Stay Competitive with Asymmetric Marketing Strategies

Episode 249

August 22, 2023

Using asymmetric marketing can help you stay agile in a highly competitive market, says David Koerner, the VP of Global Marketing for 75F. He and his team have found success by applying an asymmetric lens to their marketing efforts to attract and convert their customers. David believes that marketers need to think outside the box—he talks about examples from Burger King, Five Guys, and Southwest Airlines, where they targeted their audiences in unconventional ways to stay ahead of the competition. Hear more from David Koerner on this episode of The Kula Ring.

Stay Competitive with Asymmetric Marketing Strategies 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:  Look, I am well, and Jeff, I’ve gotta say today’s conversation that we have teed up here, I think… I don’t want to suggest to the listeners that I typically know what’s going on, because I often don’t, and I cannot quite predict what’s going to happen in these shows, but this one feels even looser than normal. 

Jeff White: Well, you know, and I think we’re outmatched. 

Carman Pirie: I think it’s gonna be an interesting dialogue. And I really like the concept that we’re covering today, and I think it’s ripe for being contrarian, which is something I generally embrace, so let’s give it a go. Let’s see where we go. And I don’t know, it could be a complete and utter disaster. 

Jeff White: I don’t see it. I think it’s gonna be good. But I do think it is gonna be unpredictable. 

Carman Pirie:  All right. 

Jeff White: Yeah, so joining us today is David Koerner. David is the VP of Global Marketing for 75F. Welcome to The Kula Ring, David. 

David Koerner: Thanks, Jeff. Thanks, Carman. Thanks for having me. 

Carman Pirie:  David, it’s a pleasure to have you on the show. Look, let’s tell our listeners what 75F is before we dive into the topic of today’s show. 

David Koerner: Sure. We’re a Bill Gates backed tech company. We’re based in Minneapolis. We design and manufacture smart sensors and controls to make commercial buildings healthier, more efficient, more comfortable. We’re one of the leading IoT-based building automation companies and we recently announced a large investment from Siemens, traditionally one of our competitors, so that was very exciting. We work primarily with offices and with manufacturing facilities where there’s a lot of mixed spaces. That’s a loading dock, a warehouse, maybe some manufacturing lines, and a bunch of administrative offices, and we lower energy in those spaces while improving indoor air quality with a control system that works out of the box and is a lot different from existing systems today. 

Jeff White: I think it’s fair to say that you probably see yourselves as not necessarily a newcomer, but certainly somebody with a different perspective from a lot of your more established competitors, yeah? 

David Koerner: Sure. We view ourselves as a disruptor. But in order to be a disruptor, you have to disrupt, and we haven’t quite disrupted yet, but we’re working on it. I think when we turn competitors into partners, which was one of our COVID strategies, which is something that you see I believe with this Siemens investment, then it’s a sign that we’re moving in the right direction. We’re moving towards being the disruptor that we’d like to be. 

Carman Pirie:  I’ve gotta say, as a marketer, I don’t envy you at all in that your target audience, basically people responsible for making these decisions in commercial buildings can be incredibly difficult people to reach. 

David Koerner: Extremely difficult. Yeah. And a very difficult space dominated by five large competitors. Honeywell, ABB, Schneider, Carrier have done a great job for a long time, but the products that we’re competing with in many cases are collecting social security. I mean, these are very old systems. They’re wired. They’re overbuilt for most customers. And so, what you see instead in most buildings is… You’re told not to touch the thermostat on the wall, or it’s too hot or too cold in a conference room, or essentially the system isn’t working for the building. 

So, we’ve made a lot of headway, because we have a lightweight product that works and is able to bring buildings and customers online, built-in analytics, and help customers get on a path to carbon neutral. So, essentially, we’re competing against these huge competitors and we’re trying to do it in a new way. 

Carman Pirie:  And the new way that we’re here to talk about today is this notion of striving to be asymmetric and kind of unpacking, I guess, everything that that means, and I’ve gotta admit, you led me down the path of suggesting we were gonna talk about this before you told me about the Siemens investment, which… I mean, so now we have… I had this David and Goliath thing, but I didn’t know David and Goliath were in bed together until just now. 

