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 Sean Rossi. Currently the Senior Marketing Director – Demand Generation with Samsung Electronics America, Sean was at RB at the time of this recording. Sean shares insights about the importance of agility in manufacturing marketing, not getting lost in the data, and doing your planning with the end goal in mind.
Starting with the End in Mind Transcript:
Announcer: You’re listening to the Kula Ring, a podcast made for manufacturing marketers. Here are Jeff White and Carman Pirie.
Jeff White: Welcome to the Kula Ring. My name is Jeff White. Joining me today is Carman Pirie. How are you Carman?
Carman Pirie: I am well. I am well. I’m really keen to get underway with today’s guest because I think we’re going to start scraping away, if you will, some of the distractions around the discussion about B2C versus B2B and I feel like we have a bit of a fox in the hen house today. Somebody who’s made an exceptional career in the CPG space. So, without further ado. Please introduce our guest.
Jeff White: Sure. So joining us today, we have Sean Rossi from RB. RB is a consumer package goods company as Carman mentioned, that works in the health, hygiene, and home space. A number of brands you’ve most likely heard of, Clearasil, Durex, Gaviscon, Woolite, things like that. Huge, huge brands, great big company. We’re really excited to have you today. Welcome to the show.
Sean Rossi: Thank you very much a pleasure to be here with you guys. Thank you.
Carman Pirie: Sean, why don’t we get underway by you just introducing your role at RB a little bit further and give some context to our listeners.
Sean Rossi: Sure. I’m currently leading the eBusiness unit for RB. That essentially comprises eCommerce and also digital marketing. So, we have essentially a multifunctional team made of a digital marketers, commercial people, innovation, package and design, all, 360 degree teams all around driving RB into the digital ecosystem and into eCommerce.
Carman Pirie: I find it funny in my history, predominantly as an agency-side guy over the last several decades, I’ve had occasion to work with marketers who really viewed themselves as a B2B marketer and other marketers who really view themselves as B2C marketers. And over that time, I would say that there … I kind of developed a bit of a sense, I think some B2B marketers feel that direct to consumer marketers have, maybe a bit more sense of what’s happening, maybe they’re just a little bit more current. Whereas some-
Jeff White: Certainly have more visibility to the general public.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. And I think maybe there’s, sometimes they get credited with some trend spotting prowess as a result. So, Sean we’re going to put on the spot today and see if we can get you to predict the future of marketing and where people ought to be putting their focus as we turn our attention to 2019. And of course, rather than being too myopic, I would hope that we could just expand beyond just the next year and say, “What are the big trends over this five year horizon that marketers ought to be keeping in mind of?” So, why don’t … I guess with that, why don’t we start?
Sean Rossi: Yeah, sure. I think that perception of a B2C is far more advanced. It probably is born in the perception that B2C companies are about scale, big projects, multi million innovation. There’s definitely something about availability of data that allows you to learn more on the go. But I actually do think that nowadays, with what technology, the Internet, and digital data is really enabling to do, I think that advantage is really, really, going away. And actually, the scale is more and more going to tip towards smaller, much more agile companies, if you will. But especially those companies, whether those are B2B, B2C, I’m pretty agnostic on that conversation myself. It’s really who is going to be able to make the most use of the digital platforms available that are completely available to anyone, whether you are a multi-million business, or are just a small B2C or B2B.
So, that actually brings me to what I think are the biggest trends. I’m probably biased but I definitely think that eCommerce is just a channel shift that is not going to stop and within that, the role that digital marketing will play in, to either drive more leads, if you’re a B2B, and acquire more clients, or, if you’re a B2C. So, that is where I think, whether you’re a big company or small company, you really need to invest around that for sure.
Carman Pirie: I don’t know how many, we’re easily a decade into, two decades into people talking about digital as the next big thing. But, I don’t disagree. That shift seems to be accelerating in recent years. I guess, what is RB doing to differently, as we turn our attention to 2019, how has RB changed what they’re doing and their approach to digital to meet this changing landscape?
Sean Rossi: I think we’re finally recognizing the role of data on how those can inform better decisions, better targeting, better communication, and better effectiveness. In either our companies, but actually the entire business model. So, a big challenge that a company like RB or any other large corporation would have is to make sense of all this data. Data is there to be mined, but how do you use them in such a way that will enable you to be more efficient, more effective. That is the biggest challenge. So for us, it’s really about how do we understand on how to reach more consumers, but especially the right consumers. And at the right time, and at the right places. Where can we find them? So that is the biggest challenge. And data will play a pivotal role into that endeavour.
