“Marketing That Delivers Intentional Messages To Resonate With Customers Creates The Secret Sauce For Mouser”

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After graduating from Penn State University with a degree in business logistics, Kevin Hess never imagined reaching the top echelons of technical marketing at Mouser Electronics, a Top 10 Global Distributor of Electronic Components. But as he puts it, “I’ve learned to love it.” In a recent interview with EFY, Hess, who is senior vice president of marketing at the global authorised semiconductor distributor, opens up about Mouser, marketing and more. Here are some excerpts from the interview.


Q. In your opinion, how has marketing changed over the years, especially with the advent of online advertising?

A. Over the last 10 years, marketing has really turned digital and into smart marketing, where we are able to provide relevant content to our customers. Moreover, you can better measure marketing now—whether it converted to a sale, and how many clicks you’re getting. If it’s an online ad, you can see how many impressions and how much traffic is driven. Another aspect is the growth of localised marketing, for which we now have many local teams throughout India, Asia, and Europe.

Q. Please elaborate on the local marketing aspect.

A. Sitting in Texas, I might not be the best person to communicate with a customer in India. I’m not familiar with their culture and interests. So, we have teams in Bangalore who specialise in marketing and service that meet the needs of customers in India. Likewise, we have teams throughout Asia and Europe that perform the same roles for customers in those areas. We believe you can’t do marketing the same way in every country; you must connect with people to know what they need.

Q. How has marketing at Mouser evolved during this period?

A. The marketing that we do is intentional; that is, we want to put products and resources in front of engineers to help them do their jobs. If we know they’re a wireless engineer, or they’re interested in semiconductors, or they prefer a certain list of manufacturers, we want to make sure that the marketing we show them is relevant to them and helps them do their job, instead of just delivering the same message to anybody who might be interested in Mouser.

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Q. At Mouser, do you see the entire gamut, the delivery of the product, service, etc, as a part of marketing? Or are all of them different functions?

A. They are all separate but definitely related. But marketing would have nothing to talk about if not for the teams in our global distribution centre who pull and ship orders with exceptional speed and accuracy. And our sales and service teams have to be best in class: When a customer calls, they need to receive the best customer service experience they’ve ever had. Our website must also be the best or we would have no place to send customers. And we also have many people behind the scenes to support our 650,000+ customers worldwide, transacting in different languages, currencies, and time zones. And if it weren’t for our products team ensuring we have inventory from leading manufacturers on the shelf, we would have nothing to talk about. So, marketing is the vehicle to talk about all these teams who do such impressive work.

Q. Are the marketing teams becoming more techie?

A. Oh yes! By the very nature of our business, part of our role in marketing is to educate the engineers and buyers about new technologies and new products launched, giving them a sneak peek into the latest trends and upcoming tech. And that requires engineers who know marketing. With an avenue like marketing emails, it’s all about data and metrics. It’s all about knowing what the customers are looking for and being able to deliver a customised message. So yes, marketing is turning techie. It’s turning into people who are smart, understand data and can make adjustments based on what the data is telling us. We are constantly evaluating and assessing to continue structuring the perfect team.

Q. How do you see the role of traditional creative people like copywriters? Are they now rendering a supporting function to the techies who have become the drivers handling the tools?

A. I truly believe in teamwork. So, to me, when you have more technical people coming up with ideas, you also need the support of the copywriters, design, and marketing automation teams in order to deliver a polished message. And then you need the marketing communications team to figure out where it can go. Otherwise, it’s just static content that doesn’t make it to everybody who might want to see it.

It has to be a combination of marketing, communications, and social media—the last of which plays a huge role throughout the world, especially to engage with younger engineers.

Q. There’s a talk about cookies being removed over a couple of years. Your take?

A. As for cookies, that really stings. Because there are a lot of sites that collect cookies and then just bombard you with whatever they want. We’re not going to do that; our marketing needs to be intentional. We want those cookies to get smarter with our marketing target, instead of trying to get intrusive with our marketing. So yes, it hurts that within the next few years, third-party cookies might get wiped out altogether. Our industry and many others will have to find other ways. We have first-party cookies on Mouser.com that follow users when they access the site. We’re able to use that intelligence with our marketing automation software. But as it gets more difficult to learn people’s interests, habits, and preferences, it’s going to be unfortunate from a marketing standpoint.

Q. How was Covid period for e-commerce players like Mouser?

A. At Mouser, we were very fortunate to weather Covid from a business standpoint, but we had a lot to go through in order to ride that wave. Within two weeks, we had to have everybody working from home—it was quite an undertaking but we were able to do it. People had to learn how to source products online and how to place orders. And one trend we did see at the beginning of the pandemic was that, all of a sudden, all these new personal accounts started to pop up. As engineers were no longer working in their offices, they were creating personal accounts with Mouser to have parts shipped. So, there was a big adjustment for many. Luckily, Mouser was already a leading e-commerce distributor. But the biggest challenge was making sure everyone had everything they needed to do their jobs completely from their homes.

