Home Automation Podcast Episode #26: An Industry Q&A With Coleen Sterns Leith
A Chat with Marketing Matters' Coleen Sterns Leith
This week's home automation podcast features our host Ron Callis interviewing Coleen Sterns Leith. Recorded live on Wednesday, December 6th at 12:30 p.m. EST.
About Coleen Sterns Leith
Coleen Sterns Leith is president and founder of Marketing Matters, an agency working exclusively with technology companies. For the past 20 years, Marketing Matters has been the agency of choice for companies like Bose and Sharp to launch new technology. Her team has helped take a startup company to $200 million in sales in seven years and has won 63 design and publishing awards for the work they’ve done.
Working closely with technology clients, Coleen and her team have created over 200 successful product launches and public relations strategies garnering national and international exposure and a dynamic market presence for each of their clients. Coleen is an active member of the tech community including her work with Consumer Technology Association’s (CTA) Audio Division and TechHome Division, is a mentor for start‐up tech companies and she serves as a judge for the TechHome Mark of Excellence Awards that are presented at the Consumer Electronics Show each January in Las Vegas.
Coleen recently released her new book, Ultra Hi Def Marketing for tech start-ups earlier this year. She resides in Saint Petersburg with her husband and French Bulldogs.
Here are some of the topics Ron had the opportunity to discuss with Coleen:
- Coleen's background in the industry and her current role
- Marketing Matters' proprietary "5-Step Method to World Domination"
- Ultra Hi Def Marketing - the book that explains that method
- Print isn't dead - why you still need a brochure
- How integrators can help with their own PR
- And more
Ron: Hello everybody. Ron Callis here with another episode of Automation Unplugged is episode 26, believe it or not today is what is today? Today's Wednesday, December 6th. It's 12:30 PM or actually 12:31 PM. So starting one minute late. Hope you're having a great day and a great week. The Christmas season has is well on its way. Hopefully you've gotten your Christmas shopping completed or you're maybe planning to do that this weekend. Well I have a bit of a treat for you. And that is, I have a really exciting guest. I was so happy to get Coleen booked. I have Coleen Sterns Leith with Marketing Matters and she's also an author of a brand new book targeting marketing for tech startups and Coleen, how are you?
Coleen: I am great, Ron. It's good to hear from you. It's been awhile.
Ron: It has, it's been too long. We're gonna get into some of that background that you and I have. We've known each other since day one of Firefly.
Coleen: Absolutely. Yes, we go way back.
Ron: So how are things, how's business?
Coleen: Business is great. It's been a fabulous year. We're keeping quite busy. So we're growing.
Ron: You're growing, you were telling me off camera that your things are a bit gangbusters right now.
Coleen: Yes, absolutely. It's been a little bit wild, so I'm glad we were able to make some time here to talk today.
Ron: Likewise. I know you're a very busy woman. Coleen, I'm going to check our Facebook page just to make sure this feed is coming in. Okay. And I'm gonna speak to that audience, so it's always helpful to do a bit of a technology check before we get too far along.
Coleen: Makes sense.
Ron: All right, so let me just pull it up, see how, yep, it looks like we're live. Okay. So if you're out there watching us live on Facebook, thank you very much. We appreciate you watching and please give us a like or a comment. If you have questions for Coleen as we go along here, please post those questions in the comment section. And I will do my very best to read those off live or real time to Coleen so you can hear her answer. And if you're hearing us on a replay or are at some point on a future date thanks again for watching. You can like and you can share this video, so please do so. So Coleen, you have been running Marketing Matters and you've been in the tech industry for 20 years.
Coleen: 27 years. Marketing Matters for 20 years, seven years prior to that working at other jobs in the industry like Infinity and Niles Audio.
Ron: Oh my goodness. Well, I would, I would love if you'd be so willing to hear about your background. You know, I always, I believe this industry is made up of so many interesting people and yourself certainly included and I think it's always fun and interesting to learn how you got here today. Where did you come from? So if you don't mind kind of enlighten us on your background.
