The Kula Ring podcast is essential listening for manufacturing marketers who want to grow their digital presence and compete online.
Sponsored by Kula Partners—an agency committed to helping leading B2B manufacturers craft digital experiences that transform how they engage buyers, serve customers, and outpace their competition—The Kula Ring podcast features conversations about marketing, sales, and technology with top manufacturing executives from across North America.
The Kula Ring podcast is co-hosted by Kula Partners principals, Carman Pirie and Jeff W. White, both of whom are frequently sought after for their digitally-focused B2B expertise. They regularly share their insights with audiences including conferences like B2B Online and HubSpot’s INBOUND, the Gardner Manufacturing Marketer blog, and other podcasts focused on B2B marketing and technology.
Kula’s Director of Strategy, Laura Hawkins explains the benefits of archetypes for manufacturing brands. While the cohesive messaging and marketing models may seem obvious to those familiar with the application of Jungian archetypes, it’s the additional brand power and bottom line impact that truly makes them useful for standing out in a sea of competitors with increasingly consistent brand pillars.
Using Archetypes to Differentiate Manufacturing Brands 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. How are you doing this morning?
Jeff White: Doing great.
Carman Pirie: Nice.
Jeff White: Doing good.
Carman Pirie: Nice. You know, yet again, another great episode ahead, and I think what’s been fun about a number of episodes we’ve been doing in the last little kind of spurt of recording is that we’ve been highlighting and interviewing some folks that we work with here at Kula.
Jeff White: Yeah.
Carman Pirie: Just after a while, it occurred to us that, my goodness, we’ve been interviewing an awful lot of smart people that don’t work at Kula. Maybe we’ll interview a bunch of the smart people that work at Kula and see how it goes. And it’s been really fun so far.
Jeff White: Well, as it turns out, we really know our stuff.
Carman Pirie: Well, I think it’s more that the people that work here know our stuff.
Jeff White: No.
Carman Pirie: Or know their stuff. Or know stuff.
Jeff White: I hope we know some stuff.
Carman Pirie: I know. Yeah. It’s the nature of being Canadian. I don’t think we want to admit that we know too much.
Jeff White: No, it’s true. We’re not that bright.
Laura Hawkins: Modesty.
Carman Pirie: We just apologize for knowing anything. We’re very, very sorry for knowing anything. But we’ll then simultaneously act smug.
Jeff White: Yes.
Carman Pirie: Yeah.
Jeff White: And ask for a bunch of money in the process.
Carman Pirie: 100% Canadian smugness. But no, okay, without further ado, today’s guest is one of the longest-serving employees here at Kula, and not to try to age her in any way, and Kula’s Director of Strategy.
Jeff White: Yeah. No, and we’re quite lucky to have her, so joining us today is Laura Hawkins. Welcome to The Kula Ring, Laura.
Laura Hawkins: Thank you. It’s fun to be, I guess, on the mic instead of behind the scenes this go around.
Jeff White: Yeah. You did a lot of the early recruitment for and could take a lot of credit for a lot of those great guests that we got in the early days of this show.
Laura Hawkins: Yeah. Definitely. That was a fun project to launch the podcast and kind of conceive of everything we were going to do, so this is kind of coming full circle.
Carman Pirie: Proving just yet again that Jeff and I just show up.
Jeff White: Do this. But I will say, this is one of the few projects that Laura has had a significant hand in that we’re still doing nearly three years later. Usually, we just say, “Yeah, we’re gonna…” No.
Carman Pirie: Yeah, so Jeff and I haven’t always been known for our stick-to-it-iveness. That’s fair.
Jeff White: I think that’s absolutely right.
Carman Pirie: But you know, there’s something to be said-
Laura Hawkins: No comment.
Carman Pirie: … about trying to different things.
Jeff White: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Carman Pirie: But look, that’s not why we’re here. We’re not going to fix our stick-to-it-iveness issues in one 30-minute episode, but what I think we can do is shine a little bit of light on the use of archetypes in manufacturer branding and communication. But before we do that, why don’t we more officially introduce Laura and have… Maybe, Laura, you could just tell our listeners about yourself and a bit about your background.
