Connecting Happy Valley innovation to the world

March 8, 2022

Happy Valley boasts a slew of innovative companies turning out products and solutions that are making health care, technology and research and development better. However, while many of these companies are international leaders in their industries, their expertise doesn’t always stretch as far as marketing and communications. When it comes to telling their stories to the world — and, more specifically, their target customers — these companies turn to the area’s marketing pros, both on internal marketing teams and at agencies. For those experts, though, there are plenty of challenges that come with B2B marketing, a landscape that’s vastly different and more complex than B2C.

So how do they work their magic to push their various companies and clients to success? We spoke with three Happy Valley marketers to learn more about what they do, how they do it and what you need to know about the region’s industry changemakers. 

The right resources, the right culture

At Restek, director of strategic marketing and communications Mike Shively boasts an impressive background, working in creative and advertising on large accounts in Philadelphia, New York City and Baltimore, before making his way to Happy Valley and Restek, where he’s remained for 24 years. Over those years, the company has grown, technology has changed, and marketing strategies have evolved, but his job still, at the end of the day, focuses on creating global brand awareness, increasing customer engagement, and generating new leads. 

The powers that be at Restek recognize the importance of an internal marketing team, too, and entrusts Shively with an impressive amount of resources.

“Restek has what equates to a full-service, in-house agency with tremendous expertise:  strategic marketing, branding, customer experience, content development, technical and copywriting, visual design, video production, social media, website design, advertising, live and virtual events, and the list goes on and on. We do it all. It really gives a company of Restek’s size an advantage that you don’t often see,” he said. 

“It’s challenging to understand the needs of these analysts working in labs all across the globe, in different markets, and providing them with relevant content and an exceptional customer experience. We want them to get what they need, when they need it and how they want to receive it.”

Still, even with a large and talented team, Restek faces its share of B2B marketing challenges. Beyond offering customers chromatography consumables and thousands of stock and custom products designed for specific analyses, Restek also develops educational and technical content for its customers, which is another responsibility that falls beneath Shively’s umbrella. 

“It’s challenging to understand the needs of these analysts working in labs all across the globe, in different markets, and providing them with relevant content and an exceptional customer experience. We want them to get what they need, when they need it and how they want to receive it,” he said, “and those needs are changing faster than ever before.” 

However, meeting this challenge becomes possible in part thanks to Restek’s overarching, community-centered ethos. Restek balances its focus on its customers’ successes, and also the success of the company’s team members, on an individual level — and that drives Restek’s marketing.

“I think many people already know that Restek has a great reputation and cares about its customers, employees, community and the quality of its products. We’re an ESOP, we’re owned by the employees and we strive to do our part to make the world a better and safer place. From a marketing perspective, that’s the message because that’s who we are,” said Shively. He noted his favorite aspect of his role is working with a team “with so much talent and desire to do what is right for our customers,” saying, “These people really care about one another. The magnitude of the work can be stressful at times and yet our relationships are strong enough that everyone pulls together, helps one another develop and succeeds together. I am really quite proud to be part of the team. It’s also been very satisfying to see the results of our work as Restek continues to grow and contribute to the community.”

Changing landscape, changing tactics

Mark Dello Stritto likewise knows advertising and marketing, but from a different angle. Working in agency roles in Pittsburgh before relocating to Happy Valley, he has more than 25 years in advertising and spent more than a decade overseeing his own ad agency, Loaded Creative, before selling to Pittsburgh-based Blink in 2019. Now, he’s one of Blink’s four partners and vice president of creative. Blink operates two offices, one in Pittsburgh and one in Dello Stritto’s Bellefonte, with a range of B2B clients, from Cannon Instrument Company, a manufacturer of viscosity-related products for the chemical industry, to ORX which is North America’s largest producer of railway wheel sets, to Sloan Lubrication Systems, a provider of state-of-the-art lubrication delivery system’s serving the the oil and gas industry, to Metzler Forest Products which uses environmentally-focused and innovative timber harvesting and land clearing techniques for highway construction projects and paper products. 

 “B2B clients need to reconsider their marketing tactics, evaluate their brand messaging and invest in and explore a more tailored and data-driven advertising plan."

On a day-to-day basis, Dello Stritto plays a large role in ensuring Blink’s B2B clients get the kind of marketing and branding they need to succeed in an ever-changing landscape — and that landscape, he said, is filled with new challenges that require B2B companies to break out of their comfort zones. 