Coleen: Well, I've been a tech geek since I was a child. I've all of my life longed for a Star Trek medical tri-quarter the Jetsons flying car. And the technology's always just, I've just been engrossed with it. So when I got a job at Infinity Systems back in 1990, I knew, I found my industry. It was like a matter of weeks and I knew I had found my home and that was the beginning and I never thought it would take me to where I am today. But here we are.
Ron: Well, so Infinity Systems, that is Infinity the speakers or is that it? Was that an integrator?
Coleen: It was loud speakers? So now part of Harman, Samsung now.
Ron: Okay. Then you said went to Niles, you were there for a bit?
Coleen: Yeah, about four years.
Ron: And they used to be based in Miami?
Coleen: Yes. Yes. That was prior to the Nortec acquisition. Yes. That's what brought me to Florida.
Ron: What were you doing there at Niles?
Ron: So were you one of a team of marketers or were you, what was your role?
Coleen: The small team that I supported both sales and marketing. So I did all the crazy reports. And you know, trade shows, support and advertising support and public relations and all those kinds of things. So it was really just a Vice President of marketing and myself in the marketing department.
Ron: Okay. And then, so you did that for seven years, you did a Xfinity. No, not Xfinity. Infinity. Yes. And finally the cable providers on my brain and Infinity. And then you went to Niles and then you got bitten by the entrepreneurship bug. Is that how it worked?
Coleen: Pretty much, yes.
Ron: And so what was your goals when you started Marketing Matters? What was the intent of that business?
Coleen: I wanted to be able to help people get their projects done quickly and well and make a difference.
Ron: Which was the goal to work with manufacturers to work with installers? What would work with the reps and the different players in the industry?
Coleen: I actually started by primarily with reps, so that was, I knew the reps and I did little catalogs for them initially and then eventually got some referrals to manufacturers. I really didn't work with integraters until probably about five years in.
Ron: Okay. And over the last 20 years, has the portfolio of the types of companies, I mean, have you branched outside of the tech industry or is it always been within the space?
Coleen: We're 90% within the tech industry. During the recession, as we all struggled I did take on some other types of clients and then we do have relationships with clients that were previously in the tech industry who moved to other industries and they've asked us to work with them. So we do some work outside the tech industry, but we are primarily tech focused.
Ron: And you and I used to nearly be neighbors in Hollywood, Florida.
Coleen: Indeed. Indeed, yes.
Ron: And I ended up moving out West, I'm here in Cooper City now. And you moved, I guess you could argue West, but to the other coast of Florida.
Coleen: Yes. We're in St Petersburg now and just love it over here.
Ron: How is that? I've never spent any time in St Pete. How was that?
Coleen: It's a great little city. It's a little smaller town. Everybody here is so nice. We just love the vibe. There's so much going on. St Pete is this little town with big things happening. There's always something happening. Everything from a Grand Prix to festivals and, you know, Saturday where they had they brought in snow in the Santa Claus parade and just a lot of hats, a lot of stuff happening here. And then we have Tampa just around the corner. It's literally a half-hour drive for us to get to Tampa. We're huge hockey fans and we go to a lot of the Tampa Bay Lightning games. And so that's real convenient for us.
Ron: So did you end up or did you make it over to CEDIA this year? I'm assuming that's a silly question. Of course you went.
Coleen: For a couple of days and then I've got this close as I could before the airport closing to get home and to help with the prep cause we were in a mandatory evacuation zone, of course. Right.
Ron: Oh, that's right. That's right. In the hurricane went up the west coast. This was Irma?
Coleen: Yes. This was Irma. Yes. So yeah, she came up the West coast and we were supposed to have all this crazy flooding, but the way that she ended up going, all the water was pretty much pulled out of the Tampa Bay, which was pretty bizarre. So we ended up going to the East coast. Our friends who were going to evacuate to the West coast reciprocated the offer. And so we ended up riding out Irma on the East coast, which had very little impact there. I think we were out without power for less than a day.
"I was working at Crestron and I had just decided I was leaving, I was going to start my own business and I went Coleen Sterns to help me with my marketing."
Ron: Got it. Now, when I met you and I just for my audience, this background I was working at Crestron and I had just decided I was leaving, I was going to start my own business and I went Coleen Sterns to help me with my marketing.
