Taking a Customer-Centric Approach to Product Development and Marketing

Episode 56

October 22, 2019

Greg Palmer, Director of Marketing at National Nail, talks with Carman and Jeff about how the marketing and product teams work together to use a customer-centric approach to product development. They also discuss which channels National Nail finds successful when launching products including trade shows, social media, and print.

Taking a Customer-Centric Approach to Product Development and Marketing 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 made for manufacturing marketers brought to you by Kula Partners, an agency made for manufacturers. Joining me today is Carman Pirie. Carman, how are you doing?

Carman Pirie: I wonder if sometimes people wonder if they’re going to be somebody else and then you say my name and it’s disappointing.

Jeff White: It’s just you.

Carman Pirie: And then it’s just me again. But I’m well thank you.

Jeff White: I’m glad to hear it. That’s fantastic. Joining us today on the Kula Ring is Greg Palmer. Greg is the Director of Marketing at National Nail. Greg, welcome to the Kula Ring.

Greg Palmer: Well thank you very much guys. It’s good to be with you.

Carman Pirie: Yes. But Greg, you just started, so you might want to reserve judgment til the end of the podcast.

Greg Palmer: Okay. Bye now.

Carman Pirie: Good to be chatting with you, Greg. I’m really excited to dive into this conversation because I think you’ve got a lot of interesting things going on at National Nail and I think there’s a deck builder in all of us that just wants to use these tools too. Anyway, why don’t we start by getting just a bit of an introduction to you and the company.

Greg Palmer: Sure, absolutely. I have been in the marketing world for about 30 years. At National Nail we have three product lines, Pro-Fit, which is our nails and screw line. We have Camo, which is fasteners, tools and fasteners for the decking industry, building decks. And then the Stinger line is underlayment and house wrap tools and fasteners. Those are our three product lines and I’m responsible for the marketing, the getting the new information out, the websites, the social media, print, every piece of communication and public relations regarding those products is my responsibility.

Carman Pirie: And I think as I told you, I have absolutely no use for a Stinger tool, but I want one anyway after having watched some of your videos. I’ve built a deck but I’ve never done any house wrapping but man, those things are cool.

Greg Palmer: Yeah, the whole cap nail and cap staple process where it’s a plastic cap about an inch in diameter and it has a nail or a staple through it and it seals the wrap on there and it can withstand a 180 mile an hour winds. We’re very proud of that product.

Carman Pirie: It’s really very cool. Greg, how many people in the marketing department?

Greg Palmer: Oh, we have five folks right now. We have a couple of designers, we’ve got a writer, we’ve got a social media person and then myself and we also outsource when needed. But between that, those individuals, we’re able to crank out a great deal of marketing.

Carman Pirie: Very cool. I think it’s always kind of important context for listeners. Kind of understand how big a team is being applied to this, so thank you for that. May I ask Greg, what really struck me in our earlier conversations in prepping for today’s show is that, I guess a lot of manufacturers, there’s a lot of variants out there around the extent to which marketing is included in product development. A part of when they become a part of it and to what extent they’re integrated with it. And it struck me that it seems at National Nail that it’s more a marketing led process than that is often the case. And it’s really started with your customer listening. I’d like us to just get into that a little bit and tell our listeners kind of what that journey has been and how you’ve gone from listening to customers to actually some pretty innovative products along the way.

Greg Palmer: Well it’s really important for us. Innovation is really the backbone of the company. We come up with new ideas, we listen to customers and make sure that we are developing products that will make them more efficient, save them time, save them money, versatile, affordable, strong. Those different value adds we want to make sure we build into our process. Listening to customers is really, really important. We listen to them when they call in. Our sales staff is always bringing information to the marketing team saying, “Hey, this is something they were asking about.” Or they would say, “Wouldn’t it be cool if it could do this?” And so we’re always listening to customers, doing focus groups. Out in the marketplace with trade shows, interacting with customers is really, really important because you don’t understand their pain points until you really talk to them. And then they’ll mention something going, “Well why are they doing it that way? They should do it this way.” We definitely like to listen to our customers and we start to innovate from there.

