Putting Your In-House Engineering to Work in Your Marketing Efforts

Episode 289

May 28, 2024

This week The Kula Ring is all about Thought Leadership. We are sitting down with Sean O’Brien who has successfully integrated a thought leadership-backed marketing strategy at his highly specialized industrial manufacturing company. We discuss a myriad of ways to distribute this type of work and how to develop the key people within your firm to be excellent examples of thought leaders.

Putting Your In-House Engineering to Work in Your Marketing Efforts Transcript:

Announcer: You’re listening to The Kula Ring, a podcast made for manufacturing marketers. Here are Carman Pirie and Jeff White.

Jeff White: Welcome to The Kula Ring, a podcast for manufacturing marketers brought to you by Kula Partners. My name is Jeff White, and joining me today is Carman Pirie. Carman, how are you doing, sir?

Carman Pirie: I’m doing well and excited for today’s conversation. Happy to be here. How are you doing?

Jeff White: Yeah, same here. No, I really like kind of talking about marketers or talking with marketers that have different types of backgrounds that they’re bringing to more B2B style industrial manufacturers. I think it’s a really interesting experience set and, you know, kind of an interesting career path, too.

Carman Pirie: Yeah, And I think it’s interesting because you can quite easily say or, you know, it’s easy to say, oh, everything’s different. And it’s almost equally easy to say it’s all the same in some ways. Like, you know, some of the underlying principles of marketing and persuasion, you know, transcend B2B or B2C a lot of some of the tactics do. So it’s always a welcome perspective when you have somebody bringing both to the table.

Jeff White: Yeah. And recognizing that both have unique and interesting challenges that, you know, there’s some crossover opportunity for sure.

Carman Pirie: indeed.

Jeff White: Yeah. So joining us today is Sean O’Brien. Sean is the head of Global Marketing Communications at Mott Corporation. Welcome to The Kula Ring, Sean.

Sean O’Brien: Thank you very much. I’m excited to be here.

Carman Pirie: Sean we’re excited to have you on the show. Look, first off, let’s let’s learn more about Mott Corp, not the apple sauce people completely different. This is yeah, that’s no more about Mott Corp and how you ended up there.

Sean O’Brien: Sure. So Mott Corporation is the leading provider of purification and process filtration across multiple industries. We play in some of the coolest ones in the space from Semiconductor manufacturing to clean energy and green hydrogen production to oil and gas processing to healthcare, to aerospace and defense. So we participate and contribute solutions to really most industries you think about and it’s really about handling and how do we process, purify and control flow across all these different, you know, applications in all those industries.

Carman Pirie: That’s remarkably diverse, which brings up a whole host of questions. But before we get there, how long have you been with them?

Sean O’Brien: So I’ve been at Mott for about a year and it’s been a whirlwind. And one of the interesting things about it, before I got to my it was with the Stanley Black Decker for about four years and before that Honeywell for about six years. So I’ve definitely been in the industrial space, industrial manufacturing space. But before Honeywell, Stanley Black Decker, we also had a pretty substantial B2C arm and we were direct sellers, whether through e-commerce or B2B2C through retailers like Dick’s Sporting Goods to Granger to Tractor Supply. So a lot of different areas in the B2C and the B2B2C space. But the interesting thing is jumping over to Mott is we’re a pure B2B player and pure industrial manufacturing as well. So it’s been an interesting and quick learning curve to really kind of start making an impact immediately in our business kind of thing. So it’s been great.

Carman Pirie: Man those are not just industrial companies, but very, very powerful industrial brands. I mean Honeywell, Stanley Black Decker, very, very well known. It must be interesting to consider nurturing and evolving a brand story for a company like Mott Corp. when you’re when you kind of have that lens.

