The Evolution of Marketing in Manufacturing: A Data-Driven Approach

Episode 294

July 2, 2024

This week, The Kula Ring is diving into transforming marketing operations with Cory Kniepp, Director of Strategic Planning and Marketing Operations at Nidec Motor Corporation. We look at how industrial manufacturers are leveraging data-driven insights and AI to revolutionize marketing strategies, bridging the gap between B2B and B2C marketing approaches. We explore the journey from traditional marketing services to advanced marketing operations and the pivotal role of technology and AI in those efforts.

The Evolution of Marketing in Manufacturing: A Data-Driven Approach 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 you doing, sir?

Carman Pirie: I’m doing well, Jeff. And excited for today’s conversation. I am. I don’t think we’ve covered this topic on the podcast at all before, which, you know, we’ve been at this a while, so we don’t get to say that very often.

Jeff White: No, it’s very true. And it’s interesting because, in all honesty, it’s one of those things that when you hear about it and you think of the scale of organization that would benefit from it, it’s like, of course. But until I knew it existed, I didn’t know it existed. So joining us today is Cory Canape. Cory is the director of strategic planning and marketing operations for U.S. Motors at the Nidec Motor Corporation. Welcome to The Kula Ring and Cory.

Cory Kniepp: Thanks, Jeff. Thanks, Carman. A pleasure to be with you guys today.

Carman Pirie: Yeah. Cory, it’s awesome to have you on the show and I’m really interested to learn more about this transformation to marketing operations. But before we do that, I think we need to know a little bit more about Nidec and you and how you ended up there.

Cory Kniepp: Absolutely. Yeah. Nidec is a little over 50 years old. We just celebrated our 50th anniversary last year. They’re a Japanese company that started really with motors that went into like hard disk drives that went into computers. Over the years, they had a lot of merger and acquisition activities. Back in 2010, I believe they acquired the Emerson Motor Technologies division, which included U.S. Motors and started their foray really into the commercial and industrial segments. The U.S. Motors brand actually goes all the way back to 1908, so they’ve been cranking out motors all the way back 100 and almost 20 years now. So hard to believe that a motor manufacturer has been around that long, but happy to be part of an organization that does it.

Carman Pirie: Really cool. And Cory, how long have you been there?

Cory Kniepp: I joined Nidec in 2017 after a 12-year-plus stint with Emerson Electric in various roles there, primarily on the sales side, hopped over to Nidec because I was looking at some changes in my personal and professional life to get a little bit more into the marketing realm. Nidec offered that opportunity to me and it’s been a great fit ever since.

Carman Pirie: Really cool. So let’s start to peel back a bit the layers of this transformation from marketing services to marketing operations. And I mean, even when you think about that, I mean, I think there’d be listeners that would be like, Well, what do you mean by marketing services? Exactly. So let’s get specific. What are the functions that we’re transforming here?

Cory Kniepp: Yes. So when I got to Nidec, I really wasn’t familiar with the marketing services function. One, I was new to marketing. I came from the sales side, but I was familiar with sales operations, you know, the team that kind of props up the team that handles all the tools, all the reports you need data. You go to them, they get it for you. When I got to Nidec, they had a very similar team in marketing services and primarily they were data-focused, right? They were. What’s our daily run rate? What orders have we taken in? What have we shipped out? But outside of that, there wasn’t really too much other value or strategic work that the department was doing at the time. And part of it was the tools required to crank out a lot of those reports. It was still a lot of manual processes. You needed very specific skills to take all this data, aggregate it and make something useful out of it. So marketers and salespeople like to do some sort of meaningful analysis with it. So that’s what marketing services was when I got to Nidec.

Carman Pirie: Which it should be recognized, didn’t have itself as reasonably advanced. And compared to a lot of manufacturers out there that frankly don’t invest that much energy into understanding data and reporting, even as what you describe as the beginning state.