Coleen: We spent a lot of time talking about a lot of different things and really getting everything in order for you.
Ron: Yeah, absolutely. You were right there at our infancy and you held my hand. And you know what I think, I've got to look for it. I'm here in my office right when I started the business, that was Firefly Design Group the predecessor to One Firefly. And you guys designed my logo and you designed my stationary and you designed my first website. All that good stuff. You are..
Coleen: 14, 15 years ago now?
Ron: No, 10, 10 years ago, 10 years ago. It just feels like 15. A lot's happened.
Coleen: Some weeks are a lot longer than others. Definitely.
"I do have a small office here in Davie that I run accounting and a little bit of project management out of most of my team are working at home offices and I'd say with a lot of success. Our employment retainment has been good. Our employee production and satisfaction or happiness had been pretty good with that experience."
Ron: That's right. That's right. That's pretty funny. Now you couple of different things I want to talk to you about. One is kind of fun cause you and I have both gone down this path together. And that is in 2015 One Firefly we moved to running a virtual office, meaning I work out of a home office. I'm here in Cooper City and my home office. And although I do have a small office here in Davie that I run accounting and a little bit of project management out of most of my team are working at a home offices and I'd say with a lot of success. You know, our employment retainment has been good. Our employee production and satisfaction or happiness had been pretty good with that experience. What was it like for you and what helped you decide to do that? And how has it gone?
Coleen: Well, it was late 2014 when we decided to go virtual. We had been in the same office in Hollywood for 15 years and my staff was moving and I had a couple of folks virtual already and we were actually to the point where I had one person left in the office with me. The landlord wanted another three year lease and it just didn't make sense and that was the best decision I could've made because about six weeks later we found out that my husband was being transferred to Tampa, so I didn't get myself saddled with a three year lease. So listen to your gut. Right?
Ron: That's amazing. Now you and I were talking off camera about when you work remote and you have virtual team members, you need a particular type of team member. Maybe that's not best for everybody. What are your thoughts around that?
"Remote work is not suited for everybody. You really have to have an individual who has really good work habits and work ethics."
Coleen: Oh, remote work is not suited for everybody. You really have to have an individual who has really good work habits and work ethics. Just because you're working out of your house doesn't mean that you can go take two or three hour lunches. You still have to do your nine to five, nine to six, you know, take your lunch break when it's not disruptive to everybody else. You know, we're still holding all of our conference calls, our meetings you know, via conference lines rather than the conference room these days. So, you know, the work hasn't changed and we had to make some process changes as well to help everybody stay on track. So, you know, we do morning check-ins and and then I have my managers send me end of day reports so I know what they worked on during the day, any issues that may have come up. And then they give me a brief recap of the priorities for the next day cause we're, you know, we'll have 20 different jobs going at a time so that way we can really keep track of everything. And then weekly staff meetings as well. So . Mondays at noon, we all get together, kind of go over kind of, we do go over the open jobs, do a little brainstorming as needed for particular particular projects. And then, you know, discuss Marketing Matters business. So it works really well and my folks are pretty happy about it too because you can live your life and not have to worry about, you know, Oh my gosh, my husband got transferred and I need to move. It's fine. Take your computer with you and talk to you on Monday.
Ron: Just get your work done. And all is good. Now one of the things we did here at One Firefly is we had a, well I should say it didn't happen when we went virtual. We had done it prior, but it led to maybe a bit of an easier transition and that was, we really ramped up on the software side with project management software and time-tracking software. Did you do something along those lines?
Coleen: We had all of those tools in place already. And so, you know, when we initially went virtual, we were, I was still in Hollywood. And that was October of 2014 and then in July of 2015, we moved here to St Pete. And you know, honestly we put on a digital phone system, so we retained our phone numbers, our emails, and the only thing that changed for our clients was the where to send the check. So that worked out pretty well. Having those systems in place made a big difference. Yeah. The project management software, the time tracking, all that stuff.
Ron: So another very fun topic and I'm very proud of you and happy for you that you were able to accomplish this. You've written a book.