Carman Pirie: I think a lot of people would say that they listen to sales or they get some feedback through that channel and I think the trade environment can certainly, trade show environment can give you some of that as well. I would say the one thing, that part of you said that seems to be a bit of a zig where others are zagging, is you mentioned using focus groups. I’d be curious, to what extent do you use that tool because it’s not something that comes up as often as maybe it should.

Greg Palmer: Well we use it when we’re launching new products. We want to make sure that when we will develop a product and then we’ll get it in the hands of our customers. And this is something else that is a really important to us, is not only do we get it in the hands of customers and let them try it and they give us feedback and such, but we’ll do the same thing with social media influencers and other people in the marketplace that can get the word out there. For example, we just came out with a drive tool, we call it the Camo Drive and it is a standup tool to put down decking using your own drill and that has an edge, face and clip fastening attachments. You can do clips, you can put down clips with it, you can put down face fasteners or edge, which is the proprietary technique that we’ve created that actually the screws go in the edge of the board, not on the top of the board so you have a fastener free deck surface.

And so we were, we sent our information out, we sent some tools out to some social media influencers and said, “Hey, check this out.” And they actually shot a video without ever trying the tool. They just put it together and said this is how it’s supposed to work. And it was a live feed and the response was unbelievable. He goes, “Oh my gosh, this thing really works. Look at this.” And then he was just going through and showing how fast you can fasten a deck down. We say you can fasten decks up to five times faster using our product.

Carman Pirie: And so I’d be curious and kind of backing up in the process and understanding how did the customer insight come to even create that product in the first place? In addition to obviously including customers and other influencers very early on in launch?

Greg Palmer: Well what we’ll do is we often get feedback from customers, because they know that innovation is so important to our company, always coming up with new and better ways of doing things. And so we’ll have customers sometimes contact us, give us a call or we’ll be at a show or just with our neighbors and they’ll say, “Yeah, it’d be better if I could do it this way or that way.” And so we start learning from customers. And in fact the EdgeClip and EdgeXClip for Camo, we came up with that because we were talking to customers and our competitors have clips that put down for groove decking. But you have to do a two pass. You have to partially drill it into each one of the joists and then shove the board in and then go on the other side and partially drill it and then go back and drill it again.

And we’re talking to customers they go, “Yeah. It’s just, it takes so long.” It’s like you’re right, it does. But what if we develop a tool or a fastener that you don’t have to pre-drill it, you just put it on the joist, it hugs the joist, two legs go around the joist, shove it right into the groove, and then you could put them one down at a time, then do the next one, the next one you can do multiple rows. Then you use the drive tool and just put them all down.

And they say, “Yeah, that’s great for perpendicular, 90 degree decking patterns. But what if you have an angled deck?” And then we came up with the EdgeXClip, which actually hugs the inside of the groove of the board so it’s really joist agnostic. It doesn’t matter which way the joist or the boards or are laying. It could be at any angle and it’ll still go down. It’s those types of things that make it much faster, much easier for customers that we saw how everybody else is doing it and going, there’s got to be a better way. And then we came up with one.

Jeff White: I think that’s fascinating and not just from isn’t that cool? Pretty amazing tools and processes. But I’d like to know how your engineering team kind of responds to this sort of feedback and this sort of challenge that you get from your customer because it is a very different way of creating products for sales and marketing and your other teams to kind of come back and say, “Hey, we heard somebody say this and it was causing them to spend an awful lot of extra time. We’d love it if you could figure out a way to make this go faster.” How are the engineers going to take that on?