Cory Kniepp: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think, you know, and I’ve gone to many different industry events where you hear from peers in the industry and they say, oh, you know, I get that from Joe’s spreadsheet or I get that from, you know, Christy’s report that she publishes every day. Right? There was no it was almost a human feel for all these really important reports and tracking methods of different metrics that were coming out. And nobody was really looking at it historically as, hey, we’re taking a look at all this data. We’re doing stuff with it. We’re putting meaningful analysis to it. It was go to that person and get that report. It wasn’t go and get that data or go and do an analysis on something so that I think Nidec was a little bit on the forefront, you know, prior to that, you know, the predecessor that I took over for, I think he saw, hey, we can do a lot more with this data than just having one individual crank out a report.

Jeff White: Do you think that your background in sales operations and having more of this data, your fingertips kind of as a, you know, almost productized internally, productized data is sort of what drove you to begin to transform from, you know, a labour of love and manual effort to the systems you have now.

Cory Kniepp: Absolutely. And just a little more on my personal story. So I came and started as a market manager here in Nidec, and I had responsibilities for commercial and general industry OEMs. So it was kind of an extension of of my sales background. But prior to me being here, I was a sales director and I looked at our performance very analytically. Right, people who work with me know that I reference the movie and book Moneyball way too much. One, I’m a huge baseball nerd, and for whatever reason that book, I just actually reread it a couple of months ago, but it still speaks to me like, Hey, you can keep a very complex set of data and simplify it and synthesize it and have other people understand it on new levels, new ways, new shapes. So I had that my sales background. And when I got here, I was looking for those same types of metrics, and I found myself taking one of those, you know, kind of customized reports, taking other data, stacking it on top, and getting my own kind of personal dashboard view of what I felt the health of my market that I was responsible for. Well, I started doing that. Other people started to take notice. My boss at the time took notice. All of a sudden, a couple of years progress and I find myself in the marketing services realm looking at bringing that skill set to a wider audience. Right? So yeah, the sales background, absolutely. It played a big role in what I envisioned our marketing services team should have been doing and what I envision now for our marketing operations group now that we’ve kind of had that transformation.

Carman Pirie: So let’s dive into this Moneyball transformation. Then you really have me intrigued I guess how long would you say the path was? You know, from the time we really started to change the function to where you’re now saying we’re fully up and running as a marketing operations division?

Cory Kniepp: Yeah. So I think that’s an ongoing journey, right? That probably never ends, especially with the new technology and tools that come out on a daily basis. I was at Gartner’s Marketing Symposium earlier this month and there was a presenter there who that shared, I believe the website is like Chief MarTech dot com and he has a map of all the marketing technology tools that are out there. I mean, you could get the biggest screen that they will physically sell you and you could still not see all those icons and make out all these tools that we’re bombarded with on a daily basis. So yeah, to go back to the Moneyball analogy, you kind of have to keep it simple, right? There’s a lot at us, just much like our data, We have to take a good, simplistic approach to what’s going to work for us, and what tools we use, but also avoid the trap of, Hey, I have I only know how to use a hammer so everything starts to look like a nail. We do need to understand the other tools at our disposal and how to best roll those out.

Jeff White: I want to, and if I’m putting you on the spot and you can’t disclose the exact tools, I certainly understand. But I’d love to know kind of the category of technology you are looking to introduce and how you thought about rolling that out. I think our audience would get a lot out of understanding sort of how you were thinking about it.

