B2B industrial marketing – the past, the present and the future

Jon Franko by Jon Franko
As inbound marketers, our day-to-day decisions are often influenced by what has happened in the past. What blog post performed best last quarter? What call-to-action drove the most conversions? What nurturing email had the highest open and click-through rates? It’s in our nature to study the past in order to adjust and improve for the future.

In this in-depth Q&A, we’re going to sit down with long-time client of Gorilla 76 – Todd Imming, CMO of The Korte Company – to talk the past, present and future of industrial marketing.

Can you give us some backstory? How’d you get where you are today?

Well, it’s certainly not a traditional route. Originally, I wanted to be an oceanographer. So when college rolled around, I headed south and earned a degree in Oceanographic Technology. However, the job market for ocean studies looked bleak, and I was looking at working either at a dive shop or on an oil rig. Neither appealed to me at the time, so went on to study finance and business in the Midwest. Two years later, I received an MBA at Washington University in St. Louis.

During my second year in the MBA program, I took an internship in Hartlepool, England where I worked for a construction supplies company. It was here where I experienced my first photo shoot. I was hooked. When I got back to the states, I knocked on the door at the Puckett Group, a St. Louis advertising agency, where I got another internship. Eventually, that internship turned into a job and I was officially named an “account guy.”

After my time with the Puckett Group, I came back home to Highland and worked on the client side for Artex International as the Marketing Director. I was there for several years and that’s where I started to first see the early signs of modern marketing. Web was really starting to gain the attention of marketers and it was exciting. Everything we were doing was being done for the first time. We learned everything on the fly.

I started here at The Korte Company in 2003. There was something about construction that really excited me. Our company has a remarkable heritage, something we’re very proud of, and I saw an opportunity to be part of something great.

Describe your day-to-day role at The Korte Company…

I know everyone says it, but really – it changes every day. Right now, I’m working on some revisions for a new collateral piece. Earlier, I was working on figuring out the best way to get a few folks up and running on InDesign. I can’t forget the big picture stuff, as I have to give that attention as well. There’s a new job that I need to update on our website, a press release that needs to be written and emailed out, meeting notes that need to be reviewed, an email campaign that needs to be approved – honestly, the list is long. My job ranges from the big conceptual stuff to the minutiae.

How big is your marketing department?

We’re a marketing department of two. We choose to work with specialists on an as-needed basis, as opposed to trying to continuously adjust full-time staff.

For me, recent marketing efforts require trust. Period. There’s no way a marketing group of two can handle day-to-day and big-picture stuff and keep up with digital evolution. It’s simply not possible. That’s why I’ve chosen to work closely with an industrial marketing agency.

Will you continue to invest money in digital?

Yes. Absolutely. Without a doubt, we’ll continue to invest in the digital arena, as that’s where people are. That’s where people are going to be reached. I’m not sure where the future of TV is with regard to the B2B space. When I see the spots, I have to wonder who are they trying to reach. Traditional marketing just doesn’t seem to be nearly as relevant as it once was.

What percentage of your budget do you spend in digital versus traditional?

We’re 80% digital, 20% traditional. Ten years ago, it was just the opposite. And the print work we’re doing now, really, there should be an asterisk by it. Typically it’s being done to support an organization or publication that we care about. Our digital work is where we truly fish for new business.

How does inbound marketing play into your strategy?

It’s my belief that inbound marketing is the first step to everything. It’s the first step to engagement which is the first step to landing new work. It’s the initial step that we take and the most important step in engaging potential clients.

Do you find inbound methods to be more useful than traditional methods?

Yes. Absolutely. Traditional marketing is dead for us. Direct mail and trade publications are irrelevant for businesses like ours. Inbound marketing is the only thing that keeps us ahead of the curve from a marketing perspective. It’s the only way a mid-sized company has the ability to reach a national audience efficiently.

Have you seen good results from your online efforts?

Yes. Incredible results. Since we’ve started tracking results more carefully (July 2013), everything has been trending up. We’ve seen organic search traffic grow from around 3,000 visits per month to closer to 8,000. Conversions (contacts) from that traffic have gone from around 20 per month to roughly 150 per month. Last month (February 2017), we saw 173 site conversions. And we’ve closed the loop and landed work thanks to nurturing efforts. Gorilla actually wrote about one example in a case study.

The growth of our brand has been exponential. Our sales cycle is long, so it’s always tough to drive it directly back to sales, but nurturing is extremely strong. We have a mechanism in the works that is doing what it was designed to do – attract visitors, convert visitors into leads, nurture leads until they become customers. It’s a machine.

How do you sell new-school technology in an old-school industry?

With any new technology, there’s going to be a learning curve and an acceptance curve. It’s a process that takes time and patience. Those that buy in, that innovate, that believe – those are the ones that will have success. Those that don’t are going to be relying on old-school methods that aren’t as effective as they once were. As a marketing guy, it’s my job to take the company to new places.

Should industrial companies place their bets on the web? Do you see traditional methods coming back?

Take a look at the demographics. The people who grew up on the internet, are now making construction decisions and running businesses. I think it’s safe to say that betting on the web isn’t much of a bet at all. It’s a guarantee.

What methodologies have you shelved for now? Do you see them coming out of the toolbox anytime soon?

We’ve significantly dialed back our print spend. We’re not doing much direct mail. We are becoming more active in industry tradeshows, but there’s always a digital component.

How can we engage the attendees of a trade show before the event even starts with email? Are there social media opportunities? Can we follow up post show? Can we drive new contacts to our blog so that they can see we’re thought leaders and are working hard to educate?

Is there anything you see on the frontier that could be a smart play for Korte?

Better use of video as a communication tool. That’s something that really interests me. It’s getting easier and easier to generate video content. Don’t get me wrong – you still have to be able to tell a compelling story. But the mechanics of it all are more accessible.

Other than that, the only prediction I have is that things are going to continue to be unpredictable. We must stay ahead of the curve – and that curve lives on the web. We always are inspired by what the cool kids are doing. Not the B2B folks. We’ve already seen that. The cool kids are constantly evolving how they generate and receive information.

We must continue to evolve. Small steps make for big strides when added up. We need to keep an ear to the ground. What’s our target market doing? What cities are hot? Where is there opportunity for growth on a national level? What are our clients thinking? We want to be where they are.

Where do you find new ideas?

Truthfully, I watch what my kids are doing. One is a junior in college, one is a senior in high school and I have a 7th grader. They’re connected constantly – and that’s an understatement. They live and breathe the Internet. I watch what they’re doing. What inspires them inspires me.

Learn more about The Korte Company

To learn more about The Korte Company and to watch as Todd brings his ideas to life, visit korteco.com.

Jon Franko

Jon Franko

A founder of Gorilla 76, Jon was named to the 2010 St. Louis Business Journal’s “30 Under 30” class and was named as one of St. Louis’ “Top Young Entrepreneurs” by the Small Business Monthly. He’s a passionate Missouri Tiger and loves to spend his spare time hunting ducks and fishing for fish. Jon has served as a board member for Launch St. Louis (co-founder), the Friends of Clifton Park (co-founder) and Brightside St. Louis. He’s a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism.

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  • It’s incredible how much it has changed! Digital is absolutely vital if companies wish to be competitive in today’s market. Hopefully more companies like Korte start to catch on. Not all CMO’s are as open-minded as Mr. Todd Imming — congrats on the success and best of luck in your future endeavors!

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