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.
James Stanaway, Director of Marketing at Epilog Laser, talks with Carman and Jeff about how video content plays a major role in their marketing strategy. From creating how-to videos that support their customers post-purchase, to co-creating video with customers and showcasing user-generated content, James shares how Epilog has grown its YouTube channel to over four and a half million views—along with how they track each video’s contribution to sales.
Using Video To Build and Strengthen Customer Relationships 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, an agency made for manufacturers. Joining us today on the episode is James Stanaway. James is the Director of Marketing at Epilog Laser. Welcome to The Kula Ring, James.
James Stanaway: Well, thanks for having me. I appreciate being here.
Carman Pirie: James, this marks perhaps the first time Jeff’s neglected to introduce me as part of the co-host on the podcast.
Jeff White: It’s true, it’s true. And joining me-
Carman Pirie: I think it’s kind of like … I mean, it’s a real kind of elbowing me out of the spotlight here, and I’m really ashamed that you had to be here to witness it. But we’re going to do our best with what we have.
Jeff White: Will I be talking to your lawyer later, is that what’s going on?
Carman Pirie: James, look, why don’t we start by getting a little serious for a moment, why don’t you introduce us to Epilog Laser and tell us more about yourself?
James Stanaway: Yeah, sure. So Epilog Laser is a manufacturer of CO2 and fiber laser engraving cutting systems. Basically what that means is we make a machine that you can put almost any material in the system and you can print your designs for the laser to engrave and cut that material. So it’s everything from electronics engraving, barcoding, awards, signage, guitar engraving, greeting cards, pet tags, almost anything, it’s really up to your imagination.
It’s really what makes marketing in this company so fun because we work with so many different industries that one day it’ll be putting together marketing pieces targeted to breweries, the next day the music industry, the next day, industrial market. So truly never gets boring.
Jeff White: And despite the … I mean, these are not inexpensive machines. They start, I believe you’ve mentioned they’re around eight grand.
James Stanaway: That’s correct.
Jeff White: So I mean, despite that, they’ve also had some penetration with home hobbyists and things like that who end up building businesses around it.
James Stanaway: That’s right. Yeah, we’re definitely seeing a lot of that, especially with the explosion of Etsy. A lot of people are finding out that they can buy an $8,000 laser and basically start their own business. So a lot of home businesses that are using it. Even home woodworkers, we’re seeing a growth in that market because a lot of those woodworkers, they’re spending a lot of money on equipment, and so $8,000 might be a little higher than they’re used to, but it just adds so many things they can do with the laser that they’re definitely turning to that machinery as well.
Jeff White: I’d love to spend some time in their garages. I bet it’s some cool stuff.
Carman Pirie: This is the difference between Jeff and I, even just the concept of trying to be at all handy in any way. My father won’t be pleased to hear this, but I can’t even fathom it. But nevertheless, I’m well aware of the countless millions who actually enjoy that kind of thing.
James, there’s a lot of the marketing of Epilog that I found impressive. I would say one thing that just stands out is a real runaway success in the use of video. Your YouTube channel’s now over four and a half million views—well over. And that’s something that I think a lot of manufacturers would envy, and a lot of manufacturing marketers would dearly hope to have those metrics as they maybe stare down the barrel of starting a video strategy in some way, shape or form.
I’d love for you to take us through that a little bit and help us understand what you’re doing there and give us a bigger picture of it all.
James Stanaway: Yeah, definitely. We are really coming from a great position in that we’ve got such a visual tool. So it’s something that directly relates to video and it just communicates so well with what the laser can do and people can see what it’s doing. So video was something we turned to very early on.
When you can see that I can put my iPhone in the laser and I can engrave right on there and take—I’ve got a video out there where we created, well I guess it was the year that the iPhone first came out—and we did a martini glass around the apple and it had hundreds of thousands of views. So it just directly related to that.
Now what we’re really looking at a lot is co-creation with our customers for video because they have so many great stories that we can go out to them, we can show them using their laser, they can tell the story of how they got started and it just, it creates such a mindset of the maker movement of the ability to create. It gets people really excited about the laser and works really well for us.
Carman Pirie: I mean, I can always … I think it’s easy to see how the co-creation with customers helps strengthen the relationship with said customers. I’d be curious, are you seeing your viewing metrics also kind of hold up as you’ve transitioned to more and more customer video?
