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A Guide to Branding for Manufacturers (+5 Tips for Getting Started)

Manufacture your brand

For decades, manufacturers have focused on improving efficiency as the surest path to increasing profits. It makes sense — reduce the cost of production and expand your margins. In today’s manufacturing landscape, though, branding is becoming an increasingly relevant way to enable margin expansion from the top line. While efficiency lowers costs, a strong brand empowers manufacturers to do three things:

  1. Increase market share
  2. Increase the lifetime value of your customers
  3. Maintain (or increase) sales volumes at higher prices

The challenge is that many manufacturers (particularly B2B manufacturers) simply aren’t used to paying attention to their brand. If that’s you, you might be wondering what your brand even is — much less how to build a brand that makes a meaningful impact on your company’s financial performance.

You’ve come to the right place. Let’s start at the beginning.

What Is Manufacturing Branding?

The definition of the term “brand” comes from the branding of livestock with a mark in order to tell the difference between animals from different ranches. The word “different” is the key to understanding what industrial branding means today.

Your manufacturing brand is the sum total of everything about your company that differentiates you from the competition in your audience’s minds. It is the perception of value attached to your company that translates into customer preference, loyalty, and evangelism. That perception is formed and reinforced over every touchpoint your audience has with your brand.

The components of a manufacturing brand include:

  • Company name
  • Logo
  • Messaging framework
  • Visual identity (brand colors, shapes, photography style, etc.)
  • Personality
  • Ethos, philosophy, and/or point of view
  • Product design
  • …and more

And those components can be expressed through audience touchpoints including:

  • Website design
  • Social media presence
  • Advertising (including digital advertising)
  • Trade shows
  • Sales experience
  • Physical plant
  • Product performance
  • Product look and feel
  • …and more

Why Is Branding Important for Your Manufacturing Company?

We already mentioned that a strong brand can increase your company’s profitability by enabling you to charge more than your competitors, as well as expanding your customer base and improving customer loyalty. Now, let’s dig a little deeper into why today’s manufacturing companies should invest in building their brands — even if they operate on a B2B sales model where brand has traditionally been less relevant than more tangible considerations like cost, quality, scalability, etc.

Here are five reasons why branding is important in manufacturing:

1. Branding Makes Buying Easier

According to recent research by Gartner, 77% of B2B buyers say their last purchase was very difficult or complex. Make it easier by delivering a simple, differentiated brand story, and you have a strong advantage over the undifferentiated, unbranded hordes.

The number-one purpose of a brand is to make it easier for customers to choose you over your competitors. A brand acts as a decision-making shortcut, enabling buyers to spend less time focused on areas of parity between different manufacturers — things like features and functionality, which are easy to copy and easily commodified — and more time focused on the feeling of confidence they get when buying from a strong, well-established brand.

2. Branding Makes Marketing Cheaper and More Effective

Make your brand story simple and memorable enough, and you’ll find that your satisfied customers will repeat it and spread the word for you — which is, of course, the cheapest and most effective form of marketing. The work you put into branding will also lower the cost of your overall marketing spend by magnifying the impact of your paid advertising.

Common wisdom holds that it takes five to seven impressions for someone to remember your brand. The more consistent your brand’s messaging and visual identity are, the faster you get to those impressions and the more memorable you become. Manufacturers with a strong brand will often see lower costs per lead on their paid advertising spend because it takes fewer touchpoints to convert them. It’s also common to see an uptick in direct website traffic around digital ad campaigns, because people will remember the brands they encounter and search for them directly online after seeing an ad.

3. Branding Makes Your Manufacturing Company More Valuable — and Powerful

A strong, recognizable brand is an asset. If you just have a great product, but no brand, your company may get acquired for the value of that product — then dismantled or absorbed while the acquiring company takes control of the product. A strong brand is more likely to both command a premium on the market and to survive an acquisition intact, because of the equity it holds with existing and potential customers.

Your brand also gives you more power over the means of distribution. If you sell through distributors or retailers, you’ll be able to charge more because of the value of your brand. It will also make it easier for you to sell directly to end-users, who will seek out your brand rather than shopping around.

4. Branding Enables Manufacturers to Build Awareness and Demand

One of the common challenges manufacturing companies bring to our team is a lack of awareness in the market. In some cases, that means potential customers are aware of a need for manufactured solutions, but not aware of the specific company in question. In other cases, a manufacturer might find that their ideal audience isn’t yet aware of the challenges their products and solutions address.

In both cases, lack of awareness leads to lack of demand. And in both cases a strong brand lays the foundation for successful awareness and demand-generation marketing efforts. This goes back to the core principles of branding: simplicity, memorability, and differentiation. By making your brand simple and memorable, you set your company up to build awareness through marketing. And by clearly differentiating your manufacturing brand from the competition, you can generate demand for your products and solutions.