Sean O’Brien: So it is very interesting because one of the biggest things that I learned in my previous experience is to become a true storyteller and really get out there and let customers or even consumers know it’s more customers in the B2B space about the value props that you’re selling. What is your true differentiator? How can you impact a particular project or solution to really help solve problems? And that’s what I’ve experienced quite a bit at Mott. There are a lot of companies in very complex industries that are having dilemmas, and problems. How do I solve this? How do I particularly attack this problem? And Mott is doing, does a phenomenal job of deploying engineering resources in domestic manufacturing. We make all our own products and really get after it kind of thing. So it makes it a very easy story to tell. But with my background, I know how to do that kind of thing.

Jeff White: The thing I find interesting about that, you know, you talking about helping these these other manufacturers solve problems. So in a lot of ways, you’d have to have a fairly strong brand with Mott in order for them to be aware that there’s a potential solution there. Like how much of what you’re doing is trying to introduce people who’ve never heard of this type of filtration solution compared to really sort of having an overarching brand that’s that’s visible and considered by the engineers who might be trying to design around it.

Sean O’Brien: So you’re exactly right. That’s one of my big challenges. We’ve done a tremendous amount of business and done very, very well the past four years because of word of mouth. It’s been we have an unbelievable reputation. We’re known for our quality lead times. We can scale all of those things. So it’s word of mouth. Now, the key now is, how do I start letting people who have never heard of the brand before? We really kind of embrace those kinds of initiatives and things that we support. So a couple of ways we do that, I’m one of the bigger ones that have really embraced and I did this at Stanley quite a bit in thought leadership. We have key GM leaders and business unit leaders, and I’ve really pushed opportunities for them to speak at conferences, events, press conferences, press releases, blog posts, and social media posts. So I’ve really pushed you know, my GMs, who are very technical engineering-based leaders, that they’re true experts in, in the categories they manage. For example, my GM for clean energy knows the space really well and is the key person to get information for. And I have him speaking at Hanover, Messe. Coming up next week at the Energy innovation stage. So key aspects are going to be thought leadership is one of the big initiatives that I go down the path with. The other one, which I’ve started to lean in quite a bit with, is starting to you’ve seen a lot of the trends, especially in the U.S., about the security of our supply chain and and developing key suppliers that support, you know, security, national security, whether it’s energy security, semiconductor security in manufacturing. So we are a big provider of that. And the most recent award by the Department of Energy that just granted us $10 million is really another way I can tell that story and tell the story about, hey, if the federal government can trust us, you can trust this kind of thing. So that’s a big initiative for us as well.

Carman Pirie: I want to dig into that thought leadership component just a little bit further. I appreciate you listing out the various kinds of components, you know, speaking at a conference or an event versus maybe a press release or something that can be a little bit more, if you will, controlled from the central marketer and then social media. So there’s a community if you like. There are different tiers of frankly, control the marketer can bring to it versus how much training is required or coaching or what have you may be required to get to that. You know, to get to the point where some of these may be doing media operate, media availability at or even speaking at a conference, how have you I guess it’s I would assume that the juice is worth the squeeze. Getting somebody to speak at a conference is way more useful than getting them to write a blog post or to put their name to one. Have you thought about that in a more formulaic way? You assess the GMs and say, you know what, some of them are maybe a little bit more media friendly than others, or maybe just lean into that a little bit more. How do you go about it?

Sean O’Brien: So you’re exactly right. I think the biggest thing that I have to handle is really the great I’m very lucky because my games are truly experts in their field. They’re engineer trained, but I also have a very good personality and are interesting kind of thing and speak very well. So from a media training perspective, it’s been like a very small lift kind of thing. And so I’ve been excited because I actually have some pretty good spokespeople to kind of handle that. So but you’re exactly right. The public environment is a much better solution because I can film it, I can edit it, and I have content that I can develop through their speaking. Yes, the written blog is nice. And the other approach, which I think is critical, is that you can’t do just one thing. It has to be a complete, comprehensive 360 approach. So if they do the speaking, you need to have the blog and the social. It’s got to be a full 360 approach package specific to that. And yes, we might post on our own Mott LinkedIn page, but I also want them posting on their own personal LinkedIn page because that builds up their there, their influencer and their thought leader leadership strategy. But yes, you’ve got to make sure that they are. You can’t just throw someone out there. You have to make sure that they are engaging they’re a compelling speaker. And I’ve been very lucky. I haven’t had to do too much training, let’s put it that way.