James Stanaway: Yeah, they definitely do, because so many of our customers, the prospects that are coming in, they’re usually coming in with the idea of, “How is this going to make me money?” And when you can actually show success stories of someone that went in with that same question and you’re able to show that through what they tell us in the video and what they show us in the video, and they show that they had success with the laser and why they’re so excited about using it every day, that it communicates a really great sales message for us and it’s been very popular as well.
A big part of that too is you try to find people that have exciting stories that do well on camera and that are excited about lasering. When you find those people, they put together such great content for you that it just communicates your message so well.
Jeff White: And you’re leveraging them not just for video content, but also that you guys do an insane amount of trade shows, as I recall, 150 trade shows a year. If you’re going to a wine or beverage related show, you’re able to work with an existing customer to bring samples of the work that they’re making with your machines. Is that correct?
James Stanaway: That’s right. Actually, tomorrow I’ll be heading out to go to the Wine and Spirits Guild. One of our customers is the Vice President of that association. He’s going to be giving a talk specifically about how he uses a laser within his business and said, “Hey, would you mind bringing a laser in and showing it off to people?” So I said, “Sure. That sounds great. Great opportunity for us.”
So we kind of go in that direction. Then also at the trade shows themselves, we’ll often purchase samples from our customers because they can really put together samples that could take us hundreds of hours to create. Whereas, they’ve done it in 15 minutes because they specialize in that and they are creating these amazing things. So we give them some marketing as well because we’ll actually put a sign next to it saying who created it and where people can purchase that same product.
Carman Pirie: I want to just kind of rewind a little bit and try to understand where this all started and how you bent to the task of creating what you’ve created. Before you started turning your attention to building out an in-house video production team, et cetera, I guess where was your marketing presence at—your website, traffic, lead generation, et cetera, and then how has it evolved?
James Stanaway: Yeah, so I actually started at Epilog in 2001. It was a very small company at the time. We probably had about 30 employees I think at that point. And the marketing team was two people, so there was a Trade Show Coordinator that handled managing all those trade shows we go to. At the time, it was probably more like 30 trade shows at the time. Then my job was really to come in and just do everything else.
So it was an exciting opportunity for me because I could touch everything from the graphic design to the website design, to samples on the machine. Just everything that we needed to do, it was really my job to do. So we kind of grew from there by looking first at what are the most important areas that we think we can see a lot of growth? The biggest place there was definitely content. So we added on a Marketing Communications Specialist that could write those stories for us and put together some really great content for the web. And a Graphic Designer to create those samples that could tell those stories. And then also a Web Designer.
Carman Pirie: And when was that approximately? I’m just trying to get an understanding of the timeline.
James Stanaway: Yeah. So I joined the company in 2001. We added the marketing communications person probably in about 2003. Then basically every year after that we’ve added on at least one person into the department. Now we’re up to about 13. Yeah, so much of it is about storytelling, I think that finding those people that are going to be able to tell good stories is so important for the marketing department.
When you’re building a marketing department in a small business, the biggest thing is definitely finding people that are willing to jump in and help out wherever they can. So a lot of those first people we added on we’re probably more so jacks of all trades because I needed someone that could write and design as well when we added them for their first position. When you add a web designer, you need someone that can also maybe take the photos of the samples and get them ready.
So it’s finding people that are going to be a cohesive unit and be able to jump in and help each other. Most of the people that we added in those early days, they’re still with us. So I mean, it really says a lot about how the department works together, I think.
Jeff White: You said that the company in 2001 was just 30 people with a couple of marketing people. How big is Epilog now?
James Stanaway: So we have about 150 employees and we have three facilities now. So we manufacture the machines in Golden, Colorado. Then we have offices in the Netherlands and in Canada as well. Then we sell through distributors. So we’ve got about 70 distributors located worldwide that sell the machines themselves.
Jeff White: I mean, that’s phenomenal growth. Of course, we should attribute all of it or at least a good portion of it to the great content and storytelling and marketing that you’ve been doing in order to help grow the company.
James Stanaway: That’s what I tell the company every day.
Jeff White: Justify the existence.
When did you begin to make the move into video, and was it kind of once you saw YouTube as a platform that you could begin to leverage or were you doing it even before then?
James Stanaway: Yeah, it was probably about in 2005 that we started to really take video seriously. A lot of times what the video would be focused around would be a specific project. So we would find a material that we wanted to show being engraved and we would come up with a cool design for it. We’d put it out there and just kind of see what people were communicating with, what they thought was exciting. You can see that so quickly through the viewership of the video as whether or not it’s something that is really resonating or not.
