21 min read

Serving Engineers Through Visual Search with Matt Judge

AI-enabled visual search is poised to permanently change the way engineers and end-users seek product information.

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Imagine you are a worker on an offshore oil rig and your machine goes down. You notice a part has fallen off and is broken. You need to figure out who manufactured the machine (20 years ago!), describe the part to customer service, and hopefully find a replacement. And to make matters more complicated, you don't speak the same language as the manufacturer's service department. Meanwhile, the drilling has stopped, and which has a significant monetary impact on the company. Now envision an alternate scenario where you can snap a picture of the part with your iPhone, upload it to the manufacturer's website, and within seconds identify the part and place a replacement order. This is one of many examples shared during the episode to illustrate the power of visual search for manufacturers and distributors. 

Matt Judge, VP of Sales at Vizseek, has found himself in the middle of several intersecting trends in the industrial space. Buyers have moved online for a significant portion of the buyer's journey, applying pressure on manufacturing companies to invest in their websites and digital technology across the enterprise. Artificial intelligence is more accessible and becoming the driving force behind new approaches to work smarter and more efficiently. Then you have consumer-oriented companies such as Amazon and Pinterest training all of us on the power of visual search to find solutions. 

In this episode, you'll learn more about what visual search is, where it can be applied, and how manufacturers and distributors can leverage this technology as a competitive differentiator. 




The following transcript was created by an AI Bot which has yet to learn slang words and decipher Wendy's Texas accent. While it is no substitute for watching/listening to the episode, transcripts are handy for a quick scan. Enjoy!

Imagine this, you're a farmer in the Midwest and you're on your awesome 20 year old John Deere tractor and it stops working and you noticed that a part has fallen off and you're not sure what exactly the part is or what it does or what to call it. But you know that you need that part to operate your 20 year old tractor. What do you do? Well, imagine the phone call. You call customer service and you try to describe this part.

And where do you think it might go? But you're not sure. And you could see where a pretty frustrating call might ensue. And in the meantime, you're not getting your work done. Well, now imagine a future where visual search can be applied to this problem. You could take a picture of that part with your iPhone or whatever, send it to customer service or better yet, go on to their website, submit it on the website and John Deere or whomever spits back.

Oh, it's this part. And here's where it goes. And we have X number in stock. You can order it, get it in and be up and running so much more quickly. That's just one example of the power of visual search. So today my guest works with a visual search technology company and he's here to explain what it is and how it can be applied. And I'm very excited about this as a marketer because I feel that this can give companies a means to take friction out of the buying process to serve their customers better and also be a pretty significant competitive advantage and differentiator when I think about creating a value proposition for a company that has this type of technology.

So listen in and let's get this started.

Welcome to Content Marketing, Engineered. Your source for building trust and generating demand with technical content. Here is your host, Wendy Covey.

Hi and welcome to Content Marketing, Engineered. On each episode, I'll break down an industry trend, challenge, or best practice in reaching technical audiences. You'll meet colleagues, friends and clients of mine who will stop by to share their stories. And I hope that you leave each episode feeling inspired and ready to take action. Before we jump in, I'd like to give a brief shout out to my agency. TREW Marketing Crew is a full service agency located in beautiful Austin, Texas, serving highly technical companies.

For more information, visit TREW Marketing Dotcom. And now on with our podcast. Hey, everyone, join me in welcoming Matt Judge to today's show. He is the vice president of sales at Vizseek, and he's also a business event speaker and has had a career that pretty much covers it all from being a morning show comedy writer to owning an import export business. And he speaks several languages and his work has taken him to over 25 countries. That's a lot of travel.

Welcome to the show, Matt.

Thank you. It's good to be here.

Well, you know, I love seeing you. You know, we found each other in an interesting way. You are part of the coworking group in your hometown of Indy. And it just so happens that we have a TREW marketing team member that also works at that coworking. So there you go. The power networking, right?

Absolutely. Sarah is absolutely one of my favorite people and we got to be friends working there. And she told me about TREW marketing and so impressed with your company and what you're doing. And I also know through that same coworking space. Douglas car. Oh, yes. Who you've known for a long time. Yeah. Is a digital transformation specialist. And so I actually heard his segment on your show.

Yeah. Yeah. So those of you listening, if you didn't catch it. Yeah. Douglas is part of the Martek zone, so he hosts his own podcast. And he came on the show, as you said, to talk about digital transformation. It was a great episode and actually is a nice tie in to what we'll be talking about today with Visual Search. So that would be a good adjacency to go listen to from my radio days. That was an awesome Segway.