Laura Hawkins: Yeah, by all means. So, again, I’m Laura Hawkins, Kula’s Director of Strategy. As the guys alluded, I just hit my nine-year anniversary with Kula, and things have certainly changed quite a bit at the agency since the day I started. I think I might have been the first marketing hire, so that… When we look in the rear-view mirror, it’s like, “Whoa, we’ve come a long way, baby.” So, today I lead the firm’s complement of strategists, spearhead our client strategies, and contribute to Kula’s management team, and that means I get to wear a lot of different hats and work with a lot of really, really interesting organizations, and some really wonderful people on the Kula side.
So, I think that’s probably a pretty… as good as a synopsis or condensing nine years of experience into a quick elevator pitch as we’re gonna get.
Jeff White: Well, and I think one of the great things about what you get to do, especially with our clients, is you work at a really high level and get to see in depth what strategies need to be implemented and how to create those on a unique basis for each client, which kind of plays into what we’re gonna talk about today.
Laura Hawkins: Lots of fun. Yeah, this, what we’re talking about is one of my favorite engagement types. It’s a really interesting muscle to get to flex.
Carman Pirie: Well, let’s talk about it a little bit further. I guess maybe we can start by just even what we mean by archetypes in manufacturer branding, and then maybe we can get into the why and the challenges that it helps address. Does that make some sense?
Laura Hawkins: Yeah. So, archetypes are a kind of concept that was conceived of by Carl Jung, and it was mostly in the realm of psychology and this idea that there are these consistent almost kind of characters that come up throughout human history, across cultures, that resonate in different stories, and it kind of comes back to this idea of storytelling being so innate to human nature, and these same character types or kind of categories come up time and time again. And there’s almost, if I had a visual in front of me, I would show you a wheel where there are 12 of these categories, and as I start to list some of them out, you can start to picture them maybe in your favorite stories, movies, books, and fiction.
Things like the hero, or the caregiver, or the innocent, the joker, and these different personalities show up again in day-to-day pop culture, all kinds of different things, and these are really, really powerful because they tap into this, kind of, innate part of human nature, where they’re able to be recognized, again, across time, across culture. And so, this principle of archetypes in branding has been used by the B2C world for decades at this point, and as you look to some of the best-known brands in the world, they’ve been employing these archetypes in a really consistent way.
And when I say these archetypes, the most successful brands have chosen one and wrapped their entire identity around that particular archetype. So, it’s not a matter of switching. It’s a matter of finding one and really sticking to it and using that as a platform for all of your marketing communications, as though that brand had that specific personality, and it comes through in everything.
So, I think what’s really exciting is that this is still somewhat unprecedented in the B2B world. All the big brands, like your Coca-Cola, would be the innocent. You think about how they kind of conceived of Santa Claus or think about the cute ads with the polar bears. Or think about kind of renowned brands like Mercedes Benz. They would be the ruler archetype. That comes through if you were to visit their website or any of their marketing materials. It’s very clear that they see structure in the world, and they want to position whoever drives their car kind of as a ruler or a leader. It kind of automatically maybe sets you apart.
So, what’s interesting about these brand personalities is that while they’ve been used in B2C for again decades, it’s still relatively uncharted territory in the B2B world. And as you start to look into different brands in the B2B world and do competitive analysis like we often do as part of this archetype offering, you’ll find that a lot of B2B brands have not necessarily adopted a really, really distinct brand personality, and it’s often difficult to identify an archetype within a B2B brand, especially in the manufacturing vertical. So-
Carman Pirie: And to contrast that with the Mercedes Benz example that you use, which… I remember the… We had our creative director, Craig, mock up the Mercedes Benz homepage using the jester archetype to contrast what it would look like if they were a jester brand versus a ruler brand. And I’ve shown that to a lot of people and people can’t tell me why it’s wrong. They just know it feels wrong. It’s like you put on a suit that’s just the wrong size or something. Like, “No, no. This doesn’t feel right.” And it’s interesting to see that consumer brands, especially the most successful ones, have really done a great job of cementing that in our minds, and then you see that… I guess, Laura, what you’re saying is as you contrast that with what you see on the manufacturing side, it’s like, “Man, it’s just a lot of missed opportunities.”
