Some manufacturing marketers need to help customers envision how to use their solution while also learning how customers use their products. This week on The Kula Ring, Fin Watterson, Director of Product Marketing at Stratasys, talks about the role of a product marketer in a manufacturing organization, translating product information from the engineers and builders for customers. Additionally, he discusses how Stratasys worked with one customer to develop marketing messaging around their application use case.
Understanding Customer Use Cases to Inform Product 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 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 am doing sleepy, Jeff, and you?
Jeff White: It’s later in the afternoon that we’re recording this. I mean, you have had that issue before with the early morning ones, but…
Carman Pirie: Yes, I was just telling our guest prior to the show here that my better half invited some retirees over last night that recently moved onto our floor, and we underestimated how long they would stay.
Jeff White: They have nothing to do.
Carman Pirie: By several hours we underestimated it. Yeah, but look, other than that I’m really happy to be here, you know?
Jeff White: Yeah.
Carman Pirie: I think we have a great episode on the tee, as it were, ready to kick off here today, and I’m excited for it.
Jeff White: Yeah. I am, as well. Joining us today is Fin Watterson, and Fin is the Director of Product Marketing at Stratasys. Welcome to The Kula Ring, Fin.
Fin Watterson: Thanks, guys. It’s great to be here.
Carman Pirie: It’s wonderful to have you on the show, Fin. Yeah, let’s get underway by just learning a little bit more about you. Tell us a bit about you and where you work.
Fin Watterson: I kind of have a bit of an unusual career path to getting to product marketing. As you can tell from the accent, I’m Irish, and I graduated in journalism in 2008, when journalism was on a fairly steep decline, at least on the print side. And there was a financial crash at the time, and I found myself really looking around for marketing jobs that actually paid, so during university I also touched on, did some classes on graphic design, photography, videography, web development, and I kind of tried all of those things, and I’ve spent some time as a photographer, and working in studios, and designing websites, and through that experience I found a lot of value in just being able to be very adaptable and being able to change, and fit in and do a little bit of everything.
I found myself trying lots of different aspects of marketing, just trying to see what interests me, and just tried lots of different skill sets. At the time, I was trying lots of different disciplines, lots of different marketing activities, and so I really became a jack of all trades, master of none, but there’s another piece to that phrase, which is better than a master of one. And that really stuck with me, as being able to just be diverse in a skillset and try different things, and during the time I had lots of friends immigrating and through a contact, I heard about a job in Shenzhen, China, to help a company, Irish manufacturing company that was just starting up a marketing department. I wanted to appeal to a broader audience.
At the time, I hadn’t even heard of Shenzhen, China, so I looked it up and it was pretty… on the way, halfway to Australia, so I figured I’d go there for a couple of months and then head to Australia and see where that took me.
Carman Pirie: Like any good Irish lad would think.
Fin Watterson: Exactly. You know, you come from a small country.
Jeff White: Yeah, exactly. I mean, I have to think though, having some understanding of how a website gets built, and how good photographs are made, and of course your journalism background, so… Even if you are not necessarily a master of web design and development, simply having an understanding of how those things works can really inform you as you’re looking at any form of marketing.
Fin Watterson: Yeah. No, that’s absolutely true, and it really comes in handy when I’m working with designers, and working with videographers now, as I can speak the language, I can kind of know the jargon, I know the things that are hard to communicate what I’m looking for, instead of just make it better or something like that.
Jeff White: Yeah. How come the webpage doesn’t do this?
Fin Watterson: Yes. And so, yeah, understanding the basics of HTML and CSS can actually go a long way. But yeah, I ended up in Shenzhen, which is the heart of manufacturing, where most of consumer electronics are made, and I was kind of just plunked deep in the middle of it and I had to figure out how to market this company called PCH and their services to a broader audience, and being right in the middle of the manufacturing, being able to visit factories and see firsthand how things are made was really just a crash course in manufacturing, and I really fell in love with it. I thought it was just so exciting and interesting. All the nitty gritty things, all the different things and processes that need to go into actually making a product.