Carman Pirie: I had to coach some politicians in a former life, and I can tell you some were way better than others. It was brutal. 

Sean O’Brien: Yeah.

Jeff White: Still scarred.

Carman Pirie: PTSD from that.

Jeff White: But it sounds like you didn’t encounter a whole lot of resistance either. Like if you know, there’s there’s one, you know, one side where you’re you’re willing to do it. There’s another where you’re like, okay, yeah, let’s let’s go. You know.

Sean O’Brien: Well, it’s interesting because they’ve never done their might, has never done this kind of robust marketing or thought leadership before. Yes. We’ve had the CEO speak at a press conference or announce a new building expansion and things like that before I got here. But I’ve really kind of ramped up. And so they’ve embraced it because they also have identified the need to get us to the next level. And we really need to start building the brand. The people that work for this brand, the trust and the expertise that we have within the organization, I think that’s one of our biggest strengths is we’re heavy, you know, staffed with, you know, PhDs to master’s in engineering to process. And we have a team that can really get after it and make an impact. And so it all goes back to the challenges that these processes or engineers have with their projects and how we solve them kind of thing. So, it’s the whole team is really embracing this new approach.

Carman Pirie: As we’re bringing this brand more to life and telling this brand story. And, you know, it’s coming to life through you know, we refer to the words from various games, from very distinct business units, very distinct verticals. How have you navigated trying to tell a cohesive story? It would seem to me that the value prop within, say, green hydrogen might be very, very different than some of the more traditional categories that you play within. I would think the emphasis on environmental sustainability would vary from one vertical to another. Just different things would be important to different people at different times. Have you navigated that?

Sean O’Brien: You have a great point. So we have different value props within each business unit, whether it’s semiconductor manufacturing to to green hydrogen production. But the biggest thing I go back to and Mott’s key, you know, key story and key brand story is quality speed to market our lead times are the shortest in the industry scalability and on time delivery we’re over well over 95% on-time delivery with all our products. So that’s a great fundamental umbrella to kind of dig, dig our teeth into. And then the other one, which works really regardless of the business units that we participate data, and we’re also a turnkey solution, we can come in solving an engineering problem, partner with your engineers, work all the way through prototype to scalability to delivery of large volumes kind of thing. So those are fundamental core value props for every industry we play in, whether it’s health care, aerospace, or things like that.

Carman Pirie: So and then you can branch off from there basically.

Sean O’Brien: Exactly. For example, I was at the space symposium about two weeks ago out in Colorado Springs, which is a show, if you’ve never been to which I had never been to, is really cool because it’s all about rockets and space and moon, moon missions and satellite missions and all the big players there from I mean, NASA’s to ULA to Space X to, you know, Northrop Grumman. But the big thing there and we had a booth, we had a speaking we had a hospitality, but people came to our booth specifically, one to understand what we’re all about and the fact that we make all our products domestically, we can deliver we can deploy engineering resources that resonate with people that have critical projects that can’t fail. If you think about it. So that was very compelling and the message was embraced quite a bit at a very busy show.

Jeff White: Man, domestic manufacturing in that market can’t hurt either. And with the current global concerns.

Sean O’Brien: The only thing I just have one funny story about is that I couldn’t compete with one booth that was handling handing out lightsabers. That was a very popular booth. Man, they got lightsabers.

Carman Pirie: So, you know, it’s one of those ones that in hindsight you’re like, Why didn’t I think of that? I mean.

Sean O’Brien: Exactly. 

