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Navigating a New Internet w/ Kevin Pawlowski of Chemtronics/Techspray

Welcome to the Foremost Media Marketing Chat Podcast where we interview some of the most infuential marketers in the manufacturing space to get some of their invaluable insight in both respective industries! In this episode we spoke with Kevin Pawlowski, the marketing and communications manager over at ITW Contamination Control Electronics/Chemtronics/Techspray. He's been in the industry for over 30 years and has done quite a bit ranging from being the first to market on a florist system before digital marketing existed to buying 1,000 magic 8-balls!

Time Stamps:

  • 0:00 - Introduction
  • 2:03 - The New Internet
  • 4:51 - Privacy as the Biggest Challenge to Marketers
  • 12:52 - "The Father of Spam"
  • 15:33 - Continuity is key for a successful marketing program
  • 24:43 - The Magic 8ball Story
  • 29:09 - Anything you want to leave us with?
  • 30:40 - Jon joins in
  • 34:38 - Goodbye

Resources Mentioned:

Find more marketing insights and show notes here


Kevin Pawlowski: You'll have a customer walking in for that quick win. The cheat, a way to get your customer in there and grab some share. I mean, SEO was very much that way early on. How can we fool the system and trick our customers in coming to our website? I think all that's dead ends.

Evan Facinger: Hey everyone, thanks for listening to the Foremost Media Marketing Chat podcast. We're really excited. We have a guest here today, Kevin Pawlowski. He is the marketing communications manager at ITW Contamination Control Electronics. So he's in charge of the marketing communications for Techspray and Chemtronics. And we've worked with Kevin for a while now, he's got a lot of great marketing insights and we're excited to have him here. So I want to thank you for joining us and hoping you could just start off the conversation explaining a little bit about how you found yourself at your current position there.

Kevin Pawlowski: Well, thanks. It's a pleasure to be here. Yeah, marketing communications manager. I'm just responsible for all the forward facing, customer facing materials. So they can be brochures, catalogs, the internet of course, websites, all of that and all the advertising. I've found myself in this position, I've been at Techspray 20 years and it had a very rudimentary website way back when I started. And so we've kind of developed more of a content marketing, more of an aggressive approach on the internet the past, I don't know, about 5, 6 years. And so that's morphed into a very major part of my job, to where the internet type of activities 10 years ago, 20 years ago would've been a very minor thing. Now, boy, it's probably three quarters of my job. So that's where I find myself in my current position.

Evan Facinger: Yeah. And I mean I think that we've all seen a lot of that change over the course of especially the past few years, specifically. I mean, if you had to point to what you think the biggest change that you've seen going back how long you've been at your current position, would you say that that's probably the biggest change, is just the overall website itself? Or are there specific aspects about the internet marketing and things like that that you're working on?

Kevin Pawlowski: That's a good question. I mean, certainly when we started doing websites it used to be, "Okay, let's put a catalog on the internet." And so websites, first generation, that's basically what it was business cards and catalogs sitting there parked on the internet. Where it really shifted was, "Well, how can we reach out to customers and serve them with this tool, versus just parking materials there?" And so it's almost like... And you got to keep in mind, I'm a traditional marketer so I think in traditional marketing terms. It's almost like going from a catalog, leave behind catalog mindset to a trade show mindset. How are you going to get people to your booth? How are you going to engage them at your booth, and how are you going to get their information and continue that relationship? So it seems like early days internet was more of a, drop off of a catalog at the front desk. And I'm speaking very much in B2B terms. And going to that trade show approach. That's kind of a good illustration I think of where the big paradigm shift was in terms of B2B marketing.

Evan Facinger: Right, so you're trying to make it more interactive. It's not just, "This is what we do, this is what we have," it's helping people find the information that they're looking for and having that website be that guide?

Kevin Pawlowski: Yeah, and also the overall objectives. Boy, I remember early days on the internet it was all about keeping people from contacting us. That we wanted to put all the information on the internet so they wouldn't bother us for that information. And that was almost the objective, crazy as that sounds now. And I can't tell you exactly when it shifted, but eventually it shifted to, "Oh my gosh, we want these people engaged with this." And maybe I was behind the times and maybe companies were doing that 20 years ago on the internet, but our approach definitely had a shift over the past decade or so from those mindsets.