That was really where I got my first love for manufacturing, and that company opened up an office eventually in San Francisco, and I moved out to San Francisco, and after around a year or two there, I joined a startup that was an online service bureau as one of the really early marketers there. And being in San Francisco, you get a lot of access and you see a lot of the startup kind of things happening, as well, and that was definitely an area where I wanted to get more involved in, and so taking the ability to jump into a different city and jump into different aspects of marketing is actually really, really beneficial for jumping into an early-stage startup, especially from a marketing perspective.
When you join a startup, especially an early stage or before they have a marketing department, a lot of what you’re doing is you’re trying to understand who your ideal customer is, what the positioning is, what content needs to be created to appeal to that type of customer, what content doesn’t work, understanding the customer’s pain points, understanding how they’re using the product. Because you’re starting really from scratch. A lot of that ends up being what we would now call product marketing.
After that startup I joined another startup, and that was building a 3D printer called Origin, and I was the first dedicated marketing there before there was a website, kind of doing the same thing of really, really figuring out what is the product, who are the customers, how the product is enabling these customers, what the customer needs are. At the time, I was just doing general marketing, but what I didn’t realize at the time was I was doing product marketing.
Carman Pirie: It was like product marketing by accident or something.
Fin Watterson: Yeah. Yeah, it basically is, and product marketing, it’s a fairly new role, so it’s only kind of come up in the last couple of years. Actually, one of my roles at the service bureau was hardware evangelist. And it was like what is a hardware evangelist, and what I was doing was evangelizing.
Carman Pirie: It’s what a product marketer is when somebody gets fancy with their title I think, isn’t it?
Fin Watterson: Exactly, exactly. And similar to another title is like a growth hacker, so at the time these titles sounded cool, they were funny, but what they really were was being very passionate about the product, evangelizing the product, speaking the product, and getting customers excited about the product, as well.
Carman Pirie: And that landed you where you are today, which is Stratasys, correct?
Fin Watterson: Correct. Yes. So, the-
Carman Pirie: The long and winding road via China to San Francisco and now to Stratasys. I think I’m following along.
Fin Watterson: Yeah. It’s definitely not linear. The company Origin got acquired by Stratasys at the beginning of this year, and so my new role is product marketing for the business unit for the Origin product under Stratasys. This is the first time that my role is actually defined as product marketing, and the things that I’m doing at Stratasys are actually really similar to what I was doing at the previous companies, where we have a product and we’re really defining that product, working with customers to understand the Stratasys customer’s pain points, and how our product, the Origin product fits into the larger product range at Stratasys. Stratasys is the largest 3D printing company in the world, public company, they created FDM technology and Polyjet, as well, so just one of the most widely used 3D printing technologies out there, as well.
Each business unit, each technology has their own product marketer, and they’re really the product evangelist for their product. It really does come to the same thing, of really understanding your customers, who the target industry is, what are the applications you’re going after, who are your competitors in that space, and now looking back and looking at from my early career, being able to touch on these different things has been really helpful enabling me to do my job at the moment.
But it’s quite a broad role, as well, where you need to also be able to talk about the product better than the people who are building the product. You need to be able to take the product definitions from the product manager and the engineers, and then translate that into something that a potential customer would understand, as well.
Carman Pirie: You kind of took the words out of my mouth there. I was gonna say, pretty much it sounds like in some ways translation is such a big part of that role, right?
Jeff White: What’s really interesting about the product that you are marketing is that it’s a product used to make other products. So, you know, you’re effectively selling this to people who are going to then use it to help create other things, so it has levels and layers that truly understand what the potential is of this product, being able to explain it, you really have… It must be an interesting challenge.
Fin Watterson: Yeah. It certainly is. One thing that sometimes marketers don’t do, and it’s crazy, is actually use the product that they’re marketing. Because being in the manufacturing world, and just having a natural interest in it and how things are getting made, at the early days of Origin, I really spent time using the product, 3D printing things, getting into the lab on a Friday and even helping clean up the lab, and just really understanding how it’s being used. And that really accelerated the knowledge, and it was a huge help for when it comes to writing a blog post, or a spec sheet, or doing a webinar, as well. It’s like really understanding how the product works.