Carman Pirie: This talk about the trade shows just kind of has me thinking about one of the different balances that you might be striking at Corp versus what you may have experienced at Honeywell and Stanley Black Decker is the emphasis on bringing the brand to life and those closer to the customer environments like trade shows or events versus more mass market brand awareness or, you know, investing in those kinds of awareness campaigns. Have you thought about that kind of more general awareness for Corp? It sounds weird to think about General awareness and green hydrogen in the same sentence at the same time. There are a lot more verticals and some level of bedrock if you will. Awareness is probably desired.

Sean O’Brien: So a couple of things. Same thing coming on board. There is a lot of just basic blocking and tackling that I had to get after and that is your key brand awareness, whether it’s paid search to organic search to just, you know, very simple things that, yeah, marketing one-on-one in the digital landscape that we had to fix and do so so that I had to fix and kind of address that and we’re right well back on our path of really expanding that overall brand presence. However, I do feel there’s an approach with trade shows depending on the industry that we need to kind of get out there and have visibility because a lot of people are currently buying products from us. For example, at the space symposium we had a lot of customers that, Whoa, Oh, hey, it’s good to see you here kind of thing, because, you know, they’d never seen this before. Same thing with Hanover, Messe. We’ve never been. We’ve never had a stand at the show coming up, which is, I think you guys know one of the largest industrial manufacturing shows in the world. It’s a great opportunity for us to showcase us as a brand, and showcase our solutions to make green hydrogen more profitable and more efficient. And then I’m also deploying speaking I’m doing a hospitality event. I’m also launching a brand new interactive platform that allows you to use a touch screen to see how our solutions are in a hydrogen plant and really kind of, Wow, okay, you do all these different aspects in green hydrogen production, which is very difficult to do on a website, let’s put it that way. So it really allows me a nice blend of overall brand start building up the digital awareness, but then also having a presence at a major industrial event like Hanover Messe.

Jeff White: One of the things that’s really important when you’re kind of going into new markets and trying to get the brand known and all of that is to begin to kind of personalize it to each one of the personas in those markets. And each kind of market has its own kind of dynamic, of course. So how do you how do you think about that? You’ve talked a bit about how you kind of customize the trade show experiences depending on where you’re going, but how are you thinking about that more broadly?

Sean O’Brien: Okay. So you’re exactly right. One of the big things that I spend a lot of my time, my first few months, is really defining those personas for each key business unit and really working with the team, Looking at history, who have we sold to in the past? I mean, Mott’s been around for 65 years, so I have a good amount of history that I can reference. So depending a lot on it. I mean, we sell directly to these program managers, these process engineers these supply chain managers, because we can deliver and provide there. So what I’ve done is really kind of define those personas by business unit and then start implementing account-based marketing campaigns against key and targeting those personas within each individual company. That kind of goes back to just doing some basic stuff. I’m not I don’t have a massive program here to really target this, but it’s I’m taking the crawl, walk run approach on this one as we evolve. And the great thing about this is we can shift very quickly, we can customize very quickly and really build that story that’s catered to that direct person. So that’s one approach that I’ve taken. The other one so that’s a kind of a bottom-up approach. I’m also looking at a top-down approach as well, and that’s more of an awareness campaign I’m doing. I’m very specific with those processes with key solutions that would impact them. But the top-down approach, I’m going more bigger picture and why it goes down that, you know, reliability, domestic manufacturing and national security as to where a key supply chain provider to the national security. So that’s more of the top-down approach and customizing it accordingly.

Carman Pirie: You mentioned earlier about, I guess, kind of tweaked on this and I jotted down the notes. I’m like, if I get a chance to ask this question, I will. I wonder, do you find that there’s just a really different emphasis on customers versus prospects and B2B versus, say, B2B2C or how you think about it? I mean, I think when you brought it up the first time, you know, consumers, you know, thinking about consumer awareness versus talking to the customer. And I guess to lead the witness a bit, it’s one of the things that I’ve noticed is that the more a B2B manufacturer is, the more they’re basically only selling to other manufacturers. Very often they can. Sometimes it seems like they’re much better at talking to price, and talking to customers than they are talking to new prospects.

