Manufacturing and engineering companies have worked hard in recent years to build sustainability into everything they do, seeking ways to reduce environmental harm, save energy and improve product life cycles. But the UK is facing a perfect storm of widespread and rapid change, with Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic happening on top of ongoing technological and business innovations.

A new set of competitors has emerged in big tech companies and small start-ups, and there are higher expectations for both customer and employee experience. A holistic, proactive approach to every part of the business is needed, but this can be difficult to achieve within legacy frameworks that approach projects via segmentation and with a tasks-to-be-done mind-set.

Tech innovation can bring rewards and challenges. Manufacturing and engineering firms now find themselves facing competition from nimble start-ups as well as the consumer electronics and data giants like Samsung, Apple, Amazon and Google. These competitors buy in or build the tech, and are very good at selling it. Meanwhile, start-ups are offering five-year guarantees when they are barely two years old themselves. They are agile and responsive to customer demand, and market-focused rather than process-focused.

Flexing your heritage

Many manufacturing and engineering firms are moving from a B2B model to a B2B2C model, selling directly to consumers where they didn’t before. Increased profits and faster times to market are the spoils up for grabs, if companies can skilfully use the enhanced customer data that is now available. The Internet of Things and automation carry much promise for business growth, and they’re changing the way companies need to communicate about and sell their products – even if that promise isn’t always fulfilled.

But a company’s heritage, quality and technical ability just won’t protect its share of the market anymore. The question is, how do you get to the new, without losing what you have? The trust built up over decades of reliability and product excellence holds great value, and needs to be leveraged creatively to achieve success in today’s complex marketplace.

At GW+Co, we worked with lock makers Yale to move their iconic 180-year-old brand, with its famous heritage in mechanical engineering, into the digital era. A deep transformation was required, including changes to culture and governance structures as well as a strategic brand positioning for the global consumer market. We created a straightforward design system based on core principles to ensure consistent implementation of the revamped Yale brand by different local agencies and across all touch points. We conceived an interactive, practical brand training workshop, in a format that regional leaders can re-create with their own marketing teams.

Know-how and know-who

The manufacturing process tends to be approached via segmentation, and that can lead to isolation. Departments often exist in silos, particularly marketing, which can be seen as being separate from sales and product development. GW+Co developed a technique called Influencer Mapping that helps integrate marketing with sales and other business functions. It can dramatically improve marketing return on investment, boost sales productivity, and drive top-line growth.

It begins with a simplification of benefits to different stakeholders across a product’s lifecycle. In technical industries, it’s easy to get distracted by product features and lose sight of what’s important – that is, the benefits that come into play for each user group. A feature is no good unless it’s being used. Once you know the needs and motivations of influencers in the relevant area, and have a simplified picture of product benefits, you can map specific benefits to influencers at different points in their engagement with the product.

A design-led value proposition map with streamlined messaging has the power to bring people together in pursuit of a common goal. With more visibility of each other’s goals and strategic decisions, this helps unite business departments to support each other and work together more efficiently. Sales teams that are prevented from shaking hands due to Covid-19 rules are able to use this technique to solve problems, and strengthen teams in the process.

Employee experience shapes customer experience

A company’s culture permeates everything. You can’t not have one. It’s the daily lived experience of your people. But has it been designed and nurtured to serve employees as they deliver the business strategy, or is just an accumulated set of habits and management quirks? Handled in the right way, culture can be a catalyst for empowering employees, achieving strategy and growing the brand – all while delighting your customers.

The key to achieving better customer experience is better employee experience. When individual fulfilment and well-being are central to company culture and aligned with strategy, it’s better for business. At GW+Co. we bring people together, across disciplines, departments, industries and sectors. By building connections among people who don’t usually talk to each other, it’s possible to create alignment through common purpose and spark new initiatives.

Accsys came to us as a chemicals company working on the acetylation of wood for high-performance environmental sustainable construction. Their products are genuinely world-changing, but this was not the focus when presenting the business itself. We carried out extensive face-to-face interviews across all levels, from the CEO and the Board to scientific advisers, chemical engineers, R&D leaders to machine operators and administration. With this collaborative approach we helped Accsys realise its purposechanging wood to change the world – with a rebrand that everyone in the business could get behind. By approaching the project as a creative, inclusive process, we didn’t just find the solution, we built a team that will find future solutions by themselves.

Manufacturing and engineering firms trade on technical excellence, trust and heritage. Understandably, that promotes a tendency to apply mechanistic thinking to company structures and processes. But that kind of approach is increasingly out of step with contemporary conditions. A more holistic, joined-up approach is required, to align culture and marketing with strategy. That way, you can better articulate the product benefits that matter to customers, cultivate happier, more motivated employees, and focus on growing your business fairly and sustainably.

GW+Co is an award-winning creative consultancy that helps organisations thrive by aligning strategy, marketing and culture