz: Yeah, sure. It’s funny too, before I get started on it, because as a marketer, people look at you because people don’t just generally understand brand strategy or communications. They look at you like, “Okay, what do we do?” I’ve never had this one either. This one was brand new for me, and I think most marketers won’t have to go through this, God willing.
So last year, probably around Q2 of the year, Sensata sold off just the mechanical parts of the Schrader brand, which is that valve, which is what made Schrader really famous. Everyone still to this day calls it the Schrader valve. It’s the Schrader valve. So losing that part of the business is heavy, but it really didn’t align with Sensata’s focus and vision, which is all technology. It’s all very forward-thinking, and they really wanted to be able to focus our energy into our tire pressure monitoring systems and any other sensors that we decide to bring to the market. It really didn’t fit the portfolio of Sensata.
But what made it so interesting is that we had just started this Schrader heritage campaign in the beginning of the year, a couple months prior, where we were just brainstorming. “What can we talk about this year? What’s our message?” One thing that we have that most brands don’t is that we’ve been around for, at the time, 174 years. We wanted to talk about that and what that meant. So we were putting out all of these old vintage heritage ads, and most of them were about this valve.
Then about a quarter of the way through this heritage campaign, we were told that we sold off that business. It’s like, “Well, what are we going to do this heritage campaign on?” Yeah, it was a little bit of a wrench thrown into our campaign right in the middle.
Carman Pirie: Man. It’s like sometimes it seems like … I know this out of necessity has to be the case oftentimes in an acquisition situation or what have you, but it is frustrating as the marketer when you feel like you’re the last one to know about this major, major shift that is changing your entire world for the next year and then some.
So what, you then just had to pause the campaign, I’m guessing, or at the very least redo the creative? How did you shift it from the heritage of the product to the heritage of the brand? Is that what happened?
Jacki Lutz: No, yeah, I guess that’s a really good way to put it. It wasn’t truly announced to the industry for a few months later. So we kept going with the brand, but it definitely … or with the campaign, but it definitely lost a little bit of its steam, especially on our end, because we’re like, “Okay, we’ve got to think about something else here.”
But it came at a good time because we had our 175th anniversary coming up the following year. We started gearing our campaign towards more that we’ve been around this long not because of the valve but because we’re innovative. We know how to change with the industry. We know how to listen to our customer and hear what they want, what they need, what makes their job easier, how we can help.
Our customer service, our loyalty, these are things that really keep a company around for 175 years. I was doing a lot of research just on how many brands are still around that long, and there’s only a handful. It really was a big deal, and it’s way more than a product. We didn’t start out with a tire valve back in 1844. We started out with rubber fittings. So that’s not even what started us. It just happens to be what we’re famous for. Yeah, we turned the message from, as you say, the product to the brand and what made the brand so powerful in the first place.
Carman Pirie: It’s got to be a bit jarring, though. I think you even mentioned that initially, that when you find out that the valve business is going away and it’s a big part of your history, you said it was a bit heavy.
Jacki Lutz: Yeah.
Carman Pirie: So was there that collective gasp in the marketing department like, “What now?”
Jacki Lutz: Yeah, it was a collective gasp. That’s exactly what it was because nobody else would really think of it that way. It’s more the communication of it—I’m sure that a big reason that marketing is the last to know is that we communicate it. That’s what we’re paid to do. So if something is still in the works and little details are still being thought out, they’re not thinking about, “Oh, they are doing a heritage campaign.” They’re thinking about all the probably arguably more important details to iron this kind of acquisition out.
Yeah, we were like, “Well, what do we do here?” But like I said, luckily, we had the 175th anniversary coming up. We really took it as an opportunity. We really tried to be positive about it. Okay, so we’re moving away from hard parts. Our entire industry is moving towards technology at an incredible pace. Now we get to be a part of that conversation.
So we took this whole … We’re selling off the hard parts business, but we’re still the same brand. We’re still the same product. We’re still going to be having the same valve on our product, but we’re just going to focus on bringing the best technology and the newest stuff to the market. We’re going to be able to give you better technology and better products for this move. We ended up doing a rebrand because of that, and it lined up perfectly with 175th anniversary, luckily. Again, it was this perfect storm. But we took it from, “Yeah, we were a hard parts business, but now we’re technology.”
