Marketing never gets boring to me because each company, brand and sub-brand has its own unique challenges. This is certainly the case for Snehal Desai, Global Business Director of Dow Water & Process Solutions, a division of Dow Chemical. Snehal and I had a long conversation about the subtleties of marketing a sub-brand with multiple product lines aimed at multiple verticals with multiple constituents all while remaining true to the parent brand’s vision. And if I haven’t built up the challenge enough, keep in mind that these folks are selling highly-technical things like reverse osmosis systems that separate salt from water.
How Snehal and Dow Water tackled this challenge is well-worth pouring over (sorry, couldn’t resist the pun) if for no other reason that it is a cogent reminder that if you focus on your customer you’ll rarely go astray. As you will see, Dow Water puts a lot of energy into creating educational content (seminars, white papers, studies, models, etc.) that has helped drive the perception that they are experts, not parts manufacturers.
Drew: Can you talk a little bit about your brand, Dow Water and Process Solutions, relative to the corporate brand, The Dow Chemical Company, and how you distinguish between the two?
That’s a good question, because Dow as a company is very large. A lot of the time customers are thinking about the product that’s doing a certain function for them. As such, we are continually looking at the balance between leveraging the large company presence, investment on Dow’s capability and history. But we don’t lose sight of the fact that we have customers that are specifically buying, and have been buying for years, what’s come to be known as the Dow Water & Process Solutions suite of products. So we think first with respect to our customers and the things that they want the most from us.
Drew: I want to clarify a bit on Dow Water and Process Solutions. Would you describe it as more of an ingredient brand?
I would definitely say it’s more of an ingredient brand. For example, there are a variety of ways that one can separate and purify water. We make the technology that does the actual separation and purification. For example, we make the membranes that separate the salts from the water. So we make the guts, the advanced separation steps, and are in that way almost always inside a system.
And because we’ve been operating in this environment for decades and the very nature of b-to-b marketing, we actually do have a relatively high level of awareness among our users. But that’s also one of our brand challenges, to be able to remind people of the work we do.
Drew: Were any of the sub-brands that you recently purchased well known enough to considered the generic brand in their categories and if so, did you keep those names?
We purchased Rohm & Haas in 2009, which was a very well known chemicals company that had a very strong position in ion exchange technology. With that company came a set of customers that knew exactly what they wanted. So depending on the sub-application, certain trade names did resonate more than others.
Once you start to really get into specifications, the customers don’t want to change them. The last thing you want to do is shoot yourself in the foot because you felt like it would make it more economical on a naming and literature basis, and find out you lost a million-dollar order because they decided they don’t like the new product because it was not what they expected.
Drew: So there’s the Dow brand and then there’s Dow Water & Process Solutions. How are the guidelines defined? Is there a Dow brand oversight team that you as the marketer of Dow Water & Process need to go through?
There definitely is. We have a corporate public affairs group, which is the group that’s responsible for making sure that the brand standards are followed. What we do is work with that team to develop business brand standards, which might stretch the corporate brand one way or another depending on the audience a specific business is trying to reach. This way we are able to target our audience with the appropriate brand image while still staying true to the greater Dow brand.
The corporate Dow brand work supports this notion we’re trying to impart to our customers, which is to think of our job as providing solutions. We cover so many areas – if you think about a category like health and nutrition, the medical space, or energy storage, we have many, many different plays that are already going on in those spaces. People don’t always put it all together. So there’s this idea that we would be using the website and a branding approach to these market segments. In many ways we’re writing white papers to help talk about the broader issues that would interest consumers, like provisions of clean drinking water, cleaning up waste water, and the whole idea of sustainability.
Drew: Interesting. So “good” from a sustainability standpoint is that message to serve around a good, corporate citizen, and you guys help fill that role?
Yes, and you can always look at it as both a blessing and a curse. Because with that role also comes the need to balance between talking about almost philanthropic good then what we really do, which is helping companies, helping municipalities, and really driving a sufficient, low-cost, reliable provision of separation and purification services. If you look at some recent product launches such as ECO FILMTEC™ reverse osmosis elements or SEAMAXX™ reverse osmosis elements, sustainability is intrinsic to the value proposition and is in fact, what our customers expect. They are looking for improvements such as lower energy requirements, less chemical requirements and resistance to fouling. All of these benefits, while operational, are also sustainable.
Drew: How much and how important is consultative selling? Can you give me an example of how you “campaigned” it?
It’s the way we do business. It’s the way that our sales team and our technical sellers do things in the marketplace. We do seminars. We actually have projection programs that allow us to model some systems for people to help them make some choices on what options they might have, the tradeoffs, etc. We did some brand study work around three or four years ago. They did some good external studies and surveys. One of the things that people said they bought was expertise. They were buying the knowledge of the people that they were working with.
So that’s always something that our customers always talk about. They rely on us to give them good answers. To help them solve problems that aren’t always directly related to the product that we sell. In fact, this is a core value proposition and our biggest differentiator against our competition. We have the best people in the business and the most expertise. Our customers rely on that.
Drew: With the person who’s buying your product and essentially reselling it to someone else, is there a combined branding activity?
It’s not exactly like that. It’s more like this: if you consider an equipment seller, and anybody can buy pumps, valves, and fittings on the market, the question then becomes one of “how does he differentiate himself?” One of the ways he can do so is to identify that the components he’s putting in the customer’s system is something that the industry knows and everybody trusts and is the best on the market. So that when he puts his bid in, and he actually calls out, “I’m using Dow XYZ,” that’s his way of saying, “Look, my bid with this technology is really the winning solution.”
But some companies are more collaborative. Meaning they’ll ask us for help. They’ll ask us if they can come in and jointly sell or help answer questions for the customer given the confidence that technology will work. And we do that. But that’s the industrial sector. We also sell into the residential market which is very different. That’s more about brand owners that are putting white good appliances into your house, so in that case, you’re talking about a consumer story. Building the confidence that these products are good and healthy for you, and they’re going to deliver what they say they’re going to deliver.
Drew: If you were to define the Dow brand, and then you were to define the Dow Water & Process Solutions brand, would there be differences?
Probably not. I don’t think they’re that different. Where the differences occur is when you get really right down to the specifics of the solutions and markets. People are telling you about sort of the things you did for them. Not the company, but the things your people and technology do. I’m not saying that every business in Dow is delivering the same set of attributes, but I think we pivot off of a lot of the same thing. It’s a strong technology base. It’s the ethic around reliability and consistency, a global reach. So I think we have a lot of similarities.
Drew: That gets back to enabling the channel, the consultative selling, all the content marketing that everybody wants to talk about now. It’s all in this category of doing versus saying. Do you feel like you have a luxury that other brands don’t have, in that you can build Dow Water & Process Solutions focused on the “doing” because the parent company is taking care of the “saying” component?
You’re absolutely right. And yet by doing, as you say, that becomes the basis of the stories of what the company wants to say. As long as we continue doing well and enabling changes and differences in the market, then people are looking for ways to tell those stories in creative and inspiring ways. We are definitely lucky.
Final note: thanks to my friends at The CMO Club for the introduction to Snehal.