Episode #17: How Micro-Marketing Put Rust-Oleum’s Glitter Paint on the Map

What does a 100-year-old chemical company know about social marketing and customer experience? A lot, actually. Rust-Oleum is using modern channels to predict color trends and micro-market to crafters and DIYers around the world. We paint the town red in today’s episode.

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All right. It’s the CXM Experience, where experience is the new brand. And as usual, I am Grad Conn, CXO at Sprinklr, and I’m here to talk about a customer story today. So the customer story I want to use today is is one of my favorites. And it’s not the usual customer story that people expect. Typically we’ll talk about Microsoft, we’ll talk about Dell, we’ll talk about Cisco. We’ll talk about Intel and McDonald’s and we’ll talk about all these really interesting brand stories… Samsung’s a huge story for us. They did some amazing things, Apple’s a huge story.

Today, I’m going to talk about a company that you probably know, but you probably don’t think about very often. And that company is a company called Rust-Oleum, which has been in business since 1921. So this company is nearly 100 years old. It’s nearly a billion dollars in revenue. And Rust-Oleum is actually a manufacturer as you probably know, of protective paints and coatings for both home and industrial use. It was founded by someone named Robert Ferguson. And in the 1920s… 1921 he was a sea captain. And what he noticed is that when fish oil spilled on rusty metal decks on boats, that stopped corrosion from spreading. So he basically created a paint that incorporated whale oil into the formula. So he used whale oil, mixed it with paint, and then used that as a way of preventing rust from spreading on boats.

Now, they don’t use whale oil anymore. Instead, today they use the tears of baby seals. No… they use baby seal oil. No, no, just kidding. No fish are harmed in the making of Rust-Oleum today. Today it’s resins derived from alkyds, polyurethanes, epoxies and latex. So it is whale and seal oil free today. But what a cool story, right?

You know, I always love these stories of invention. Slinky is like this as well. Actually stories of invention where people are not necessarily looking to start a billion dollar company, but they see something, they realize that there’s a solution, no one else saw it, which is always the cool part of it. And next thing you know, poof, here’s a new company. Here’s a new product and Rust-Oleum pretty much owns the corrosion resistance paint category. In fact, a little fun fact about Rust-Oleum, the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, which if you’ve ever been to San Francisco, you’ll notice there’s a basket hanging underneath the bridge that moves back and forth. That basket is a painting platform that essentially moves back and forth across the bridge continuously. And once they get to one end of the bridge, and they’ve painted it, they turn around and they paint the bridge all over again. The Golden Gate Bridge is in a state of being constantly painted to protect it from this sea and salt and everything that’s there at the mouth of San Francisco Bay. And the paint that they use to paint the San Francisco bridge is… you guessed it, Sherwin Williams. I gotcha again. No, it’s Rust-Oleum, obviously. So Rust-Oleum is the paint used to do the Golden Gate Bridge, which is kind of cool, right?

So it’s a really neat company. Now, when you think about the company, Rust-Oleum, you’re essentially thinking about kind of a chemical company, right? They’re making paint, fairly industrial, it’s going to be a reasonably traditional sort of business. And you wouldn’t necessarily think, ah, these will be the leaders in modern channels. These will be the leaders in social these will be the leaders in… but they are. I actually met with the CMO at Rust-Oleum, not long ago. Pre-COVID we had an event in Chicago and she was at the dinner. Her name’s Lisa. Very nice. And we had a wonderful evening. And at one point she turned to me. And we were telling a bunch of stories and sharing a bunch of different ideas and different… McDonald’s was there, of course, because we’re in Chicago and a number of other people were there. And they’re all just sort of sharing their war stories. And she turned to me at one point and said, I’m the CMO at Rust-Oleum. And I said, Oh fantastic. Great to meet you. I’m a big Rust-Oleum fan. I’ve used it many, many times over many, many years. And she just very casually looked at me and said, You know, I literally couldn’t do my job without Sprinklr.