Jeff White: Feels like a lost opportunity. Yeah.
Carman Pirie: Yeah.
Laura Hawkins: I think it’s worth noting that it’s not even just kind of a bunch of… I don’t know. We’re not charging crystals and it’s not witchcraft and wizardry. There was a study. Mark and Pearson, who authored The Hero and the Outlaw, which if this… For those listening, if this sounds intriguing at all, that book is really fantastic and does an excellent job of kind of stepping through the application of archetypes in branding. But there was a seven-year study that was conducted and Mark and Pearson explored changes among brands that applied, did or didn’t apply, a consistent archetype, and they found that the market added value, which is a measure of the value a company adds to shareholder investment, and economic value added, which is an estimate of net operating profit minus opportunity cost invested in the enterprise, they found that in their analysis, the MVA and EVA of strongly aligned brands grew at a consistently greater rate than those with weakly aligned brands.
And I think that is important to note, that it’s not just do it for the sake of it, but there is a monetary kind of… I guess, there’s a monetary meaning behind why it’s important. A profitability standpoint. So, you can kind of stand behind it and quantify the impact of being able to adopt a consistent brand identity and what that actually means to your business’s bottom line.
Jeff White: I think the thing that I really love about it, and I say this as somebody who’s had the opportunity to develop a number of identities, and corporate identities, and brands, and things like that. The stories that we tell about the visual part of those things are always a little bit harder to connect, you know? You can say that the logo has these elements and therefore it means this, but those aren’t necessarily cross-culturally understood. They’re interpretive in a lot of ways. But archetypes really aren’t.
Carman Pirie: Post-design rationalization in the worst cases.
Jeff White: No, never. But you know, I think archetypes are a little bit more… They’re a little bit more universal in their appeal and understanding, and I think people can kind of latch onto stories, and it doesn’t matter what language. It doesn’t necessarily matter what culture. A hero is a hero, and a villain is a villain as far as storytelling goes, which is… You can’t say about visual things in the same way.
Carman Pirie: Exactly. And I would actually go one step further because that identity is one of the pieces of the toolkit in the normal brand marketer’s… You know, you need to have the identity.
Jeff White: Often the only tool. Only piece.
Carman Pirie: But there’s brand guidelines, typically, as well. And that’s where I find archetypes, like that’s the thing that archetypes almost creates a shortcut for it feels to me.
Jeff White: Yeah. Supersedes traditional brand guidelines.
Carman Pirie: Because brand guidelines put you in the position of having to enforce rules that sometimes seem arbitrary or artificial to people, whereas if you can get people thinking about the brand as an archetype, then we’re on a different path, aren’t we, Laura? Like it’s-
Laura Hawkins: Yeah. I think that’s an important point because even as we were teeing this up, it was from the perspective of finding a way to resonate kind of in the psyche of your customers, but the application of archetypes also has the impact of being able to resonate with the people who are communicating on behalf of that brand, which, for anyone who’s managed a multi-person marketing team, or for that matter a complex multifaceted organization, finding a consistent way to have dozens, or potentially hundreds of people communicating on behalf of a brand is a tall order, to say the least. And if you can find a way to tap into your internal kind of audience’s psyche, and they can… When they communicate on behalf of the brand, they put on the hat of the archetype, it actually makes it potentially easier for them to communicate in that consistent way. Because they’re able to assume that identity in a way that is easier for them to identify with than like you said, kind of an arbitrary set of guidelines that they might be being slapped on the wrist about.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. Brand guidelines, brand language guides, things of that nature can never fully imagine all possible scenarios or conditions with which that needs to live. And Laura, I think your point is so well taken, it’s that that notion of archetypes allows you to almost fill in the blanks in a… It allows people to appropriately deal with those nuanced decisions based upon what would this archetype do? How would they approach it? And so, I think that’s the real… some of the real power in archetypes is that it allows you to fill in those blanks. You don’t have to imagine every eventuality. You don’t have to have a guideline and a brand language prescription, if you will, for every possible scenario. It allows people to interpret what that brand archetype would do and how it would be expressed, and do so in a more successful way for… They’re able to-
Jeff White: More consistent.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. Yeah.