Cory Kniepp: Yeah, I mean, it’s in the start, right? It’s utilizing our ERP data, right? This is where all of our transactional, that’s our source of truth data transnationally, Right? How do we take that use tools that, you know, like business intelligence, visualization tools, how do we take those types of tools and create reports that are a little bit more maybe friendly to look at? I know you know that I’m an engineer by trade. I might not seem like it, but I have that. I can look at numbers and it means something to me, right? But I’ve worked with enough people in my career that I know numbers don’t speak to everyone, Right? You need that visualization to fill that gap and translate that message that somebody who sees numbers clearly can then speak in the same language to somebody who maybe doesn’t quite have that same appreciation for just looking at raw data and numbers. So that was kind of trip number one through this journey. You know, and then it’s looking at customer relationship management. What type of tools can we use that data and now give our sales team and marketing team a little bit more intelligence about the health of markets, about customers, and then aggregate that with other third-party data that might be available? Right. Are we targeting the right types of accounts? Are we targeting the right types of customers? Do we have the right product mix to go after and target certain customers? So I have an, I’m only looking up because I have a huge map on my board of all of the buckets that we kind of play in. I mean, even with communication technologies on the operations side, we want to make sure that our marketing team has a full understanding of all the communication tools that we have. You know, what are the best practices on email, on messaging, you know, Slack teams, whatever it might be, how do they use WebEx versus teams versus Zoom versus everything else? We want everybody to have that type of appreciation. You know, how do we best share files, What files can be shared versus not what type of content is in those files and what type of content speaks to the audience that, you know, you’re you’re speaking with at the time? What’s the most impactful? So there’s a lot of technology circling around all these day-to-day marketing functions that we just want to make sure that we use it as effectively and efficiently as possible.

Carman Pirie: I mean, I’m imagining that you’re really you’re active. Bringing this level of discipline and rigour to the function is shining a light on new sources of information, new connections, and new patterns that perhaps the organization wasn’t aware of before. I’m curious, what would you say has been the biggest aha moment that you’ve had in this?

Cory Kniepp: You know, I think it was bridging that communication gap. Right. And I even go back to my days as a sales director and we were looking to hire somebody and people around me said, Hey, you have to place this head in this particular market. Like, this isn’t the geographic area that we need somebody And I looked at our data of who our customer base was, what our targets were. I looked at that and I said, That doesn’t make sense, right? Like, okay, I get it. There might be one or two kinds of significant targets that might be in that geographic area, but you’re blinded by that, right? There’s a bucket of other opportunities in this other region. We can place that person here and it will make sense. Well, having that discussion, you know, people come in with their will, their opinion, hey, it needs to be this. I had a little bit more data-driven opinion. How do I get that data to do the talking for me became my first big aha moment, and that’s when I was using a visualization tool to do some heat mapping and say, Hey, look, right this zone of the country is underserved by our current footprint. If we put somebody there, there are a lot of opportunities that person could work on. And that worked. It was my first you know, I get what I can do with this. We’ve evolved from that data-driven services-only type function to this operations function. It’s the same thing with business practices, right? I urge the entire marketing team here to come to us and say, okay, what are the repeatable tasks that you do? What are the hurdles that you have in your day-to-day professional life that are slowing you down from doing the job that you’re here to do, which is marketing? And we take a look at those processes and say, Hey, how do we set you up for success to where they’re not getting in the way of your day-to-day core function? Right? We want to make sure that we’re clearing the deck for them. We’re utilizing all that technology that we’re already paying for in the best possible manner to make their lives easier so they can keep their eye on the ball there and go out and market to our current customer base and potential customer base.

Carman Pirie: What area of the marketing function do you think needs to be more data-driven than it is today?

Cory Kniepp: For industrials? All of it, you know, think about your B2C interactions, right? And we all get this. I could open my phone up and look at my Gmail inbox and see all these personalized messages from companies that I’ve had interactions with. Like either I just bought shoes from or bought a shirt or, you know, we just had to buy a new washer and dryer. So I’m getting the, Hey, get ready for your washer and dryer delivery. Do you have this? Do you have that? What about buying this type of cleaning agent to make sure that your washer stays fresh like you’re already getting those messages before you’ve actually had the product delivered to you? Because they know you’re in this stage of, hey, I’m prepping for the new appliances to be delivered. You have this very, the term I’ve heard is hyper-personalization, right, of the messages you’re getting hit with from these traditionally B2C companies in the industrial realm. We don’t do that very well. Right. There’s there’s companies that claim to do it and have a good account-based marketing approach. And we’re we’re going to take a look at an industrial customer the same way we look at a consumer of B2C-type consumer goods. But at the end of the day, no, it’s still much of a difference. It’s the different ecosphere that we need to think about how do we take some of the best practices that we like, from our consumer lives and adopt them in this industrial realm.

