manufacturer brand positioning

Mapping your brand strategy to sales and marketing goals.
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Introduction

For many contract manufacturers, branding has been a low-priority cosmetic activity. If you had a serviceable logo, a website that captured the range of your offerings, and a social media presence for the occasional PR push - that was enough.

But not anymore. To cut through the noise, make an impact in the market and attract the right fit leads that can grow your business, how your manufacturer brand is positioned and what it stands for in the market really matters.

What is manufacturer brand positioning? 

Manufacturer brand positioning is the strategic process of creating a unique brand identity that resonates deeply and deliberately with your target market. Put simply, it’s how you want your ideal, customers to think about you and the services you offer.

Manufacturers are often behind the curve when it comes to thinking about branding and marketing. If you’re an OEM supplying electronic components to industrial buyers, or a Contract Manufacturer selling seemingly unglamorous assembly services, you may struggle to see how a ‘fluffy’ branding exercise will be relevant to you and your future success.

This guide hopes to challenge you about the importance of differentiating your brand in the places where you traditionally operate unseen.

We hope to show you the true value of 'getting inside' your customer's heads, even in the dusty depths of the B2B industrial buying cycle:

“Positioning is not what you do to the product; it’s what you do to the mind of the prospect. It’s how you differentiate your brand."

From: “Positioning, The Battle for Your Mind”  Ries and Trout

Does a contract manufacturer have a brand?

Whether you like it or not, customers and prospects believe things about your company. They have an image in their mind about who you are and what you do (or don’t do).

Unless you position yourself effectively and take control of that image - your manufacturer brand can be whatever anyone says it is. And in the commoditised world of contract manufacturing, that’s a very dangerous place to be.

Without defining and owning it yourself, your brand risks being overlooked and undervalued by the people you need to reach.

A brand positioning strategy helps you identify the places in the market where you have a unique appeal to your customers - and then build an identity that resonates deeply with them.

Position your brand in a crowded market

The contract manufacturing sector is booming. More OEMs are looking to achieve economies of scale in procurement and production while freeing up resources to focus on new products and markets.

Yet for decades, contract manufacturers (CMs) have been positioned ‘beneath the radar’, operating as the silent engines of growth in the sector. Too often, this has left them stuck in an undifferentiated middle, part of a pack of closely matched suppliers struggling with commoditisation.

Fighting for air in the undifferentiated middle?

The risk of becoming lost in the undifferentiated middle is a well-known problem for B2C retailers, but it applies equally to contract manufacturers.

Competition in the market is intense. OEMs often have numerous manufacturing partners, they can play off each other to drive down costs and hedge their bets.

Research into the Electronic Manufacturing Service (EMS) sector by VMR has shown that retaining clients is particularly hard when the players in the marketplace all seem the same.

When they can switch rapidly and easily between suppliers, OEMs need compelling reasons to stay loyal rather than beat their partners down on price to achieve their competitive advantage.

Without a clear brand identity and value proposition, CMs can easily end up under-valued and overlooked by their most important partners.

EMS suppliers are feeling the squeeze:

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There’s so much in this market that CMs can’t control - from freak weather events destroying supply chains to currency fluctuation. But there’s one thing they can control - their brand positioning strategy.

Ultimately, where you are positioned in the market is key to being discovered by right fit leads and forming the long term partnerships that will see you thrive in the future.

  • Effective brand marketing can establish that emotional connection with your prospects and customers, which generates more loyalty, more sales and more profit.
  • Focusing on brand can help you tell a story that sets you apart from competitors and convinces the right people to work with you and continue buying from you.

Probably the most critical element of cutting through in this crowded market, then, is brand positioning – how CMs differentiate themselves in the eyes of customers and prospects to achieve sustainable growth.

What position will work for you?

Your market, your offering and your business strategy will determine the limits of where you can compete – but here are some general, and simplified examples of some brand positions you could assume.

As a contact manufacturer you may want customers to think of you as:

  • The cheapest
  • The highest quality
  • The easiest to engage
  • The most capable
  • The most efficient
  • The greenest

A perception of your manufacturer brand as the cheapest might help win more business, but it’s the fastest way to damaging price wars that only a few will survive.

Instead, work out the position where you have the greatest chance of building brand equity to maximise your growth potential.