Jeff White: I think that’s especially important if you’re constantly creating content, to have that in your back pocket as, “Our brand would say things this way,” gives you constraints, foster creativity that way, and I really like that.
Laura Hawkins: I think another really interesting thing I’ve seen in addition to the point of helping folks fill in the blanks and kind of put on the hat of what would this archetype do. It’s been really interesting to watch how organizations, even outside of the marketing department, kind of rally around the identity. It’s been an interesting morale booster with some of the organizations we’ve worked with conducting this type of exercise. Folks that you might not necessarily get a lot of exposure to in the day to day are involved and really excited, and I think that is kind of an interesting implication, too. Because it makes the kind of initiative maybe not so much, at least from what I’ve seen, not so much that it’s something being forced on others by marketing, but rather something that the whole organization is excited to rally around, which I always think is kind of interesting.
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Carman Pirie: Yeah. Certainly, easier soil to till than if you feel like you’re just imposing something on somebody.
Laura Hawkins: Yeah.
Jeff White: Yeah. Yeah. Well, and I mean, the internal win is huge, because when you have buy-in from everybody on the team, it just… They’ll all express the brand better than they ever would than, “Here are the colors and please use Helvetica.”
Laura Hawkins: Doesn’t seem like as much fun, does it?
Jeff White: No. Well, it does to me, but I’m not normal.
Carman Pirie: I can think of even that internal benefit, I can think of one startup manufacturer client that we worked with and helped kind of solidify their brand archetype direction, and gave them kind of the toolset to think about that, and to put that into practice as they were rushing towards a Series A round, and they cite that as being the thing that kind of accelerated the investor interest that they were… Because it just… It allowed them finally to communicate consistently from R&D, and production, when the CEO was talking to a potential investor group, it sounded like they were singing from the same song page as the head of R&D.
I think that was really just gratifying to see come to life. Yeah.
Jeff White: But what’s amazing about it in that way is that it’s like good design, but for language, and good design is often invisible to most people, like they don’t see it. They don’t understand why something feels right or why something feels good. And it’s the same kind of thing with that. I mean, the people who are investing in our client wouldn’t necessarily have said, “You know, I really think that the way that they portray their archetype was good.” They just thought, “Everybody seems to be on the same page, and I don’t know why. Let’s give them money.”
Carman Pirie: So, Laura, you’ve told us a lot about archetypes, but I guess… So, we know that kind of inconsistent brand communication is kind of a bit of a problem that it can help solve, but what else? What’s the real hump, if you will, that they help brands overcome?
Laura Hawkins: I think, and the reason that a lot of organizations have come to us for this is really around how do I stand out from the pack in a potentially crowded space, in a space where maybe what you do is pretty similar to your competitors. And yes, you have your kind of differentiators and value propositions, but a lot of people are talking about the same thing in the same way, and how do you help yourself stand apart from the pack in those scenarios? I think that is a really important point and something that’s been really interesting to dig into over the last few years of doing this type of work, because often the engagement, one of the first things that we do is conduct a competitive analysis.
And what comes to light pretty quickly and in some ways very astonishingly, if that’s a word, it is now, is that especially in… There are kind of across the manufacturing vertical more broadly, there are a couple of almost crutches that a lot of manufacturers tend to use around their messaging. Carman coined this in an article a couple years ago the QSP trap, quality-service-people. You definitely see that across the manufacturing space and kind of across subindustries within it. But as you start to dig into some of these subindustries, there are an even kind of broader portfolio, I would say, of consistent messages and themes that come up, but it comes to the point where, as you put them side by side, it just… Everyone’s saying the exact same thing the same way, so if you were a prospect or a customer, and you were evaluating a partner or a vendor, it would make… How can you possibly decide who is a good fit when everyone is saying the same thing the same way? How can you decide who aligns with you or what you’re interested in? It would make that job, I would think, a little bit more difficult because it’s just… To borrow, Carman, a term of yours, a sea of same.