David Koerner: It’s still David. We moved from pebbles to full-size rocks, but we’ve still got a David complex. 

Jeff White: You’ve still got a slingshot against a cannon. Yeah. 

David Koerner: That’s right. 

Carman Pirie:  So, what do you mean by this? I mean, I think the notion of marketing to be asymmetric could mean a lot of different things to different people, so tell me what you mean by it. 

David Koerner: Yeah, Carman. I started at 3M. I spent eight years. And 3M is a company, one of the world’s great manufacturers, very good at being big. Leading with a big chip stack. And when I joined tech startups, I joined because I wanted to have more control or run the show or something, and what took me a long time to adjust to wasn’t that it was much more tactical than I was used to as much as it was that the strategy fundamentally had to change. Took me like five years to figure out that without 3M, you’re starting with nothing, and I was under-resourced compared to competitors. We were launching products in new spaces. We were trying to define new categories all the time. We had an incredibly difficult time changing consumer behavior.

And that caused a lot of frustration before I landed on some of these ideas about asymmetry that I was hearing out in the marketing space that really resonated with me. Essentially, this idea that if you have to take the four-lane highway into Baghdad or the single, dusty, sandy track, you should always lead your tanks down the sandy track. That’s always going to be higher ROI activity. You should never be doing something that your competitors can do better than you. 

If it ever comes down to who has more resources, then we’re gonna lose, because we don’t have the content teams. We don’t have the growth tactics that our competitors do. 

Jeff White: Yeah. Media spend alone is just so hard to go up against. 

Carman Pirie:  So hard to overcome. Yeah. 

Jeff White: Yeah. 

Carman Pirie:  So, I guess part of what you paint there David is it sounds like it’s just this endless quest for new in some way, that kind of-

Jeff White: It doesn’t have to be new, though. It can just be different. 

Carman Pirie:  Yeah, so that’s what I’m kind of wondering. Can it be a tactic done in a different way? I guess how do we… Or does it just lead to a point where you’re just kind of jumping on the absolute latest and greatest thing because it’s new? 

David Koerner: That’s probably a mistake marketers make. I don’t know what you guys think, but I feel like nobody loves new more than marketers. The thing I’m hearing about right now is Zuckerberg’s metaverse and what metaverse means, or meta whatever it is. I think it’s all BS. But I think there’s also probably this problem that we want precise answers that are wrong instead of vague answers that feel right, so we can invest some money in something new in order to kind of reduce risk or something. But I don’t think it’s constantly chasing after what’s new. I think it’s just questioning what we think about our customers, our marketing organization, or where our spend is going, and that questioning what we think means that we do a lot of unconventional things here. 

We shut down our Facebook page shortly after I joined. We stopped, we shut down our blog completely. We do occasionally post, but not very often, and that just was a conversation about like what would Honeywell do? We share a city with them. They have 23 or 26 content writers within their business team. How is my team of seven or nine people gonna compete with Honeywell’s newsroom of content writers? Like would Honeywell do this? If the answer is ever yes, then we should probably kill it off. And that means they have more channels, they’re gonna have a TikTok, and a Snap, and an Insta, and all this other stuff, so let’s cut that right away. 

And then they’re gonna have much richer content. They’re gonna take industry positions that try to influence customer sentiment about the future of smart buildings or smart cities. We need to avoid all those places. Not just the channel, but the message and tone. Those are places where we’re never gonna win long term. 

Carman Pirie:  This is interesting to me, this notion, because it happens in almost every industry. There gets to be a bit of a song sheet that every competitor seems to be singing from. You know, the packaging space I always like to beat up on. We have a number of flexible packaging customers and maybe that’s why. But I mean, they all want to bang the drum of sustainability, and they all sound exactly the same in doing so, right? And so, some of it takes the courage to kind of talk about it in different ways that the leaders aren’t. I feel like that’s at least part of what you’re telling me here, David. 