The aim of a positioning exercise is to define where you want to be in the marketplace and ensure your ‘brand reality’ aligns with your ‘brand image’.

This position is the sweet spot where three things intersect:

  • Your customers needs
  • Your unique capabilities
  • Your competitors weaknesses

In other words, the uniquely fertile ground where you can grow.

But how can you find this sweet spot?

Understanding how to position your brand for growth is a 3 step process:

  1. Define your ideal customer profile and buyer personas
  2. Analyse your competitors' offerings
  3. Create your value proposition

Find out about the Brand Positioning Workshop

Define your Ideal Customer Profile

A customer profile is about the type of companies you want to attract. They are essential if you are looking at Account-Based Marketing (ABM) but are relevant to all B2B businesses.

You are looking to create a description of a company that has all of the qualities that would make them the best fit for the solutions you provide.

When you define a customer profile, you might look at the following characteristics:

Company Size – How big will your ideal customer be. How much revenue will they turn over and how many people will they employ?

Geography – Are there regions that are especially important to you? Are there logistical reasons that mean there is a finite area you can serve?

Legality - are their legal reasons that limit potential customers? Such as age, location, or government or regulatory restrictions?

Industry – which industries do you want to work with or perhaps have the most experience in? Which industries do you want to avoid for any reason?

Product or Service Limitations – do you have a service level agreement (SLA) with your customers to meet a specific response time? If someone needs a response quicker, can you guarantee you’ll be able to meet that demand?

This isn't a comprehensive list by any means, but it may prove a good starting point when defining your ideal customer profile. A lead needs to have these qualities to be able to buy from you. You can use this profile when qualifying leads to ensure that sales time is not wasted on leads that are not likely to buy.

Ideal customer profiles are focused on the fit of the account and don't look at the nitty-gritty of the individual buyers within that business. Once you have identified business accounts that fit your customer profile, you want to start thinking about who your sales reps are talking to and who is responsible for actually making the purchase.

Businesses that fit your ideal customer profile are comprised of these individuals who all hold different titles and have varied product/service knowledge, and levels of experience. These are the buyers you need to profile in your buyer personas.

Define your Buyer Personas

Buyer personas are profiles of the people who you need to sell to at the companies you are targeting.

You can use existing buyers’ profiles to base these on. But there are a couple of dangerous assumptions at work here. Firstly, these are the customers you have – not necessarily the ones you want – or the ones you might aspire to have. They may have got you here – to your current level of sales – but will they help you develop and grow your business?

Secondly, are they typical? It may be that you have some outliers, some customers who are unique for some reason and basing a buyer persona on them could be disastrous.

Developing a buyer persona requires a deeper level of thinking. Without the broader picture, you can't possibly know which aspects of your customers are genuinely unique to them and which elements are the ones they share with other potential clients.

It's also essential to go beyond the simple demographics to understand your prospects' challenges, fears, and aspirations. You need to identify their pain points – what do they struggle with? What elements of their weekly tasks are difficult, tedious or challenging? What other people in their world might be helping or frustrating their work?

You also need to know the answer to the big questions of brand management – what are they looking to achieve – in their job role and life generally?

Reverse-engineering buyer personas from existing customers doesn't trigger the same thought processes or the same rigorous research and evaluation – it can be useful, but only as an input into more in-depth buyer persona development.

Read the Guide to Developing and Using Buyer Personas

Conduct competitor analysis

Look around your sector. Identify who your competitors are. What do they do well? Where do their strengths lie? What do their customers value about them?

Here are a few questions to help you build a picture of your competitors current positioning in the market place and where you fit in relation to them:

  • Who are your direct and indirect competitors?Who might be a future threat?
  • What do they claim about the products and services they offer? What data do they use to prove their claims? What features or benefits do they emphasise in their messaging?
  • What marketing channels do they use? Which of their strategies appears most successful?
  • What image of their offering, their employees, and their business do they project? What do their mission, vision and values statements promise?
  • Can you work out the ideal customer profile and the buyer personas they are targeting? Why do their customers choose them? You might know because you’ve lost deals to them.
  • What do their customers say about them in business and product reviews? How does their market interact with them on social media.

Now consider where the unique strengths and weaknesses in these rival offerings lie. Where are the gaps in their armoury? Where are customers not being served well? Where are they ignoring the problems and complaints of the people they serve?