Evan Facinger: Well, and being able to recognize that shift and capitalize on it now. Being able to get those leads like you were saying, and have that website perform the way that it needs to in today's internet I think is going to be really critical and something you've done a great job of. I'd love to get your opinion on what's next. So if you're able to identify what was going on and what was changing and being able to shift the website and some of your approaches to marketing for it, what do you think is going to be happening in the next five years? What's going to challenge marketers at manufacturing companies?

Kevin Pawlowski: Let me think about that for a second. Basically what I'm seeing as the biggest challenge, at least in the digital space, is privacy. I see that as... trying to get my head around how can we continue to target tighter and tighter, which gives us... You know, the tighter we are able to target the better our ROIs in the program. How can we continue to do that with the ratcheting up of the privacy? And keeping in mind that I'm not necessarily proponent of really creepy marketing like that campaign where that Google guy is hanging over someone's shoulder watching what they're doing. I'm not all for that. But if there's a way to target in a macro sense in the industry, title, whatever, and keep it anonymous and still allow us to target, I think it's to everybody's benefit. Even if politicians and whatnot like to rail on privacy issues, the reality is all this great content, somebody has to pay for it. And if the privacy locks it up to where we can't target to our customers and we're back to the old school of broadcast network where you just throw your message to the wind, it's going to be a challenge for everybody to justify the spends. So I think that's some of the challenges in the next five years that we're going to have to figure out, that of course we're in the middle of working out.

Evan Facinger: Well, I think that you bring up a great point with the privacy. I think it's twofold, really. You have a much more educated base online understanding what's happening, how their data's being used and how they're being marketed to. They're a little bit more educated on that now, whether it's through the Netflix documentaries or Cambridge Analytica, things like that that have been happening/ But then also you have the regulations and some of the different changes that these platforms are implementing too. Where iOS, the updated versions of it, now they're giving you the option to not have the apps track it, and Facebook is already dealing with a lot of the ramifications of having less data available to advertisers based on the veil of privacy. Now you can say, is it going to be because Apple just wants to have their own ad data, and that information they don't want to share with other people? You've got this shift towards the cookieless internet, which has been what's really been relied on, a lot of the targeting. So with that, how is that something that, I guess, you're thinking about and approaching that challenge itself? Is it just hoping that it's either going to get enough data, enough information now while it's still somewhat the Wild West, even though it's shifting? Or do you have another plan in place for that?

Kevin Pawlowski: Well I think the content marketing strategy does play into that 'cause that's more along the organic realm. So the privacy issue doesn't necessarily impact that so much. So adding value to your customers, giving them something to find you, because certainly the privacy issues makes it challenging to reach out to them so they're going to have to reach out to us. And so we've got to have a pretty compelling website with material there to get them in there and then somehow get the word out in some economical way. And I stress economical because, well you guys know all too well how I am about the economical stuff. But long term if the ROI's not there it's not viable. The old saying of, "I know what half my advertising dollars, what they do. And the other half I don't." And I know that's not the exact saying. That doesn't play so well, especially in the B2B side where we're not used to throwing money to the wind. I mean, we're competing for resources for other departments. "Hey, there's a new machine that they need to invest in, it's a capital investment. The economy is down, should we be cutting the marketing budget?" And what keeps from that is a positive ROI in marketing, of showing our value. And so if it's difficult to target customers and we're not able to measure that positive ROI, yeah, it gets to be real challenging in marketing because then your budgets can get cut and you've got less to play with to build the business. So yeah, I think that's part of it.

Evan Facinger: Yeah. Well, and I think so much of marketing, especially in manufacturing departments, has seen a shift over the years, like you mentioned, how it isn't just the arts and crafts department that just makes things look good. It's a revenue generating department and we can prove it. We can show with the metrics, with the data, start to target the right people. And you do lose some of that as you lose some of the tracking capabilities and some of the abilities to target people with specific advertising and being able to do that. I know that you mentioned that you've got the old school marketing mindset and mentality too with approach to this. How much of that do you think starts to fall back then on creative tactics? Where it's not necessarily whoever can figure out how to target the right people, it's who can get the best messaging while talking to people and everything else? The creatives start to stand again like it used to.

