Founded in 1914, Brady has grown from its innovative beginnings in promotional advertising to the creation of customer-friendly identification solutions, including both printing systems and label materials, which are engineered to perform in the harshest of environment. As a company, Brady is focused on investing time and energy into understanding, directly from the customer, their unique challenges and success opportunities, and then leveraging that learning to influence product development, business strategy and go-to-market activity across all levels of the company.
Nicole Westenberger, Vice President of Ecommerce and Marketing at Brady, is a strong champion of leveraging a customer-centric approach to business. Customer insights are key in helping her team drive relevant marketing strategies, inform the digital product roadmap, and ultimately enable sales initiatives. Nicole shares her perspective on how any B2B company can leverage a customer-focused perspective not just in marketing, but in all levels of the business.
Tell me a little bit about how you got to where you are.
I spent five-plus years at an agency where I learned all about the different components of brand building, event sponsorship, retention, customer relationships, and all of the things that are foundational for marketing. But I also found that it wasn’t quite filling the appetite I had for learning how those initiatives actually drove sales.
It just so happened that I went to a conference and I saw a CMO speak. He was with Sears at that time and had such a passion for the brand, for the company, and for what he was doing that it compelled me to send in my resume. I had no retail background, but it was that powerful presentation that pushed me into exploring a very new and different opportunity. My career at Sears started with roles in direct mail and specialty catalogs, which then morphed into what turned out to be my passion — digital marketing and ecommerce.
I was lucky to be part of a team that had to figure out how to sell softlines — basically things that didn’t have a cord, like bedding and apparel. How do we sell these items in a new digital world? I had to consider all the pieces required to sell something online, from assortment strategy and photography to shipping and content. At the time, it was a real opportunity in the evolution of ecommerce to be on the leading edge of how the online shopping experience could not only be functional, but enjoyable too and, of course, connected to measurable results both online and in-store.
Much of my career at Sears was dedicated to figuring out how to effectively market our ecommerce products and experience in both traditional and digital channels. How does online influence offline and vice versa? How do we understand attribution?
At the same time, I was also trying to educate the rest of the organization about how online engagement could help build the brand, drive brick-and-mortar sales, and identify customer preferences and behaviors. To that end, I began to leverage voice-of-the-customer data to inform our roadmap priorities, both what they should and shouldn’t be. Ultimately, we found that a lot of the things we wanted to do weren’t important to the customer. The experience I had at Sears, the many amazing roles and opportunities, allowed me to really dig in and understand the power of digital marketing and ecommerce — resulting in the passionate advocate I am today for leveraging digital tools and insights to help drive success.
What have you taken from the B2C world and applied in B2B?
One thing I’ve taken from the B2C world into B2B is understanding the impact of online engagement. For example, in B2C today, roughly 13 percent of retail sales are transacted online, but that’s not the whole story. The power in this statistic is the influence online has on offline behavior — more than 40 percent of in-store sales are actually influenced by digital marketing activities. That’s something I’m trying to take into B2B. Just because the sales are not necessarily transacting via a B2B website, it doesn’t negate the influence of that engagement and how it significantly affects multiple channels outside of the website. That’s one of the key takeaways I have found valuable moving from a B2C to a B2B world.
B2B is still learning how to configure the analytics necessary to understand the journey. For Brady, we know that our website is there to first and foremost educate, from current to prospective customers, and sales associates, too. It’s the reason why we measure engagement as a success metric in addition to revenue. Because of the importance engagement plays in our environment, we created our own engagement score, made up of multiple inputs, to better track and understand how well we’re providing our customers with relevant and useful content. By better understanding the journey of a customer who uses our site to research, but then purchases through our valued distribution network, we are also tackling the difficult attribution issue — an issue that’s important to understand in order to ensure we are effectively serving our customers no matter how they choose to transact with our brand.
How has Brady Corporation innovated over the years to sustain healthy growth?
Brady started in 1914 with promotional photo calendars, which were pretty innovative at the time. We moved onto color displays for ice cream parlors, printed glass beer signs, and other forms of advertising, transforming throughout the years. Now we create software that, for instance, allows customers to create labels and print them on-site and on demand. The product evolution has been rich and successful at Brady, and it’s been wonderful to be a part of it.
The motto of our founder, Bill Brady, was, “Find a niche and seek to own it.” From a marketing perspective, I love this phrase and want to help see it continue to come to fruition. To that end, we are working to align marketing to activities that clearly connect to the returns we gain from our collective investment of resources, both human and financial. Historically, marketing had been seen as the team that creates the pretty stuff, plans the fun events, polices the brand guidelines, and tells people which logos and colors to use.
