Taking a niche product offering to market using thought leadership.
An interview with Martha Orellana about expanding your audience and turning a product offering into a luxury experience.
How do you get attention for a product that could be used by millions, but few are aware of without having a massive marketing budget?
While most people have heard of a steam shower, few would image that you could have one in your home or that people have had them for decades. Martha shares the history of MrSteam and the challenges they faced getting people to know they could have such a product in their own home. By targeting and educating architects, plumbers, and designers MrSteam was able to create a chain that not only knew about their offerings but became champions of it!
When it came to educating the professionals that would be installing and selling their products Martha went beyond information sessions or bookwork, creating elegant invitations to Camp Feelgood, hosted at high end hotels where they would not only explain the health benefits of steam showers, but spend time in them providing a luxury experience they could then speak directly to when answering questions of future clients.
Martha offers great insights into reaching new audiences and differentiating yourself from the pack by using interesting, dramatic, and meaningful tactics.
Three Key Takeaways:
- When you don’t have a massive marketing budget, solid thought leadership can allow you to punch above your weight class.
- When getting the message about your offering out, you have to target the right audience. By going after the professionals between you and your product you can educate the supply chain and create champions.
- Theatric and dramatic visuals can often help grab the audience’s attention and allow you to differentiate yourself from the competition.
If you need a strategy to bring your thought leadership to market, Thought Leadership Leverage can assist you! Contact us for more information. In addition, we can help you implement marketing, research, and sales. Let us help you so you can devote yourself to what you do best.
Join the Organizational Thought Leadership Newsletter to learn more about expanding thought leadership within your organization! This monthly newsletter is full of practical information, advice, and ideas to help you reach your organization’s thought leadership goals.
Bill Sherman How do you take an insight and turn it into an experience for your target audience? More difficult. How do you switch from an established target audience to a new audience? And finally, how do you elevate your offerings from a product to an aha? These are three of the questions that I want to explore today. And with me is Martha Orellana. She’s the VP of Sales and Marketing at Mr. Steam, which provides in-home steam shower solutions. And I want to talk with Marta about the multi-decade journey of Mr. Steen. From the time that they were selling parts to plumbers to the present day, where they are creating high end experiences and sharing their perspective. I’m Bill Sherman and you’re listening to Leveraging Thought Leadership. Ready? Let’s begin. Welcome to the show, Marta.
Martha Orellana Great to be here, Bill.
Bill Sherman So I want to explore with you the concept of taking a tangible product and turning it into not only an experience but a new way of thinking. But to do that, I have to ask you the first question. What is Mr. Steam and what is it? How does it work?
Martha Orellana Well, that’s I guess that’s a really good question. The first question is what is Mr. Steam? Mr. Steam is a company that has been around for several decades, and we are in the business of making people sweat. So some people ask me whether I work for the Internal Revenue Service or an exercise trainer, but actually we take steam showers and we make sure that they can convert a regular shower into a steam shower in someone’s private home or in a gym or a spa.
Bill Sherman Now, you’ve said that the product has been around for multiple decades. Let’s go to the origin story of this. In terms of who was this originally marketed to and how was this idea communicated to them.
Martha Orellana It was interesting because steam bathing obviously has been around for thousands of years. Right. Going back to Turkish baths.
Bill Sherman The Romans had their baths. Everybody, everybody. Yeah. Yeah.
Martha Orellana So but back in the sixties and seventies, plumbers were the first ones who actually said, Hey, you know what? We can get this shower that we’re doing. And I know that we have a heating something box of some sort that we can make it into a steam shower. So really our first customers turned out to be plumbers because they’re the ones that were doing the installation. And if you can imagine a hot water heater, you can imagine the installation requirements for a steam generator, which you can put anywhere near the shower and create that environment.
Bill Sherman Which makes sense. I mean, obviously from an experience perspective, if you have the water, you have some heat, off you go. But that’s not thought leadership and that’s not an experience. And we’re on a thought leadership podcast. So I want to say and ask the question, how did this evolve and what is the journey that you went on as an organization?
Martha Orellana Well, it really starts with education. It really starts with letting people know that this is available, Number one. That’s been the biggest challenge that we had. People don’t realize that they can actually have a steam shower in their home. They can have a whole spy experience. So how do you do that? How do you get the message out to millions of people without having millions of dollars in your budget? Right. That’s not all that we all have. And you really have to be targeted. And the way we really targeted the education is we went to the designers because it the people that are creating or remodeling or building a new home, they’re going to be working with a with a designer. They’re going to be working with an architect. So you develop new courses, you reach out to to the different groups, the asides, the ISDS, the all the different letters that you can and you and you develop training programs for them that will allow them to to to get them. But more importantly, I think you have to take the mindset of the designer and the architect and say, Hey, have you ever done a steam shower? Have you ever been in a steam room? And do you know how simple it is to get that to your customer? So the idea really is experiential. Get them to try it, get them to see the benefit, and then get them to be our champions in the process.