“The past few years have dramatically changed many B2B industries and upended their approaches to marketing and sales. Industry literature and publications are lighter and thinner, trade-shows aren’t quite like they used to be, media has consolidated and the changing workforce is altering both internal and client-side operations,” he said. “B2B clients need to reconsider their marketing tactics, evaluate their brand messaging and invest in and explore a more tailored and data-driven advertising plan. There has to be a perfect marriage between the creative idea, data and the touchpoint where a prospect may interact with the advertising. Investing in branding and a marketing strategy for B2B clients is more important now than ever.”

Unfortunately, for a lot of B2B businesses, it’s not always easy to deviate away from the same ol’ marketing tactics, something Dello Stritto considers a struggle particular to this group of clients, compared to B2C clients or those who are more lifestyle than business or industry-focused.

He noted, “I believe the most unique challenge that our B2B clients face is not marketing their company's specialization or productization, but the ability to allow themselves to get out of their comfort zone with their advertising and messaging. Many B2B businesses are hesitant to try surprising, interesting or unexpected ideas in their space. When our clients break the habit of playing it safe with their B2B advertising, they become more excited about their marketing than ever before. A non-conventional approach to tech/industry/manufacturing/research advertising, whether through the use of humor, cleverness, thought-provoking or provocative ideas, cuts through the B2B clutter and samenesses. We always suggest that our B2B clients allow themselves to leave that safe place and see how their messaging performs. Usually, it just comes down to going with their gut and giving it a shot.” 

“I believe the most unique challenge that our B2B clients face is not marketing their company's specialization or productization, but the ability to allow themselves to get out of their comfort zone with their advertising and messaging."

And when those clients give it a shot and trust their marketing agency to make the right creative decisions that will allow a B2B brand to succeed? Dello Stritto said that’s when the projects that he’s most proud of come about. 

“When our client’s get excited to try something different and they continue to receive a positive response through applause, inquiries and sales, then our clients become just as passionate as we are when it comes to creating impactful and meaningful advertising. That makes for a great agency-client relationship,” he said. 

The challenge of catering to two audiences 

At AccuWeather, Rhonda Seaton’s, vice president of corporate communications, role is a little different from both Dello Stritto’s agency role and Shively’s role catering to lab analysts. While most may know AccuWeather for the organization’s television network and weather app, the brand also offers a wide swathe of services and products to businesses and institutions, including those in the manufacturing, retail, financial, energy, insurance, health care and transportation sectors. AccuWeather even offers a forensic meteorology product to provide expert witness testimony on past weather events and weather data. As such, Seaton’s work deals with a range of audiences, from individuals to communities to businesses. 

“On any given day, I am engaged in strategic planning and help my team craft press releases, speeches and presentations, email communications to clients and collateral that help highlight the unique strengths of our products and services,” she explained. “Critical to my role is considering how to best communicate our advantages to all the key audiences on whom our success depends. Our PR team and our greater marketing team do this with best-in-class storytelling, emphasizing our unique capabilities, strategic advantages and our many, many forecasting victories that have saved lives and companies millions of dollars by helping them make the best weather-impacted decisions.” 

“People know the brand and recognize our name, but few have an accurate perception of the full scope of what we do every day to improve lives. It’s my job to change that reality."

This combination of B2C and B2B audiences creates a unique challenge. How do you get the word out regarding the full scope of AccuWeather’s offerings?

“In many ways, AccuWeather is the best-kept secret,” said Seaton. “People know the brand and recognize our name, but few have an accurate perception of the full scope of what we do every day to improve lives. It’s my job to change that reality. Since 1962, we have saved tens of thousands of lives and prevented tens of billions of dollars in property damage by providing the most accurate weather forecasts and by helping people and businesses cope with the impact of weather better. Our founder Dr. Joel Myers practically invented the commercial weather industry, and I look forward to continuing to tell the stories that help people understand what we have achieved and what we do to protect people and property.”

The secret to spreading the word of Happy Valley’s innovations? 

There’s no single, surefire method of marketing Happy Valley’s industry greatness, but, for the three marketers above and those like them, they’ve learned more than a few tricks in their decades of experience. Whether it’s pushing a brand to try new modes of marketing, establishing a robust company culture that invests in its marketing resources, or proudly proclaiming the impressive ways a Happy Valley brand is saving lives, every day, marketing teams are acting as the conduit between the region’s innovations and the world. 

What do you think are the biggest challenges B2B businesses face in their marketing and advertising? What marketing challenges has your B2B business encountered and how did you overcome them? Let us share your story. Get in touch, at greg@affinityconnection.com

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