Carman Pirie: I appreciate that data … We’re getting more and more of it every day, and I think the sense-making component of that is getting more and more challenging. How is RB sifting through the sea of data to find the real nuggets that can move the business forward, or the real things to focus on?
Sean Rossi: Sure. Yeah, obviously when you talk about data and then you look at what is available out there, it’s very easy to get overwhelmed pretty fast. So, really it’s not about trying to collect all the data and then start crunching the numbers and see what can come out of it. It’s really about starting with a key business question. Really understanding if there’s one thing, one opportunity, one gap that I should address, what would that be? And then to really collect the data around that single business question. So, what are your issues about how do I generate more leads, or how do I convert with a better percentage of my current leads, or how do I drive down the cost of acquisition of my clients, or how do I retain them. Really starting nimble around one single question and build from there.
Carman Pirie: I love this idea of, well frankly, if our listeners pull up RB’s website and look at the host of brands that, it’s literally a laundry list of household names. I think what a lot of marketers would really view as a much more sophisticated enterprise, potentially than what they’re currently working within. I don’t know, I think there’s a certain “aha!” in the fact that, rather than your answer to that being a complicated method for data mining and analysis, it’s actually more about acting small. And more lean.
Sean Rossi: Yeah. Exactly the opposite. Large corporations have this huge challenge of navigating the organizational matrix. Getting decisions done fast. And nowadays the market and consumers are moving way faster than how decision making is done in a traditional corporation. So, it’s really going back to how do we make, maybe small decisions, but make them faster. And learning, and maybe failing fast, but learning from that and keep iterating for better results. I think it’s better to have something tangible but really small, that then you can learn how to scale to try to get something out there, perfectly the first time. Because when we try to do that, we tend to come with something that might be already obsolete for the consumer or our clients.
Carman Pirie: How have you had to change your decision making processes or frameworks within RB in order to facilitate that? That strikes me, I guess it really resonates with me, when you say that the bigger you are, the more of a challenge it is to act fast and be nimble and it seems to me, that that doesn’t just happen with good intentions alone. That there needs to be some level of process. There needs to be some permission given in some way for an organization that isn’t used to being that nimble to begin to act that nimble. What does that look like from the inside?
Sean Rossi: You definitely hit the key ingredients, which is the process and the permission. It’s also about culture. I think, RB has the right culture to make the shift because RB is really big on entrepreneurship and empowerment of its management. So that is definitely fertile ground, but it’s also about cutting all those needless ties around the different parts of the organization that, in this context, in this challenge, really don’t add value at the beginning part of the process. So, actually many other companies started to create an organization within the organization, like a business unit more independent, so to speak, empowered to make decisions.
So this is kind of the direction that we’re taking. Not as romantic, actually as other companies which actually, either go and acquire different companies all together or they establish different companies as separated, or they establish incubation companies within the company. That is the example of Kraft, Walmart, has done it. P&G has an incubation company. We have not chosen to go that direction. More with an organization within an organization, which is more empowered, but that is really key. And I think, it goes back to my earlier points. Why smaller is so beautiful nowadays is that you don’t have to go through the hoops of coming up with this alternative business model because a smaller company is already the business model. You just need to have the right culture and attitude, but then you are already fully empowered to go after that opportunity as you see it.
Jeff White: I’m reminded a bit of a former guest, earlier on the podcast, Monique Elliott from ABB formerly of GE and if you remember Carman, she was talking about creating marketing projects within GE that each had their own P&L, that she was responsible for, the small elements within a very large entity, and creating something that could be judged on its own merits and still be part of the larger organization. But living and dying by its own profit and loss.
Sean Rossi: Absolutely.
Carman Pirie: Yeah, and I think she was speaking to that largely through the lens of, basically that’s how to secure ongoing budget for innovation and on and on, to really, I guess to build that accountability into those experiments. And it sounds as though, what really Sean’s saying, the structure at the front end of that around how do you build to create that permission. I would be curious. What’s the seat of the pants difference when you’re a marketer working in that environment now that you’re opening up that new more empowered division, shall we say, versus what was the case before? Are you finding that the … Has the budgeting cycle changed? What does that look like?