Carman Pirie: But your point is taken that this isn’t new. You know, as you talk about it from a consumer perspective, it’s not like you’re looking into the crystal ball about what’s around the corner. You’re like, No, this has been around for years. Guy So what standing in the way of industrials do you think they just don’t care about it as much?

Cory Kniepp: Oh, I have a lot of theories here, right? I think, you know, for industrials, everybody’s doing less with… or doing more with less. Right. And hopefully not doing less with more. We’re doing a lot more with less. I look at, you know, even the prior organization I came from, the more that gets dumped on some of my previous colleagues’ plates that they continue to handle more and more different products, different markets, different segments and they’re not getting any more bandwidth. Right. So for us to continue to do that effectively, we’re going to have to look at all these other types of technology that help make that kind of personal connection with our customer base. I think we’re at a, to me, I feel like we’re really at a tipping point, too, and I definitely feel it in the environment that I’ve been in currently that we’re you know, we’re looking around the office and we’re seeing that, hey, there’s a new generation that’s already in the workforce here that they’re looking for this type of work they’re looking for. They expect this to be from the people that we do business with, and they would expect us to act like this to the people that we sell to as well. So I think we’re we’re just lagging behind maybe a decade behind B2C type companies and consumer type, goods type companies. But I feel like we’re we’re there. We’re ready to start that transition. I think the growth of marketing operations is a function over the last 5 to 10 years across industries. And we’re included obviously in that as we’ve made our change. It’s having a lot of new eyeballs on this problem saying, hey, wait a minute, we can take these best practices from B2C and apply them here.

Carman Pirie: And part of a challenge, too, for industrials is that you know, the switching costs for customers are higher. It’s not quite the same as a B2C environment in many cases where you can buy x t-shirt versus y t-shirt. So it makes it a little more difficult, I think, for the decision-making apparatus to be able to visualize or imagine the true benefit of doing that. So as somebody who’s in the visualizing benefits business, I think you’ve probably got an answer to it.

Cory Kniepp: Well, I think there’s this concept from, you know if I remember back to my marketing research class, it’s the first mover advantage, right? If you’re the first one to the game with that type of plan that’s executed well you’re going to see the benefit from it. But to your point, what the questions are always going to be, what’s the ROI on this project? How do we get this? And we have to find different ways to tell that story upfront to get get the buy-in. Right. That it’s we’re going to be looking at a new set of metrics. And I think that’s one thing where we still don’t have that same, you know, the clicks, the conversion rates on clicks and everything that these B2C companies track because it’s important to them because there are so many options for a consumer to go out, like you said, A, B, C, D, E, F, G t-shirt options, right? And so on down the line we have we don’t have that as much in, in traditional industrials, but we have to start thinking about what are the metrics then that do point to a likely conversion of that person that goes to our website and then becomes a sale, or that person interacts with us at a trade show and then becomes eventually a sale. Traditionally we at least the industrials I’ve worked for, we have not looked at those those metrics. And that’s something that we now have to start to think about because it’s not simple to spend money on this tool and recoup the money by a year or two. It’s it’s going to it’s a completely different new set of math and skills that we need to communicate then to our colleagues in finance and the executives that are signing the cheques.

Jeff White: I wonder if you can paint a bit of a picture because where you’ve operation Allies, these things that were previously typically marketing only kind of data and perhaps traversing over to sales as well, of course. But, you know, have you found that other individuals beyond the more typical departments are now looking at this and asking for access to this or benefiting from it in some way?

