Dionne Barlow has an extensive and highly respectable career in B2B marketing, much of which she has spent doing fantastic work for Stone Group, where she is currently Director of Marketing, Ecommerce & Partner Management. We caught up with Dionne to find out about Stone’s IT asset disposal (ITAD) service, and the award-winning app she recently helped build and launch to aid customers in their e-waste and sustainability journey.
Hi Dionne, could you sum up your role in one sentence?
I’m responsible for the Stone brand across all markets, and for generating demand for our very hungry sales force.
I love the role; the culture is just fantastic here in terms of teamwork. There’s a really strong alignment between the marketing and sales teams. I think in part that is owing to the collaborative environment that we have. Marketing and sales are both highly regarded and have a strong symbiotic relationship.
Why has ITAD become such an important part of the Stone portfolio?
With the global sustainability agenda there’s an increasing focus on ITAD – ensuring organisations consider the full lifecycle of their IT equipment. However, this isn’t a recent thing for Stone. We’ve been providing ITAD services for many years and actually moved headquarters back in 2010 enabling us to accommodate a growing onsite ITAD business. We felt so strongly about the need to minimise e-waste and the benefits this can give our customers that we decided to implement our own in-house facility, whilst competitors usually outsource these services, at best. Stone wanted to ensure that as well as putting technology into the market, we were responsible for securely disposing of it. I think we have certainly led the way in this field and have always felt extremely strongly about it.
So Stone was quite pioneering at the time?
Absolutely, and no-one else has really followed suit in the same way. Stone is the only manufacturer and value-added reseller in the UK with its own on-site, fully accredited, recycling facility. That’s not to say that other resellers don’t outsource their IT asset disposal, but it was important to us that we owned the process and we knew we were taking responsibility for what happens to the technology.
How has Stone’s IT asset disposal service evolved in the last decade, alongside customers’ expectations?
It’s evolved and expanded significantly; we offer on-site data shredding now for example, where we go to the customer and provide the service at their business premises. Right from the start we’ve used the latest technology, certainly in areas like data wiping, because data erasure is such an important aspect, especially since the introduction of GDPR. Ultimately, what’s evolved more than anything is how customers are expecting IT asset disposal to be available as standard. It’s becoming increasingly popular as organisations think “we should be doing more” – many are better educated on what they can and should do with redundant IT. Also, our new ‘Stone 360,’ app, allows a customer to book an IT disposal collection without even needing to access our website, and amongst other features, send them notifications as to when their collection is due. On top of this, we’re now planting trees on behalf of our customers using the app, in partnership with the National Forest. Many customers are now actively pursuing the opportunity to give back to the environment through Stone.
What drove the decision to create an app to support the service?
It was customer experience more than anything. We’re all consumers, and we’re all used to using apps in our personal lives, so why not one for IT asset disposal? There’s also been huge growth in the use of B2B apps. We felt it was worth the investment to make it as easy as possible for our customers to recycle, and benefit as a result. Another factor was enabling customers to see how they were helping the environment more instantly, via the National Forest. For everything that gets recycled through Stone, a donation is made either directly towards planting trees, or towards woodland management, improving biodiversity. It’s a fantastic charity.
For other B2B marketing specialists out there who might be considering app development, what approach did you take and what role did marketing play?
Marketing was involved right from the start because this was about mapping out the customer’s IT asset disposal journey and making sure that the customer experience was improved as a result. This allowed us to determine the value we’d get from investment in the app. We took a broad view of possible features and functions, as well as the existing customer engagement process to determine how we could improve that for them.
Even simple things like being asked repeatedly to enter your details on the website to book a collection, whereas with an app, once registered, all details are saved. Helping to scope out the app was important to add value for customers. We always offer rebates based on fair market value of the items that we collect but we’ve even improved on that with Stone 360, as users of the app can ‘boost’ their rebate by l 20% to spend towards new environmentally friendly kit with greater energy saving benefits. Of course, beyond how the customers could benefit from the app itself, the branding and design was important as it needed to be in line with our new ‘greener’ look and feel.
Were there any challenges to overcome in terms of inception to launch of the app?
Initially, the challenge was deciding what was going to be in the first release out of all the wonderful potential features. We were keen to get the app live in 2020, which we succeeded in doing, but that meant keeping focused. There’s always some compromise as to features and functionality, versus time and budget. This was challenging because we wanted to ensure an amazing customer experience right from the word ‘go.’ However, everything we’d hoped for in advance was present in the first release. And now we’re just looking forward to the second!
What approach was taken when it came to communications around the launch, and what was important about it?
We knew this was going to be big and, judging from the success we have had so far, we evidently didn’t underestimate that. Nobody else in the industry has done this, so it was a case of making sure that all communication conveyed clearly that Stone was leading the way. From a B2B PR perspective, we definitely thought it was newsworthy, meaning that our launch plan covered everything from broadcast media, which of course Skout played a huge role in, to programmatic advertising online, and customer communications. It covered the whole mix, the only thing which we were disappointed to be unable to do due to Covid, was hold a physical launch event.
I guess a project like this is always going to be most successful when there’s a strategic imperative behind it?
Absolutely, this isn’t just something trendy for Stone. For a long time, we’ve been involved in IT asset disposal and we’ve even relocated to house an on-site facility because it’s always been an important part of our corporate social responsibility and values. The app was the next stage of that strategic journey.
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There’s been some great success since the launch of Stone 360. What are biggest milestones you’ve seen since the launch?
Well obviously, winning best app design at the UK App Awards in November is fantastic. Then being shortlisted for the Think Global award was really something else. We were up against some huge names such as Tesla, so even to be shortlisted for that was wonderful. The recognition we’ve gained from some of our strategic partners such as Microsoft and Intel have also been incredible. To be working with their sustainability teams and them running stories focused on our sustainability leadership within the IT channel has been excellent. And of course, the PR and media coverage has been brilliant in general, including national coverage.
And what’s the customer feedback been like?
The ease of use has been the best piece of feedback. The fact that customers can also report back to the rest of their organisation; that they are contributing positively towards the environment by planting trees is also great. Customers want to do their bit both as individuals and as an organisation. Our app makes this possible.
Of course, the primary focus is to support your service, but at the same time I guess are you creating a brand connection with clients, by working together to help the environment?
Yes, it really does create value for our customers. It is something they look to talk to their employees and their own customers about, which helps to increase engagement.
Finally, what one piece of advice would you give to another organisation involved in developing and launching a B2B app?
Just go big! If you’ve gone through the effort and investment of developing an app, just throw everything at it. Measure where the success comes from. But of course, success in marketing is really the sum of all parts. You must ensure all market channels are aligned and coordinated for a consistent and impactful launch.