Right. Thank you. Well, before we dove into our topic, though, I really want to hear more about what motivated you to pursue so many different paths in your career and why did you land with such an engineering centric company in Vizuete?

Legitimate question. My wife says my wife is a typo. I haven't had a career, I've had a Koreen, and so I've kind of been back and forth through everything. I started I got started on radio as a comedy writer with a morning show, a couple of morning shows in San Diego. And then I had to change careers because the radio industry collapsed in 1989. And so there was a recession. Every station lay people off and they all use that opportunity to add in new technology.

And there was just no getting back in. So the number of people in radio dropped precipitously. And I was I was out. Wow. Yeah. Yeah. And so I had wanted to take advantage of my foreign language ability. I was always interested in international trade. And so mostly the import export business that actually worked really well for about 12 years until this little thing called 9/11 came along and boom, we were out of business in eight months.

And so there's this there's nothing you can do. The international trade stopped. There's nothing you can do. So I then went to work with a company that is the management team for the Formula One race here in Indianapolis. And so I worked with the F1 and then I was a consultant to the city of Boston, where you are when the F1 left here and went there. So I've been all over the place looking. It's always fascinated me as manufacturing.

And my father was in manufacturing sales for years. I never got tired of going into factories and seeing that people are bringing brains and sweat and raw material and energy and intelligence in one into the building and sending a useful product out the other end. And I never get tired of that.

Hey, it's inspiring to watch just the innovative innovation that happens. And then how do they make that, you know, to actually come to be and how do you do it profitably and how do you do it so that it's a little bit better than the other guys. And so I never get tired of it. And amazingly enough, I was actually working out of the speakeasy, which is the coworking space where I am in Indianapolis. And I met another lady who was there and I said, so what you do?

And she said, I'm with a company software called Disick. And I looked over her shoulder and I thought it was the coolest thing I had ever seen. You could take a photograph and find two drawings and three drawings and you could use a two to different PDF and you could cross all these platforms to find things by shape. I was fascinated by it. And I talked to sort of how you do this developed. And she said, well, we're not we are CEO just suddenly died very young.

And we have there's there's no one doing business development right now. And that's how I came on board. So and I'm not a technical person. I don't come from this background, but I have the privilege of telling the story. And so I get to go out and say, look, I can save you. I can get you out of work at five o'clock. I can save you so much time during the week. So that is my privilege in my position as VP of Sales.

And then when it really gets into the weeds on the technical matters and of course I jump out of the way and there tech guys get together with our tech guys and and that's where the magic happens.

Yeah, well, and and getting to know you a bit, I know that you're very talented storyteller and that's so much of what goes into creating compelling messages and value propositions. So I see how that combination works well. So before we dove further into what this week does and what visual search is all about, I just want to it's funny. I'm looking at my notes here and it feels like a little bit of a gratuitous hashtag list. But it really is TREW that this is in the middle of all these buzzy trends right now in the engineering space.

So we already talked about digital transformation of the buyer's journey. So how do we help those buyers find what they need through digital means, whether that's, you know, on your website taking out friction and how they find products and services or how we serve them as they go to make that final selection of which vendor to choose, then you have a technology that's just this big enabler to help companies work smarter, to help them work more efficiently. And there's a lot of ramifications for manufacturing companies utilizing A.I. for marketing, for sales.

So that's such a big trend. And then here we have this growing adoption of visual search. And, you know, you had mentioned to me how Amazon and Pinterest are one of the big players in visual search. And I thought I don't I didn't even connect that. I mean, I'm on Pinterest all the time because we're renovating our house. But I didn't, like, think, oh, that's a visual search technology. So can you just, you know, step us through, like the the high level definition of what the heck is digital search and how do people use it to drive their business?

Yeah, well, maybe the easiest way is to jump back a little bit to the 1980s when everyone suddenly had computers, and so up until that point, certain people had computers and everybody else worked on typewriters and used actual filing cabinets, pieces of paper and so on in the 80s. Then people started getting the towers and then got into the 90s. Everybody had a laptop. Suddenly there was so much digital data that didn't exist before. And people discovered one of the biggest problems with that is they couldn't find things.

So they would type up a document and then they just had to hunt and peck. I remember going through DOS directories, trying to find documents and making notes and posted where it was this thing. So all the manufacturers, all the software, even hardware manufacturers started working on. Search engines in the early 90s and trying to see, OK, let's help people find documents, but that was always contained within the realm of either their computer or their network.