Kevin Pawlowski: Yeah, well you get that and that's a good point. I mean, if we've got to really refine our message to dial up our ROI, yeah, certainly making sure we're on point gets to be all that more critical. We put a message out there, yeah, it better perform. So maybe we do more A/B testing. The equivalent on the old school would be A/B testing through direct mail, where we're spending more money on a mail drop and so being really careful on how many pieces we send out for our A/B testing before we go all out. That was a very carefully thought through thing where, not to say it's not done on the PPC side, but maybe it's done much more carefully if it's not targeted, not as to where you're hitting a wider audience and you've got to do a bigger spend to hit your target market. So yeah, it makes sense.

Evan Facinger: Yeah. So with 30 years experience in marketing, what success are you most proud of that you've had throughout your career?

Kevin Pawlowski: Yeah, I've got an obscure success I'm pretty proud of. I call myself "The Father of Spam", so you're welcome. I was in the floral business, floral hard goods, bases and stuff. There's a FTP system called the Mercury System where florists were sending orders to each other across the country. And I read an article that, "Hey, you could put an ad through..." Or you could put a message out there, not an ad, a message. And I'm like, "Okay." I got one of those systems and I pushed out a message to 16,000 florists and it was a crazy success. It was the first time anybody ever advertised on that system. So I had this big dot matrix message with asterisks instead of pixels to do a big price point, going through their system that was intended for orders to come through. So 100% of people were looking at it. And so yeah, the first test launch of it have shut our phone systems down, and it was for a new product. And it really gave us a leg up on market share for that product. So yeah, I was really proud of that.

Evan Facinger: Oh, that's great. And that's a great example. Spam, clearly, like you said, you invented spam which is pretty impressive for that. But just thinking outside the box and just even thinking to try to get that message out there to those people through that system, that's really smart.

Kevin Pawlowski: Yeah. Well it's similar to what we were talking about with privacy is... I mean, there's solutions out there in terms of privacy. We just have to get more clever at targeting. For companies like you it's an opportunity to differentiate yourself, come up with some new solutions. So I'm not despondent about all the privacy ratcheting up, all that. There are opportunities to set yourself apart from your competition, for us to set ourselves from our competition in our industry. So it's harder for us, it's harder for them, and we just have to out think them. So yeah, solutions like that I think can help.

Evan Facinger: And so I guess to that point too, what do you think, marketing-wise at least, everyone in the manufacturing industry should start doing?

Kevin Pawlowski: In terms of marketers in general, continuity. Continuity in your program. You come up with a strategy and within the organization get the buy-in on that strategy, and you got to just year after year keep going, assess, tweak, refine, but build. What I've seen in past companies, past efforts where I think we're doing well now is staying with the program. So markets go up, markets go down, but you've got to stay to the plan and you've got to keep hammering it. If you cut the budget and then, "Oh, market's up," the budget goes up, that's not a way to build a program. So I do think the continuity is key for a successful marketing program,

Evan Facinger: Yeah, tying it all together. It's not just this, do this, do that and have no... It's not strategically working together with those different channels. I think that that's a great point.

Kevin Pawlowski: Yeah. Well that speaks to the complexity of a marketing program. All the things that plug in together, let's say you're setting up a digital strategy and you're looking at what's ahead of you, where do you start? You start with the first step, and that's where the continuity comes in is you're not going to get there at the first step. You got to keep hammering away, keep plugging until you build that. So your content marketing strategy starts with the first article, then at the second, and you got to build it. It's not going to happen in one month. And well, not to disparage our competition, but what I see a lot is, "Hey, we're going to really attack this digital marketing." And I see them jump up in the ranking and then they drop after a year. Well, the winner is going to be whoever's in there year after year, month after month. That's really key.