Greg Palmer: Yeah. It’s amazing. Our engineering staff is very talented and these guys, they love to talk to customers and they’re always trying to think of a better way. Even with the drive tool, we have some other offshoots of that that are going to be coming out based on some feedback we got from, oh, what if it could do this and that? And so we’re expanding that product and doing some other things with it because we keep hearing different things. Well what if it could do this? Or what if it could do that? And then we say, “Okay, let’s make that happen.” We may change the nose piece, we may change the length of it, the height of it, whatever, to make it even better for the customer. They’re always innovating, they’re always thinking of other ways of making our customers’ jobs easier.

Carman Pirie: I kind of wonder, I would wonder, I don’t even know if you could somehow research this, I suppose, think that through, but just how could you in some ways, if you I think more clearly communicate and demonstrate that you are an innovative company. My gut tells me that in some way it makes customers more open at feeding you some of this advice back. Does that make sense at all?

Greg Palmer: It does because what we’ve found is that the customers, when we hear them and we develop products, they say, “Oh my gosh, these guys don’t just do their own thing and don’t listen to customers. They really listen to what our pain points are, what makes our job difficult, and how they could make it easier.” We have built our entire reputation in the market, whether it’s Camo Pro-Fit or Stinger, in innovating, coming up with new ideas, better ways of doing things faster, easier. That’s kind of all our DNA at National Nail.

Carman Pirie: And more so than even being the DNA to listen to customers, it sounds to me in our pre-show chat that you’re also now bringing this customer listening into a new level of formality, if you will, within the firm. Can you tell us at least a little bit about that? I know that it’s early days.

Greg Palmer: Yeah, we’re asking customers to continually give us feedback. We’re meeting with customers, we’re having focus groups, we’re talking to customers, presenting new ideas. We’ll get a group of customers and we’ll say, “Hey, we’ve got a new product. We want you to try it out. Let us know what you think.” And so we’ll give them prototypes of products. Then they come back and they feed it back to us and they say, “Yeah, this is good, but this really could be better if you did this because this is why I don’t like it.”

In fact, that’s kind of what happened with our Stinger products. They didn’t like the way the caps were feeding into the machine into the actual 100 and 150B, the CS150 and the CN100, so we modified the way the caps actually get loaded into the system based on customer feedback. And they love it now because it, they said, “Well this is, it’s got in the way and now it’s easier to use and it’s faster for me.” And so we’re always listening to customers to try to hear them. And modify things and then we’ll send it out to them say, “How does this work?” There’s a collaboration and a trust between us and our customers.

Carman Pirie: And I’m just am trying to kind of just peel out a little bit to what extent that is documented and formalized within the organization. Actually being, and I know again, I understand this maybe a bit early days in what you’re doing to I guess make a proper database of that work, but I guess to the extent that you can tell us anything about that, it’d be great.

Greg Palmer: Sure. Well, we’re developing and implementing a new process, a 4D process that it goes through the design to development and in the various stages to really make sure that we’re hearing the customer all the way through and that we’re developing and following processes to get product to market more quickly. We use another tool called story branding. And what story branding is, is that we will actually talk to customers and hear what their pain points are, hear what they need in a tool or in a new innovation, and then we will make sure that we map that out in the story brand so that it literally is telling the story about the brand, so it’s very easy to understand. They can connect to it because these are the key things they’ve said. We needed to do this, this, this, and this, but we make sure that we build that into the story brand process and so by the time we as marketers tell those stories, the customer’s like, yeah, that’s exactly what I need because that’s they listened to me.

Carman Pirie: And you also have taken the extra step with the story branding to say, clearly the story for one product is going to be different than the story for another, but they’re all going to kind of address those key five points I think you mentioned earlier, the time, and ease of use, et cetera, correct?

Greg Palmer: Correct. That’s absolutely correct. The time, easy to use, easy to understand, easy on your body, versatile, affordable and strong. We call that TEVAS.

Carman Pirie: And it’s just essentially provides the, if you will, the story backbone that is applied in this story branding process. Do I have that correct?

Greg Palmer: That’s is correct.