Coleen: I did.
Ron: Can you hold the book up to the cameras? So our fans can see it. There we go. Ultra Hi Def Marketing. All right, so tell me who is this book for?
"We use a proprietary five-step method to bring our technology clients to world domination."
Coleen: This book was written for tech startups or tech companies who are looking to launch new products. So we use a proprietary five-step method to bring our technology clients to world domination.
Ron: World domination. I'm glad you have. You don't have your goal set too high there. You gotta aim high. Absolutely. Are you able or willing to go through what some of those five steps are for world domination or maybe just at least at a high level?
Coleen: Yeah, I can give you a brief recap there. So we, we start with identity. So identity is where you're creating your company name, your logo, your website, your business cards and all the brand standards to support those and create a consistent look and feel for your company. So, and this is also where the company's story is developed and it's really important. I really feel strongly that every company needs a story. Companies are entities. It's an it, we do business with people. And that company's story resonates with people. And your customers want to know, just as you started asking about my story. Folks want to know who they're working with. And that's an important part of identify. The second step is simplify and simplify involves translating the technology product information from engineering, speak to human speak. Because many of these products, we work with a lot of engineers, needless to say. A lot of the automation and the CEDIA and InfoComm Avixa companies are very much engineered driven, engineering driven. And so we have to be able to take that engineering speak and translate it into something that really makes sense for for a consumer that target audience to understand. And this is also a point where processes should be developed. Your customer service policies, your technical support policies warranty and things like that. And you know, the tech firms, one of the biggest challenges that tech firms face is they spend millions of dollars to create jaw dropping, life changing technology, and then they have a huge disconnect marketing those features for the benefit of the customer. And the effect is that essentially they lose their launch investment over that and then end up with a huge warehouse of unsold product. And by using the tools and simplify really can avoid that situation, that fiasco from happening.
Ron: No, for sure.
Coleen: Yeah, definitely. It helps. The next step is toolify and now that you've got your plan and your your messaging's created in the toolify phase, we create the marketing tools the company needs for a successful company or product launch. So this is building out your website, creating your brochures, videos, digital and print ads. You know, maybe the product's going on a kickstarter campaign, you're creating social media accounts, visuals, writing articles, blog posts and such. And this is really one of my favorite parts of the five step process because this is where all the creative juices flow and where great pink campaigns are really developed. So, the fourth step is amplify. So you've got the tools that are created and now it's time to amplify that message so that this is where we would arrange to media interviews, make social media posts live, launch those digital ad campaigns distribute press releases, articles, blogs, newsletters, and all those other tools that we created and toolify. And then lastly the fifth step is tweakify. And that's the final step to total world domination. It's really imperative where you evaluate the testing that you've done in amplify and then measure those results and make adjustments or tweak. So nothing works. You know, this is where the marketing 100% rule comes into play. Nothing works 100% of the time. So you better check and see what those results are, do your AB testing and make those adjustments. So you're really getting the most bang for your out of your marketing campaigns. So that's the book in a nutshell,
Ron: Three four and five were toolify, amplify, and tweakify, right?
Ron: I love that. And then one and two was that identity?
Coleen: Identify. And simplify, identify and simplify. Yes.
Ron: Get that whole fy thing going.
Coleen: Oh yeah, it's important. And here's a cute little graphic that kind of shows.
Ron: Oh, I love that. Okay.
Coleen: Yeah. So those are the steps and then the world is in your hands.
Ron: It's in and out. I'm assuming that the world can buy this book on Amazon.
Coleen: On Amazon or Barnes and Noble.
Ron: Yes. All right. So I'll do this over the course of the next few minutes. I don't want to be rude to my audience that is eagerly awaiting my next question and your next answer. But I'll put the link to this book. I'll put it in the notes so that as we push this video out, that with one click, people can figure out how to get their hands on that exciting book. Now I know how happy to get that out there as you and I both know there's a lot of companies that are in desperate need of marketing help and assistance. And now I'm curious, you know, marketer to marketer how do you find, what are some of your thoughts around the way marketing is generally perceived by tech companies? So whether it's the contractors, which we generally have historically focused on and or reps or manufacturers do you find that they're receptive or that there's resistance there? And if so, how do you generally break through that?