Bill Sherman So that process of targeting people differently. Right. And going from the plumber who would be doing the install to looking and saying, who’s talking to the end user who needs to make this idea visible and available to them? You moved along the value chain, but you also moved along the experience chain as well.
Martha Orellana Absolutely. And if you look at it’s I don’t even see it as a chain. I see it as a pyramid because then you have so many people involved in this. You have the showroom, people that are selling the product, right? Then you have the designers and you have the architects is putting the plans together and you have the plumber, the contractor, and it really becomes a journey that you go through. And at each of these touchpoints you have to identify, all right, who’s going to not know about this and how do I get information to them in the best possible manner? Right. So we’ve done in the last few years, we’ve done tons of videos, we’ve done a lot of PowerPoints, we’ve done actual camps and we call it camp. Feel good, right? So we actually take people into a nice high end spa and we do a training for a couple of hours in in there, one of the board rooms. And then we actually take a minute to experience what steam is like. And then we discuss the various possibilities, like, what do you need this? Why is this why is the ceiling high? Why is the steam located on the floor? What exactly what you need to do to make this happen, but not just in a commercial setting, but in a residential setting. So at each point in time, you actually have to have a contact that you go through and hit that, hit that plumber, hit that design or hit the showroom person and leave them with that experience.
Bill Sherman So I want to stay on this concept of education and. From a marketing perspective, a lot of people will say, Hey, we need to make people aware that we exist as a brand or as an organization as a company. You’re moving one step beforehand and saying, Hey, let’s talk about category. Let’s talk about this as an experience available in a home build or home remodel. Right.
Martha Orellana And I remember being in the nineties and maybe 1% of people were even aware or would even put a steam in there. And that category has significantly the needle has really shifted and you’ll see a lot more people aware. Maybe 20, 30% of people are aware that they can have this in their home, maybe even 40%. If you had a steam steam shower in your home, you will definitely want it for the second home or third or fourth home that you’re building.
Bill Sherman Right. And so with that, you’ve got to step back a little bit and say, okay, we’ve got to play the long game and we’ve got to do education first rather than try to sell something that people aren’t buying.
Martha Orellana Well, unless you actually have the packets, the deep pocket to make right a total out there, I’m going to hit every market, everything with ads, with everything else. But you have to be targeted. And you said you have to have your personas. You have to have tools to be reactive. When people are interested, you have to have a great website that you lead people to, and it provides the answers. You have to have videos. You have to have a great email chain. You have to have the right people. Also, let’s not forget that you ultimately someone who’s designing or a designer who’s goes into a showroom, they want to have someone who is knowledgeable. So ultimately, the first point of contact for us is the showroom, because you’re going to wind up at a showroom deciding, okay, what vanities, what fixtures do I want, and is this person going to help me with my steam as well? So we got to be able to train them and that’s where the local reps come in handy. The training, the educations, the PowerPoint presentations that we do, the events that we do come in handy. And you start with that and everywhere along the line every year, like, okay, where are we going to expand? How can we get this to more of the masses, if you will?
Bill Sherman Absolutely. And let’s now turn to the experience and you’ve talked about that. And I think in previous conversations, you and I have talked about the difference of education without experience versus education with the experience of it. And so let’s talk about that hybrid there, because I think there’s something magical going on.
Martha Orellana So, Bill, I’m going to tell you the ABCs of X, Y, Z, and it goes on to blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Okay. And I’m going to give you a test. Blah, blah, blah. Okay, Wonderful. What did you get out of it? I got to get at. Of you.
Bill Sherman That’s right. Yeah, exactly. So this wasn’t worth the rubber chicken lunch that I signed up for?
Martha Orellana Not at all. So if we are talking about an experience where I call that edutainment, because I think someone standing there with a PowerPoint is just everybody’s doing that. It’s like I start out most of my trainings with asking people, okay, has anybody here ever experienced headaches? Has anybody experienced not sleeping? Has anybody here had acne or kids? The agony of l can’t. Are you stressed out? Did you have a bad day? Did you have traffic today? And I ask them to stand up. And then people stand up and say, okay, this they’re committed. Once you get them physically to do something, I think they’re like, okay, where is this leading? So you’re sort of leading them in a way that said, okay, so can you anybody here give me an answer as to what kind of therapies would help be beneficial to really fix all of these things or enhance all of these things? And they come up with the answer, usually the right answer. And we take them into what I call the wheel of steam and they spin for a rise. So now I got their attention. We all want prizes, so they’re going to pay attention to what we do for the rest of the hour or 2 hours.
Bill Sherman But you’re also.