Jeff White: So the initial videos are more sort of case studies on what could be done with the machine, but obviously the types of content and videos that you’re producing now, I mean you’re doing how-tos and training and more showcase videos, product demos, all of that sort of thing. What do you find gets the most traction with your prospects now?
James Stanaway: The most traction is always the how-to videos actually because people love to see the step by step process that we go through when we’re creating something. It really takes them from that moment of having an idea, “This is something that we could do, how is it going to work out for us?” to, “We’re not sure. We don’t know necessarily how that engraving is going to turn out.” So when you can kind of show them your entire creative process, they really get excited about that and they love to see all those steps in the process.
Carman Pirie: I’d be really curious about what surprises have kind of come up along the way. I mean, you’re well over 14 years into video creation and my guess is you’ve learned an awful lot along the way. There must’ve been some things along the way that you thought, “Jeez, this is going to be just a rocket ship success story,” and it falls flat on its face and vice versa. What has been your experience there? What have been the surprises?
James Stanaway: One of the things that worked out really well for us at the start that’s not…well, we’ve been surprised by kind of how the fall-off has been in that area is webinars. We started out doing some webinars pretty early on where you could actually watch the entire—every aspect of the laser, from how we design it to how you could use the different features of the system as well.
And it was really, really popular at first, and we saw a ton of views on those. And then it kind of fell off over the years as people kind of went for different storytelling types. One of our biggest successes was definitely when we did engrave that first iPad and iPhone, and as soon as one of those came out, I went out and I bought it and I would try to find some cool design to put on it.
I went back for a high school reunion a few years ago and someone’s like, “Pull out your phone, I want to see the engraving on the back.” I’m like, “Oh my gosh, you saw that?” They’re like, “Yeah. Yeah. I loved that. I ran across it on the web and it was really exciting to see.” So trying to find those things that are going to be the next big thing to engrave, that a lot of times is what we find is going to be the most successful for us.
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Carman Pirie: It’s kind of interesting because I wonder if part of the tale of your success here is the almost B2C nature of your albeit a B2B product. I mean there literally would be millions of use cases for this. It’s not the kind of situation where we’re dealing with a thousand possible companies in the world that could buy your stuff. And I think just because of that, you’re marketing that maybe is a little bit more B2C in nature has what’s been successful.
Like when you said that about the engraving on the back of an iPhone versus a webinar, well in a highly technical sale, often you would think the webinar would be very helpful. You’d be in direct contact with the expert, et cetera. So I’m almost talking out of both sides of my mouth because at the one hand, I think this is probably a fairly technical sale too. How do you square that with this notion of maybe you’re a bit more B2C than some people have the luxury of being?
James Stanaway: It really creates a great opportunity for us, being able to talk to a lot of these industrial companies in more of a B2C way in some ways. Because, for example, at trade shows, we’ll go to IMTS and a lot of the big industrial shows. And the first thing that people do is we’ve got the machine right at the front of the booth. So they’re walking up and they’re seeing the machine engrave. And a lot of times, their first thought goes to, “Oh my gosh, this is so cool. How could I use this at home?”
We’ve got a ton of samples there showing that. You take them through the process, you start talking to them about what else it can do and you move them from seeing really graphic engraving into how it can do the barcoding, how it can do the serializing, and how they could actually be using it in their business and their day to day things.
So we often use that B2C angle to get them interested and then take them onto that technical side. It’s something that’s really unique to our product line, I think that we can do that. I don’t know if there’s a lot of manufacturers that can necessarily do that same type of thing.
Carman Pirie: Yeah, I mean it’s certainly not a strategy that’s open to everyone, but my guess is there’s somebody listening to this podcast that it is a strategy that’s open to them. I can think of other examples. Actually, interestingly, a former podcast guest from Klein Tools, when I think of that as an effectively, yes it’s a B2B brand, but it fundamentally functions in a B2C capacity and just because there are hundreds of thousands of electricians or what have you, that could buy them as well as home hobbyists, et cetera.
So it’s actually not that dissimilar, and like you, they’ve had a lot of success with video content creation. So it’s a pretty interesting playbook actually. I find that a fantastic angle, that notion of capturing attention at those trade shows, appealing to somebody as a consumer or just as a homeowner or hobbyist and then showing them how to use it in their business. That’s fantastic.