But it’s just been really interesting to see that come to light every single time we’ve done this exercise and done a competitive analysis. When you stack competitors’ messaging side by side, it’s been a bit of a lightbulb moment, I think, for our clients, too. Because they see it and maybe they didn’t realize, because they were doing the same thing all along. They knew that there might have been a problem. They knew that they need to maybe find a way to differentiate themselves. But they didn’t really realize how bad the problem was until you stacked everyone side by side and there was no one saying anything different from one another in the deck of cards.
Carman Pirie: I appreciate your distinction between saying the same thing and saying it the same way. They’re two different things. On one hand, we see these categories all the time where you must always… Everybody has to be leading on issue X. Maybe sustainability is the issue that this category must hang its hat on. And then not only does everybody talk about sustainability then, but then they all use the exact same language and style in talking about sustainability. So, when you see these competitive analyses done, not only is the messaging the same, but then the archetypes standup. They’re all the same archetype.
Jeff White: Without having even chosen one, generally.
Carman Pirie: Right. Inconsistently expressed often or expressed… some weaker than others. But again, but when it comes to that core issue that they all have to talk about, they all talk about it the same way.
Jeff White: And I think that’s what the power of an archetype is, is it gives you the ability… You can still talk about the topic of the day that everyone else in your category is talking about, but you can talk about it in a different way. You can approach the problem differently. Yeah.
Laura Hawkins: Yeah. Exactly. I think that’s been really interesting. I’m thinking of a recent example where again, what our client did was not markedly different from their competitors, but through the lens of the archetype, we were able to kind of wrap not only the messaging, and their positioning statement, but even the visuals in a way that helped tell this story and automatically, as soon as we started applying that consistently, and it happened really nicely because we did the archetype exercise in the lead up to a website redesign, so we were just able to take that and apply it to something really concrete right away, which is maybe kind of another sidebar.
I think that’s really helpful, because it helps people if you can apply it almost immediately to something, even if it’s a bit more tactical. It just helps bring it to life. But that’s a little bit of a sidebar. But I guess where I’m going with this is that as soon as we did that, it just helped the overall presentation of that brand, even though what they did, even their listing of products, even talking about the issue of the day, even though that had not necessarily changed, the way that it was presented and the way they stood out stacked up against that kind of deck of competitors, it just… It transformed it and it gave it such… It gave us such a better kind of story and experience to work with, which was really exciting to see it in practice like that.
Carman Pirie: And one that can be extended and told by the brand in a more consistent way and more long term. I think that’s important to note, as well. I mean, I would hate for people to think it’s simply veneer, right? To your earlier point, Laura, it’s veneer with a purpose, with a profitability purpose at the end of the day.
Laura Hawkins: Yeah.
Carman Pirie: And I think that’s a really great lesson to communicate that you guys just highlighted, this notion that you don’t have to run 180 degrees away from the sacred cow issue of your category.
Jeff White: Maybe you can’t.
Carman Pirie: Maybe you can’t. But what you can do is you can choose to talk about and live into that in a different way.
Laura Hawkins: It may even shape your why. You know, and without… I don’t want to get I guess too specific and give anything away, but just thinking of a recent example, having selected an archetype helped us articulate why issue X was important to them, and it made it… It tied it back to a bit of a values kind of conversation, which was kind of being communicated by customers, but it wasn’t really always clear. I realize as I’m saying this it’s vague without being specific.
Jeff White: The entire thing we’re trying to combat here.
Carman Pirie: The nature of being vague is not specific. I think it’s fine. Yeah. I don’t think we… We can’t quite have you giving away all client details.
Laura Hawkins: I get a pass. Great.
Carman Pirie: Hey, all good.
Laura Hawkins: Good.
Carman Pirie: I guess, Laura, when you do this work, I’m curious. The whole famous quote, the sculpture’s there, I just chip away at it. How much of it is do you feel like like the archetype’s already there and what you’re trying to do is expose it and-
Jeff White: Clarify.
Carman Pirie: And point out to the company and to the brand that it actually exists and that it can be enhanced. And how much do you feel like it’s a bit of a blue ocean opportunity and you can kind of go in a wide number of ways?