I was like, Wow. Okay. Tell me more. And what she did is she told me this very interesting story about targeted marketing that I had maybe not fully grokked before. So her point to me was Rust-Oleum, as an amazing company as it is, part of what makes it cool, is they are constantly inventing new types of paint, and they have a zillion SKUs. So they’ve got a lot of different SKUs out there. And she said, you know, the challenge is that I can’t afford TV advertising for any of these SKUs. None of them are big enough to support a TV budget. But somehow I have to tell people about them, particularly when they’re new.

And so the first story she told me, which I thought was pretty cool was a story about their glitter product. They had invented a paint that both comes in spray and in normal paint cans, which is glitter paint. And you put on the wall and it glitters. So I mean, really, really cool idea. They shipped it to Home Depot and their other distributors and it just sat on the shelf. And the reason it sat on the shelf is no one was specifically looking for glitter paint because it hadn’t really existed as a category and so no one was thinking I kind of get myself some more glitter paint today. This wasn’t what people were thinking about.

And so what they did is they went Sprinklr and they found all the people who had posted about glitter, particularly on Pinterest, a lot of glitter boards on Pinterest. So they were integrated with Pinterest. And so they’re looking at glitter boards looking at people to talk to about glitter, people who like glitter… because people who like glitter, like glitter a lot. And then they message those people specifically saying hey, I noticed you really like glitter. There’s new Rust-Oleum glitter paint. The stuff started flying off the shelves. So it’s a very… think of this is almost a very highly targeted way of getting to people based on their interests. And we’ve talked about this a little bit before. We talked about listen, learn, and love we talked about what makes the listen different from previous generations is that now we know what people’s identity is. And we know what their interests are. And in this case Rust-Oleum is using people’s interest to sell paint.

Another one which was I thought really interesting and has kind of a bit of a lifecycle marketing quality to it. Same example, Rust-Oleum. They have a paint that they invented called tub and tile. Now, tub and tile sounds pretty magical. So basically, tub and tile paint, get this for a second, okay, is if you’ve got a tub, which is deglazed and if you’ve ever had to reglaze a tub, it’s a horrible, messy, terrible business. Or tiles that have sort of deglazed or kind of gotten messy. To replace tiles or to replace a tub, or to reglaze… very, very hard. So tub and tile is a paint that essentially does the job of reglazing your tub or tile, hence the name: tub or tile. And does with reasonably little fuss or muss. But again, very few people are wandering the streets thinking I need me some tub and tile paint. Because who would even think that existed? Like, who would think someone have even been able to invent something like that it’s just didn’t, would never have occurred to me.

So what they did is they went in to Sprinklr again, and they found people who were talking about renovations, people who were talking about their bathrooms, people were talking about tubs, like there’s a lot of conversations like that going on out there. And they said, Hey, have you thought about tub and tile paint instead of reglazing or instead of ripping your tub out or instead of taking all your tiles out? And again, the stuff is flying off the shelves?

The last story I’ll tell you again, another Rust-Oleum story. It’s a bit tricky in the paint business. And the reason it’s tricky is that styles and colors change all the time. And some people argue — I would say I think I observed this — that because of our global footprint as humans now, styles are changing more rapidly. And new fashion spreads more rapidly around the globe because of our network connections. And so what would happen is that Rust-Oleum would make a set of paint colors based on the season, but by the time they went through the channel and got to the stores, put on the shelves, etc. tastes would have started to change again. And so what they do instead is Rust-Oleum uses Sprinklr to see what the emerging color trends are. And then they produce to the emerging trends and they’re able to be on top or slightly beating the market. As opposed to being behind, which again is, I think an amazing story.

So, you know, whenever someone says to you Well, you know, yeah, all that modern channel stuff’s cool for all the tech firms, or cool for the big consumer products firms, or cool for the big financial services firms, but you know, not for us. Remember the story of Rust-Oleum. Rust-Oleum is a company that you may not have thought of as being one of the most innovative marketing companies in the world, but it is. Rust-Oleum is one of the most innovative marketing companies in the world. They’re doing some of the most sophisticated tracking of consumer trends, some of the most interesting targeting against life cycle, and some of the most fascinating targeting against taste. And I can’t say that very often about very many companies. So kudos to Rust-Oleum, kudos to Lisa and all the work she and her team are doing. And thanks for listening. This has been the CXM Experience. Grad Conn. I will see you next time.