James Stanaway: Yeah. Cause it’s so difficult a lot of times for people. When we’re at a show, there’s so much you can do with the laser. I can’t put all of that in front of them immediately. So drawing them in first and then kind of getting to that point really kind of works out better for how we can get them excited about the laser system.
Jeff White: You mentioned, the webinar content specifically that, you put it out, it did well at first and then it dropped off. Do you find there’s any of the video content—I mean, obviously the how-tos must fit this mold—but that has just a consistent viewership where even three, four years after being published, you’re still seeing people watching it month over month?
James Stanaway: Yeah, we definitely see that. One of our early webinars that we did actually, because we started out kind of coming to the webinars from the industrial side standpoint because we thought that would speak very well to the industrial clientele. The first couple did work out well. Then we came out with this one that specifically talked about creativity in the laser, and that’s been one of our most viewed videos. We’ve been using it for years and years. It’s something that we should definitely update, but it strikes a chord with people, it gets them excited. And so we’ve kind of played around with lots of different ways to bring those people in.
The other thing we see with the webinars is a lot of times, a lot of the attendees are our current customers because they’re hoping that we show them something new. So that’s a lot of times what we’re trying to work on, is to find new things to do with the laser that could spark their excitement as well because that’s often many of the people that want to attend those things.
Jeff White: Do you have a good sense at this point what that sales journey looks like from someone attending one of your trade shows, seeing a demo, perhaps watching a video when they get home or whatever, what’s the next step? What do they do from there?
James Stanaway: Well, the demo itself is often done with our distributors. So what they’ll do is at the trade show, they’ll see the machine, they’ll get really excited about it. And then what they often say they do is they go back to their hotel room and they’re looking up videos immediately and they want to see everything that they can do with the laser.
And the next day, they come back to the trade show and they talk to me again. And then I really try to at that point get them to set up a demonstration with their distributor because that’s really the best way to do it. They can bring in some of their own materials, they can try it out hands-on. If they have designs that they like to work with, they could actually bring that design in and try running it on the laser because it really shows how easy it is to use the system.
At that point, a lot of times after that demonstration, that’s when they’re really sold. They’ve seen who they’re going to be working with on the sale and they’ve been able to communicate through that. And so it can go very quickly at that point.
Carman Pirie: I’d be curious, backing up just a bit, just kind of on the quantity of video content creation on an annual basis. You only have a not an insignificant size team of 15, but I mean they can’t boil the ocean either. How much are you cranking out on an annual?
James Stanaway: Well it really depends from year to year. Because right now what we’re focusing on as much as anything is on some technical videos because one of the things we’ve heard from our customers is they really want to have a lot of how-to videos on how to replace parts, things that can really help them if they do have an issue, get up and running as quickly as possible. So we’ve put together a really extensive training site that walks you through how to create samples, how to do your first projects on the laser. And then, if they did run into an issue, how to replace those parts.
And it provides a lot of ongoing support for our customers. And it’s a great sales tool we find for our distributors because they can actually pull that up and show that we have something that no one else out there is offering and that you’re going to be able to be up and running quicker than ever just because we’ve got these videos.
Once we get through this first step of the training site, we try to do two to three videos a month is really what our goal is. And it kind of depends on what content we’re working on. Because a lot of times, we’ll have a specific page on the website that we’ll be targeting. So we’re going to work on a video that talks specifically to that market and kind of move through our content list that way.
Carman Pirie: I think for a lot of marketers, they feel that they have to come to some sort of a balance around content quality or core production quality and getting it done. And you can’t make every corporate video Pulp Fictions.
Jeff White: Wouldn’t it be cool if you could though?
Carman Pirie: Yeah. Well I kind of wonder, how have you arrived at that balance? Or how do you feel that you’ve arrived at an appropriate balance between getting the job done and not spending too much to do it?
James Stanaway: Well, I mean it really comes down to where we’re going to be placing that video. If it’s one of these case studies of a customer success story and it’s something that they’re going to be using on their website as well because they’re excited about the co-marketing that we’re able to do, then we’re definitely going to try to go to a higher standard. We’re going to spend a lot more time on making sure that that’s as polished as possible.
If it’s something that’s going to go on Instagram and it’s going to be a 15-second video, let’s just crank that out. Let’s get that done quickly and get as many done as possible. So it is definitely a balance and you have to be careful, I think when you hire video people that they understand that because if you get someone that is too focused on making sure everything is perfect, you’re just not going to get that content cranked out in the way you need to.