We tweaked our logo a little bit, partially to separate us from this Schrader valve business that is still out there, which still continues to use the older logo. We just took the same logo, but we just tweaked it to look more technology-focused. It played nicer with the Sensata logo. It looked a little bit more modern. Again, same brand, just focusing on the technology side of our business.
Jeff White: Have you found in discussions with any of your existing customers that there is any confusion between the two Schrader brands?
Carman Pirie: Schrader vs. Schrader?
Jeff White: Yeah, it’s like Spy vs. Spy.
Carman Pirie: I was thinking that too, but then I thought that dated me. I’m glad you did it first.
Sorry, Jacki. We’re not talking about Spy vs. Spy. This is actually Schrader vs. Schrader. We’re curious. Has there been confusion in that, especially since they’re continuing to operate with the old logo?
Jacki Lutz: Yeah, not a ton. A little bit here and there, especially when they’re people on LinkedIn or something like that. You see there’s two different Schraders. It’s weird. But really, nothing’s changed for our customers. They’re still getting the same exact product. How we source it isn’t really the problem of our customers. Nothing’s really changed for our customers, and really, that valve business, it doesn’t touch our customers directly at all.
Our customers, I don’t think there’s been as much confusion, but maybe out in the industry for people maybe outside of the tire industry that might be walking a trade show, maybe, and they walk by a Schrader valve booth and then they walk by our Schrader TPMS booth. I’m sure that there’s questions that arise, but I also think that the logo speaks for itself now. We changed our line at the bottom to say TPMS Solutions, so people know exactly what we sell at that booth. We did that everywhere.
So I think that with our customers, I don’t think there’s a lot of confusion. I think we did a good job with our communications, and quite frankly, I don’t think that they care. They’re not worried about it. They’re hoping for new technology. But I do see a little bit in the industry, people asking, especially on a Facebook page or a LinkedIn page, or if a press release comes out. Sometimes they see this new logo, and sometimes they don’t. If you don’t understand the differences between these two businesses, then yeah, it’ll be a little confusing to the industry, but I think our customers get it.
Carman Pirie: Jacki, how adamant have you been about making sure people understand that there’s a separation in them? Part of me asks that question, I must admit, through the lens of my former life in crisis management and political communications where I would be thinking if something really went weird with the CEO of the other Schrader-
Jeff White: I’m sure they’re fine.
Carman Pirie: Yeah, but I’m just saying. If someone went sideways, you don’t want your brand associated with that. Maybe that’s a very glass half empty, negative view of the world, but I just seem to feel that there would be some level of interest in really making sure that people are aware that there is a separation.
Jacki Lutz: Yeah, we haven’t been that adamant about it because quite honestly, we still want people to say the Schrader valve. We still want to be associated with that legacy. So it’s not that we don’t want to be known for that, still. Really, when people associate us with that brand, good.
If something bad were to happen, maybe we’ll stretch out our arm a little bit and be like, “Listen, we’re different.” But right now, it’s not something that we really find as a concern. If people associate us together, I don’t see it as a concern.
But the whole purpose of a rebrand is to truly … You want people to start seeing your new logo and associating that with TPMS, with technology. I think the hardest part is that that other brand creeps into people’s messaging quite often. I think it just looks like an inconsistency in our marketing, but it’s completely out of our hands, what they do. We just have to do the best we can and ride the wave.
Carman Pirie: Well, I hope I didn’t jinx it and the CEO of the other Schrader end up in some weird scandal next week.
Jacki Lutz: I hope you didn’t either.
Jeff White: I do think there’s an interesting consideration. We haven’t really talked about this yet, but I’m wondering how this has played into your search marketing in terms of splitting off and having these two Schraders both being found for that name and for things associated with tires. Have you seen any drop or change in the way that your search traffic comes in?
Jacki Lutz: Not really, but to get maybe too granular, we for a while … because when we were separating these businesses, we had a website called schraderinternational.com up until a couple months ago that still hosted our OE products. It still had aftermarket stuff even though we have a separate aftermarket website, and then we have this valve business too. Part of the contract was giving all these businesses time to get their stuff together before we deleted the site.