Evan Facinger: Yeah, sticking with it. And I think that we see that a lot also, right? Is that you've got a whole segment of people that just expect quick wins, "I just have to write it and they'll come to me, that I don't have to do any of the work behind it or building up that sort of authority that my website can have." And then others that seem to start to have success and all of a sudden think, "Oh, I'm done," right? "I'm already ranking, I've already got it. I can take my foot off the gas." But it's, as you know this, you're not operating in a silo. Everybody's always competing, everybody's always trying to get that leg up. So do you think that it's more of a getting buy-in sort of an issue that people would face? Or is it just lack of understanding, I think, how everything works together?

Kevin Pawlowski: I think buy-in is a good way to put it, 'cause in the B2B world at least you generally don't see CMOs. You generally don't have marketing running the show in a B2B, industrial kind of company. I'm sure there is exceptions out there, but that's generally not how it works. You may be a part of sales generally, but a lot of times it's not its own department. So in some cases it's an afterthought, or it's marketing stuff, it's a catalog, it's whatever. And so to have a little more broader view of marketing and the importance of that and how it affects how you touch your customers and all that, and then get that buy-in that there's a value there to this business organization, yeah, I think is very key. You know, one thing you did mention that kind of sparked something was the quick win. Is you'll have a customer walking in for that quick win, the cheat, a way to get your customer in there and grab some share. I mean, I see that a lot in digital marketing is, "How can we cheat our customers into giving them us their information?" Or different ways that it seems like to trick. SEO was very much that way early on of, how can we fool the system and trick our customers in coming to our website? I think all that's dead ends. And I think Google's job, a lot of what they do with their updates and stuff is to squeeze all that out of the system. So again, touches on the continuity thing is coming up with a strategy in your objectives, finding objectives that your whole organization can agree on and the right objectives, so lined up with what your customers need, is key.

Evan Facinger: Yeah, not just going after the easy win to trick somebody, that's coming from somebody who his biggest success was spam related, too. Just to show how everything is-

Kevin Pawlowski: Good point. That's a great point. Yeah, I did kind of... Well, but in reality though, in all fairness the message did win the day. But that is an excellent point. Yeah, I had a big price point, and that's what it was is a giant price that was a cheap price. I'm not saying that was 100% the high road, but it was early career, you got to give it to me.

Evan Facinger: Well hey, sometimes I think that as marketers there's too much, "This is the right way to do things. This is the way that we should do it." Just because there's so many blogs out there saying best practices and so much of other people's studies and data that a lot of people rely on. And I'm not saying... Rightfully so, I think that there's a lot of good information there that you should know and have that starting point for it. But at the end of the day marketing is what works, or at least effective marketing is whatever's going to accomplish the objective without hurting and tarnishing the brand. You made great points about tricking customers and things like that and how you used to be able to trick Google. And while there's still temporary tricks, maybe that'll be short-lived. The long-term penalties get to be a lot harder. But still being able to think creatively and different ways to approach SEO and paid advertising, and just the overall marketing in general, I think is important.

Kevin Pawlowski: Yeah. And I had some experience in the early days of the content marketing, "Hey, content has to be 2000 words." And I won't name names, it's not you guys, but... "It doesn't matter if they read it, it just needs to be 2000 words." I'm like, "What? People need to read this." And Google pays attention, as we all know. It's whether people are actually reading it, staying on the page, are they engaged? But yeah, this thing of, "It needs to be 2000 words, it needs to have X number of back links and stuff." It needs to make sense, it needs to add value to whoever's reading it. And I think that's what's going to win at the end of the day.

Evan Facinger: Yeah. Well Google's so much smarter now than it was. I mean, before you had to put those keywords in and stuff because Google just... That's all it knew. But now all the data that it has and how much it understands it, having its own browser and Chrome and Google Analytics and being on a large amount of sites, there's just so much data and information that's out there and available. And Google's so smart now when it comes to it it's able to understand the natural language processing and things like that that go into what's on the page, what's being read, what's going to be relevant for the actual words themselves or the users themselves.