Sean Rossi: Well the speed increases, which makes the job all the more exciting, but also the responsibility increases. Also, the cycle from investment to return is much shorter, so you’re definitely there ready to be fully accountable for the results. So, there’s no hiding in very long term plans where you already changed role twice before something is in the market. You live and breathe your decisions every day but that is really where we’re learning the most. We’re learning the most from our everyday failures, but the beauty is that we can course correct on the go and then see the results straight away. So, it probably is not for everyone, but as I said, there’s the right culture at RB to allow for that, to have the patience for that. We’re not expecting to hit 100%, but we’re expected to improve our batting average every single day for sure.
Announcer: You’re listening to the Kula Ring, conversations on manufacturing marketing. Don’t forget to subscribe now at kulpartners.com/thekula ring. That’s K-U-L-A partners.com/thekularing.
Carman Pirie: It’s interesting because I think, of course digital … It’s this juxtaposition. Digital is more measurable than many other forms of marketing. More easily measured at the very least. And I think in some way, that’s resulted in an expectation amongst senior leadership for more certainty over the results. Like more predictability of ROI. But similarly, I guess at the same time, digitally speaking, there’s more and more experiments that need to be done. It’s not … A lot of it has not been tried before-
Jeff White: It’s certainly not certain.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. In some ways almost the data creates a false sense of certainty in some way. Does that make any sense? Or …
Sean Rossi: Well, yes. And also, there is about, how do you choose your KPIs, because again data are infinite but then if you choose the wrong ones then you could create a self-fulfilling prophecy or very appeasing result. So, you also need to be choiceful on, what is the real success measure of a campaign. You cannot measure it all, and then also, if you pick the wrong ones, you just might be creating something that makes you feel good, but really doesn’t shift the needle. So, we are putting much more the emphasis on end business result, show some digital KPIs. So, it’s just not about the cost per mention. It’s not just about the conversion. It’s how many actually dollar sales have we eventually generated because of this campaign, or this initiative, which makes it very hard to measure. And that’s also part of the learning process, is where we need to be. It’s really about performance marketing. We need to drive business performance. It’s not just about reaching millions of consumers for the sake of it. It’s just not about putting the message out there so everybody can see it. It’s about driving sales, that is the key challenge.
Carman Pirie: Has that changed the kind of person that you need to hire in your marketing? As you build your team, as your team grows and evolves? Are you finding that you’re looking for a different set of skills than you used to?
Sean Rossi: This is a great question. Since we embarked on this journey, actually we are faced, we’re revisiting so many preconceived expectations that we had in terms of the old business model, but also the organizational design and the talent profile of people. And also who are the key decision makers. So definitely having data scientists and data engineers on what three years ago was considered just a sales team, was definitely not something that we had expected 24 months back. And some other companies are aware of the curving in that respect. And also, being digitally native is something more and more important. Because there’s some things that you can not simply teach in a training class within the company. Some things, either you get them, or don’t. Trends are so fast that they’re here today and gone tomorrow, so if you don’t catch them at the right time, you’ve missed an opportunity. So, there’s definitely a lot of thinking that is going into what is the right profile that we need to drive this business.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. I’ve thought a lot about that question of digitally native talent requirements. It seems like just, there’s some ideas you’re not going to have if you’re not of the space. You can’t… they’re not ideas you can have academically. You know?
Sean Rossi: Yeah. I know. And not even conference. You know, when you go to a digital conference and you hear things, well, they’re kind of already old because if people are prepared to share them, it’s because they already used them. But yes, you need to have a finger on the pulse and ready to act on them.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. It can sometimes feel like a mug’s game to try to do all this. It’s funny that here we are talking about let’s look in the crystal ball for 2019 and then you just mentioned about the team makeup is something that you wouldn’t have anticipated 24 months ago. So, I’m not sure how good our crystal ball abilities are across the board, honestly. But it’s certainly a fun exercise.
Jeff White: I think a big part of that, of course, is that you have, there’s no way really to predict what tools you may be using in the next X number of months. There’s no way to know what platforms you’re going to be using. That must be an exceptionally difficult task for RB, to be able to choose martech platforms and other things like that across the entire organization so that it fits the needs of all of your different brands and business groups. Talk to us a bit about that.