Jeff White: I think what’s really interesting about this, And we’ve touched this a little bit, but just the marketing is being co-created at the same time as the product is being engineered and designed. That’s not the way it’s normally done. Normally marketing is brought in after the fact and here we’ve got this new product and we need you to try and help us sell it.

Carman Pirie: I think it’s fair that in certain areas of the, more B2C folks, manufacturers as example of course will bring marketing in more early. It would vary, but I think a lot of more industrial, B2B, sometimes it is marketing the afterthought. We don’t want to beat everybody up too bad.

Jeff White: No, no, it’s true. We’re trying to raise Greg up. They’re doing amazing.

Greg Palmer: I appreciate that. No, I totally agree. Often times marketing is kind of a oh yeah and give it to marketing and they’ll put a nice message on top of it or whatever. But see we made sure that the messaging is tied in as the product is being developed so that we’re not kind of the afterthought. But instead we’re early on so that as the product evolves, like a drive tool evolved that originally was going to be an edge and a face fastening tool. And then as we were developing our new clips, the EdgeClips and EdgeXClips, we along with the clips, we sell our, we include in the package what we call a never-miss guide, which is a little cone shaped piece that if you’re putting it down with your own hand drill, you can put it right down, put the cone on it and the driver bit falls into the cone and goes right on top of the head so it makes it very easy and very quick to put it down.

And so our engineers are saying, “If we would just reverse that, have that flipped over and put that as a nose piece on the drive tool, now you’ve got edge, face and clip fastening that you could do with a drive tool and it serves that same purpose of guiding the driver bit into the top of the head of the screw, which makes it faster and easier to do.” We kind of, as we’re developing one product, we’re going, whoa, we can use that on this other product. It worked out really well for us.

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Carman Pirie: I’m curious, and it’s hard to know this probably because you’re already doing it and you’re so actively integrated with customers that it would shape the language. But as you’re, I guess, have you had any instances where that early customer listening has really shaped how you talk about the product and kind of maybe pushed it to be different than what you originally thought?

Greg Palmer: Sometimes that happens when we’ll be talking to the customer and they’ll give us some language that we weren’t planning to use, but it was in their words, it’s not what we say that’s important. It’s how they talk about our product and what they call it and how they use it. It’s great for, give marketing people a pat on the back and say, “Hey, you came up with a good term but our customers don’t call it that.” It shows how smart we are sometimes. What we do instead is we listen to customers and we modify naming conventions or whatever based on the language they would use and what they call it and how they can easily use it and communicate it because we want them not only to use it, but also to tell their friends and say, “Have you tried this thing at Camo or at Stinger or Pro-Fit?” And that’s how our product spreads in the marketplace.

Jeff White: I think it’s interesting too, you talked a little bit about sending out some of the drive tools and other things like that to influencers and getting them to try them out and help you promote them and give you feedback on them. But you also have a fairly rigorous launch process where you go to major construction and building trade shows and things like that and launch these products. Can you tell us a little bit about the way the tactics and the strategies that you’re using there for getting the word out once the product is ready for market?

Greg Palmer: Oh absolutely. We actually did that at the International Builders Show in Las Vegas this year. We had at the Deck Expo, which was several months earlier, we had invited some people into a secret room, if you would, just to show them, hey, this is what we’re working on. We want to show you some of our key customers to give them the heads up of where we’re going with this technology. They made some suggestions, we tweaked some things. Then when we rolled it out at the International Builders Show, it was a huge success. We had lines and lines of people three or four rows deep, watching this demo because they have not seen anything like it.

You’ve got a drive tool that you could use your own drill so it doesn’t matter what drill you have, we’re not selling you a very expensive tool because there’s no drill attached. You put on your own drill, it does edge clip and face fastening. It’s a universal tool. It could be used for multiple different things. And so as we showed customers this, we just had constant flow to our booth at the show. And it was really exciting. The customers were real pumped up about what the tool can do. They had lots of questions. We gave some sample tools out, let them try them out. Got tremendous feedback from our customers. It was a really great way to get the word out and it has just been spreading like wildfire. The drive tool is doing very, very well.