Jeff White: So what you’re saying is if you hire someone who comes in wearing a beret, you should be concerned?
James Stanaway: That’s the first thing I look for actually, is if they’re wearing a beret.
Carman Pirie: I mean, he’s right about film people in berets, but I’m picturing a few right now.
Jeff White: Yeah, I know. Well, there is a film crew like two blocks away.
Carman Pirie: And if they don’t have berets currently, they certainly did at one point in the past, yeah. I guess it is a … I think in some ways, it’s an easy rule of thumb, like say the video goes up on Instagram versus something that your customers are using to communicate, driving a different level of production quality. On the one hand that makes sense to me, on the other, kind of part of me wants to be contrary and say, “Yeah, but that Instagram thing could go crazy and then wouldn’t you want it to look great?”
But it does kind of point to maybe there’s a cost of collaboration as you start to do the co-creation with customers that you ought to be prepared to maybe spend a little bit more just given the nature of who you’re interacting with to create it. Is that something you would tend to agree with?
James Stanaway: Yeah, definitely. Just the fact that we’re traveling to them adds a lot of costs just because we’re going to have to rent a lot of times cameras and lighting and then everything else to be able to do that on site at their facilities. Whereas, if it’s something we can do in-house, we already have those things, and so it creates a lot less complication when we’re trying to do something in-house.
Carman Pirie: Yeah, I bet. James, I wonder what you, in our parting minutes if you have any kind of parting advice that you might give our listeners as they go to create perhaps an in-house content creation team to match what the good folks at Epilog have been doing?
James Stanaway: Yeah, I think the biggest thing to remember is you’re not alone out there. There are so many marketers that are working in the B2B area that have been where you are. So often when I attend marketing conferences, I hear solutions presented to problems in a world that I don’t necessarily live in because they’re targeted towards companies with hundreds of employees in marketing and with strictly divided duties within those departments. So that’s not necessarily what you want to hear when you’re just trying to build your team. But just don’t let it stress you out as a B2B marketer in a small to medium-sized company. You have one of the best jobs in the world because you have that unique opportunity to touch every part of marketing. You can build your video team from scratch and start out with just one person and grow it as you need to and really just kind of grow your content.
Carman Pirie: I wonder if you might share with us what some of those early ROI metrics were that kind of help to gain buy-in from the company to continue to invest.
James Stanaway: Yeah, for ROI, we try to track back every sale to where the person first heard about us. That’s the biggest thing for us. So every sale that comes in, a lot of times since we’re working with distributors and not through direct sales, it’s more of a challenge to be able to do that. But since we are able to collect so much lead data, what we’ll do is actually find out how many leads are coming from every campaign we do and how many sales are coming from that. And we can track out what the return on investment of each marketing campaign was.
So that’s really what I do a lot of times when I’m trying to add a new position, is if I can say, “From these videos, we’ve actually seen this many sales and this is the average sale price per video that we’re doing.” If I can increase that by adding a video person, then I can really prove to the company that there’s a lot of value to that position.
Carman Pirie: How early in the evolution of the marketing function at Epilog did you build such robust closed loop analytics? Because as you say, I think a lot of people find themselves not even … They’d love to be able to keep score at that level, but they just don’t have the wherewithal to do it, they don’t have the systems in place.
James Stanaway: I actually kind of lucked out in that, one of my first positions was in database design. So I kind of built our first database from scratch. So when I went into building that database, a lot of it was built with the idea of, “How am I going to be able to track things back?” Because I knew that was going to be so important to the company. They’re a data-driven company and being able to prove that was important.
So we kind of built our first system with that in mind. So right from the start we were doing that, and it really helped to give the company a lot of feeling that I could build the marketing department if they allowed me to add on people because they could see that every transaction, it was turning out well, every campaign that was turning out well for us, we could prove that to them.
Jeff White: I mean, what a fantastic foundation to start from. And I wonder how many marketers do that first like that before beginning to build out their team and use it to prove the ROI, or do they do the interesting work or the cool work as it were and create the content and then try and build a system to track the effectiveness of it? Like I’m not sure.
Carman Pirie: And not everybody has the benefit of having created the database from scratch.
Jeff White: For sure.
Carman Pirie: But James is a unique and fascinating story. Thank you so much for sharing it with us today and for taking us into a bit of detail around Epilog’s marketing. I really thank you for the insights today.
James Stanaway: Yeah, definitely. Thanks for having me.
Carman Pirie: All the best.
Jeff White: All right, thank you.
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