So we had a landing page developed that before you enter that site, it says, “Are you looking for aftermarket? Are you looking for OE? Are you looking for valve?” And people would click from there. Once we got rid of that site, most of that traffic was all going to our Schrader TPMS aftermarket site. I would say 80% of it. We get way more. That website was very well-known in our customer base, so we haven’t really seen …
And honestly, that Schrader International too, when you search, that was what came up. That had such good SEO and such good traffic that it was difficult for us to even get our aftermarket site up to that level. Now that it’s removed, I don’t see our search being impacted any other way but positively from removing that from our business. If people are searching for Schrader valve, I think they would still probably end up getting most of our aftermarket content because we put so much out, and it would be leading them back to our Schrader TPMS site anyway.
Carman Pirie: So as part of that acquisition or sell-off, I guess, there wasn’t a sell-off of the valve-based content? That’s interesting.
Jacki Lutz: Yeah, there wasn’t a whole lot that wasn’t associated with TPMS because the valve has had a TPMS sensor behind it since 2007. So yeah, there’s just not a lot of content out there that’s not about the valve itself that doesn’t have anything to do with TPMS, at least that we’ve developed.
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Carman Pirie: I’d be curious. That just happened in Q2 of last year, and we’re chatting at the end of Q2 2019. This is essentially a year, and a year and a little bit ago, you had no idea that anything that was going on in this past year was going to happen. It’s been a wild ride, I can gather.
I’m curious. If you had to give yourself a piece of advice, if you went back to the day that you found out about this and were staring down the barrel of changing your strategy for the year, I wonder what advice you would give yourself.
Jacki Lutz: I think I would peg that around just to not forget who you are and what your brand represents during the chaos, and what’s really, actually important to the end user and to your customer who’s selling the product. It’s so easy, and we did for a while. We got caught up on, “Well, who do we want to be?” We did this rebrand, and we wanted to step completely away and be completely separated from this other Schrader brand that’s out there with the valve.
If I just had some little fairy godmother that could have came to me and said, “Don’t forget who you are,” we would have been able to make decisions a lot quicker. We were so wrapped up in trying to figure out how to separate ourselves from this valve business, and what the right move was, and how to keep the legacy of Schrader, but then also look like this new company that’s focusing solely on technology now. We spent so much time wrestling with that.
I think the important thing at the end of the day and what was important to our customers- and luckily, I think we made the right decision- was we don’t want to separate ourselves from the Schrader valve business. That is where our brand really started getting famous in this industry. It is what people are going to know Schrader for, for a very, very long time. We don’t want to separate ourselves from that.
So making those kind of decisions, I’ve never wished for a fairy godmother so badly. That would have really streamlined our process quite a bit.
Carman Pirie: Was there a thought at some point that you were going to potentially even get rid of the Schrader name entirely and go to Sensata TPMS or something like that? Had you guys kicked that around? How close were you to doing that?
Jacki Lutz: Not very. When Sensata acquired the Schrader brand, they wanted to keep it in the aftermarket for a reason. They know the strength of it, and it’s what people know. Really, no one really knows Sensata very well in the aftermarket yet. So the Schrader brand, it’s not going anywhere. I think anything to do with the tire that we do, which will be forever—the foreseeable future, anyway—the Schrader brand will definitely still be around.
Jeff White: I think it’s interesting because in a lot of cases, and especially when it comes to doing branding projects, yes, it might have been nice to have a fairy godmother to tell you, “No, no, don’t worry about it. Just keep going with the Schrader name and all of that,” but I often wonder in situations like that if don’t go through that soul searching and looking down the wrong path, if you would have necessarily found the right one as easily.
Jacki Lutz: Yeah, that’s a good point.
Jeff White: I think it sometimes takes that extra effort of exploring all of those options and keeping you up at night, even when you end up coming to a solution that seems at the end of it much simpler.
Jacki Lutz: Yeah, that’s a really good point. I think in a way, it helps you build your dialogue and your storyline behind what you ultimately decide to do. Having explored these other routes too and realizing why they’re not the right ones, it really gives you a lot of content around why what you chose was the right one.
Jacki Lutz: I think we all felt really good about it when we had the aha moment like, “Wait, do we want to?” Somebody played devil’s advocate in that meeting. I would love the credit for it, but I don’t know if it was me. But somebody was like, “Well, why would we want to separate from this valve business?” So yeah, I agree.