Carman Pirie: I kind of like the trade show tease that you just mentioned in there. Kind of like the show before the show and showing that product early and getting a bit of probably early buzz, but at the same time helping to shape and guide the final development of it.

Jeff White: I think that’s really neat. Greg, has that ever not backfired necessarily, but caused you to to back up and perhaps delay the launch or something once you’ve received early feedback?

Greg Palmer: There have been some products that we’ve come out with and that there was some feedback that we got and that said, well we have to change this or change that and modify it. Thankfully that wasn’t the case with the drive tool, but it has happened in the past. Getting early customer buy in and then finding out what their pain points are, helps you develop even a better tool so by the time you’re ready to launch it to the general public, you’ve worked out all those bugs.

Carman Pirie: Really appreciate the insight on that Greg and I wanted to, if we, I think we still have a little bit of time. It would be maybe good to cover because I understand that you maybe have had a bit more of a mix of traditional ad executions, et cetera, blended in with what you’re doing online and in trade shows. I wonder if you might take our listeners through that a little bit. It’s maybe not something that is as common as it used to be.

Greg Palmer: Well we like to use several different methods of communication in the marketing team to get the word out there about our product. We’ll do the traditional two page spreads in certain publications that have high visibility in our market to identify our new products. We’ll do print ads. We’ll also tie those print ads into online. We’ll point them to our website, we’ll point them to social media. Social media points them to the magazines and the other places that we’ll communicate the message. We’ll also do direct mail to customers. We’ll do follow-up phone calls, we’ll do focus groups. We have a number of methods that we use and we don’t just use one and say, “I’m just sticking to print, I’m not doing anything else.” Or, “I’m just doing online.” We do a little bit of everything to make sure we get the furthest reach that we can for our messaging and the information that we’re getting.

We also leverage social media very heavily. Getting customer feedback. They talk to us all the time, “Hey, can you send me a test tool? I’d like this.” But, we get their feedback. We’re always in communication with our customers and they know that we respond and we listen. Because that’s part of it, building relationships with our customers and really making sure that the products that we launch are of the highest standard so that they will use them and tell everybody that they know to use our products.

Carman Pirie: I’d be curious, have you found to the extent that you’re tracking the effectiveness of any of these tactics, how have you found the effectiveness of print, trade print, et cetera? Do you find that waning or is it holding its own for you?

Greg Palmer: It’s doing very well for us because as some people think, oh, print is dead and you can’t use print anymore. Everybody’s going digital. People still read magazines, people still take a look at what’s going on out there in the marketplace in print so print is not dead. We use print. Online is growing. Social is really good for us as well as phone conversations. We will call customers, we’ll ask them questions, we’ll send them samples. Having a good core group of people, like I said, we also have this core group of social media folks that we’ll say, “Okay, got a new product. Here, I’m going to send it to you guys, test it out.” And then they start on their iPod channels and their other methods of communicating to their bases, they spread the word for us and help us get that word out. It’s a multilayered marketing approach that gets the word out there in however the customer wants to receive it.

Carman Pirie: Very cool. Well Greg, thanks so much for taking us through that. That is really kind of helped our listeners understand how you folks have really baked marketing in, if you will, to that product development process and then how you see it through. I really thank you for giving us the backbone of the story branding. Just thank you so much for that and thank you for the introduction frankly, to National Nail. Fascinating company doing some fascinating things.

Greg Palmer: Well thanks so much. I really appreciate the opportunity to share with you what we’re doing over here as we’re very excited about it.

Carman Pirie: All the best. The enthusiasm comes through. Thanks, Greg.

Greg Palmer: Thank you.
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Greg Palmer

Director of Marketing

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

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