5. Branding Acts as a North Star for Company Growth and Product Line Expansion

When manufacturing companies consider their brand, they usually focus on its impact on their customers and their bottom line. But there is another aspect of brand-building that can be just as important for your company — and you should keep it front-of-mind from the start. Done right, a solid brand foundation will be your litmus test for launching new products, adjusting your processes, and any number of other important decisions your company needs to make as it grows.

The most successful companies in the world ask themselves, “Is it on brand?” at practically every turn. The aim is to grow in ways that reinforce your brand rather than dilute it or confuse your customers about what you stand for. Of course, brands are subject to evolution over time. That evolution should be guided by your customers’ changing needs and attitudes, as well as the evolution of the market overall — for example, with the introduction of new technologies or disruptive competitors. By keeping the core principles of brand strategy front and center, manufacturing companies are able to innovate and adapt while retaining and even growing their brand equity over the long term.

5 Steps to Building Your Manufacturing Brand

So how do you go about building a solid brand foundation? At Vital, we have a defined process for manufacturing brands — and it starts with the most important element of your brand: your customers.

1. Know Your Audience

With all the emphasis on differentiating your brand from your competitors, it’s tempting to think that your brand is all about…well, what makes you different. And it is. But more specifically, it’s about what makes you different in a way that is meaningful to your audience.

First, what do we mean by “audience?” In branding and marketing in general, your audience includes anyone who is involved in purchasing decisions about your products or solutions. Depending on your company, you could have just one major audience type: your buyers. Or, you might have different people in different roles, from influencers to decision-makers to check-writers.

Once you define who your audience is, it’s time to create personas to help guide the branding process. Personas are semi-fictional representations of your different audience types, focusing on things that are relevant to their relationship with your company and your products. To get the information you need to create actionable personas, we recommend going straight to the source and interviewing past, current, and/or potential customers. You should also include relevant insights from internal stakeholders who have direct experience with your audience — such as your product development and sales teams.

You can learn everything you need to know about creating audience or buyer personas here!

2. Know Your Competitors

Next, take a good look at what your competitors are doing and saying. Resist the temptation to get into the weeds about small differences in messaging or the features and functionality of their products. Instead, focus on the very first things you notice about them as a brand. For example:

  • What is their unique selling proposition? This should be immediately obvious by going to their website, visiting their LinkedIn page, and/or checking out some of their digital ads. (Or secret shopping their sales team.) If it’s not obvious, they’re not a strong brand competitor, even if you do compete against them for customers.
  • What are they known for in the market? This is a question you should be able to answer quickly without any research per se — and the answer should be short and simple. Think “quality,” “innovation,” or “reliability,” rather than anything too nuanced. Even if the answer is very industry-specific, it should still only be a word or two. (For example, “Comfort” for a B2B manufacturer of athletic shoe insoles, or “Scientific” for a B2B manufacturer of nutraceutical food ingredients.) Again, if you don’t know, they probably don’t have a strong brand.
  • What do they look like? Is their logo memorable enough that you can draw a rough sketch of it without looking? What colors are associated with their brand? What style of product photography? Are they visually bold and distinctive, or more conventional?
  • What’s their personality? How do they come across in words and visual identity? Are they corporate and bland? Youthful and upbeat? Serious and dependable? Do they have a distinctive personality?

As you conduct your competitive research, look for patterns, clusters, and opportunities for brand differentiation. If everybody in your market space sounds and looks alike, that’s great news for your brand. If there’s variation, it can help to draw simple graphs to visualize your competitors’ brands on a spectrum of positioning, messaging, and personality. Then, look for “open spaces” where your brand can claim a unique place.

For example, let’s compare five of the top global food manufacturer brands. We can map where these brands fall on a spectrum of science to nature and comfort to adventure.

A matrix showing where brands fall along science vs. nature and comfort vs. adventure axes. There are no brands in the upper right quadrant.

This is by no means an exhaustive exercise, but you can see that there’s a wide open space where “nature” meets “adventure.” That position represents an opportunity for food brands who can authentically claim that position.

3. Know Yourself

Once you’ve developed audience personas and done your competitive research, it’s time for some soul-searching. Start with these questions:

  1. In as few words as possible, what makes us different and better than our competitors?
  2. How do we address our audience’s pain points in a unique way?
  3. What are the functional benefits of choosing us over our competitors? (Functional benefits are things that make your customers’ lives better, easier, etc. in practical ways.)
  4. What are the emotional benefits of choosing us over our competitors? (Emotional benefits are the way your brand and/or products enable your customers to feel — for example, confidence, relief, excitement, etc.)
  5. What is our main purpose for existing in the market? What problem do we solve, and for whom? How do we approach this problem differently from anyone else?