Cory Kniepp: Yes. Yeah. I mean within our group. I speak with people from the engineering side all the time about what’s, you know, what’s the data, what, what, how do we do it? How do we look at processes even, you know, some of those conversations have come up because we do have a track record of showing improvement of different productivity and process improvements within our own department? So yeah, I think it’s taken note. You know, we’ve talked with the quality department over data, we’ve talked about sales and marketing. I mean, we’re linked at the hip there. So literally everything we do, I think they’re well aware of and ask a lot of questions for that’s always been there. But yeah, lately I think even finance has taken some more kind of intrigue and interest in okay tell me about this. What does this mean? How are you looking at it? Because once again, they want everything to be a simple calculation that they can show and with many of the tools that we have, as much as I’d love to keep it all super simple, sometimes it’s just very difficult to do that. So we have to sit down and have those discussions.

Carman Pirie: You know, it’s kind of strange. A couple of seconds after having the conversation about how B2B industrial is ten years behind B2C. Now we’re going to look into the future and ask you what’s coming next. So we’re on a leapfrog and imagine that we’ve already caught up to the B2C folks or something. But I do wonder, I mean, I can’t imagine somebody in your function isn’t at least somewhat obsessed with what AI’s going to mean to the realm of marketing operations, functions that you manage. And I know it’s it’s the question du jour. So I apologize in advance for asking, but I feel like I would be remiss if I didn’t say, where’s your head at with it right now? How are you thinking about it?

Cory Kniepp: I think if some of my colleagues were taking bets on this, they’d be surprised that it took about 20 some odd minutes before I mentioned AI. So yeah, thanks for the prompt there. But yes, I mean, it’s everywhere. It’s, you know, if first, the approach was, okay, what is this? Does it make sense? How do we use it? How do we use it safely? And, you know, we’ve done some internal reviews and studies. We’ve worked with our I.T. department a little bit on that as well about, hey, how do we put the right safeguards up? You know, what level of customization do we do we really need here? Do we need to partner with somebody in a specific area? And then what does that partnership look like that we’re keeping our data safe? But yeah, GenAI is in every, GenAI specifically is in every aspect of the marketing function. Then you go to the data side and I hear the term AI thrown around all the time, but this is really just machine learning to me, right? And that concept’s been around for decades. It’s just now we have higher computing powers that machines can train quicker and quicker and come up with their algorithms much more effectively than what they were doing even a decade ago, which is sometimes hard to hard to envision and hard to imagine. But yeah, we’re looking at every piece of our function from our business data management to our analytics and reporting to our process, our business process management that we do and how do we responsibly use AI to essentially become part of our team in those separate functions? Right? It’s no longer just a tool. It’s literally somebody that we’re going to look to as kind of our first line of defence. We’ll have experts vet anything that comes out of there and then go from there. But yeah, it’s becoming prevalent. And everywhere I look.

Carman Pirie: I almost was going to ask you if you think there’s a chance that it could be possibly overhyped at this stage, But I feel like that’s silly to even ask because you seem like you’re full in.

Cory Kniepp: I think the overhype for me was probably a year ago that at first, it was everything, right? Oh, we could do this. We could do that, we could do that, you know, that. Put all of our documents in there, and translate everything. We’ll put all this in there, you know, do that. See where we should be selling our next motor. Right? And then all of a sudden you realized there were these, you know, I think the technical terms, hallucinations, there was, you know, kind of questionable results that came out of it. If, you know, someone was training the model in a way that was counterintuitive to the way it had already been trained, then you really had a conflict of what was getting out of it. And I think now that that’s kind of subsided, everybody backed off a little bit. I would say throughout the last half of at least calendar year 23, it felt like not as many people were talking about AI as there were in the first half of 23. I think part of that was that dropped down to that hype cycle, people coming back to earth and resetting expectations. And now what we’re seeing is a lot of customized tools that include artificial intelligence as part of the tool, right? Do you want to go out and do some research? Well, here’s a research tool, and with it is an AI module that’s included where you can ask the AI bot questions. It will help get to a potential solution quicker than doing just the research alone and prompting it with, you know, typical search functions. You’ve got obviously a lot of data where you can ask for data in plain English and it will start to create the answer for you versus doing the analysis and trying to calculate a number. Yeah, it’s, it feels like it’s everywhere. And then the CRM packages too that are, you know, taking all of the interactions that are tracked and putting AI spin on it, trying to predict what the next response should be, write to a customer that’s something that we’re seeing. I think the better success in AI is with those individualized kind of secure tools that you’ve drawn a certain parameter around them. It’s only going to train on this particular data, it’s going to sit in this particular environment and that’s it versus that original, Hey, check out this website that everybody can go and type stuff into. And yeah, today it will answer five plus three is eight, but tomorrow it’s going to answer five plus three is a rubber chicken or something because from sensical to nonsensical, because you have bad actors playing with it that all of a sudden break a model, right? So it was never that bad of a hallucination. But I think you get the point that.