But one thing that’s very, very crucial to this role is not only understanding the product, as well, but understanding how your customers are using that product, and there are no real shortcuts to that. It’s working with customers. It’s like speaking to your salespeople and figuring out, okay, who is the most sophisticated user of our product? Who’s doing the most interesting things? And then really just building a relationship with those customers. It’s hard to scale. It’s time-consuming. But being able to just get on a call with a customer, speak their lingo, as well, so being able to use the manufacturing jargon, and the definitions, and actually understand even their pain points with the product, as well. But even truly understanding them, then that just gives you a huge amount of insight, because when we are going to do the messaging and positioning of the product, you really gotta make it very simple.
And a lot of the time, the customers will give me that messaging, because they’re going to tell me, “Hey…” You ask them, “How do you describe the product?” And they’re gonna describe it, and you want that definition. You want to talk about the product the way a customer is gonna talk about it, not how it’s gonna be talked about internally, because they can be quite different, as well.
Carman Pirie: I really like that. I really like that. That notion of if you ask the customer, they’ll eventually tell you how to talk about the product. That’s really interesting.
Fin Watterson: Yeah. Absolutely. And then going back to Jeff’s point is like then you can from a 3D print aspect, it’s like, “Okay, well, what are you 3D printing?” Because there could be anything. It’s really limitless, the things that they’re doing, and you can’t think of everything. You need to really understand what are the applications, what are the types of customers that they’re 3D printing things for, what do they see as the sweet spot for your technology, because with 3D printing, even though it’s kind of been around, it’s kind of known, there’s actually lots of different types of 3D printing technologies.
There’s four now at Stratasys alone, but there’s maybe 10 or 15 in total, and every technology kind of has its sweet spot and niche, what it’s good for, and even in industry. Aerospace is really big into metal 3D printing, and so you gotta really figure out what’s that sweet spot for your technology, and a lot of the time it’s going to be the customers that are gonna tell you what that is, and then you can really focus in on these are the applications, and then bring that up to your marketing message, as well. Being very clear on the website, the case studies that you produce. It’s like these are the type of things that the technology is really, really suited for, and that just makes everyone’s life easier. The customers can then see like, “Okay, I get it. I understand that. That’s related to me. This is what I will use this product for.”
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Carman Pirie: I’m kind of curious about the extent to which you were able to… I guess I’m trying to understand the balance of, because you can’t really recreate, like you say, those customer use cases in the lab. You can get to know the product, I suppose, and get your hands on it a bit, but then you can also do that on site with a customer, as well. It’s such an interesting and unique thing, because a lot of product marketers wouldn’t have that same ability, necessarily. I don’t know. Maybe there’s a lot of products that you couldn’t actually just go into the lab and use, like they’re part of something else. I’m curious. Is there a balance in your world? Would you say when you start, if you were starting the role over again, would you look, spend the first two months in the lab, and then the next three months talking to customers? Is there some sort of balance between the two? Or any secret sauce there?
Fin Watterson: Yeah. Yeah, it’s a good question. I think I spent too long not in the lab before, so I was kind of intimidated by the 3D printer at the start. It was like, “Oh, how do you use this thing?” Because it’s quite technical and there’s different software that’s needed. Looking back, I probably would have spent more of my onboarding time doing that, like in your first 90 days of just getting hands on. At the same time, I was also intimidated by the customer, because I don’t want to go on site and ask a stupid question. Our customers are great, I didn’t want to go in with a complete zero understanding of what they’re doing.
That’s when you really leverage your internal resources, as well. The nice thing about working at a startup as opposed to a big company, you’re much closer to the CEO, and so you’re able to… They built the company. They know the product better than anyone. And you can kind of understand their vision, as well. Getting hands-on time with the product creator will really… Getting the longer vision is then you can work back from that longer vision, you can see where things are today, what are the stages that need to happen.
In a bigger company, a product marketing manager in a larger company is very tight with the product manager, and so having a really strong relationship with the product manager is crucial to really developing the assets and the knowledge around the use cases. We’re building the product for a reason, you know? Really understanding that reason is important.