Laura Hawkins: Yeah, that’s been really interesting. I would say that it’s kind of about striking a balance of two things. I think that for many of the organizations we’ve worked with, there have been key characteristics or aspects of what they do that point the way to something. Because ultimately, and I think this is an important point, the archetype you select needs to be something that you can live into in a natural way. It can’t be forced. It can’t be contrived. That will work against you. So, it does need to be something that is aligned with kind of who you are as an organization. Otherwise, it won’t stick.
And I think it’s also important, you can’t just say, “Okay, we’re gonna be the jester,” if what you do is something pretty serious. And you need to be kind of looked at in a particular light. You can’t necessarily select an archetype that will work against that. At the same time, and you need to make sure that the personality that you’re selecting is sufficiently differentiated from others in your category. So, you need to almost be looking for where is the empty space within the category that we can occupy.
So, it’s a little bit of finding a balance between those two things because maybe something seems like it would be a really natural fit for your organization, and maybe if they haven’t intentionally adopted an archetype, they seem like they’re kind of playing in that space. Well, that isn’t necessarily going to help differentiate you. So, finding that balance is, I think, really fun. It can be a little bit of a challenge, especially if it may seem to a client like, “Okay, well, this is just who we are,” and maybe they feel strongly. But maybe other people are kind of already playing there, you kind of need to push them a little bit outside of their comfort zone.
But once again, it needs to be something that is not contrived or forced. It needs to be something that they can move into in an authentic way. So, I think those two things are two important considerations when making a selection.
Carman Pirie: Almost like the space you can occupy competitively, that you can most authentically live into, ought to be where you end up it sounds like.
Laura Hawkins: That’s a great summary. Yep.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. It’s interesting to imagine a brand that’s like one of the five that’s stacked up all in the one archetype of their competitive set, right? And they feel like, “Okay. Well, anything that we do that doesn’t talk the way we normally are used to, will it come across?” It’s interesting to conceive it through that lens, to say, “Yeah, you still need to find that open space, but then what’s the open space you can most authentically live in?”
Laura Hawkins: For some clients, it’s been a really… Kind of out of the gate, it’s something that when we present options, there is one that stands out that they’re automatically comfortable with and it kind of helps them say, “Oh, yeah. This kind of is who we are but more focused, more tightly articulated.” In other instances, it’s been interesting kind of challenging clients to think about what they do a little bit differently and ultimately select something that maybe they wouldn’t have thought they’d be comfortable with, but that ultimately makes sense. That’s been really kind of interesting and fun to work on. It’s like a makeover. Maybe someone didn’t see themselves that way, but once you kind of show them, they’re like, “Okay, yeah. Maybe we can do this. Maybe this is who we are.”
Carman Pirie: It’s like… Yeah. No, I’m not even gonna try to go there. Never mind.
Laura Hawkins: What Not to Wear, or-
Jeff White: Breakfast Club reference, maybe?
Carman Pirie: I have no idea. The mind wanders.
Laura Hawkins: Yeah. We won’t subject anyone to that today.
Jeff White: Well, Laura, it has been fantastic getting you to walk us through archetypes and how manufacturers can benefit from them. Any parting thoughts as we finish up with you today?
Laura Hawkins: Yeah. I guess I’d like to part with potentially a couple of resources to point folks toward in case they find this sort of thing interesting. A couple years ago, Carman had published an article on our site called The QSP Trap and How Manufacturers Can Achieve Effective Brand Differentiation. I would really suggest checking that out. And also, just to kind of reiterate that resource that I mentioned a little bit earlier, The Hero and the Outlaw by Mark and Pearson, a really excellent book and resource if applying archetypes to branding is something that you’re interested in. So, I think our perspective and how we wrap that for the manufacturing industry in addition to what we’ve talked about today is probably pretty useful, and then again, kind of stepping outside of just the industry and more looking at this kind of technique from a thousand-foot view, I think that resource is really excellent.
Jeff White: Fantastic. And we’ll make sure to get the show producer to link those up in the description below, and by that, I mean me.
Laura Hawkins: Awesome.
Carman Pirie: Thanks again, Laura. It’s been a pleasure.
Laura Hawkins: Thanks, guys! Talk soon.
Jeff White: Cheers.
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