David Koerner: Of course. Yeah. The most awkward thing is usually when I explain it to a founder, I was a Fractional CMO for a while, so I got a chance to talk about this, and then I moved client side with a full-time role here, and now I get a chance to actually do it. The most common thing that I hear from a founder is, “Well, what are you gonna do, then?” I say we are completely wasting money on our paid social spend, so we shouldn’t be doing it. And most of our content is meaningless and ineffective and we should be shutting down most of our content also. And you know, our white papers, we don’t have high engagement, so let’s consider killing off some of those. 

Then they’re like, “What’s left?” 

Carman Pirie:  They’re like, “David, this is great, you’re telling me all this stuff I can’t do.” 

Jeff White: Look at how much money we just saved, though. 

Carman Pirie:  Yeah. Now what?

David Koerner: That’s right. That’s right. And the answer, of course, is you’re doing everything you were doing in the ‘90s, in the ‘80s, going back to the beginning of marketing. All that is still there. Let’s just revisit what those things are. You know, let’s go meet customers where they are. Let’s tell a clear and consistent message to the widest possible audience. And let’s have conversations about how to get really creative and stay really asymmetric and edgy with the stuff that we’re doing. 

And I think maybe there’s a bigger concept that feeds into this belief I have in asymmetry, and that’s that marketing doesn’t work as good as we think it does. And maybe that’s… I think authenticity is a word that’s certainly overused, but that seems very authentic to me, that marketing doesn’t work as good as we think it does. I don’t know. What do you guys think? You work with manufacturers every day. Does marketing work as good as we think? 

Carman Pirie:  Well, I think it’s hard to paint marketing and all marketing tactics with one brush. I think one thing we do know is that there’s more tactics out there than there’ve ever been, and I think for most manufacturing marketers, it does feel a lot like whack-a-mole, and-

David Koerner: Sure. We can’t be everywhere, so how do I succeed? 

Carman Pirie:  It can be harder to know where to be, where to focus the energy and attention, I think. I think that’s a fair comment. And even in the days where it’s easier than ever to have revenue attribution to marketing tactics, man, the number of marketers that actually know what part of their marketing spend works versus doesn’t is very slim. 

David Koerner: Well, let’s put it this way. You engage with 70 brands or products a day. Does their marketing work as good as they think it does on you? Because I’d argue that it probably doesn’t. We’re completely inundated by spam messages, and cold LinkedIn requests, and every other thing. And I don’t love almost any of the products I’m going to use today. I certainly love it a lot less than those marketers think I do, so doesn’t it then follow that marketing is working a heck of a lot less than we think it does? 

Jeff White: In a lot of cases, it probably… As with anything, it matters where and to whom you’re speaking, so-

Carman Pirie:  Yeah. I think David’s point is well taken though, of course. I mean, we know that… It was Dave Trott. I love quoting Dave on this podcast. But talking about how like 80-some-odd percent of advertising is just not even seen. 

David Koerner: Right. 

Carman Pirie:  It’s not… Like a negative perception would actually be better, because at least you’re left with something. 

David Koerner: Right. First rule of advertising is you have to get somebody’s attention. And you know, if your display ads aren’t pissing people off, then they’re probably not getting anybody’s attention at all. 

Carman Pirie:  I think your point, too, about… Since we brought up Dave Trott, I’ll mention something else, I was reading something from him or it was an interview or something, where he talked about how somebody was critiquing… I think it was Burger King’s advertising. And he was like, “Well, people don’t understand that Burger King has a different job in their advertising than McDonald’s has. Burger King’s job is to convince you to switch from eating McDonald’s burgers to eating Burger King burgers, whereas McDonald’s job is to convince you to eat more burgers, knowing that if people eat more burgers, more of them will be McDonald’s burgers, right” Because they’re the market leader. 

And I like that. I was thinking about that as you were talking about this realization coming from 3M to 75F, which is really weird. 3M, 75F. We need to talk about that. But that realization, hold on a second, the strategy needs to change. What I’m trying to do, it’s not even about the tactics. 

Jeff White: Yeah. It ain’t even the same sport. 

Carman Pirie:  Yeah. Exactly right. I don’t know where I was going with that. I’m sure there was a question in there, David, somewhere. 