The clues to successful market positioning will lie in understanding these weaknesses and the opportunities they present to you.

Once you have understood the audience you want to address and their current choices in the marketplace, you can figure out what it is about your company and your offering that can resonate with them in their search for a contract manufacturing company.

This is your value proposition.

Create your value proposition

What specific value do you bring for your customers when they engage your contract manufacturing company? What problems and pains does your company help your customers overcome? How does your company succeed in meeting their needs where others fail?

There are lots of tools that can help you identify your customer’s fundamental needs and map them against your products and services to define your unique ‘value proposition’.

The value proposition canvas (invented by Strategzer) is a simple but powerful tool to help with this process. And it starts with creating a value map and a customer profile.

Value Proposition Canvas

Complete the value proposition canvas

1. Start with the customer

“Start from the customer and work backwards” Jeff Bezos

Understanding your customer is fundamental to any manufacturing branding strategy. And it all starts with their ‘jobs to be done’ (JTBD).

‘Jobs to be done’ are the things your customers (i.e. your buyer personas) want to achieve when they engage your business. Remember, this is about solutions, not product features. As the old adage goes people buy holes, not drills. Jobs to be done’ can be functional, social and emotional - recognising the full range of motivations that trigger a customer’s buyer's journey.

What might they look like for a contract manufacturing prospect?

‘Jobs to be done’ for an OEM

  • Deliver products on time to fulfil sales obligations
  • Keep correct components in stock to fulfil orders
  • Maintain quality levels to meet customer and regulatory requirements
  • Win more right fit clients to drive sustainable growth

Pains involved in completing their jobs

  • Cost of factory upkeep
  • Stress of managing and recruiting factory workforce
  • Maintaining adequate supply chains
  • Difficulty opening up new markets around the world

Gains that can come from completing these jobs successfully

  • Meeting more customer deadlines and quality targets
  • Protecting customers from supply chain disruption
  • Balancing production/R&D needs to meet new customer demand
  • Focus on sales and marketing drive to increase revenue

2. Fill out your value map

As you fill out this section of the canvas you can begin to map the ways your specific product alleviates identified customer pains and delivers required customer gains.

For contract manufacturers these might include the way:

  • End-to-end services help customers solve for fragmented supply chains
  • Your software offers customers transparency across the supply chain
  • Outsourcing production helps customers focus on R&D and brand building
  • Value engineering services improves product quality while reducing costs
  • DFX services help customers avoid delays in production and delivery

The completed map shows if you have a ‘good product fit’ against the needs of your ideal customers. If not, you may need to tweak and shape your offering to more perfectly answer customer needs.

When you understand your customers ‘jobs to be done’ you can see more clearly how you can position your services to speak to their specific pain points and end goals.

This is the position where you become more than just a commodity to be haggled over. It’s a place where you can represent something singular and powerful in the minds of your prospects and customers. It’s your competitive advantage.

Position your brand for growth

Armed with your competitor analysis, your customer profile and your value map you can clearly see the position in the market where you will be able to thrive. This is the place where you can avoid the dead end of price-wars with equally matched rivals - or being forced into verticals where you can’t possibly compete.

Instead this is the clear ‘blue ocean’, the place where can successfully grow your brand away from predation by competitors, confident in the value you alone can offer your customers:

Define Positioning

Now you need to convert this insight into an expression of your brand position that can underpin all your sales and marketing efforts.

Only 40% of B2B organisations said their sales reps had a ‘strong understanding’ of their company’s differentiation (source Bain).

How to write a brand positioning statement

The ‘brand positioning statement’ is a paragraph that summarises the unique value you bring to your customers, your point of differentiation, and the reasons to believe your claim.

It’s a formula that sets out your target position in the marketplace that you can share with your team and use to validate all of your branding work.

According to Graham Robertson, there are four elements that make up a brand positioning statement. It's a description of who you serve, where you operate, where you will win and why customers should believe you.

Let’s explain that a little more.

Here’s an example of a brand positioning statement for Coca-Cola created by a lead copywriter at Hubspot.

"For individuals looking for high-quality beverages, Coca-Cola offers a wide range of the most refreshing options — each creates a positive experience for customers when they enjoy a Coca-Cola brand drink. Unlike other beverage options, Coca-Cola products inspire happiness and make a positive difference in customers' lives, and the brand is intensely focused on the needs of consumers and customers."