Sean O’Brien: Well, that’s that’s it’s actually interesting because that was that’s been a little bit of a transformation for me because, you know, even, you know, when I was doing B2C, you’re focused on the end-user and it’s a shorter sales cycle. It’s something that they’re more of a repeat purchaser, more frequent kind of thing. So that’s been a little bit of a shift for me and something that I’ve evolved because I’ve become, especially in the business that we’re in, it’s a much longer lead time. So yes, you need to focus on the direct customers that are that have purchased from us. And as I said before, we’ve had a lot of customers throughout our tenure. And how do we focus on that? However, that’s something that I’ve done more and implemented more prospecting. And because you’ve got to keep that pipeline going. So I track it both ways. I look at new customers, and I track existing customers and how often they’re purchasing from us. But then I’m focused on that pipeline and what potential new prospects we have. And that’s new for Mott as well because I think that’s your long-term growth plan and those prospects out there and there’s a lot because you know, we’re a good sized business, but we there’s a lot of people don’t know who we are. So I would say my split is about 50/50, focusing on existing customers and the immediate customers. But really I’m about prospecting just as much. And I think prospecting, that’s where obviously you have a digital initiative account-based marketing, but that thought leadership really helps with that prospecting as well.

Carman Pirie: And the one thing I think that a lot of manufacturers that are in that 60, 70-year-old kind of category range and they can get you can build a hell of a business serving the same customer base basically. And they were doing so at a time when people stayed in the job for 30 years. So, you know, you sold it to them once and then like ten years later, you go back. I mean, they were they were there. Whereas, you know, it’s kind of what they’re struggling with or I think some manufacturers are struggling with is that getting their head around the fact that their market does change out more quickly. Now there is more turnover on the buyer side. People aren’t staying in those jobs that long and that brand awareness kind of walks out the door of your customer every day at five or six.

Sean O’Brien: Well, it’s interesting you say that because we do a lot of business with the same person, even though they’ve moved companies kind of thing because our reliability is a key factor in them deploying our solution in their next project, whether it’s with their existing company or in the next company. That’s why I hammer that story so heavily because, to your point, people are changing jobs every four or five years, if not shorter, and especially in a lot of the spaces and industries we play in. So you’re exact, but it’s critical that we maintain that consistency from a messaging and story so they can remember that and keep being reminded of it and then carry that to the next their next business which is huge.

Carman Pirie: I love a marketer who looks at the upside. Exactly. They may be moving out every three or four years or five years, but they’re often cross-pollinating into another prospect that you haven’t sold into. Interesting. I’m trying to remember Jeff is always better at remembering specifics than I am. So maybe you’ll remember this. I don’t know. But I think we interview them on a podcast. I’m not sure. Somebody I seem to remember had a sticker campaign for hardhats because their idea was that they’ll actually take the hardhat from job to job. And so it goes with them, even though the equipment might not go with them because it stays in the factory of the place that they were before.

Jeff White: That was in our first season. I’m pretty sure I remember the conversation. But man, that was five years ago. I’ve got nothing.

Carman Pirie: But it is, I love it though, right? This idea of, okay, people are moving around every 4 to 5 years. What is the what’s the social object? What’s the marketing artifact from our brand that we can give them that they’ll carry from workplace to workplace? Fascinating consideration.

Sean O’Brien: You bring up an interesting point about that. So one of our best home court advantages is we get a lot of our customers coming to our facilities in Farmington, Connecticut, and then they kind of can see how we scale, how we actually make the products. And it’s it’s amazing that their eyes are open like, wait, this is what you you guys actually so I any chance that I didn’t real I’ve never seen anything like that in my previous companies. Yes, we had people come to Stanley and Honeywell and the facilities but we have a pretty cool operation in Farmington, Connecticut where I can showcase a lot of our capabilities. And in the home court advantage definitely helps and it works. And we get these I mean, we get massive companies from, you know, SpaceX next to Northrop to the U.S. Navy, comes to Farmington, Connecticut, to see how we operate. So that’s another opportunity that I can customize the experience and really kind of showcase what we do.