Coleen: Well in our automation world, there are a lot of really small companies and there aren't always huge budgets to work with for marketing. It is imperative that you let people know why your cool product is better than anything else out there and what it should be used for. And you can't leave it to somebody. We're all very busy and you can't expect an integrator or a rep who may be involved with that product to understand all the applications. So that marketing is really important. You know, what we tend to do is look at their situation, what they've done in the past, what's worked, and then recommend specific tools based on what the budget and what's going to give them the most bang for their buck. And in many instances, that's public relations because you're paying for some content development distribution. So it's far less expensive than advertising and you're getting that third party endorsement, the credibility of that product or service that you're launching. So public relations tends to be a pretty effective tool for our industry.
Ron: No, I agree 100%. I know some of the stories, actually I'll credit you Coleen, when I started 10 years ago, Firefly, I tell you what, you had Firefly Design Group in I think every industry publication.
Coleen: That's what you hired us to do.
Ron: Maybe in the world. And people had the perception that we had been around for a long time and were this big operation and here we were this small entity on a shoestring budget and I think all of our discretionary money went to Marketing Matters to try to get us looking professional and properly messaged out there. And you guys did a great job.
Coleen: Thank you. Thank you. And it worked. You got noticed your phone started ringing and here we are 10 years later.
Ron: Here we are. It's how that happens now. Tell me about the process of writing a book. What was that like?
Coleen: Oh, well I knew I had a lot of material that I had produced over the years. My biggest challenge was organizing it into a way to make sense. And so I basically sat down with some some business coaches that I work with and we banked out the methodology and once we created that methodology, the five steps to world domination, that really organized things in my head and I was able to put all of the different ideas and thoughts and recommendations into specific categories and show a process that has proven results. So it was challenging. It took a lot of weekends. My husband was never so happy as when I published that book and we haven't had, he had me back on the weekends.
Ron: Do you write, would you rise and have a cup of coffee and start writing or would you write at night or how did that work on you?
Coleen: Yes, all the above. I did, I wrote in the morning, I wrote after hours. I wrote when I had a little bit of free time when I had committed to a book launch date. So I had some firm deadlines and when that deadline was looming, I actually cleared my schedule for three days to do a final rewrite and edit on the book. And may I get my books arrived about 18 hours before the book launch.
Ron: Do you have any more books in the works? Any other content you're thinking maybe to publish?
Coleen: I may, I don't have a cohesive plan at this point, but it ended up being an easier process and I really thought it would be. And so that might be if I get a little bit of time, that may be something that I do again.
Ron: All right. And I know we have a hard stop coming up here and you have another scheduled interview, so that's pretty cool. What would be a piece of advice and maybe we could target to the larger audiences, one would be say integrators. What's from your perspective? Maybe one obvious thing or is it seems obvious to you that technology contractors could work on or should focus on and it would overall improve their marketing and perhaps improve their business development.
Coleen: Every integrator should focus on two things. First to have a great logo and professional cards. Don't design your own logo, don't skimp on the paper. So spend that extra $20, get the nicer paper, have it look very professional. And the second thing that every integrator must have is a website. It's imperative you do technology for a living. People are coming to you for technology. If they can't find you on the internet because you haven't gotten around to doing your website, you've lost a whole lot of credibility.
Ron: Could not agree more. As we are both in the website business for this industry. So I completely agree. There was a sales god with a small g, Jeffrey Gitomer and he's written a whole collection of books about sales. And I had the fortune of seeing him speak a couple of years ago and he wrote the book called The Sales Bible. So if you want a great book on selling and marketing, it's Sales Bible and but that was his point. I remember from his book, he said, you know, people so often when they're getting started, they skimp on the wrong things and your brand identity and just the quality of the design and the paper of your business card, it makes such a big impact. You're trying to sell, you know, a $50,000 thing or a quarter million dollar thing to Mrs. Smith and here you hand her some flimsy.
Coleen: Right? $20 Vistaprint business cards. It's like, that doesn't work.