While marketing certainly does all that, we are able to contribute so much more. We’ve grown into a key stakeholder in the complete life cycle of product development. We are sitting at the table during the whole process, from driving naming conventions to designing cohesive packaging, and from involvement in product positioning to collaborating on the whole go-to-market strategy, marketing has truly evolved.
Communications is another part of our successful equation. We’ve evolved from speaking at the customer to speaking with the customer. We’ve shifted our model from transactional to relationship-building, earning the trust of our customers versus buying it. Our marketing collateral, our messages, our online content are all created with that thought in mind.
The shift is evident. For example, what was once 50+ features and benefits on our sales sheets, a veritable brain dump of anything and everything we knew about a product, has transformed into communicating with our customers based on what’s relevant to them. This intentional effort positions our products and services to help customers address the challenges they face while enabling their success every day. It’s really about them, and how we can help make their jobs easier.
How do you translate the voice of the customer into the correct positioning and packaging?
When it comes to listening to the customer, we’re lucky to have multiple touchpoints at Brady where we get real-time feedback from daily customer service interactions, tech support, sales and distributors. Focus groups are another great avenue for feedback. We leverage this opportunity through product innovation and product development, garnering key learnings along the way. For example, we thought that a new product was going to solve one particular customer concern, then uncovered that it actually solves an additional problem we hadn’t anticipated. It’s satisfying to have these valuable feedback sources available, then be able to act on them to further improve what we deliver to the customer.
From a digital perspective, we recently launched some customer feedback tools on our site. For me, these types of tools are invaluable for any company that truly wants to learn from their customers. Short-term, I like that this feedback means customers can let us know if there’s a bug or an issue on the site so we can quickly remedy it, but this feedback also helps us identify long-term initiatives as well.
For example, customers will tell you how your site may or may not be helping them find the product or solution they are seeking. Insights like these are invaluable in informing your longer-term digital product roadmap. Leveraging customer data in this way has really helped us prioritize as it moves the conversation from, “I think this is what our customer wants,” to “I know this is what our customer wants.” The combination of this data and your site analytics creates a truly powerful approach to managing a continually evolving digital roadmap. Without these insights, you’ll prioritize what’s important or interesting to you, but the customer might not care about it at all.
We solicit further feedback through our annual customer experience assessment, where we learn what’s important, what’s working, and frankly, what’s not working. Once we gather the feedback, we identify patterns and opportunities for improvement across all levels of our organization, not just marketing.
Hearing directly from customers is invaluable, so we also perform follow-up customer calls across multiple functions throughout the company. This way, we hear directly from customers as to their pain points and what we can do to alleviate them. These personal interactions help ground companies in where the issues and opportunities are.
Sales councils and trade shows are additional ways in which we hear directly what customers are thinking. Being that these interactions are live, we have the opportunity to dig deeper into these conversations as they’re happening. This is real-time feedback where we can uncover insights that would normally take weeks or months, and we’re able to capture within an hour, day or week.
What about Brady’s culture makes it conducive to being customer-focused?
Customer intimacy is really important in our culture. One hundred years ago, our founder said, “Strive to find out what your customer likes, and do more of it. Strive to find out what your customer doesn’t like, and do less of it.” It’s simple and to the point, and it’s also part of our culture, so it’s natural to put the customer at the center of how we do our jobs every day.
For me, I really am passionate about customer feedback. For the past several years of my career, that’s the first thing I do in the morning. I look at the sales results from the previous day, the metrics, and then I read customer verbatims while drinking my coffee. It’s just a natural part of my day. My view is that customer experience and customer satisfaction are leading indicators for any company, so leveraging those insights to help inform business initiatives or priorities has always been very valuable.
What role does digital play at a company like Brady?
Our website, launched in 2010, plays a major role in driving long-term customer relationships. Beyond serving to educate our customers, and generating revenue, we think about our site as a sales enablement tool, making our sales associates’ jobs easier by giving them added tools to help with customer engagement. Product specs, how-to videos, basically anything that furthers customer knowledge, it’s all at their disposal to help increase and intensify customer engagement for the many decision makers in B2B transactions.
We’re also aiming to please two types of visitors. One, the customer who knows what they want. Two, the customer who is still seeking the best solution, and these are two different purchasing funnels. . For customers who come knowing what printer they want, we make it easy for them to not only order that printer, but the consumables that go with it. For customers not yet certain of the right solution, we take them down a different path, ensuring the right content is served up to aid in their decision making.
Customer feedback is so critical in this process. It can be a challenge to understand the different types of customers and decision makers, what content is best for each segment and where in the funnel that content should be shared. Digital is a key part of the equation to foster these customer relationships. While I think we’re doing a pretty good job right now, we’ll continue to learn every day and continue using those insights to further optimize our digital customer experience.