Martha Orellana Yeah, yeah, go ahead. Go ahead. Yeah, that’s part of what you’re talking about. I’m mixing it with part B, right? Part B comes in that we all going to the spa, we all get the robes and we all go into the steam room together. And I’m usually talking about anywhere from 6 to 10 people that we do this. And then we’re actually sitting in the steam room and we’re. And. Only thing I tell him at first is just breathe. Just breathe. So now you’re sitting in the same room with some colleagues, and you actually and I tell him, Close your eyes and just breathe. So for the first few minutes, they’re actually experiencing steam and they actually, wow, they get it. And then we talk about let’s see how the ceiling is set up. See how that. But the first few moments I just want them to experience. And if we get aromatherapy, we get a nice eucalyptus or some nice music playing. My God, they like, Wow, I can have this home and the light and the rings and the bell rings and the light goes on and they go and say, Wow. So I always go for the well.
Bill Sherman And let’s talk about that moment of recognition, because you’ve gone through this experience with many groups of people at the same time. And that leadership I describe as making the invisible visible, helping someone see an AHA that they haven’t had before. What I would ask you is sitting in that steam room watching people breathe. What signals are you looking for that they’re getting either verbally or physically? How do you read the Aha.
Martha Orellana Most of the times I read the when they come out of the steamroll is usually this is the road and they’re putting on the ropes and the faces. We actually had thought of coming up with a book called Faces of Steam as they’re coming out of the steam room. It’s like a glow that they have that they haven’t had for who knows how long. And they will always come back to you and say, Wow, that was amazing. Thank you so much. Because they took time for themselves. They took time to take care of their own wellness and then they really like, okay, how does this work? Why does this work? But the moment they come out of that steam room. And they go, Wow. I’m like, okay, that’s my reward. Because they can now understand it.
Bill Sherman Well, and it would be interesting. And I don’t know if you do this, but to take a picture of them beforehand and then the photo afterwards. Right. So they can see the visible physical change.
Martha Orellana It’s funny, Bill, we’ve been talking about this Faces of Theme. And I think you’re right. The beginning of that has to be like, all right, let’s get this done with. And that is like, oh, wow, thank you.
Bill Sherman Or you’ve got someone who’s buried in their phone and they’re hardly looking up for a photo versus their present. They’re engaged, they’re focused, they’re relaxed. All of those things, transformation and transformative.
Martha Orellana So it is about the aha moment for me, right? And when they do that, I’m like, okay, my job here is done. It is so, so rewarding.
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Bill Sherman So let’s now explore a little bit. I want to talk about the process of putting the spotlight on the idea, right? So you’ve had to elevate this conversation. And I suppose if you say, Hey, do you want a spa day that’s better than inviting people to a lecture and, you know, lunch sort of thing. But how do you put the spotlight on the idea and bring the hook in so that people say, I’m curious, I’m willing to take time out of my day to learn to investigate?
Martha Orellana Well, I think it starts with the presentation. How do you describe this? Oh, you know, just going to take you we’re going to have a training and a and then we’re going to just go steam. Well, do it in a way that is is you provide an invitation and here’s an invitation to a camp. Feel good, right? And then we’re going to you’re going to be invited to the same Regis Hotel, but you’re going to be as far or you’re going to get to the Ritz-Carlton, Mandarin Oriental. Okay. Now, I got your attention, right? You have the invite. You have this actual top of the line hotel or spa, and then you’re saying this is interesting. And then you tell them, well, this is going to be really life changing for some people. It could be I help you with your respiratory health. It could help you with your skin care. It could help you with your physical overall wellness, your well-being. And why would you want to take and I’ve never had anybody say no, by the way.
Bill Sherman Well, and there’s a theatrical component, as you just described this, going to sending an invitation and really treating someone as a guest rather than, okay, we’re making a presentation and you’re going to learn about this and we’re going to try and sell you along the way.
Martha Orellana Yes. So, you know, we are a niche product and that’s what I we’re not everybody has to have, you know, a faucet or a toilet, Right. So everybody get has to have a steam bed unless they’ve been through this camp. And then they understand the symbolism as to what it is. What is your health? What is your family’s health worth? So if you make that switch, if you start thinking about it, of course you have to have it. You know what? It’s not going to cost you millions of dollars. What is your health worth? You know, how much money do we spend in products throughout the year for your skin, Right. For your allergies. Right. So it goes on and on and on. I actually we have one of our partners. He is Dr. Feelgood. So he comes in dressed as a doctor and is a steam therapist. So on his lab coat. And then he has the medicine bag and he actually says, okay, I have all these products. And he starts putting the allergies medicines, he starts throwing the skincare products out. There’s this cost probably a few thousand, a couple thousand dollars a year. How about if I tell you that for less than that, you can start for a basic steam bath and you can have this in the privacy of your home every day. A People go crazy with that. So I think it’s also theatrics. I think that helps visuals help. So whatever products that that that you do have or whatever services you have, if you can just differentiate yourself from the pack by doing something. Interesting, dramatic and meaning you can just bring a clown and that’s not going to do it. But you have to be something that is that pertains to what your product or your services are. And it’s significant and it actually carries the right message.