Note that it breaks down into the simple formula outlined above describing who their target market first, their unique positioning and the evidence to support their claims.

Fill in the blanks

Brand positioning statement examples for contract manufacturers

Need some inspiration for your own brand statement?

How about this one for a fictitious medical device manufacturer who are offering a complete end-to-end service to their customers:

For medical device OEMS, Medcare is the leading end-to-end design and manufacturing partner in the UK. We overcome fragmented supply chains to bring life saving devices to market faster. In the last 10 years we have helped hundreds of medical innovators move seamlessly from ideation to production without missing a beat.

Or how about a packaging brand that is bringing unique sustainable packaging technology to a mainstream market:

For FMCG food brands looking to package their products in a cost-effective and environmentally friendly way, Wrap helps protect the planet with cutting-edge biodegradable wrapping. Our customers are leading a sustainability revolution that is actively reducing landfill and pollution.

The brand positioning statement helps everyone in your business appreciate how you are differentiated in the market-place and the unique benefit that has for customers and, even, the wider world. It contextualises your offering and tells your people why they should believe in what you do.

Document your mission, vision and values

Underpinning every great brand are the shared goals, visions and values that drive your business forward every day.

The purpose and mission of your company comes from above, but it is hard-coded into the culture through the business structures you have created to meet your goals.

“I believe that purpose and principle, clearly understood and articulated, and commonly shared, are the genetic code of any healthy organisation” - Dee Hock, founder and former CEO of Visa

Part of the positioning work is to crystallise these foundational goals into three separate statements about your mission, vision and values.

These can then become a creed for the way your people do business and the way you appear in the world.

What’s the difference between your mission, vision and value statements?

MVV
Together, these three statements convey a sense of purpose; the way your ambitions to serve your customers, change the sector or even the world, are rooted in your culture and ways of working. But they need to be more than just a collection of written statements if they’re going to mean something; they need to be shared and lived out by your brand every day.

A brand that lives its values

Think about the brand values of Patagonia (the outdoor clothing company). Here’s a company that has made its mission nothing short of an ecological crusade. Patagonia’s vision of a sustainable future, entirely informs the way it operates in the marketplace and presents itself to the world. Its billionaire founder has transferred ownership of the brand to a charitable trust dedicated to fighting climate change. It’s brand values are now embodied in its strapline:

"Earth is now our only shareholder."

Patagonia has positioned itself as a uniquely responsible manufacturer and retailer. Indeed, one of its most successful advertising campaigns asked customers “not to buy this jacket”, but instead focus on quality, repair and reuse. This tactic has seen no dip in revenues for the business!

To differentiate yourself in the industrial marketplace, your mission, vision and values should be present and alive in your business at all times. They should be foregrounded on your website, and referenced in everything from business cards to packaging. They should become part of your company culture, expressed in everything from the bonus structures you operate to the charitable work you undertake.

Just just like with Patagonia, these lived goals, missions and values can be expressed in brand personality.

Define your brand personality

In a competitive landscape where you need to differentiate from rival companies and the media customers see every day, you need a distinct brand personality – something that makes you, you.

Your brand's personality makes you different, it helps you stand out. It guides your tone of voice and the style and character of your content and marketing.

Think of your brand as a person. How do you want to be seen by your customer? What are the character traits your contract manufacturing brand can embody that will differentiate your offering in a commoditised market?

This ‘personality’ can’t be imposed from above or invented from thin air.

It needs to be the expression of the unique value you bring to your customers and what you stand for as a business. This is often referred to as your ‘brand essence’.

Brand essence is the sum of all the things your company does, all the content it produces; its culture, its people and the way it serves its customers. It’s this ‘essence’ that customers can feel in all their dealings with you - from the moment they ‘find you’. It can form the basis of an emotional connection between business and buyer that drives sales and growth.

Can you have an emotional connection with an OEM?

The idea of building an emotional connection between two corporate entities like an OEM and a third party supplier may seem strange.

“Recognising the full range of both rational and emotional factors behind business purchases—and tailoring the value proposition accordingly—is critical to avoiding the commodity trap.” - Bain, The B2B Elements of Value

But your prospects and customers need more than a logical understanding of ‘what you do’ in the market place if you’re going to lodge in their minds as an inspirational and indispensable partner.