Yeah, Lotus Notes database is right there. Absolutely.

I saw the day and then as the Internet began to be a thing and there was data out there that people wanted to look for, not just in here. And the first search engine, external search engine was called Archi and it was developed by the University of Montreal. And that was the first thing that could go out and find things on the Web. And it was just absolutely revolutionary. Well, then people realized that this is where things were going.

And so Google came along a couple of years later. And by 2006, Google was actually a verb in the Oxford English Dictionary. That's how fast all of this happened. Yeah. So so the next problem that emerged is that people could find documents using a keyword. But what if you're trying to find something by shape? What if you know what it looks like, but you don't know what the file is called? And so that's when our CEO, Jamie Tan, he's has his Ph.D. in physics from MIT and was really a pioneer in this field, is working on this in the 90s.

How do you find things like sheep in the Ninth Ward?

Think very forward. So our company was formed in 2002. To our knowledge, we were the first company in the field of visual search. We don't know anybody doing this before. And so we continued to pioneer technology in this. And there are some great companies in this field now. But but we are doing it first. And that was really what was what was happening is that people said, OK, I know it looks like this. I think we've made this part before.

I got a caller on the line who can kind of describe it, that his English is not great and it's a 20 year old machine and a park fell off. Oh. So these are some of the problems that the people were encountering and that's the solution, that's what we are able to step in and out some other companies also.

So so let's dove into a couple of specific examples. So what what types of industries benefit from this? And can you just walk us through some specifics?

Absolutely. There are the the commercial side and the industrial side. There's a big divide between those two are sort of commercial. I guess I'm thinking more consumer and commerce for consumers. Yeah, that's a that's really what I'm thinking. Yeah. So consumers are looking for they're looking to fulfill a need or a wish. They need a pair of shoes or they need a pitchfork or they need something they're not looking for skews.

They need that pitchfork, they need that pitchfork, the compost pile isn't going to turn itself, so. So they're looking for something in a category. And so visual search used in the consumer realm for e-commerce is actually very advanced. And there's some there's some excellent companies in this field. But people don't have, for example, a specific need for a part and they don't have a lot of questions. They're just saying, I know I want this. And so we refer to those as a recommendation engine.

So it's going to go in and say, oh, you need a pair of shoes that looks like this. You might like the ones that look like this also. That's why you want to see recommendations on the page, because it's now it's moved into the category of what this person is looking for based on shape or maybe a combination of shape and text.

This is feeling like Amazon all of a sudden.

Absolutely. So on the industrial side, which is really where we shine, that's that's where we are. We can do the consumer stuff. But honestly, there probably people who are better at it. If you're going to get into clothing and things like that, there are other people to do that, that we shine on the technical and industrial side. And so now someone's going, they need that exact part. So you've got somebody working on an oil rig in North Africa and he might speak a couple of Berber languages and he speaks French is good, but he doesn't speak any English.

This thing fell off. They're losing eighteen thousand dollars a day with this oil rig shutdown. Now, he's going to be on the phone with customer service for five, six hours, maybe a day, trying to identify this part because the manual disappeared ages ago. And so that is the kind of scenario that's a nightmare scenario that manufacturers run to with their equipment and consumers run into are more likely the technicians and the people in the field run into. I got to get this thing running now.

I don't know what this is called and no one else can identify it. Wow. So then when you've got technology where someone says, just take a picture of it. And now with that photograph, you can either send it to a customer service rep and they can look it up or you can drag it straight to a website and then do the search yourself. And this is where another issue comes into play. The consumer side works really well because there are lots and lots and lots of marketing photographs.

So you've got any consumer object out there. Marketing department is taking it from every angle. They may even have a 360 view. They have a spin of it. And that helps both on the sales side because it got a lot of angles that they can search from. And it also helps on the buying side, because a lot of people have looked for this. And so there's a lot of machine learning that is going on. So when the consumer uploads, they don't, of course, know the magic happening behind the scene, but the consumer drags and drops a photograph or takes it on a smartphone.

A lot of other people have done that. And so the e commerce database to quickly find the one they're looking for because it's been done many times. And the last word. Yeah, on the industrial side, the problem is there are tens of millions of industrial parks that have never been photographed, a single digital photograph of these parts anywhere in any database. And that's why with our ability them to cross platforms, we can actually take that photograph and we can find the the engineering drawing it used to create that part.