The nice thing about being in a startup is you’re much closer to your sales team, as well. At least at Origin and last company, Fictiv, we sat beside each other. It’s like understanding… Hearing them on the phone, how they’re talking to customers. Again, learning the lingo goes a long way, even if you don’t really fully understand it, but being able to talk about design for additive manufacturing, and like supporting things, that kind of stuff just shows the customers that you understand what they’re doing and the job that they’re doing.
Carman Pirie: Have you been able to maintain that level of connectivity post-acquisition? With the sales organization and others that are responsible for improving the product? Or have you found that that dynamic’s changed a lot since the Stratasys acquisition?
Fin Watterson: Yeah. It’s another good question. I’m still somewhat learning everyone’s name at Stratasys, so I haven’t had as much of a chance to work with the other… kind of the sales org, because it is so much bigger, and we’re just in less and less meetings together. But I still have the connection to the Origin, the same team that pre-acquisition, and so we all still talk quite regularly, and so I’m still at least coming, and connecting, and mostly marketing now, I’m working remotely most of the time. I’m in the office today. I like coming in on Fridays so that when there’s generally less meetings, I can come in and talk to the engineers. Hey, what’s going on? What are you building? I think that’s really important and that’s definitely going to be a challenge going forward I see with fully remote companies, is you’re not able to speak with people outside of your own kind of marketing world as easy.
I see that as really important for the success of my job, is being in the office and having these conversations with people outside of the marketing department.
Carman Pirie: I think that could be really instructive for people, you know, the notion of look, you can take a big company and make it small, but you usually don’t want to. But you can take lessons from small and figure out ways to recreate similar environments and you have to be intentional about it. It won’t happen as much by accident even with a larger company. In some ways, it’s the same as being in the office versus being remote. In a bigger company, less things happen by accident necessarily, and-
Jeff White: Yeah, it has to be intent to go and get that information from your internal teams and connect with them. I have to think too, the idea of truly understanding the product and getting good conversations going with your customers, and truly understanding what they’re doing with it… I mean, one of the things that you’ve mentioned is this idea of using your customer’s experiences to create content and create marketing about the product. You’ve already talked about how they talk about it and use that to explain it to other customers, but it’s given you opportunities to also showcase their work as an example of what the product can do.
Fin Watterson: Yeah. Yeah, that’s a great point. And I think this is just very lucky of being in 3D printing, and it’s kind of new, but our customers are very excited about the technology and the industry, as well. There’s definitely, for sure, enterprise, larger organizations that are a little bit guarded about what they’re doing, and they just want to not necessarily… They’re afraid of giving away some competitive intelligence and stuff. But then there’s also those customers, and for us, it’s really been early adopters, so the customers that saw the vision, saw some of the early messaging, was there like, “Yes, this is what I want,” before we have all of the details and maybe it’s a little bit early.
Those customers are usually gonna be your strongest advocates, but then also some of the best innovators, as well. Being able to identify them is important, and then build a relationship with them, as well. For example, one of our early customers called Inventus Partners, they’re a full suite of design engineering services, and so they have our printers, and they have quite a wide range of clients that they’re building products for, and their operator, and just senior design developer is actually just really excited about talking with us about the technology, and he’s always coming up with like, “Hey, look. I did this thing and look at this new material.” And sending pictures, being able to make sure you get more of that, and then understand like, “Hey, what are the things that we can turn into marketing assets, as well?”
One of the things that we’ve actually been working on for almost 12 months now is a 3D printed head lice remover device, and so it doesn’t sound incredibly sexy, and it’s really like… The product itself, you’re like… You say head lice remover, you’re like, “Uh, that doesn’t really scream marketing.” But-
Jeff White: It sounds itchy.