Bill Sherman So I want to ask you a question. How did you come into the world of telling these stories and sharing ideas? What’s your journey and what are the threads that you pull on that help make you more effective at what you do?
Martha Orellana Well, that’s interesting. I was working through a while. I was going to college and I started working for this company that was making steam things steam irons in boilers. And they had this little thing called Mr. Steam on the side, and I never left it, so I just stayed there. And I guess it started with a customer service journey. I was customer service manager for a little bit and that put me in touch with customers and what their journey and their pain points were. And then I started working. I was in charge of developing Mr. Steam, and then I started working with reps and designers and each one of my understanding of their needs, their plight, I think is just about understanding where they’re at and just putting the pieces together and saying, okay, so we do this right, then this will happen. And then if this one needs that, I can make this. So it’s really it’s like building a puzzle and ultimately say, okay, and that’s why I feel good. Ink is a secondary name to the company because everything that we do, I really imbued with feeling good is the packaging, right? Does it feel good to look at? Right. I mean, we can all learn from Apple the Magnificent and the packaging. You look at it and you just want to look at it and you want to open it because so much fun. So I really wanted us to have that kind of input throughout everything that we did and talking to designers and, you know, just learning and inquiring and talking to people and just being curious as to what makes you tick what and asking them, what can I do to make it better? How would I help you if you were in my shoes? What would you do? So there’s a lot of intelligent people out there who are living it and you just have to get the information from them. So my journey began from customer service to sales to marketing.
Bill Sherman And that’s and really, as I hear that journey as well, this has become as much a passion for you. As you said, you’ve spent an entire career here, right? Yeah. And I hear it in your voice and we’re recording this on video. I see it in your eye just that you could talk about this not only today, but tomorrow and the next day. And you’re not going to be tired, Right?
Martha Orellana And you know what? It’s because I truly believe it. And when I first started doing this, one of the things I had to do was to fly to Mexico for a trade show. And I got off the plane in Mexico. And guess what? My throat was sore and I’m like, oh, I’m going to be I’m sick. I’m going to be really sick. I have three days of this. And that hotel happened to have steam baths. And I went down there and I stayed there for like an hour. And you know what? The next day I was fine. I had a great show. And I said, then this thing really works. So I want to bring this to everybody. And honestly, I think that that’s what really just sort of gave me the passion to say, Wow, this is really good stuff. You know, I could sell you a nice, wonderful cup, right? It is what it is. But I can walk into any show room and ask people. And I have I said I always say, listen, here’s $100. If you can name any other product in this showroom that can give you 25 benefits. We’ve actually come up on our website with over 40 benefits associated with CBT, but I haven’t given that $100 away yet. So.
Bill Sherman So as we begin to wrap up and I’ve loved the stories and the examples, I want you to pause and think back to the time of when you were just starting with Mr. Steve Martha. And I want to ask you this question. What advice would you give your younger self in being able to share ideas, to tell stories and really open people’s eyes to something they may not be thinking about? And the reason I ask that is because a number of our listeners are probably earlier in their career. So I’m asking you what advice you tell your younger self with a lot of people eavesdropping in.
Martha Orellana I would say ask a lot of questions. I think people are intimidated. Sometimes they think they should know stuff and they hear something, but they’re not quite sure what it is. Just ask, because most people in the room will probably feel the same way, but someone’s got to raise their hand to say, No, I really don’t fully understand that. Tell me about that. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I think that there is no such thing as dumb questions. I think just dumb answers that people are trying to make up. But if you start asking questions and I think that was part of my journey is ask questions and people will be happy to tell you and explain things to you. Most people don’t be afraid because no one knows everything, right? You just have to go on and keep saying, Yeah, why? And challenge the status quo. God knows I have. And any time people say, Well, we don’t do it like that, you know that you’re probably doing the right thing by asking, This is the way we’ve always done it. You probably need to change the way things are being done. Shake it up a little bit, ask questions, be the change.
Bill Sherman Fantastic. Martha, I want to thank you for joining us for this conversation today and sharing your journey and experience with Mr. Team as well as the leadership.
Martha Orellana Well, it’s been a pleasure, Bill. Thank you so much.
Bill Sherman If you’re interested in organizational thought leadership, then I invite you to subscribe to the OrgTL newsletter. Each month we talk about the people who create, curate and deploy thought leadership on behalf of their organizations. Go to the website. Orgtl.com and choose ‘join our newsletter’. I’ll leave a link to the website as well as my LinkedIn profile in the show notes. Thanks for listening and I look forward to hearing what you thought of the show.