Kevin Pawlowski: Yeah, that's a good point is, are any of us smart enough to outthink Google when it comes to search? I don't think so. I won't claim for myself at least, I can't speak for you guys. But yeah, I'm not going to outthink Google. It's a matter of figuring out what Google's rewarding, what their objectives is. Because Google's trying to take care of their customers. They're trying to get people to the information they want and so they get paid through advertising. And so our job is to facilitate that. If we do that Google will reward us. If we don't, if we try to trick the system and try to trick their customers, it's not going to work in our favor. Why? Because it's not in Google's interest. So the next update, it's gone.

Evan Facinger: Right. And I think any marketer out there that's been doing it long enough is going to have their own failures. Things that they thought were perfectly laid plans, or maybe not really thought out that well but just they'd see if it'd work or not. Curious, what's your biggest marking failure that you've had? And then what did you learn from that?

Kevin Pawlowski: Yeah, I'm not going to say it's my biggest or most expensive marketing failure, but there's a story to it is... I worked for an air conditioning company. Our position was you can make your decisions on your air conditioning buys, speaking to the retailers, the year closer to the season. 'Cause a lot of times buyers, retail buyers would have to buy the year before. How do you know it's going to be a hot or cold year? And so that was our position, our value statement, is you can order it a few months ahead of the season or something like that. And so I printed up some magic eight balls as a joke with some creative content with it. "Hey, we're not asking you to predict the future." So playing along with that with the magic eight ball. And so I bought a thousand of these things and our sales people had no idea what to do with it. The hard lesson here is I can get cute and creative but it's all about who's going to have to carry that message out. And so if you've got sales reps that are in front of the customers and you're expecting them to convey this messaging, it better be compatible with what they're comfortable with. The style, the brand, everything. And it has to all work together because it's really easy as marketers for us to create material, and this is more on the traditional type of materials, that the salespeople aren't going to use. So I basically donated 1000 eight balls to charities, orphanages and... Probably still orphanages that have a case of eight balls in the back.

Evan Facinger: Well hey, that toy still gets a little bit of play. I was actually surprised that my kids came home, it was probably only a couple months ago now, and they came home with a magic eight ball showing it to me and telling me how cool it was and asking it questions. So...

Kevin Pawlowski: Yeah. And I've got one up on my shelf, and it really is a reminder not to get ahead of myself, not to get too clever. 'Cause creative folks, we get in love with our own concepts and stuff, and you got to stay grounded with your market, your customer, your sales people, all of that. It just has to work together.

Evan Facinger: Yeah, well that's great advice. And I think that, like you said, it's easy to be clever sometimes if you're creative, but if it's not clear it's probably not going to work.

Kevin Pawlowski: On the website side, those Flash driven websites used to drive me crazy. Or there's a lot of bells and whistles you can add to websites and stuff that can kind of get in the way. So I think it's a matter of, what's adding value? Is it really fitting in the message? I mean, at least on the B2B side, I mean, I don't sell apparel and I don't sell lifestyle brands. And so what I'm selling, the website, all of that has to serve a real purpose. And so if the messaging gets in the way, yeah, it's got to be changed.

Evan Facinger: Yeah. And it's something that we see a lot is that design without any sort of function is just art. And when you're designing a website for B2B, industrial manufacturing sort of websites, you can get yourself in a lot of trouble trying to have the flashiest website around that's maybe going to win a few awards. You need to make sure that it's clear, that people know where to go, that it's still visually appealing of course but it's not just those flashy websites that are just meant to impress judges at advertising awards.

Kevin Pawlowski: Yeah, that's a good point.

Evan Facinger: Well, this has been great. I think you got a ton of really good insights here. Anything you want to leave us with?

Kevin Pawlowski: Well, yeah, I think on the marketing communication side, I think it's just really important that the partners you're working with, Foremost Media of course, your creative team, whether you're in house, freelancers or whatever, but that's a partnership. And yeah, you've got to treat them right and the communication has got to be fluid. A lot of back and forth I think goes a long way, because from inside an organization, I know my products, I'm bringing in other people to fill in the gaps on getting the message out, whether it's writing an article or whatnot. But they know what they're doing, I know what I'm doing. Somehow we've got to work together rather than just direct. And I think that's really key in terms of getting quality out there that's going to really move the needle.

Evan Facinger: Yeah. Well I mean, I'll be the first to admit that I'm biased, of course. But I agree with you 100%. I think that the proof is there when you have that collaborative partnership and everything else that goes along with it, you can do some really exciting things.