Sean Rossi: We’re already finding, actually, that our yearly planning cycle is already way too long, because things are moving way too fast. But, there’s some macro things that you can definitely predict. It’s not even about prediction. You just need to wait for them to fully blossom. Voice search, the role of voice. Your Alexa, your Google Assistant, those will simply keep increasing penetration within households and there’s going to be a tipping point where it’s going to become a usual habit for people to use those devices, not only for early adopters. Just that will simply open the flood gates of a new way to actually develop content for those platforms all together. Mobile as a penetration and percentage of sales has already accelerated a few years ago and is just here to stay. That has already been impacting the way digital marketing companies have been doing content for the past couple of years. That’s simply going to remain important. And then think about smart TV and how people start consuming content. And it’s much more about trying to think what is going to be the path to purchase of the consumers.
So, ten years ago, we would simply … Well, 20 years ago, we would think about two simple scenarios. People do a list at home, they would go in store, buy the list and then they will have some impulse purchases at the very end. So the key question is, how do we get on the list, and how do we drive that impulse. Now that path to purchase is so convoluted. It’s so unmanageable in the sense that every touch point is a purchase occasion. So, those purchase occasions will simply keep coming up and some will be more successful than others. So, it’s really about how do you stay on top of them and pivot fast because those are not going to be in our control. We will not decide how a consumer will consume content and decide to buy things. We simply need to be very close to those trends and be very fast to pivot as consumer habits change. So, that is the key. So, again, maintaining, it’s not really about predicting in five years time, it’s about how do we keep ourselves very agile so we can shift with the market shifting.
Carman Pirie: So you started this response by saying that you can identify those macro trends that will keep going. And I think you used mobile as an example of that and others, that you just simply need to continue to invest in and work with and figure out more. Then you also said though that the year long plan is a bit too long. So, it’s cliché that everybody will say, “Oh, we leave 20% of our budget for experiments and 80% for the stuff we know,” and that 80/20 rule just seems highly convenient in a world that’s getting more and more uncertain in some ways. And seems like it requires more experiments. So, what else have been the practical implications of that cycle, that year long planning cycle being a bit too long? How have you adjusted there?
Sean Rossi: Well, first of all it’s about driving clarity on what are going to be the yearly objectives. If I may take an example of the 80/20 rule, that works if there’s an implicit agreement between you’re driving the business and your management agreeing that 80% is going to be for driving the day to day operation. And we only expect innovation worth 20% of that, 20% of the whole pot. If that is the right expectation and that works for you, great. If you have more room for innovation than you should lean forward much more. We don’t have a set rule. We don’t start from the budget and then decide what we can do with the budget. We first decide where do we want to go, what do we want to invest in, what is the end result, really. And then we figure out how much it will take. Then there’s going to be, sometimes, it is too much. Sometimes it is too little and we can tip a little bit more. But we start with the end in mind. We don’t start just with the budget issue. It’s more about—be very clear on your business question. Start with what success could look like a year from now, two years from now, if you will. And build from there.
Carman Pirie: I think that’s actually a pretty solid parting advice. Start with the end in mind. It’s surprising how many people I think forget to do that.
Jeff White: We need a CRM.
Carman Pirie: Well they get awash in vanity metrics, whether it’s social media or web traffic, or conversions, or-
Jeff White: Whatever the latest martech product is.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. Exactly. And they just don’t step back from it.
Jeff White: To get the business goals.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. Exactly.
Jeff White: Yeah.
Carman Pirie: It seems, and frankly, always it seems the case that the most experienced marketers are almost always the ones to stress fundamentals and this conversation has been no different. Sean, I think it’s been a really healthy reminder to folks and I thank you for it.
Sean Rossi: Oh, thank you.
Carman Pirie: Been a pleasure and we’ll maybe check back in as 2019 gets underway and see how that crystal ball is looking. But we really appreciate your time on the show today.
Sean Rossi: That will be great. Thank you very much, guys.
Jeff White: Thank you.
Carman Pirie: Bye bye.
Announcer: Thanks for listening to the Kula Ring with Carman Pirie and Jeff White. Don’t miss a single manufacturing and marketing insight, subscribe now at kulpartners.com/thekula ring. That’s K-U-L-A partners.com/thekularing.