I see. So here's where you shine the complex in the complexity of trying to find that where you're matching to a Flatt's, you know, drawing or schematic or something like that. Exactly. OK, interesting. Well, I already hear a lot of customer benefits to offering this. And that's what gets me excited as a marketer is to imagine that you can have this area of your website where people can either self serve or at least help customer service get to the answer.

But it seems to me either way, it takes a lot of friction out of the buying process and offers a pretty significant competitive advantage to that company to.

Absolutely, and the interesting thing is Europeans are way ahead of North American companies in terms of using visual search, maybe not on the consumer side, I think American companies are doing pretty well on the consumer side, certainly on the industrial technical side, both in Asia and in Europe. I I spent more time on the phone with Germany yesterday than I did with anyone in the US. So they're they're looking for this kind of technology. It's a huge competitive advantage.

We have a tier one automotive client in development and this project got upended by the pandemic. So right now it's on hold. But we'll resume it here once we can all get back together. But they provide a certain type of automotive part and they have clients to their big manufacturing company and they have clients all over the world. And what they want to do is set up their website so that any engineer in the world can drag and drop a photograph or a 3-D drawing onto their website and see, do you make anything like this?

And they will immediately bring up all the matching drawings, schematics, whatever it is that you want to return. Yeah, and it'll bring this up and they'll say, OK, these guys can already make either Arpad or something really close to it. Let's go with them.

Yeah, I and I could even see for a components manufacturer, this being a competitive advantage, going to that automotive manufacturer, for example, and say, look, we have this capability. And so even if we don't have the exact part, you can search our database and we can help you serve your customers better. So that's something that distributors as well. So, gosh, that's exciting. I'm a little bit sadly not surprised to hear that the U.S. is behind only because we see digital adoption in general is behind when it comes to industrial manufacturing companies.

And finally, I think angrily covid did was a blessing in that it helped companies start to pay attention when they couldn't go in person and have those sales visits and go to those trade shows, they started to think more digitally. And I think we've made some strides, but.

And it's almost hard to say it, but we had a record year in twenty twenty and one of the things we discovered is actually kind of funny. Just to be blunt, we had a lot of people who were working from home and suddenly had more time on their hands than they wanted. And these are people that have been saying for years, wow, that that sounds really interesting, we should test that, just don't have the bandwidth right now. Yeah, well, suddenly they have time and we got into testing because people working from home, they have more they just weren't as pressed as they were in the normal workday.

They start using it going, OK. Where you been all my life? We're and I know. So. Yeah. And the pandemic changed a lot of things for a lot of people are saying it's just not business as usual anymore. And we've got another big automotive manufacturer in the US. And what they found is that they sell through distributors. So you have to be an authorized distributor to buy this particular automotive aftermarket part. And they're finding that their customer service reps working at the counters have to have new tools because people are not coming to the counter the way they used to.

They're sending pictures or they're they're doing something else. And so that's really where we're we're seeing a lot more interest is what people are saying, OK, we can't do business the way we did before. How can Visual Search help us? There are applications in purchasing and 3D printing and we've got a huge project with the Air Force right now where we have tied together all of their 3D printing machines on different Air Force bases. And then they use visual search to say, if we made a part like this before, they can pull it up and go straight to printing rather than spend a lot of time and trial and error.

Wow. We have a big project going right now with an organization. You have over three hundred thousand people, blueprint's. And when they need to find a part, it literally might take a couple of months to identify it. They have this huge warehouse that you have to go through and find. We're now digitizing that. They're having someone digitize those. Then our software will then scan, save the shape, pull the information out of the total block, and now they can find it in seconds instead of months.

Wow. That's transformative right there.

It really is.

And it wouldn't surprise me if we get to this point where there's an expectation that this technology is in place and, you know, you hit this tipping point to where it's not just, oh, this is so cool. I prefer this vendor because they have it to oh, my gosh, you don't have this in. So I know that's what you're waiting on, that tipping point.

Absolutely. And it's honestly, it's a generational thing. And so as you've got more and more younger people coming into to Significant and Decision-Making positions in the workforce, they want they want answers with their phones. They're not going to go flip through the manual. They're used to instant answers because they have them their whole lives. I got two kids in their 20s. I get this. And so we have an interesting project going on right now in maintenance and repair.

And our client is Panasonic Energy. They make the batteries for the Tesla cars. And so they have maintenance people that are taking photographs of every single part component, whatever is in all of their machinery. And so if something breaks now, they can call it up instantly, identify that part and get the machine up and running again. Yeah. And that really a 65 year old is not going to drive that that's going to be driven by younger people coming out of the workforce saying, why are we taking so long with this?