Fin Watterson: Yeah. It doesn’t, but talking to the customer, they took a very, very unique approach to designing it. A lot of companies in our space, they take a traditional injection-molded part, and they try to 3D print it. And it’s not necessarily the best way to kind of go around product development if you’re trying to adopt 3D printing, because it’s usually just more efficient to injection-mold it. But this customer didn’t go that route. They started with 3D printing and they started looking at all the unique design things that they could do in 3D printing that they couldn’t do with other technologies. Adding digital textures, reducing the material volume by 40%, adding design for assembly features, and doing some part consolidation, as well.
It ended up just being a really, really exciting project from a purely 3D printing space, and something that no other customer that we had seen before was doing that. Being able to understand that with the customer meant that we were able to work on developing this story until… You know, we had to get their client buy-in, as well, which we did eventually, but we had some time to really take the different aspects and, in the end, we were able to turn that into a press release, two case studies, there’s a webinar on it actually next Wednesday, as well. It’s gonna be a major asset on the product page under Stratasys when we relaunch next month. It just is gonna be one of the premier application use cases that we’re gonna have for this product over in the next year or so.
That really wouldn’t have been possible without having that understanding of the product development story with the customer, as well.
Carman Pirie: And this is how head lice become famous in a good way. I mean…
Fin Watterson: Yeah. It’s funny. We did the press release, and my colleagues were like, “Wow. We’ve never done a head lice marketing campaign before.”
Carman Pirie: No, it’s good, like you’ll be the only one. You don’t have to compete with a lot of other people doing head lice marketing, which I think it’s just a fascinating story and it shows that depth of relationship with the customer and taking the time to develop that, really what can come out the other side of it. Kind of the strongest content you can make as a product marketer really is coming from the customer in some ways. It’s the result of good relationships with the customers.
Jeff White: I love this idea of working with them to define content that can be created about how they’re creating something that is uniquely possible as a result of the machine that you make. Like really, those designs for assembly items, and things like that just… Maybe that wouldn’t be possible with injection molding or any other form of technology, so it… And you probably didn’t even necessarily think of it until they brought it to you.
Fin Watterson: No. Absolutely not. You know, it just would never have thought of those applications. Latching onto those customers, and with 3D printing it’s interesting, because there’s a lot of… Let’s say sexy 3D printing things out there that are really eye-catching. There’s a lot of things in fashion that are beautiful and are really innovative, but they’re usually not the things that are going into production. It’s the boring things that are the most interesting things from a customer standpoint, because our customers are manufacturers. They’re industrial manufacturers and they’re not interested in the cool, crazy, geometric kind of designs that you see, and they’re more interested in the jigs, the clamps, the things that are kind of just gonna make their life a lot easier, and more productive.
That’s another aspect of product marketing is there’s a framework called the jobs to be done framework, and so what you’re really doing is understanding what is the job that the customer is trying to do, and it could be just they’re trying to save money, they’re trying to stay ahead of the competition, but understanding their framework is really key to developing your own messaging, as well. And most of the time, it’s not the crazy stuff that gets the headlines. It’s kind of the smaller things that do add up and that has an impact.
Carman Pirie: Been an absolute pleasure to have you on the show, Fin. Thanks for sharing your journey to becoming a product marketer with us, as well as your expertise. It’s been a real pleasure.
Fin Watterson: Thank you. Yeah. It’s been great here. It’s very unusual to get marketing and manufacturing into one place, so this has been a lot-
Jeff White: And head lice.
Fin Watterson: And head lice. It’s been a lot of fun.
Jeff White: Thanks, Fin.
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Fin WattersonDirector of Product Marketing
Fin is a Product Marketing Director at Stratasys, the largest 3D printing company in the world and inventor of FDM, the most widely used 3D printing technology for hardware prototyping. At his previous company, Origin, in San Francisco, which Stratasys acquired at the beginning of 2021, Fin was the first marketing hire and helped launch multiple innovative 3D Printing products for mass manufacturing applications. Hailing from Ireland originally, Fin has spent several years in Shenzhen, China, working for PCH, a contract manufacturer producing products for some of the largest brands, before moving to San Francisco to pursue experience at manufacturing startups. Pre-pandemic Fin enjoys endurance sports in his spare time and has completed several Ironman triathlons and ultra-marathons.