Carman Pirie: There’s a nice separation there, too, in the thinking, to say the brand can be different from the product itself We’re getting rid of the valve business. We’re getting rid of this one product. As you mentioned, the customers in some ways don’t even know, or they’re still buying the same thing at the end of the day and they still have the Schrader valve in it.
So I think there’s a good wisdom in thinking the brand can stand for something outside of just the products that we sell, but it’s about how we sell them. It’s about how we make them. It’s about our thinking that goes into them. It’s about our technology, the sensibility.
Jeff White: Service. Support.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. So I think there is a lot of wisdom there, Jacki, in thinking that through and saying, “This brand can be more than just our legacy product.”
Jacki Lutz: Yeah, I agree with you. Schrader does represent a lot more than what we’ve sold because we’ve sold … They were into diving helmets in World War II. Our product line for Schrader has been all over the place. We just happen to be the most well-known for this valve. We really had to take that into perspective and take that into consideration too. It’s that, you’re right, we’re not just a product. This is a legacy brand. People trust it for a reason, and it’s not because of a valve. It’s because of a lot of other factors.
Carman Pirie: I had no idea about this diving helmet bit, and I feel like I should have a better question about it. It’s just interesting, but I have nothing.
Jacki Lutz: Aww.
Jeff White: So now that you’ve had a tumultuous year under your belt and know what you know based on that, where are you taking the Schrader brand next?
Jacki Lutz: Well, we’re excited to bring more technology. There’s a lot of interesting stuff happening in the tire industry. I don’t know if you’ve heard of, for example, the airless tire that is being talked about. There’s a lot of changes in the industry in general and specifically in the tire too.
We have a lot of exciting stuff coming out. We’re very lucky to be so close to Sensata and this OE world. We’ve always been OE, but Sensata has so much more that they offer. I’m excited to see what they’re able to bring to the aftermarket too and what we’re able to bring to our customers that nobody else is going to be able to.
Carman Pirie: I find that we could have another conversation entirely about the fact of an airless tire when what you sell is tire pressure monitoring systems.
Jacki Lutz: I know.
Carman Pirie: Yeah, I hadn’t really thought about that at all.
Jacki Lutz: Yeah, but it’s an exciting time. It’ll be an exciting time in a good way.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. Well, these things still require something else to be monitored, I’m sure, as part of that. I’m very curious to see-
Jacki Lutz: Oh, sure. Yeah, especially with all this autonomous vehicle stuff coming out.
Carman Pirie: Yeah, I’m very excited to see what happens next for Schrader. It’s an interesting repositioning of the brand to make it much more technology-forward, and I think that can’t help but in some ways bring some focus to the team internally as well. Do you find that that’s been part of this transition as well in exiting the valve business is that the team itself identifies as being a little bit more tech-forward?
Jacki Lutz: I think they do because we told them to, but I don’t think our team has really felt much of the valve business being sold. It hasn’t really impacted us very much. That wasn’t what we were excited to tell our customers. We weren’t excited to talk to our customers about valves. It was always about the new technology that we’re bringing out.
So I don’t think that it’s really been that impactful at all. If anything, it’s because we tell our salespeople, “Hey, we’re doing this rebrand. We are now a technology-only company. It’s super exciting,” and then that’s exactly what they go out and say. So I think we’ve told them to be excited about it.
Carman Pirie: In the next episode of The Kula Ring, Jacki is going to tell marketers exactly how to get salespeople to do what they tell them.
Jeff White: To do what they want.
Carman Pirie: Bless. So stay tuned for that.
Jacki Lutz: You really could do a whole segment on that. Yeah.
Carman Pirie: It’s always good to poke fun at the salespeople as a sales guy.
Jeff White: As a sales guy.
Carman Pirie: I like to do that.
Awesome. Well, Jacki, this has been great. I thank you so much for taking us through this. It sounds like you’ve had a heck of a year, and I’m excited to see what’s next. We shall be watching with interest.
Jacki Lutz: Oh, thank you. Please do.
Carman Pirie: Thanks for joining us on The Kula Ring today. I appreciate it.
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