Manufacturers need their value chains to flow smoothly — not only in terms of operations but also in terms of brand messages. In an industry where commoditization is the norm, products and brands won’t stand out if they aren’t attached to a differentiated story.
This is important for a few reasons. Distributors are continually adding to their already packed product portfolios, making it even more challenging to stand out as the go-to product. But manufacturers are increasingly focusing on their brands to avoid falling into this commoditization trap. The more effectively their value chain partners can explain and show how they’re better and unique, the better it is for the entire manufacturing ecosystem.
How do they do this? Experience. Brands are more focused than ever on delivering an excellent customer experience to every link in the sales chain. They know that if the experience isn’t delivered well at any stage (whether that’s with an employee or a partner), then it reflects on their image — and not in a positive way.
Brand alignment pain points
The biggest hurdle to achieving alignment as a manufacturing brand is volume. With so many SKUs and product categories competing for attention, it’s hard to break through the noise to sales channel partners or keep discussions with buyers from becoming transactional.
If brands can’t make their value story stand out, their value partners won’t be able to retell that story. A massive breakdown in alignment is the result. It’s time to raise the bar in terms of how manufacturing brands support channel partners and enable them to internalize and believe in key messages rather than ask them to sift through the noise.
This isn’t easy, though. Manufacturers are using outdated tools to share their brand visions with people throughout their chains. Product catalogs are cumbersome encyclopedias instead of interesting stories. Even if they’re in a digital platform, they’re still tired ways of presenting the information.
Technology offers a better vehicle to tell brand stories. Apps and other online tools let manufacturers create product galleries and prepare personalized presentations and materials for every client. Using tools like this to communicate brand stories is a more relevant, sophisticated way to differentiate and break through the noise.
That said, the information must be curated before it’s shared. Without this important step, even the best technology won’t deliver it in a way that engages people and achieves alignment.
The importance of selling internally
Many manufacturing companies have product driven cultures. Product details and tech specs are expected to speak for themselves, but product features aren’t the same thing as a brand story. Hoping that people consider product information logically and draw their own conclusions about value only lends itself to the commoditization problem.
There is a difference between merely explaining a product to someone and trying to convince them of how great it is and why. Manufacturers should think of their stakeholders as buyers before they think of them as sellers.
The best way to do this? Don’t leave people to sort through details and figure out the value on their own. Convince them of your value in an authentic, compelling way. Instead of treating them like they have to sell your product, make them want to sell it.
Finding alignment to set your manufacturing brand apart
To achieve brand alignment and use it to propel your next product launch, follow these three steps:
1. Understand how the product fits.
Examine the people you’re asking to sell your product. How does it fit into their portfolios? Knowing what their typical conversations might sound like and how they interact with customers will go a long way, too.
As a manufacturer, you have to stop piling on with new products and recognize that you’re asking your salespeople and channel partners to pivot. This is especially true for “next generation” products, which are even harder to adapt to and learn. When you understand your audiences and know their rhythms, you help them find sensible ways to talk about your product and sell it with more conviction.
2. Gather feedback often.
Your salespeople and partners aren’t used to being asked for input on products or value propositions. So be different. Take the time to ask them how they think customers will respond to what you’re selling and how you’re selling it. Giving them a voice in the process and asking them to think through the product offering helps them think critically and examine value differently.
The old approach of handing a one-sheet full of product information to channel partners and walking away is lacking. Your partners are people, not robots. They should do more than recite memorized information. Letting them consider the value themselves and give input makes them part of the story you want them to share. They’re more likely to tell the story if they have a hand in writing it.
3. Curate your collection carefully.
Resist the temptation to put everything in a catalog or an e-book. These just create more noise and overload people with details. If you want people to digest your story and be prepared to tell it to others, don’t send them the whole library at once.
Create your brand’s equivalent of an art gallery in which the information is curated and presented in appealing ways: Include customer testimonials, simple stats, sound bites, and sales tips from salespeople. We’ve created podcasts to take the place of webinars, graphic novels to replace e-books and employee-enrichment sessions to replace traditional training. You need to capture people’s attention, so give them something they want to consume instead of a library pass.
To break the commoditization mold and stand out in a sea of manufacturing brands, driving brand alignment with your partners is key. Doing that might require changing your ways, but those adjustments could lead to a transformation that makes your value clear, your story solid and your product something your partners want to share.