David Koerner: No. I think it’s really interesting. There’s a rule here that we teach all new sales or marketing folks. We call it the Five Guys rule. Could be called the Burger King rule. You know, the same thing. You gotta focus on your super users. I think Burger King does that really well. Their throwback campaign that they’re doing now is creative and fresh. It’s new in the space. I don’t pretend to know anything about QSR restaurants and how to market to their customers, but just from the outside, it at least looks a lot different. I think what you see from McDonald’s is a lot of compromising, because their TAM, their total addressable market is much wider. They have the nostalgic grandparents that are remembering the olden days of car road trips, and the soccer moms that want their kids to eat healthy, and folks that have 30 minutes off work and just need to grab a quick bite to eat, and somebody that wants a hamburger to actually taste good, and those four groups, it’s hard to come up with any kind of ad campaign, for any agency to succeed when that is your client. 

And then you add in all the wrinkles of the franchise owners, and the weight that they hold within the McDonald’s organization, and what you get is this McLoving it, like watered down kind of ad campaigns, and I guarantee that nobody’s loving it. Like man, I just blew any shot I have of working at McDonald’s. 

Carman Pirie:  My guess is their market share wouldn’t necessarily-

David Koerner: And I love it. 

Jeff White: Yeah. And that’s just it. And that’s a big part of what you’re saying, is that there’s-

Carman Pirie:  Well, their job is different. 

Jeff White: They have a great strength and a great market and they will always… Well, not always. Goliaths have been knocked off before. But you know, I think it is the job of the insurgent, the new guy, the somebody else to… You know, in a lot of ways, what we’re sort of talking about is going back and studying more Ogilvy and Doyle Dane Bernbach ads from the ‘60s, and trying to understand how they talked about the up and comers-

Carman Pirie:  Yeah, maybe. 

Jeff White: … than it is about trying to be number one. 

David Koerner: That’s right. I think… So, Burger King is solving their problem with creativity, this fresh campaign, perhaps understanding a narrower customer, a younger customer I think, perhaps, a little better. Five Guys is going even further. Their product and brand experience. But just talking about asymmetry, you know, we’ve used that word, but practically, how would I launch a new burger franchise today? Let’s say I buy a couple of stores. Let’s say my product is good. One asymmetric way would be instead of investing the $72 million that McDonald’s invests every year on social media, their social media agencies and stuff, social media buys everywhere, you know, they not only have the Instagram, and the Snap, and all these other things, but they’re posting like 12 times a day with very asinine and generic messages that are appealing to the widest possible group of people. 

I mean, instead of that, take that money and just throw it off the roof. Throw it off the roof of your building. Announce on social media that in your White Plains burger location, you are gonna throw your social media spend for that week, day, whatever, off the roof of your building. And I guarantee you, you’ll generate more likes, follows, shares, you’ll sell more burgers at that White Plains location than anything McDonald’s is doing with their social spend. So, when you’re trying to be asymmetric, I think it means getting very unconventional about the tactics that you’re using to achieve your desired result. And you know, throw it off the roof is one really easy way of asking whether… Should we really be doing this thing? 

You know, is this something that customers actually want? Or should we just take the money, just throw it off the roof, and that would be a better use of funds? 

Jeff White: Buy your customers. 

David Koerner: Right. 

Carman Pirie:  The throw it off the roof question is not that bad of a yardstick, actually. 

Jeff White: No, it’s pretty good. And it’s not… You know, we’ve talked about this in politics and numerous other venues, as well. 

Carman Pirie:  People we would like to throw off of roofs, you mean? 

Jeff White: No, no. 

Carman Pirie:  Oh. 

Jeff White: That if we just instead took that silly spend and threw the money out of a helicopter, it would probably benefit more people than it did the way it was spent. 

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Jeff White: You know, obviously 75F is not going to throw their social media agency or spend off the roof, so what are you doing now to create that asymmetric relationship with your customers? 

David Koerner: Oh, yeah. Okay. 

Jeff White: Just to bring it back to manufacturing. 

Carman Pirie:  As opposed to burgers, which was fascinating. 

David Koerner: No, no, no-

Jeff White: Yeah. Now I’m hungry. 