We need answers faster.

Yeah. It reminds me also of a different episode I had with cadenas part solutions. And they do. They enable 3D drawings and so they have a lot of research related to that of how if you don't offer those 3D schematics, companies may create them themselves or go to another vendor. That does. So there's already you know, we're seeing that. Oh, you don't have that. OK, I need to look elsewhere. So it's really exciting to do.

This is a great company, by the way. That's you're going Heimbach. Did you have him on the show or was it and.

No, I had Adam back. Who is their marketing director.

No kidding. This is an outstanding company.

Yeah. Yeah. Well, so so somebody is listening and they're like, OK, that sounds kind of exciting. Like maybe I should consider this. I'm imagining it might not be a great fit for just anyone. So what are some first steps to evaluate whether or not visual search is a smart investment for a company?

Great question. I would say one of the first things that helps is if you have any metrics on how long certain business processes are taking. For example, if it's a big company and they do a lot of customer service calls and they have to find aftermarket parts and get them out, those companies usually have really good numbers are average call time is seven minutes and 20 seconds, something like that. If you've got a big engineering company, they know how long it takes them to from start to finish, how many days and hours it takes them to create an engineering part until it's signed off.

If you have those kind of numbers, look at those and then stand back and say, what if we can do this in seconds? Instead of the current time period, our service calls when we've got a technician in the field and it's taking them back and forth and back and forth on the phone trying to identify parts. What if we could get that twenty two minute service call down to a couple of minutes because it can instantly identify the part. Yeah.

So that's a really good place to start is if somebody can quantify their current business practices. Of course not everybody can, but it's going to be different from industry to industry. That's a good way to start. And just ask yourself a question. What if we could do this in seconds? What would that do to our bottom line?

Yeah, and from a marketing standpoint, to me, it's wow. If we could offer this on our website, I see this as a lead generator, as a competitive differentiator, something to support, a value proposition. So I see a lot of benefit to marketers who are working within companies using this technology. So it's pretty exciting all around. And that's why I wanted you to come on and just explain visual search. And, you know, it's so if someone wanted to see a specific example of this in action on a website, do you have a place like you URL where you can send people?

That is a pain point for me as the sales guy. We do not have any public facing sites. Right. Really all internal. So we tend to our clients tend to have protected data and high security levels. We just got the nod yesterday from a giant shipbuilding company. Well, as you can imagine, someone is building Navy ships is going to be just got layers. And yeah, you have to jump through.

Where can our listeners go to learn more about Busiek and to connect with you?

Our company name technically is Imagine Mystic's. People will stumble across that sometimes, but people go by our product name, so that's just what we go by. So it's Vizuete Vizi SDK and easy enough to find like that should come up first of search and also they can just email, just give my email address. Very simple Matt dot judge and dot com. And I can also send if someone's looking for information, I've got a list of all the companies I know of in this field that do visual search in case someone wants to compare and contrast.

Oh, some people. Any information they want.

Great. All right. Well, I guess just to wrap up, any parting advice on someone thinking about visual search?

Be prepared to explain it to your colleagues a couple of times, what I have found, and this is one of the reasons why I'm glad there are more competitors coming into this field. I spent a lot of time just explaining to people what visual searches at first. We have to get past the what the concept is and then we can look at the application. It's almost like 20 years ago. If you had to explain to somebody what an iPhone was, it just they just don't have a reference point for it.

So if someone is on an innovative marketing side going, hey, I really think there's a tool out there that could that could work for us, just be prepared for the fact you have to explain it a little bit. And I can like I said, I can send some materials that might help out, but it will it will be a game changer. I'll put it this way. We've never had anybody stop using our system once they started.

There you go. Yeah, that speaks very that's a strong, strong metric right there. Good will. I know that I appreciate you coming on the show today and just providing some education on what the heck visual searches and how it can be a differentiator for industrial companies. So this is really interesting. Thank you for your time.

My pleasure. Thanks for having me. Thanks for joining me today on content marketing engineered for show neutze, including links to resources, visit TREW Marketing Dockum podcast. While there you can subscribe to our blog, Inari newsletter and order a copy of my book, Content Marketing Engineer. Also, I would love your reviews on this podcast, so please, when you get a chance, subscribe and let me review on your favorite podcast subscription platform. Thanks and have a great day.