Of course, we’re not talking about creating tear-jerking adverts like John Lewis does at Christmas time. The connection between a contract manufacturer and their client is qualitatively different, but can be no less significant.

As marketing expert Mark Ritson puts it:

“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”

A contract manufacturer can bring lots of tangible and intangible benefits to a buyer persona that elevates the relationship above the mere transactional:

  • The sense of freedom you give OEMs to focus on R&D or sales growth
  • The extra lengths your people go to ensure quality and customer satisfaction
  • The transparency that gives customers confidence in your power to deliver
  • The way your brand is committed to sustainability

For your buyer, these can be powerful reasons to admire what you do - the sense of power and purpose they impart can build a sense of incredible loyalty and trust.

Once you understand the nature of this connection, every part of your brand identity from the design of your website to the content you share - can express the unique ways you serve your customers and help solve their most pressing problems.

Build your brand narrative

Make the customer the hero of your marketing by creating content demonstrating an understanding of the tasks they need to accomplish and the ideal path they need to take to complete them.

Position yourself as the ultimate guide and authority for all steps of your buyer’s journey.

Gaining a deep understanding of the issues buyers face, their struggles, their goals and their daily grind will enable you to create unique and powerful content from their point of view.

And the key to this positioning is understanding and empowering your customer in everything you do.

Use storytelling to position your brand as a reliable guide – a trusted companion on their journey. Highlight their troubles and demonstrate how you can lead them to a better place – a better solution. Show them the benefits of the journey and explain the rewards of a successful conclusion.

Most importantly, be clear about what you do, how you can help, and the benefits they will feel. But remember, it is a story – it needs to be engaging and entertaining. Your tone of voice should be appropriate, welcoming, motivating and characterful. Your narrative needs to draw the audience in and capture their imagination from the outset. Your narrative needs to draw the audience in and capture their imagination from the outset.

Find out about the Brand Narrative Workshop

Ideal story

Build your brand identity

Design is how you build a visual brand identity that resonates with your target audience and differentiates you from your competitors.

Beyond the basics of a clear and navigable website it can express your unique character, authority, culture and approach.

Design drives brand perception; the way your customers think about you. Its visual impact can make prospects sit up and take note as they scan your website, arrive at your exhibition stand, or stop on a social post while scrolling through a LinkedIn timeline.

A joined up brand identity helps make you a consistent and recognisable fixture online and in your sector. It builds the brand awareness that every company needs to cultivate within their target audience. 

Meanwhile, every detail of your design decisions from typography, navigation and imagery can convey information about who you are and what you ‘stand for’.

The instant feelings that design evokes can help position you in the mind of your customer in different and visceral ways. Your design can show you as;

  • Authoritative, approachable, accessible
  • Iconoclastic, curious, daring
  • Friendly, open, helpful

Done well, design is the embodiment of your ‘brand essence’.

But great design can also position you to convert more digital visitors into leads and leads into sales.

Using the ‘Jobs to be done’ theory can give you a clear understanding of what your prospects and customers are looking for when they visit your website. This in turn can help you make the journeys you map out for different kinds of visitors more empathetic and more helpful.

Understanding the different reasons for website visits at each stage of the buyers journey can help you present content in uniquely powerful ways as they navigate your site. Combined with the personalisation tools available in platforms like Hubspot, you can position yourself as the ultimate guide to your prospect’s buying process, serving up the content they most need every time they visit.

Ultimately, great design positions you to attract and engage with more ‘right fit’ customers, ensuring they:

  • Understand your messaging more clearly
  • Are inspired and moved by your messaging
  • Convert into leads more quickly

Differentiate or die

For many contract manufacturers the digital marketing challenge has ended up more as an exercise in building brochure-ware, rather than branding.

Just look at the website, sales and marketing collateral in the sector and it’s the same old story, Undifferentiated, feature led sites, blogs and social media that announce client or award wins and not much more.

These brands are rarely influencing the conversation in their sector. They aren't cultivating brand loyalty, or even awareness. They aren’t 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. Or if they are, it’s in a voice they can’t recognise.

In an undifferentiated market, threatened by commodification, contract manufacturing companies risk being overlooked and ignored by the people they need to speak to most.

Without a strong value proposition and a brand identity that positions them for growth in their sector, they may never achieve the visibility that will connect them with the right-fit leads that will be key to a profitable and sustainable future.

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