David Koerner: Yeah, so we do three things. In the pandemic, the first thing that we did is we shut down all of our live events. When I joined, we were doing about eight events per year. That might sound familiar to a lot of marketers out there. We moved from eight to 40 events per year, so huge event calendar, road teams, bought some large TVs from China. We had a bunch of branded merch that we also were ordering from China, from the YETI store that actually manufactures YETI coolers. You can get that from China for $3.50 a bottle for everyone out there who might be interested in a lot of very nice YETI coolers. 

So, we were doing all the very classic live event trade show stuff, just trying to punch above our weight at those trade shows. So, for example, the average 75F install is the equivalent of planting 161 trees, so we would give out trees at these trade shows, which if you’ve never been to an HVAC industry event, you don’t see a lot of people with trees. We had one where we planned to bring in this enormous tree into the Vegas conference center and then just pitch out a grass lawn and some lawn chairs with a cooler of beer and just invite people to come up, sit down in a lawn chair, and talk to us under this tree that was in a pot that we brought back to the nursery when we were done. So, we were trying to be edgy and weird at live events. 

And then, of course, COVID completely shut that down, and in the process, I think cost us quite a bit of money. We fired up webcasts and we started doing live webcasts with a bunch of guests, and we started about a month and a half into the pandemic. Simultaneously… Some of those webcasts, by the way, were really good. We had a couple of schools. We had a Jewish school and a Catholic STEM school. Both were attendees at a webcast that we did live here from the studio, so that’s sound deadening and cameras, a videographer, and our biggest, I think we had roughly 3,000 attendees. 

What we saw over time was steadily diminishing webcast attendees. Last fall was particularly bad. By February, it was looking pretty miserable, but we were doing just as much if not more work to try to book guests, figure out COVID protocols, bring them all in, deal with last-minute cancellations, some of which were due to sicknesses and other things, and then this was like running a live show, and it was taking a huge amount of marketing effort and at our last one, I think we had down to 180 attendees. So, at that point we shut it down, and then we sat around doing what every asymmetric marketing team does, and saying, “Well, what are we gonna do now? What are we gonna do with all this money? Should we throw this off the roof now that we’re not doing live webcasts?” 

One of our early investors is Steve Case, the AOL guy, and… Sorry, Steve. Maybe I should introduce you better than, “The AOL guy.” But he has a great book. I’m gonna plug your book, Steve. His book is The Third Wave, and he suggests that small startups like ours need to do three things. They need to persevere, like just endlessly innovate. They need to focus on policy, and they need to focus on partnerships. And during this last pandemic, while we were trying to figure out how to fix some of our marketing, on the strategy and product side, we were following  the Steve Case approach. 

So, we created an industry group called the Coalition for Smarter Buildings. We basically reached out to competitors of ours in the space and said, “Government’s getting bigger. Revenues are increasing. There’s a lot of demand for indoor air quality standards. Governments around the world are pushing frameworks for expanding building efficiency and making commercial buildings safer, healthier, better. So, alone we can’t compete against the big five and their huge lobbying teams, but together, we can probably make a really meaningful impact here and educate lawmakers about what companies like ours are doing.” And so, we got together and went to K Street, and hired some lobbyists, and we’re working in a few different places on that we’re really excited about. 

And then finally, partnerships. We scrapped our code, completely revamped our product, moved from being a standalone product to being an ingredient brand, and then began reaching out to some competitors with some NDAs to share with them what we’re doing and suggest politely that with their thousand-person sales teams, they would do a lot better job of bringing our product to customers than we could. And two of them, Daikin, the world’s largest manufacturer of HVAC, signed an exclusive partnership with us about three months ago, and then just last month Siemens also joined us as an investor, and we’re looking at some different things we might be able to do with them in the future. 

So, those three things, I mean persevere, policy, partnerships, are three ways on the strategy side our strategy became more asymmetric. And tactically, I think the webcast, some of what we’ve done post-webcasts, working with channel partners in order to use their lists and get creative about ways we’re reaching customers to generate top of funnel activity are also fairly asymmetric. 