For a deeper dive into this step in the branding process, check out our logo and brand questionnaire.

4. Craft Your Messaging Framework

This step in the process takes creativity, empathy, and a heavy dose of writing skill. It’s one of the major components of brand strategy many manufacturers choose to partner with an agency to complete. If you want to start exploring brand messaging with your internal team, check out our guide to creating a messaging framework you’ll keep coming back to.

Here are some of the crucial components of your messaging framework you’ll want to have in place before moving onto the next step:

  • Core message, or unique value proposition (UVP)
  • Brand pillars, or the things about your manufacturing company that allow you to deliver on your UVP
  • Core values, or the guiding principles that shape how you interact with your customers and how you make important business decisions
  • Personality, or how you want to come across on a “gut level” to your audience
  • Writing style, or how your personality is expressed in writing

5. Create or Refine Your Visual Identity

Your brand’s visual identity starts with your logo, and extends through the colors, shapes, styles, fonts, etc. that you use to literally identify your brand visually. The purpose of having a strong, defined visual identity is to make your brand instantly recognizable in the marketplace.

Your visual identity should not be created in a vacuum. There’s a reason it’s step five in the process! At the very least, you have to nail your UVP and your brand personality before moving on to visual identity. If you think of your messaging framework as the way your brand expresses its personality in words, your visual identity is like the clothes you wear, the way you do your hair, and other elements of personal style.

Learn more about creating a distinctive visual identity here.

What About Your Brand Name and Logo?

Many manufacturing clients we work with already have a brand name and a logo that they like. (Although it’s not uncommon to refine or evolve the logo to fit the new brand strategy.) However, we do work with companies that are:

  • New to the market and need a brand built from the ground up, including naming and a logo.
  • Lacking brand awareness or equity in their existing brand and looking to completely rebrand, including a name change.
  • Out of date or out of step with today’s manufacturing buyers and in need of a total reset, often including a new brand name.

If you fit one of those categories, check out our guide to creating a great brand name.

How to Launch Your Manufacturing Brand

A brand is like the foundation of a house. By itself, it can’t do anything to move the needle for your company. You see the value when you launch your new branding through the full spectrum of customer touchpoints. You should also have a plan for launching internally — remember, your brand should help guide your internal teams as well.

5 Tips for Launching Your Brand

  1. Be consistent. Your new or refreshed brand should be thoroughly documented in terms of what kinds of messages and visuals are on- and off-brand. In the beginning, you should set up an extra layer of quality assurance to make sure that all your marketing and sales touch points are consistent with your brand guidelines.
  2. Keep it simple. Don’t feel like you need to communicate everything about your brand at every touchpoint. Instead, focus on one simple message at a time.
  3. Repetition is your friend. It is perfectly okay to repeat the same message multiple times across different (or even the same) touchpoints. This is how you get your audience to remember what you stand for.
  4. Test, optimize, repeat. Even the most thoughtfully crafted, thoroughly researched brand foundation can fall flat once it sees the light of day. Pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns are a great way to test different messages and visuals to see what gets the most engagement from your audience.
  5. Be patient. It can take a while for new branding to gain traction. As long as the data is pointing in the right direction, hang in there. The most successful manufacturing brands started out as small unknown companies and built their brands through time, patience, consistency, and repetition.

Channels and Platforms for Launching Your Brand

You should have a plan for rolling out your new and improved brand via these channels and platforms:

  • Email: A rebrand launch often starts with an email to existing customers. The aim of this communication is to generate excitement about the changes, while reassuring them that they can expect no disruptions in service, quality, responsiveness, etc.
  • Website: In most cases, a rebrand goes hand in hand with a website redesign. After all, your website is your “home base” online, and it needs to reflect your new brand. Check out our guide to manufacturing website design for more tips.
  • Paid digital advertising (PPC): Your advertising messages and visual assets will need to be refreshed to reflect the new branding. (And, as we mentioned, this is a great way to test brand messages.) Learn all about PPC for manufacturers here.
  • Social media: You’ll need to refresh your social media profiles, as well as creating new branded styles for both social ads and organic posts.
  • Physical plant: In some cases a rebrand calls for new signage or other changes to your physical locations.
  • Product: If you have a new name and/or logo, your product design will need to reflect this.
  • Sales process: Review your sales process to make sure your team understands the new brand messaging and that their process reinforces the unique value of your brand.
  • Trade show booth design: If your company attends trade shows, they are a great place to unveil new branding.
  • Miscellaneous swag: Apparel and any other branded swag are also good ways to get the new brand out in the world.

Want Help Strengthening Your Manufacturing Brand?

We’d love to have a conversation about how our brand strategy team can collaborate with you to build a strong, relevant brand that will add long-term value to your company. Get in touch to start the conversation.

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