Jeff White: Man it sounds like you’ve accomplished a heck of a lot in 12 months in a company previously without a marketing rudder. Anyway, Sounds like they were well-equipped from a sales and relationship standpoint, for sure. But wow, you really implemented a huge program.

Sean O’Brien: It’s been full speed ahead. That’s what I said before. It’s I kind of hit the ground running and luckily my training and experience is that at Stanley too Honeywell really prepared me for this and applying this kind of solution because I knew right away, okay, these are the five priorities. Let’s do these right now and then slowly but surely ramp up and quickly so it’s not perfect. I have a lot more work to do, but it’s really been a tremendous experience and I’ve really enjoyed it.

Carman Pirie: Sean, As we draw our time together here to a close, I wonder if a little choose your own adventure question. What are you most excited about over the next few years in this space, or what are you most concerned about?

Sean O’Brien: It’s a couple of things I think I’m most excited about. The industries that were in the semiconductor manufacturing industry couldn’t be hotter. I think the other one, which I’m super excited about, is green hydrogen. I understand the future and the importance of manufacturing green hydrogen and reducing our carbon footprint. That’s a huge win for us. And then the last one is aerospace, especially coming off the space symposium, and tradeshow, the amount of energy and effort around space exploration and getting satellites in space is amazing. So the next three years just in those three industries and I’ve got a few other ones too I just can’t wait and I mean you read every day from the journal The Financial Times there’s four articles so about any of those industries. And so there’s a lot of attention. There’s attention from customers, there’s attention from the federal government. And it really I think it’s sustainable and it’s something that I’m super excited about. And so the great thing is we’re well positioned to grow with those industries and really kind of build this brand up in a meaningful way.

Carman Pirie: Well, Sean, I look forward to watching it. It’s been a pleasure to have you on the show today. Thank you so much.

Sean O’Brien: Thank you. I’ve really enjoyed the conversation and this is a great podcast and I was psyched to be here.

Jeff White: Fantastic it sounds like you bring enthusiasm to everything you do. Thanks a lot, Sean.

Sean O’Brien: Thank you.

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-A Partners dot com slash The Kula Ring.

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Sean O'Brien Headshot


Sean O'Brien

Head of Marketing & Communication at Mott Corporation

Sean O’Brien is a global leader and strategic marketing and communications professional. As an expert brand builder, business driver and strategic visionary he has decades of experience building B2C and B2B brands and teams.
He is currently the Global Head of Marketing & Communication at Mott Corporation, the technology-driven, precision filtration company where he leads the brand, product, and communication strategies for the organization. Working closely with the sales, engineering, and product development teams his leadership ensures business growth as well as delivering the best solutions to customers and partners.
Previously, he was the Head of Marketing and Communications for Stanley X, the innovation arm of Stanley Black & Decker where he was responsible for Innovation Strategy, Brand Marketing, Product Marketing and Commercialization.
He also served as the Vice President and General Manager at Honeywell where he led, marketed and managed footwear and personal protective equipment (PPE) lines for the Honeywell Global Retail Division, driving product innovation and global expansion.
In addition, he has held senior marketing positions at Converse, Wilson Sporting Goods, and New Balance. Known for his strategic vision, creative expertise, marketing integration, and player/coach style, his passion and leadership is making an impact in the industry.
He received a Bachelor of Science degree from Boston University and is an active volunteer and mentor with Techstars providing guidance and support for early-stage entrepreneurs.

The Kula Ring is a podcast for manufacturing marketers who care about evolving their strategy to gain a competitive edge.

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