Carman Pirie:  It’s interesting how much of the, to me, that part of the strategy of course is about looking at things in new ways and finding new means, but then a big part of it does seem to be about recognizing when to say when. 

Jeff White: Yeah. And what your place is in the market. How do you kind of-

Carman Pirie:  We started off with 3,000 people and now we’re down to 100 and some, maybe we should pull the plug. And you know, a lot of people would continue to run with that marketing investment for another five years before they pull the plug. 

Jeff White: Especially given the investment to set it up. Yeah. Sunk cost and all that. 

David Koerner: Yeah. Marketers would rather be wrong within the normal range than right outside of it. You know, there’s a reason why the life expectancy of a marketer in the Fortune 500 I think is down to 25 months or 23 months or something in the last report I saw. It’s that I think they’re not trusted within the C-suite of large organizations. And I don’t know if data exists at small tech startups like ours, but I’m not sure it’s a whole lot better. I think there’s a detachment from what customers actually care about and I think there’s a lot of folks trying really hard to play it very safe. “Hey, listen, I’m allocating 20% of my spend on ad placement and awareness campaigns. I’m doing this top of funnel activity. We’re sending out this many million spam messages. And we’re doing everything we can do. We joined a couple of virtual events and it’s not our fault that it’s not working.” 

Nobody says that, but you know, they gotta walk into your office and Jeff, you’re just looking at them going like, “Yeah, you’re playing it way too safe.” I mean, this is a huge role of agencies I think in the landscape of manufacturers today, is just suggesting some outside the box tactical approaches that are gonna work a lot better than whatever they’re doing. 

Carman Pirie:  I’m reminded of this ongoing joke I had with a guy that used to work with me. We used to joke about starting an agency that would only ever present one idea. The name of the agency was Bet the Farm. And the idea is every time, every place is like, “This is the one idea. Bet the farm on this. This is it.” It’s like all-in. 

Jeff White: To be fair, we have had some of those ideas.

Carman Pirie:  For sure. But I hear what you’re saying about marketers playing it safe and there is some of that, but I wonder how much of it is that the C-suite is under this illusion that marketing works better than it actually does, to your earlier point, that maybe marketing doesn’t work as well as people think it does or what have you? And it seems like there’s just an expectation difference. I’m not sure that the path to success for those marketers that only last 25 months is to be more radical in what they suggest. I wonder if some of those C-suites would accept that, you know? 

Jeff White: Yeah. They only just got into blogging. They only just got behind some of this new media stuff. 

Carman Pirie:  It’s almost like they’re designed to accept safe. 

David Koerner: We have a really good investment group here. You know, Breakthrough Energy ventures climate initiative, now Siemens. We also have a great leadership team. And I had an early conversation with our CEO before taking this job where I explained to him that his marketing was not working as good as he thinks it was. And one of the things I pointed out is that as a company, we offer guarantees to customers. You know, we will guarantee you save 30 to 50 or sometimes 60% of energy savings in your building. Facebook, Google, any ad agency, none I guess I’ve heard of, cannot offer that claim, and that’s because marketing doesn’t really work as good as we think it does. If it did, it would be very easy to offer even a very simple guarantee, and it’s not. 

If you have a 1% CTR, which is pretty good for a lot of campaigns, and if 2% of those people end up converting, a 2% conversion rate after that, then you’re 1 in 5,000. 0.02% success. And one of the things we talked about, that would be completely unacceptable in almost every other industry. Your marketing isn’t working. And if you can convince the folks within your organization that your marketing isn’t working, that we don’t know why our customers buy and we don’t pretend to, we’re just trying to influence a customer choice. If you believe that marketing isn’t working, then doesn’t it follow that you should try to turn up the dial to 11 in almost everything you’re doing? That you should try to really punch above your weight? That your traditional trade show displays, or literature, or whatever, is probably not good enough? That it probably makes sense to spend a little more money, engage an agency, do some market research and understand who actually… where your 80/20 is? And just continuously reinvest in the highest ROI activity. Just punch above your weight everywhere you can as often as possible. 

