Effective communication with employees is paramount to safety, productivity, and morale in the workplace. The Marlin Company understands this well, and provides visual communication platforms that empower companies to communicate more effectively to their employees.
The Marlin Company has in fact been a leader in workplace communications for more than 100 years. Business in Focus spoke with Frank Kenna III, President and CEO of The Marlin Company, to learn about the company’s past and present success, and how it’s adapting to the ever-changing needs of the market.
Marlin specializes in creating digital signage systems, which combine innovative technology, user-friendly software, and relevant content to help companies communicate with their employees. The company has a long track record of creating innovative communication solutions.
“To understand what we do now, it’s important to explain our history,” says Frank Kenna. The company’s first communication solutions were born in the 1920s, when a manufacturing company in Connecticut struggled to communicate vital information to employees. “The company’s management put up posters about safety issues. Workers would pay attention for a day or two, and then they’d stop noticing the posters. Management got the idea of posting news pictorials, which changed several times a week, next to safety posters, to attract the employees’ attention. It worked for the company, and others became interested in the communications program. By solving their own problem, they also created a product.”
Around 1940, the company started selling its News Center poster program to other firms, and for the next 70 years this print business was very successful all across the country.
In 2004, Marlin introduced its Electronic Communication Station™ (ECS), a digital incarnation of the program. Marlin began installing digital displays in customers’ facilities and sending its content out through those screens. The Electronic Communication Station transformed Marlin’s business, creating a new channel to deliver its content in a dynamic format while also enabling customers to post their in-house content. In December 2016, the company discontinued its print product line to become entirely digital. “The transition from print to digital was a lot of work. We really invented the products we offer, and we built them ourselves, earning many patents along the way,” says Kenna. Marlin currently has 8,000 customers at over 12,000 locations in the US and around the world.
“The hallmarks of our product are its ease of use and our content,” he says. Marlin prides itself on producing relevant, engaging content for companies across a wide range of industries. “We’re the biggest publisher of workplace content that we know of, certainly in the country and probably in the world,” says Kenna. Marlin’s content covers vital issues including safety, productivity, quality control, stress management, health & wellness, and approximately 40 other workplace topics. Many of the topics that companies need to address with their employees are common across a number of different industries, such as safety, teamwork, attendance, and morale. Marlin publishes a wealth of content on these subjects, taking the burden of content creation off of its clients so that they can focus on their core business. The company’s content reaches more than 1.5 million readers each day across dozens of industries.
The Electronic Communication Station also enables customers to post their own content, such as company announcements, employee recognition, important metrics and upcoming events. Marlin’s proprietary software is extremely user-friendly, allowing customers to upload content in any file format. The Electronic Communication Station can display Microsoft® PowerPoint presentations, Excel spreadsheets Word docs, PDFs, websites, text documents, videos and more. The combination of customer-controlled content and industry-specific content from Marlin helps drive employee engagement.
Marlin serves a diverse group of customers in numerous sectors. “We specialize in working with companies that have employees who don’t sit at desks,” says Kenna. Marlin’s customer base includes companies in manufacturing, industrial, healthcare, warehousing and distribution, hospitality, sanitation and transportation. Employees in these industries are often shift workers who can be difficult to reach on a regular basis. They spend the majority of their workday on the floor or in the field, and typically don’t have access to the company’s email system. By installing attention-grabbing display screens throughout a company’s facility, Marlin makes it possible for management to communicate effectively with these hard-to-reach employees.
Marlin recognizes that every company’s communication strategy is different, and every user of its products is unique. “One thing they all have in common is a lack of time. Whether the user is a director of safety or a human resources manager, we want them to be able to use our product without any training,” Kenna says. Marlin’s platform is designed to streamline workplace signage, requiring minimal time and effort to operate.
Marlin serves companies of all sizes across the U.S. and in many other countries, and excels at providing solutions for smaller companies and divisions of multi-nationals. “Many of our customers first buy at the local level because they have a particular communication problem at their worksite. Based on local success, it often spreads throughout the rest of the organization,” Kenna says. With the growth of search engine marketing, Marlin has discovered new ways to connect with customers who are searching for the communications solutions it provides.
With hundreds of thousands of companies in the industries it serves, Marlin sees ample opportunity for growth. As the company prepares for future growth, it is undergoing a rebranding effort to clarify the company’s identity and what makes it stand apart. “Marlin is unique within the digital signage market in that we are solely focused on the workplace. While other providers serve many markets, we remain committed to employee communications. We want to make sure all of our customers and prospects know who we are, what we stand for, and where we’re focused.” Indeed, strategic focus is key to Marlin’s success. “Given the pace of change, it’s tempting to go into many different markets, but our strategy is to focus on what we do best, which is helping employers communicate with their workforce and producing valuable, relevant content,” Kenna says.
Marlin is expanding its workforce and its capabilities in order to support the growth it’s experiencing. The company recently hired a new Chief Product and Technology Officer, as well as a new Director of Content, to lead the growth of its engineering and content teams. “We’re focused on getting software to the market faster and making our content ever more relevant,” says Kenna.
Marlin is also looking to the emergence of new technologies, including virtual reality, augmented reality, and artificial intelligence, as it develops strategies for growth. “All of those tools are going to make a huge difference for communicators. We are very excited about what that might mean in the markets we serve. My guess is that the most important for us will be augmented reality, because that will allow us to overlay what’s happening in a customer location with useful information. For anyone using real-time communications, it’s going to be a game changer. The technology is changing faster and faster, and that’s why we’re changing – so we can be on top of those trends, not following them but leading them,” Kenna says.
Marlin’s products and strategies focus on the overarching goal of solving its customers’ communication challenges. “Our culture is becoming more and more customer-focused. This relentless commitment to identifying problems and developing products to solve them is where the growth will come from.” The team is committed to listening to customers and understanding their needs, using customer surveys and other tools to gather insights. The company uses this data to prioritize development of new products. “No matter how good our products are, our customers always have new problems in communicating with their employees,” Kenna says. “We’re really committed to listening to and understanding their needs in order to stay well ahead of the market.”
Above all, The Marlin Company’s leadership and workforce are passionate about making workplaces better. “We help our customers communicate with their employees on important issues, and that’s something we’re all proud of, because it makes a difference. The content that we publish helps employees work safer, which translates into fewer injuries,” Kenna says. “It’s fun to have a growing company, but it’s even better when you’re selling something that really makes a material difference in people’s lives, and our product certainly does. That’s something that we are very proud of.”