Jeff White: Those inputs though I mean the quality of data that things get trained on and the model of how it gets accessed is everything, you know, and it’s why the public AI tools are just so fundamentally broken because they’re training on the literal web, which is full of disinformation.

Cory Kniepp: Oh, absolutely right. And I’m part of an engineering society here, the international society of automation. I’ve been invited twice to present on the use of AI in our industry. And I co-present you know, I take more of the business operations side and another gentleman takes more of the engineering and design side. And I mean from one presentation to the next. I mean, we had about a two-month time time lapse in there. The first time he said, Hey, we’re going to calculate this, you know, run of pipe for some sort of engineering project, right? It puts all of his parameters in it, calculates it, and he says, hey, that’s you know, that’s within what we expect and it shows all the work and everything. And he runs that same experiment about two months later and gets a wildly different result. And yeah, he was just using free tools to kind of show what I could potentially do. But if you’re unaware of that right, I think of all these college-age individuals that are being encouraged now, Hey, experiment with A.I. because this is where we’re the future is going to go. They’re getting wild results out of there. Right. And if they’re relying too much on it, you’re going to throw all those years and years of engineering and business expertise out the window because you’ve relied too much on an automated result. So we do have to be careful about that going forward that we don’t have a skill degradation of… I forgot how to design that length of pipe, but I know AI can do it for me, right? I think there was that same fear in generations ago. We’ll go into like a calculator to do a lot of calculations. Right. I definitely had to show a lot of work on a lot of engineering exams in school, but thank goodness my calculator was there to check my work because I’m sure I would have missed a few things along the way. But yeah, if we lose that core fundamental building blocks of all these functions, engineering, marketing, sales, operations, we’re going to be in trouble if we rely fully on the machines to do the work for us.

Carman Pirie: Cory I feel like we almost need to stop now or else we’re going to spend another hour on AI. Your coworker sent me a few texts here that they’ve warned me.

Cory Kniepp: Oh they know I’m passionate. Yeah, when used responsibly, it is a great thing. But boy, we still have to really have a head about you to make sure that you know, it’s not garbage in, garbage out.

Carman Pirie: Absolutely. It’s been wonderful to have you on the show. Thank you so much for sharing this time with us today.

Cory Kniepp: Yeah, absolutely. It’s been my pleasure, guys. I’m looking forward to hearing the product here and hopefully, we’ve entertained a few folks along the way.

Jeff White: For sure. And I’d love to check in in 12 months or so and see where you’re at then.

Carman Pirie: For sure.

Cory Kniepp: Absolutely.

Jeff White: Yeah. Thanks, Cory.

Cory Kniepp: All right. Thanks.

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 K-U-L-A Partners dot com slash the kula ring.

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Cory Kniepp Headshot


Cory Kniepp

Director, Strategic Planning & Marketing Operations

A 19 year industrial automation industry veteran specializing in growing talent and cultivating high-level customer partnerships that deliver results for both company and client. Degreed engineer, MBA, and lifelong learner. Passionate about all things automation, and long term board member of the International Society of Automation – St. Louis Section.

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