You can’t become asymmetric unless you first have some degree of honesty about how lousy most of your stuff is. I love Diet Coke. I don’t know why I love Diet Coke, but I’m fairly sure the guys at Coke don’t know either. I love almost everything about what Nike does as an organization. Again, I keep moving away from manufacturing, because talking about oil and gas and how much I love undersea oil and gas in the North Sea, or some other manufacturing company would be kind of boring. But you know, I love Nike’s ad campaigns. Wieden + Kennedy, all the great agencies that they’ve used, and just hall of fame campaigns. But personally, Adidas has always spoken to me as a product. I don’t own any Nike products. Why is that? The answer is that there is… that marketing is not science. That I think there’s a lot of art. 

I don’t know what you guys think, but it doesn’t work as good as we think it does. We don’t understand why our customers buy it. They don’t either. So, instead of pretending that we do, let’s instead just turn the dial up, tell the clearest possible message to as many people as possible, make sure they hear, get their attention. Even if it ends up that they hate it. 

Carman Pirie:  I think that there’s a… I love the honesty in that, and I can’t help but largely agree. And I think too, people are very unreliable witnesses to their own behavior. I mean, people, you say that they don’t know why they buy, and neither do… You know, you may not know why you buy, either. And you certainly, if asked in a survey, or by a market research person after you purchased why you purchased, chances of you actually being able to answer that honestly… Or I shouldn’t say honestly, because you’re probably being honest. It doesn’t mean you’re being truthful. Because you just don’t know. 

Jeff White: You may just not know. 

Carman Pirie:  Yeah. Yeah. 

David Koerner: Yeah. Most of the people who buy our products don’t love it and never will, and they don’t understand why they buy it. That’s something that’s very hard to accept. That’s probably as hard to accept as that marketing itself doesn’t work as good as we think it does, or our content isn’t as effective or engaging as we think it is, but you just… But it just feels right. You see it again and again and it’s true for you as a consumer of many B2B or B2C brands. And that, I think, is probably the North Star that we should be using when we think about these things, is does it work for me? Do I want to be having a conversation online, on social media, with the folks that are making my toothbrush? No, I don’t at all. And I don’t want to be reading 11,000-word blog posts or pillar pages or something for SEO content about them, either. I don’t want to engage, or share, or co-create with them. It’s a simple transaction. I don’t care about them as much as they think they do, and their marketing doesn’t work as good as they think it does. 

Carman Pirie:  I would beat you up a bit on the self-reference criteria there. 

David Koerner: Do it. 

Carman Pirie:  But I think the point is well made. 

Jeff White: It is a solid point there. Yeah. 

Carman Pirie:  And I think the advice underneath of it is even more solid, this notion of really, you’re telling marketers do less-

Jeff White: But do it better. 

Carman Pirie:  And ask yourself before you do something, is this something… I love the Spinal Tap reference, so I’ll use it again, but is this something I can dial to 11? And if it isn’t, or if dialing it to 10 or 11 only gets me at the same level as where my competitors are at now, then it’s probably a good idea to start looking elsewhere. 

David Koerner: Yeah. We make building controls. They have twin onboard processors. Instead of just measuring temperature and humidity, we’re measuring temperature, humidity, VOCs, light, sound, CO2. I like to think our tech is really, really cool. We think our tech is really, really cool. We’re a company that’s 95% engineers with a smattering of other people. But our customers don’t. Our customers do not care as much as our engineering, or our founder, or our CEO thinks that they do. They don’t wake up in the morning and say, “You know what I really want to do? I really want to install some cool wireless sensors in my building so I can measure indoor air pollution in real time.” Nobody has ever said that. 

And the realization that they don’t care pushes us as a marketing organization, me as a marketing leader, to really try to always be at 11. The other thing is I think the frustration that a lot of marketers feel is that within their leadership teams or executive teams, there’s a feeling that our product matters more to our customers, that it’s more unique, and that our customers understand it more than they do, and in practice, it doesn’t matter, it’s not very unique, and our customers really don’t understand what the heck it is that we do for them. And so, it’s not just a matter of turn up the dial to 11 on everything. It’s let’s figure out how to get customers to try our product so that they’ll love our brand, or let’s get customers into a pilot, or let’s make it really clear how we’re different than the 277 other clean tech companies in the smart building space today. And then let the customers choose. I mean, at the end of the day, we’re just trying to influence customer choice. We’re not trying to… We’re not forcing them to make a purchase decision. At best, we’re just influencing them. 

