Ask your clients what your contract manufacturing company stands for, or even what it means to them and they might politely struggle to answer. Has it ever occurred to you (say it quietly) that your brand sucks?
Who needs branding anyway?
Let’s face it, contract manufacturers (CMs) have never been household names. But then again they were never supposed to be. Consumer brands don’t like it broadcast they use third parties to make their stuff. It kills the magic, like revealing how a conjurer does their tricks.
When CM’s have hit the headlines it’s been on the rare occasions when things have gone wrong. Foxconn’s terrible treatment of their workers making Apple products in China, for example. Or the high profile recall of generic drugs made by Contract manufacturers, that dented trust in companies like Novartis in the early 2000s.
Life below the radar
CMs have, for the most part operated beneath the radar. Clients preferred it that way and their loyal suppliers have obliged, choosing instead to become the silent engines of industrial growth.
The majority of CM sales and marketing budget, then, has traditionally been focused on the outbound slog. Networking, trade fairs and the occasional email and print campaign. These were the old school tactics that once built pipelines in a known universe of customers and prospects. In all this, the task of ‘branding’ has been a secondary consideration, money spent on logos to emblazon on brochures and exhibition stands… perhaps, and not much more.
Still happy below the radar?
But the trouble is, that universe has changed. In the last twenty years contract manufacturers have been disrupted like everyone else. CM’s customers, prospects and competitors have changed, sometimes out of all recognition.
There are new threats and opportunities in the CM world that simply didn’t exist when companies first set up their sales and marketing functions, or even their websites.
A digital, on-demand culture and a global marketplace have seriously ramped up competition. CM’s have been hit by successive supply chain and energy crises. With the advent of additive manufacturing, Industry 4.0 and 5.0, customer expectations around speed and service have been transformed. Along the way, contract manfuacturers have been squeezed on price and ruthlessly commoditised.
CMs have not moved on
Yet while their world has changed, most CMs approach to sales and marketing has not.
And in a commoditised world, that matters.
Just look at the website, sales and marketing collateral in the sector and it’s the same old story, Undifferentiated, brochureware sites; blogs and social media that announce client or award wins and not much more. These companies are rarely influencing the conversation in their sector. Their brands are not speaking to the strategic, end-to-end challenges of existing and potential customers. In fact, their brands are barely speaking to their customers at all.
B2C branding reaches the parts others don’t
Meanwhile, B2C branding has become nothing short of an art form. Think of Apple in the mobile sector, Netflix in entertainment, Airbnb in travel. They’ve all managed to build compelling stories around their brands that speak to the deepest wants, needs and aspirations of an audience hungry for change. They’ve built abiding relationships with consumers. They all stand for something unique and powerful in the minds of their customers. They are selling more than tech, entertainment and holidays - they have come to represent freedom, choice and control. As a result they wield unique power in the marketplace.
Now, just imagine if your contract manufacturing company could harness a fraction of that power.
Why contract manufacturers ignore brand at their peril
As marketing expert Mark Ritson points out successful B2B brands need to occupy a special place in the minds of their customers if they are going to be successful in creating awareness and driving decision making.
“A B2B brand has to come to mind. It has to ‘be there’. It should mean and stand for certain things in the consciousness of the consumer”
The challenge for contract manufacturers is creating that sense of connection with their audience through their marketing.
Of course, we’re not talking about building the kind of personal, emotional bond Apple seeks to engender between people and their technology. Or creating tear- jerking Christmas ads like John Lewis. But contract manufacturers can create deep and powerful relationships with their target market if they position themselves effectively among the undifferentiated mass of suppliers.
How brand positioning helps you differentiate
Brand positioning is all about identifying where the sweet spot for sustainable growth lies, between your unique capabilities and the unmet needs of your customers. It is the process of identifying the central benefits of your solution, the promise you alone can make to your target customer along with supporting reasons to believe that promise.
This understanding of your brand’s unique place and purpose in the market can help you tell the stories that will win the attention of your target audience and engage with them over long and complex sales cycles.
Why brand should matter to contract manufacturers right now
Brand matters right now because contract manufacturing companies are waking up to the importance of differentiation. They are pouring money and resource into extending their services and becoming more embedded across the production cycle. They’re adding value to their customers with end-to-end design services, they’re improving supply chain transparency.
They’re offering Value Engineering solutions for their customers to save money while maintaining quality. They’re driving forward with ethical procurement and sustainability programmes that may just help their customers save the world. They have listened to their customers and have stepped up to help them with truly global challenges.
But without a powerful brand positioned as an expert guide for prospects and customers to navigate this brave new world, you could remain invisible to the buyers who matter.
Branding is no longer an exercise in dressing up. It is the fundamental expression of the unique value you bring to your customers and prospects. It’s the way you can inspire and lead in a rapidly changing marketplace. It is the way you can differentiate your offering, build trust, drive loyalty and profit.
And you ignore it at your peril.