The Branding Myth

There are themes that I hear from everyone when it comes to the machines, parts and the future of manufacturing. From all these things, I’ve found a common thread: We stink as communicators.

I travel around the world and get the opportunity to meet and talk with manufacturers of all shapes and sizes. At MFG.com, we witness the daily exchange of ideas around technology and commerce. In the areas that are reforming today’s manufacturing community—the Web, conferences, shows and events—I see and hear first-hand these collaborations from companies like yours. There are themes that I hear from everyone when it comes to the machines, parts and the future of manufacturing. From all these things, I’ve found a common thread: We stink as communicators.

It’s not all our fault. Our experiences with branding are limited precisely because of what we’re good at. We have not succeeded in business because we were able to turn words into music or make pictures come alive. The specifications that we have worked toward have been technical, not creative.

The experiences and examples we have to draw from come from commercials, radio, newspapers and consumer Web sites. However, there’s danger in delivering a “consumer” message to a “technical” prospect. It doesn’t match their needs. Imagine a commercial about Chiquita Bananas touting caloric content, detailed carbohydrate digestive cycles and the specific efficiencies of their “natural, protective packaging.” It might play well with engineers, but how many bananas do you think they’d sell?

We make things in a world that is built on formulae and tolerances, for people that engineer and design those things in absolutes. When we step outside our comfort zone and into the areas of marketing, promotion and branding, we often abandon that truth for the myth of flowery words and flashy graphics. It’s a space and an effort that makes us uncomfortable. Also, the results often end up convoluted and make as much sense as a supermodel trying to sell a turning center.

However, to not be aware and involved in marketing and branding is as harmful as doing it poorly. You built your reputation based on good work and delivering to your customers, and now you have to tell people about it. The key is to turn your technical expertise into telling potential customers how you will solve their problems.

Here are a couple of ideas that can help to overcome this myth and brand our companies more successfully to our elite, selective market:

It’s what you make, not what you make it with. Don’t rely on your equipment list to sell your business. Prospects tell me often that it’s easy to find suppliers with a floor full of machines; it’s what you do with them that matters most. Show pictures of parts you’ve made that display your strengths. Use short bullet points to describe what you did to make them. If you can’t show parts, show features or components that portray your prowess, while protecting proprietary products.
It’s not only about machining skills. Describe in detail what makes you a good partner. What do you do to ensure on-time delivery? What have you done to continually improve quality—not only in the parts themselves, but also in invoicing, logistics and project management? What experiences do you have in specific industries? How have your credentials (ISO, MilSpec, medical/aerospace compliance) paid off for your customers in tangible ways? Show specific examples, not generalities.
We can all do better and we should. Focusing branding efforts on pictures of your business rather than the benefits of partnering with your business not only misses the point, but it can tell a prospective customer that you don’t know what you’re doing.

Mitch Free is president and CEO of MFG.coM, Atlanta, Georgia. He can be reached at (770) 444-9686, ext. 2946 or at mfree@mfg.com.