Kevin Pawlowski: Yep. Jon, you out there?

Jon Ballard: I'm here. You guys were just flowing so well I just thought I'd listen in. I was taking notes.

Evan Facinger: You want to add any couple remarks, or you got any questions for Kevin?

Jon Ballard: I think one of the things that I've learned a lot about working with Kevin is, to be honest, I think Kevin is a great communicator and he really gets the fact that he needs to be as involved as the SEO company or the marketing company as well, because we're not experts in his area and he's not experts in digital marketing necessarily, or SEO. So I think it's been a really successful relationship because Kevin's involved, he's willing to produce content, he's sharing with the team the successes and the failures and really got buy-in from his team. And so hats off to Kevin for all his hard work on... It's helped make this project really successful in the work we've done with him in the past. So...

Kevin Pawlowski: Yeah, thanks. Well we've been working together, what, about 10 years, Jon?

Jon Ballard: Yeah, I think it's been at least 10. So lots of changes over those years too.

Kevin Pawlowski: Yeah, I've been saying.

Jon Ballard: Stuff we used to try for SEO doesn't work now and...

Kevin Pawlowski: Oh and my budget, I think my budget was starting out with 250 a brand or something?

Jon Ballard: Yeah, we were pretty slim at the beginning. But you know, you stuck with it and it gave us time to work and we started to see results. And...

Kevin Pawlowski: Yeah. I didn't buy in at first. I mean, it's crazy to think about, but yeah, I was not necessarily convinced that it was worthwhile. So yeah, it's...

Jon Ballard: Were you surprised at how long some of it took to develop and how long... 'Cause I think a lot of people are under the perception that you put up an article and it gets indexed right away and you get traffic. Were you surprised at that when we initially started, how long some of this takes to develop and how it builds on each other?

Kevin Pawlowski: Yeah, probably if I say "No" you guys will remind me how much I was jumping on you about results.

Jon Ballard: Well I mean, you've always been patient, but I think, like I said, I think a lot of people that don't know much about, especially content marketing, are really surprised that it's not an instantaneous process. And it kind of snowballs over time. And I think you guys have really seen that in your marketing efforts as well, that as you get momentum you become more of an authority about a topic. Rankings just continue to pile in. So...

Kevin Pawlowski: Yeah. Yeah I mean, thinking back too it wasn't just writing an article and pop it out there, there was all that keyword work we did. And boy, I just remember looking at how much content we had to build to make a mark, and it was just overwhelming to look at it. And what we did was... My goal was two articles per brand, so Techspray, Chemtronics, a month. And I cut back on that. Now we're cranking more than that. But yeah, it was a matter of chipping away, chipping away. I don't remember feeling terribly impatient about results because I think... We had a few pieces that really took off pretty early, and I think that's maybe what helped.

Jon Ballard: Yeah, I think one of the things you guys have going for you is that you are a well established brand just from your traditional marketing activities and your name. And so you had a lot of good back links, and it's a big site with a lot of good information to begin with. It just wasn't really well optimized, so we were able to get some quick wins just by focusing on some of the stuff that just wasn't quite presented right for search engines and a good keyword strategy. So it made it a little easier to get momentum, I think, from the beginning. But...

Kevin Pawlowski: Yeah, it sounds correct.

Jon Ballard: Yeah, it's been a pleasure. Appreciate your time today, Kevin. Thank you for the insight.

Kevin Pawlowski: Pleasure. Anything else?

Evan Facinger: All right, well good talking to you, Kevin. Appreciate it. No, I think we're good.

Kevin Pawlowski: All right, anything else you guys need just let me know but you guys are still rocking it. You guys can quote me on that, you guys are rocking it! Have a good one.

Jon Ballard: Thanks, Kevin. See you.

Evan Facinger: Thank you too, bye.

Zach Baierl: Thanks for listening to the Foremost Media Marketing Chat podcast. If you want to stay on top of your marketing game make sure to like and subscribe so you never miss an episode. For more episodes, show transcripts and marketing insights, go to foremostmedia.com.