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How a Legacy Adhesive Company is Embracing Digital Experience

Ellsworth Adhesives has just celebrated 45 years in business, and Jas Kaur is the brand’s marketing and digital experience manager. That’s right, there are customer experiences even in the adhesives business. I sat down with her at Ascend 2019 to find out more.

“We are a family owned company. Paul Ellsworth is our CEO, and his wife and three sons are all part of the business. We are a large, specialty chemical distributor — that’s about 80 percent of our business. The rest of our business we offer different services, for example we’re dispensing equipment manufacturers. If you need a certain robot to dispense an adhesive to your product, we can custom build that robot. We are also custom formulation manufacturers,” meaning the company can formulate new adhesives on request.

There’s also a B2C part to the portfolio: Glue Dots.

“One of our largest value ads is engineering sales representatives, our feet on the street with engineering backgrounds.” These reps can recommend the right products to meet real-life challenges.

The surprise for me, in listening to this background, is that adhesives and related products are not simply commoditized, but invite customer engagement. “You’re right. Paul Ellsworth was a visionary, and I believe he started a website before any of our competitors. Four years ago we needed to upgrade the website. That’s when my predecessor went out and found Epi. We have their CMS, and their eCommerce product.”

Previously, the website was primarily an investment in brand awareness, and an advertising tool; the products were available in-store. “Then digital and eCommerce became a focus. I was brought in as the digital experience manager to roll out customer portals. We’re witnessing history: for the first time, the millennial workforce is out running the baby boomers. Things will never be the same. What worked in the first 45 years of our success is not going to continue to work for the next 45 years. My goal is to create a foundation using these services from Episerver. AI, machine learning, product recommendations, content recommendations. We don’t have the sophistication right now to use all of it.”

A first step on the road to maturity came when Kaur realized that they weren’t targeting the right audience. The website offerings were easily navigable by knowledgeable engineers — but they weren’t using the website. Website visitors were buyers with much less technical knowledge. “I am basically the buyer persona. I have no technical background [in adhesives]. I could’t begin to find products on this site.” 

The next insight was the need for content as well as commerce on the site, designed to appeal to the broad range of personas the company wished to capture. Personas already existed, but with one gap: the internal customer. “Our inside sales team will venture out to sites to help customers, and they want to look up products. We have to build this for them too, and train them to use the site efficiently.”

With Episerver, Kaur believes Ellsworth Adhesives can take digital experience to a new level. “We’re not using a good portion of what Epi offers, but we’re setting that foundation. Content matters, but what content to serve to which persona matters, and we’re meeting customers where they are.” Some long-standing customers like to speak to their own rep on the phone; newer customers like self-service, without speaking to anyone. 

Another part of Ellsworth Adhesives’ journey relates to data. “We all own the data. It’s not just in the digital department any more. We are all data owners, so what do best practices look like? It starts with really clean data.” One predictable goal: to move from an on-prem license to the cloud (90 percent of Episerver’s new businesses are buying cloud subscriptions).  

“Wherever you are in your journey, you get the same white glove experience you got from what Paul and Patsy Ellsworth started 45 years ago. And digital is a big part of that.”

Women in Tech: how Jas Kaur found her voice

Jas Kaur also wanted to express her enthusiasm for the Women in Tech panel described in my podcast with Episerver CMO Jessica Dannemann.  “I was raving about it, because I’ve been a colored woman in the technology space my whole career. I started as a digital consultant at Accenture, actually coding with my team, doing DAM management, email template creation. I loved it, but I became a mother, and I couldn’t live that lifestyle any more where I was on 24/7 because I had deployments. It was a hard work-life balance.”

Kaur has a double IT and marketing degree. Leaving Accenture, she joined Diversey as a marketing coordinator in the healthcare space. Initially, she was responsible for digital, but grew into a broader marketing manager role. “It gave me this great taste for marketing, but I was still able to bring technology to it.” Expecting her second child, she was faced with a demand to relocate. Unable to do so, and unable to afford living on the severance package, she negotiated a remote working arrangement.

Moving from Diversey to Northwestern Mutual, “That’s where the women in technology revolution really started for me. Up until that point, I never saw myself as being different. I had never been part of a team which made it feel weird to be a woman in technology. Northwestern Mutual was starting their diversity and inclusion journey, and I started seeing that, women in technology, their voices were never reaching to the top. Who we were reporting to were white males, and there was no diversity up there. That’s when I really started using my voice, knowing I had the technical chops as well.”  While at Northwestern Mutual, she went back to school to obtain an Executive MBA from Marquette University, bringing this qualification as well as her technical and marketing skills to Ellsworth Adhesives.

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