Carman Pirie:  And in some way, it sounds like what you’re trying to do is not necessarily telling them what to remember, but you’re giving them a reason to remember in some way. 

David Koerner: That’s right. There’s a lot of great paradigms. One I love talking about is Southwest Airlines, because Herb Keller did this really well, and he wrote a book about this. I can’t even plug his book because I don’t know what it’s called. 

Carman Pirie:  I’m trying to remember it, as well, and it escapes me. 

David Koerner: If you remember in the early days of Southwest Airlines, they only had one route. And I think it was Dallas to Houston, or San Antonio to Houston, or something. 

Carman Pirie:  Connected three cities, I think. Yeah. Kind of a triangle in Texas. 

David Koerner: There you go. You had the oldest aircraft in the fleet, because they were buying old Pan Am castoffs or whatnot, and the FAA wouldn’t grant them any other routes in the U.S., so it was just one route, all the time, oldest aircraft. They had no first-class cabin. It was actually the worst domestic user experience, let’s say. And what did they do? In newspaper ads, they advertised $9 round trip fares to Houston and Dallas, or whatever city it was. And once you got on the flight, they didn’t talk about how cheap their fares were. They’d talk about how we love the way we fly, and their flight attendants sang to them, and they had this thing called long legs and short nights, where the flight attendants memorized customers’ names, bring gifts for their family members, when their anniversaries are. They talked about democratizing air travel. Sit by whoever you want. Talk about whatever you want. 

And you understood what, “We love the way we fly,” meant when you tried the product. And I think many marketers also get that wrong. They work the opposite direction. They try to get customers to love their manufacturing brand so that they’ll try their product, instead of get them to try their product so that they will understand your product and love your brand. 

And I think we have to focus on the thing, because we can’t do everything, in all channels, we have to really focus on the tactic, the segmentation, and positioning. And I think that when you see companies get that right, it’s really compelling. We’re not trying to… It’s always easier to convince somebody to jump off a bridge than it is to convince them that it’s a good idea. And I think too often we’re trying to convince folks that this is a really good idea, that you need this tech, this piece of hardware, this compound for your manufacturing process, and no, you don’t. We want you to try this. Take the Pepsi challenge. You tell us if it works better. If it does, then we’ll talk to you about how it’s made with… It’s all organic, it’s not made with any harmful chemicals, it doesn’t leave any residue in the mold, it doesn’t… whatever the heck the thing is. Whatever those features, advantages, benefits are, they resonate much more after you get to a demo or pilot than they do before. 

So, focusing on the right place with the right message and turning that up to 11 is what you’re always trying to do, I believe. 

Jeff White: Man, that’s a good place to leave it. 

Carman Pirie:  Absolutely. Look, anytime that we can have a Spinal Tap reference, bring up the Pepsi challenge, et cetera-

Jeff White: Southwest Airlines. 

Carman Pirie:  Yeah. I mean, this has been a tour de force of marketing reference. 

Jeff White: Yeah. Really great conversation, David. Thank you. 

David Koerner: Thank you, guys. Appreciate you having me. 

Carman Pirie:  It was a pleasure, David. 

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 That’s 

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David Koerner Headshot


David Koerner

VP of Global Marketing at 75F

David is an award-winning marketing leader with a background in international business development and building revenue-based marketing teams. His natural habitat consists of early to mid-stage, fast-growing tech companies or challenger brands. He has driven successful growth from Fortune 100 to pre-revenue startups in industries ranging from IoT and Fintech to aviation, oil & gas, SaaS, and telecommunications.

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

Listen to conversations with North America’s top manufacturing marketing executives and get actionable advice for success in a rapidly transforming industry.

About Kula

Kula Partners is an agency that specializes in maximizing revenue potential for B2B manufacturers.

Our clients sell within complex, technical environments and we help them take a more targeted, account-focused approach to drive revenue growth within niche markets.


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