Q. You were one of the drivers of establishing Mouser’s presence in Asia and in India. So, how are you seeing their evolution with respect to the overall global business of Mouser?

A. Oh, it’s a huge part of our business now. I think India is growing 25% YoY. India’s run rate hovers around 66 million this year. So, it is growing by leaps and bounds as India increases its tech design and manufacturing. And there’s so much more work for us to do in India. Asia is making a comeback this year. They’re growing at about 28-29% over last year.

Q. What’s your take on the last few months’ trend, which saw more demand than supply? Is it actually a marketer’s dream?

A. As a marketing person, I could say it was marketing that brought in all the new customers that we’ve seen in the last year and a half, but that wouldn’t be the whole truth. Because we know that having inventory was the key thing. At Mouser, we know we need to always be marketing ourselves. There’s always new technologies, products and services to talk about.

Q. What has been Mouser’s investment trend in marketing?

A. At Mouser, there’s never downtime for marketing to take time off. Every year, we continue to invest more, and we hire more people. I think our biggest advantage is having the local marketing teams throughout the world to deliver our core competency messages to our customers. There are a lot of companies that stop investing in marketing when business starts to slow down, or maybe steady out. But for us, that’s the time to invest more. Because if everybody else is pulling back, we should be out there in front of all the engineers and all the buyers.

Q. Talking about your personal background, you have a degree in logistics, and you started off in warehouse operations. How did you make the transition?

A. I did start out in the warehouse by stocking parts and pulling orders. Then I moved into different supervisory management roles within our global distribution centre. And then one day, someone came and said, “Hey, would you like to be in sales/customer service as a manager?” I had never done customer service, nor had I done sales. But I said that I’d learn to love another part of the company. So, I went into customer service. Around 2004-05, Mouser’s marketing was being done by the products team and the sales team. And this was back in the days when all you did was put ads in print publications and printed catalogs to mail to customers.

Q. So, how did this big marketing team take shape? What all did you invest your time and energy in?

A. We believed that the head of the new marketing team would take over catalogue production and advertising as well. And business expansion would also be a part of their role, which included opening our first office outside of Texas, in Singapore. So, we went ahead and created a marketing team. I didn’t know marketing, but I’ve learned to love it. And I will tell you that most of the learning on marketing is just spending time with smart people, media, and manufacturers, and understanding their expectations while simultaneously building a strong team to deliver. And we need to be nimble to do stuff quickly, to change, to add something new.

Q. What’s your secret sauce to identify the right people for the right position?

A. I try to hire people smarter than me, which isn’t very hard. But the biggest thing that I’m a proponent of is, teamwork. Also, if I bring somebody in, I expect them to be an expert in their domain. I should not have to drive everything. I’m there to support the experts and provide them with the tools to succeed. Lastly, I’ll give them my feedback, too, whether it’s good or bad. But to me, it’s giving responsibility to people with the right skill set and letting them try things, whether it fails or succeeds.

Q. Did your warehouse experience help you see various aspects of the business?

A. Yes, you said it perfectly. Because what I learned in the warehouse, by just talking to people around Mouser, gave me an understanding of not only the company’s philosophy, mission statement, and goals, but also our customer base. There are a lot of people that have a great background in B2C-type marketing or consumer-type marketing, which will not always work in our industry. If you don’t understand your customers, you will do a poor job at marketing.

Q. In some media campaigns, the platforms provide the end results as a part of the deliverables, which raises the possibility of cheating. Are you experiencing this challenge?

A. That’s a tough question to answer. I wish there wasn’t cheating going on. Do I have suspicions that it goes on? Yes, absolutely. Because some of the numbers don’t match. But it is tough to accuse a partner of doing so. We bet on relationships and partnerships with the people we work with. And we hope that the trust we have in them to bring new customers by delivering our message to their customer base is in good hands.

Q. There is also a trend of collaborating with influencers on social media. What are Mouser’s thoughts on this?

A. Yes, influencers can really help build new communities, and we are seeing traction around that. We have come across lots of influencers, who are actually the engineers and customers who prototype the samples. And their followers are increasing on a daily basis, and likewise are our subscribers. We have some third-party influencers who are not biased, but they usually unbox a product they bought from Mouser, or they use some components from Mouser in their prototypes. But more than advertising, social media has to be engaging. And globally, our social media teams are figuring out what type of content is most relevant to our audiences.


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