Lean Communication Strategy Can Bolster Marketplace Position

Leverage 'emerging renaissance in American manufacturing' opportunities

While headlines have hailed the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership (AMP) that President Barack Obama announced in June as the start of a "Renaissance in American Manufacturing," it has already triggered something of equal importance -- a national conversation about the value and strategic direction of the domestic manufacturing sector.

Some of America's most familiar manufacturing names are quickly emerging as thought leaders who set the pace for innovation. But those that have maintained laser-focus attention to enhancing their value streams are also among those best positioned to elevate their brands and voices -- and leverage incremental revenue streams that that can accompany the spotlight.

After years of looking inward, however, how does a manufacturer implement external communication initiatives without compromising performance or proprietary information? The answer lies in a lean model that unites functions; mirrors the manufacturer's approach to efficiency and effectiveness; and utilizes QC initiatives that ensure accurate information is dispensed while trade secrets are not.

The lean communication model is not confined to a vertical department. Instead, it flows across functions to identify key process improvements and new solutions that will enhance a manufacturers reputation among customers, competitors, public policy makers and industry peers.

Take, for example, the situation recently facing a North American optical media replicator. While it operated as a division of a well known global consumer brand, it struggled to compete within an industry undergoing rapid evolution as CD and DVD users sought downloadable formats more frequently.

The manufacturer was deeply involved with various R&D initiatives, but the innovation process required extensive time for testing and deployment -- time that could not be spared in gaining traction among current and potential customers.

Therefore, a lean communication strategy was devised that, by working directly with senior management, identified and prioritized immediate opportunities that could be quickly leveraged and publicly activated to support sales efforts. For example, the manufacturer had recently won major awards from two customers -- both renowned global brands and thought leaders within their industries. While the sales team had mentioned the accomplishment as a marketing point, the lean communication process prioritized it as a major milestone that could be elevated and quickly capitalized upon. A series of high-visibility banners and signs promoting the awards was developed and placed throughout the production environment.

The inexpensive tactic bolstered workplace pride among employees while simultaneously validating the manufacturer's capabilities among current and potential customers who toured the production facility. A press release announcing the awards gained news coverage in local and regional business media, as well as industry trade magazines. In addition, the manufacturer's third-party recognition was prioritized as one of several primary messages that became cornerstones to the development of a new customizable sales brochure; new sales presentations; and a new trade show presence that attracted more attention among potential customers.

Efficiency, effectiveness and prioritization are the key drivers in successfully sustaining the lean communication strategy. And dedicating an in-house or outsourced resource to determine how to activate a particular milestone or process improvement ensures opportunities to persuade a key audience are not overlooked. That resource also conducts ongoing analysis and works with executives and senior management to vet key questions:

  • What is the value of telling this story?
    • Will it support new business acquisition and business retention initiatives? Will it influence a public policy decision? Does it establish our brand presence in a growth sector?

  • Who do we want to know about this advancement?
    • A broad industry or business audience? A more narrowly defined audience of decision-makers and their influencers?

  • Who is best to tell this story to that particular audience?
    • CEO, COO, CFO, CIO, Marketing Director, or another individual? Or should it be told from "the company," with no attribution to one specific person?

  • What is the best channel to influence the audience?
    • Through business or industry news sources? Twitter or other social media sites? Brochures, presentations or other sales collateral?

  • Should we release this information at a strategic time?
    • To align with customer acquisition, customer retention, public policy or other revenue-driven initiatives?

  • Who should be part of the internal review, vetting and approval team?

With this core direction in place, the in-house or outsourced communication team then implements a series of tactical activities that delivers an influential communication product -- which might range from a library of case studies or segment-specific sales presentations to a thought-leading voice in business media or an engaging social media presence.

With a goal of consistently elevating the key differentials, achievements and innovation that drive revenue, the lean communication strategy is evaluated against short-term benchmarks and longer-term metrics that could range from an enhanced industry status to improved business development and revenue opportunities.

From 1990s start-ups that are today's Internet giants to once-fledgling products that are now renowned consumer brands, engaging in public conversation has enhanced reputations for countless companies in countless industries. Manufacturing is no different. With the right procedures and strategies deployed, all of Americas finest manufacturers -- the renowned, the renewed, and the newly discovered -- will collectively set a new dialog that moves the industry forward.

Paul Fulton, Jr. , is vice president, Public Relations, at Duffey Communications, Inc., which has served industrial, manufacturing, engineering and technology clients for 27 years.

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