Customer Centric Marketing: Interview with Grede CEO, Cary Wood

Below is an edited transcription of the above interview between Mary Ann O’Brien, OBI Creative founder and CEO, and Cary Wood, CEO of Grede.

How does customer centric marketing evolve with changing market conditions?

Mary Ann O’Brien

GM announced that it’s only going to produce zero-emission vehicles by 2035. Knowing GM is a big client of Grede, what were your thoughts as the CEO of a company that produces specialty iron castings?

Cary Wood

Customer Centric Marketers Aren’t Caught Off Guard

First, it didn’t catch us by surprise, which is good. GM isn’t alone in this move to electric vehicle production. It’s the larger reality of how the markets we serve are evolving.

Firms That Revolve Around Customers are Positioned to Serve Them

Second, I began to think through how Grede is positioned to capitalize on this phenomenal opportunity.

That’s the constant question business leaders must ask:

How are we positioned to where the markets are moving?

Are we best positioned to take advantage of that shift?

Grede is a producer of iron cast products. And we have the obligation to ensure we pivot to where the market needs us to serve, because that is where opportunity exists. The reality is that lightweighting and electric vehicles occupy a space we are well-positioned to serve.

We make highly engineered products, and we serve harsh environments. We serve mission-critical needs of all the primary markets of the last several decades. Our obligation is to be sure that we aren’t a one-trick pony serving only the automotive sector.

We’re positioned beyond automotive to include some of the alternative end markets like on and off-highway commercial vehicles, agricultural and industrial machinery.

Don’t be Afraid to Shift Your Messaging to Support What Customers Want

Lightweighting is here to stay, and iron has a place. And when I use the words “highly engineered,” there’s a reason for that, because there’s a way to lightweight iron for the U.S. that electric vehicle manufacturers ultimately want.

Any reduction and dependency on internal combustion engines necessarily involves a shift to lightweighting and EV engine support. We have to be ahead of that change, and others that are coming, like the fact that heavy trucks are ultimately going to be looking for autonomous vehicle support. At Grede, we have to be thinking about how that might change what we do with iron.

And with all of those types of things, I think it’s important that we shift our messaging to support those types of expectations of the market. For us, we think it’s great that we’ve been in business for over 100 years. But we must be careful not to communicate that we’re only comfortable sticking with what we’ve traditionally done. We’re here to serve the market as it shifts now and for the next 100 years.

How do you ensure your company focuses on customer centric marketing?

Mary Ann O’Brien

How can brands ensure their messaging revolves around the customer, not just the product, but all of their customers’ needs and pain points?

Cary Wood

The benefit for Grede is that we really don’t produce a core product. We are a service provider. We are a contract manufacturer on behalf of those who have the products.

We pour metal, cast metal, finish metal, and assemble the machine for those who have the products.

We do all the things that allow those who have ultimate products, whether it be in a chassis power train, for example, to bring those products to market. Not everybody can do what we do when it comes to the types of metals that we alloy, the types of services we provide, and the engineering we provide as support. Those are unique ingredients to who we are.

But, you know, given that we are a service provider, we have to tout more about how we respond to the demands and needs of our customers upstream. If internal combustion engine dependency is reducing, well then, we’re going to see reduced demand in that end market segment. If EV is going to increase, then that’s the place where we have to naturally pivot towards.

The more reluctant we are to shift, the more of a fight we put up in trying to hang on to the traditional products and capabilities that we’ve always enjoyed, then the longer that fight goes on.

The sooner we recognize how our customers and their products are coming to market, the faster we can embrace those changes.

Share a time you had to make a courageous decision that positively impacted your business.

Mary Ann O’Brien

When we first met, I was taken aback by your resolve in taking Grede, a historical company, through a rebrand. Where did you find the courage to do that?

Cary Wood

I appreciate the word courage and what it implies, but I don’t know that I see it as being all that courageous.

I think that word can be easily mistaken for when you don’t have a choice and you have to do something quickly. So, I think, just to give a historical perspective, our business was carved away about a year and a half ago, from a larger parent company.

And, as a matter of being a part of a larger parent company, and now one of our largest customers, it was inherently in conflict with its direct competitors. But those competitors are some of our other customers. So, I think the courage, as it was referred to, or the mandate as I would say, is that we had to be very decisive in clearing the air about who we were, so we were no longer in conflict with those customers.

We had to position ourselves as to what we do and how we do it, and what our capabilities are.

The Courage to Rebrand Comes From Recognizing Market Shifts

At the same time, we had to recognize how the market was shifting. The reality that it is reducing its dependence upon traditional internal combustion and starting to shift towards alternative end markets and applications.

We had to be cognizant of what’s going on globally and what’s being offshored.

All of those ingredients enter into how we want to message, who we are, what we do, and how that represents what our customers need and are looking for.

What we’re really trying to do is understand who we are and communicate that a little bit more concisely. And in so doing, remove any doubt around the inherent conflict that existed with the previous ownership structure.

We needed to clear the air. We needed to level set. I think we needed to contemporize. And all of that is, as much as anything, what motivated us to rebrand.

Better Has No Finish Line

Mary Ann O’Brien

That’s the story of marketing. There’s always more. Better has no finish line. We’ve got to continue to provide clarity so people can comprehend it and start to live it and be it.

Are you taking your company through a rebrand? Do it the right way. Contact my agency, OBI Creative, for the expert strategy and brand development you need to move forward with confidence.


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