Ron: Switch gears to the manufacturer. Let's just say in theory, the bigger customer, I think that's a lot of the customers I've known. And I think maybe you're going to help me interview some of your customers, but these bigger manufacturers, what are maybe some of the categories or areas where you think, I'm going to say they're missing it right now and they should look at this category and be better at it.
Coleen: Public relations, hands-down. There are so many manufacturers that are creating such cool leading edge products that really can solve so many issues for integrators and the homeowners and they're not getting the word out. So hands down public relations, you need to be able to communicate that new product and the benefits and how you could save the integrator time or help them with recurring revenue. They need to know what you're doing and how you can help them.
Ron: Hey, by the way, Sean Dermer says hello. He just posted up there. Now how can, well, so in regards to PR, does the manufacturer do that with in house staff and people or do they need to hire an external company to help them with that? And or why would they do that?
Coleen: Well, depending on the size of the company, if it's a larger company, it may make sense to hire a good professional public relations person in house. If the company is really large, maybe you do have that in house public relations person and you're still hiring an agency to help you with specific channels that they specialize in. Smaller companies, it tends to be a lot more economical for them to hire somebody because you can get a program tailored to your needs and your budget. So focus on those initiatives to support sales, you know, what are your marketing and sales goals? And you can get that firm them too, to focus on supporting those efforts, getting those messages out to those correct audiences.
Ron: Let's look at that integrator, and I think maybe I have one more minute with you. Let's look at that integrator. How could that integrator focus on PR? What would be a strategy, a PR strategy for an integrator maybe that they could even do on their own and then what would be something they could do in partnership with, say, an expert like yourself?
Coleen: Well integrators should do two things. I feel, take advantage of the award opportunities because that gives you such credibility to win consumer technology association, mark of excellence award is huge. That's worth the time. So get those pictures and you know, it's like the lottery. You can't win if you don't enter, get those entries then. Yeah, absolutely. And the other thing that integrators can do in the public relations realm is since you're regional, you really are focusing on most integrators. So focusing in a particular area, get involved in your local community. You know, reach out to your local newspaper and the home section and talk about trends in home automation. There are local things that can really help position you as the local expert. And then when folks see these kinds of articles and they get to know you where they would not necessarily come across your name, you know, Oh, I've been wanting to do home automation. Oh, here's Ron and he's telling me that I should do this and this and we could look at this. And that's those types of things. They're going to help your phone ring.
Ron: Awesome. And Sean made an additional comment. Sean's always watching and always commenting. So Sean, we appreciate you always being in our audience. That's fantastic. And appreciate those shares as well, Sean. But Sean says my personal experience has been outside marketing teams seem to always work best. So there you go.
Coleen: Thank you for the support, Sean.
Ron: Thank you for the support Sean. So Coleen, it's been a pleasure having you on and it was so fun to catch up and I would love to have you back on and go into maybe more marketing topics and perhaps we could get more granular if you'd be game.
Coleen: I'd love to. That'd be great. I hope we get to see you soon. We need to come on out to the West coast and check things out here.
Ron: Yeah, I need to have Scott's mushroom risotto again.
Coleen: It's pretty good.
Ron: It's cooked in egg. That's even better. Absolutely. All right ladies and gentlemen, thank you for watching. That's been another episode. It was episode 26 of Automation Unplugged brought to you by my day job over at One Firefly. So thanks again for watching. Have an awesome Wednesday, have a great week and weekend, and I will see you next time for episode 27 take care.
Coleen Sterns Leith is president and founder of Marketing Matters, an agency working exclusively with technology companies. For the past 20 years, Marketing Matters has been the agency of choice for companies like Bose and Sharp to launch new technology. Coleen is a recent author, of her new book, Ultra Hi Def Marketing.
Ron Callis is the CEO of One Firefly, LLC, a digital marketing agency based out of South Florida and creator of Automation Unplugged. Founded in 2007, One Firefly has quickly became the leading marketing firm specializing in the integrated technology and security space. The One Firefly team work hard to create innovative solutions to help Integrators boost their online presence, such as the elite website solution, Mercury Pro.