Friday, May 25, 2007

The Greatest Stories Never Told

North American manufacturing is a lost cause, right?

At least that’s what I was expecting to find during a major research project we conducted for a client recently on the state of the industry. But it turns out that the dark and dreary picture painted in most media isn’t all that accurate. There are, in fact, many North American manufacturers who are doing well.

They’re employing the latest in equipment and technologies and using Lean manufacturing to control costs. They’re diversifying with new offers such as product design and project management for overseas sourcing. At the same time, they’re developing market niches ranging from product specialization (miniaturization, high tolerance) to market specialization (medical, packaging). These differentiating moves exponentially increase their value to customers.

So why aren’t we all aware of this good news? Because most manufacturers—even those who are enjoying success—aren’t telling their story. There’s some truth to the old adage, “If you don’t tell your story, no one else will.” Perhaps more accurate is, “If you don’t tell your story, no one else will tell it the way you want it told.”

If you’re a manufacturer, what’s the story being told about you? Have you identified your value proposition? And are you communicating it? Brand-based marketing communications can help you tell the story of what your business does better than the rest. Time after time, you have to tell it to employees. To customers and prospects. To the media. Don’t miss the opportunity to exploit your value proposition … and to dispel the myth that North American manufacturing is on its way out.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

1 Million Ways to Succeed

I recently took the opportunity at the Wisconsin Business & Technology Expo (sponsored by the Small Business Times) to hear Matthew May, senior advisor to the University of Toyota, offer insights from his new book, The Elegant Solution: Toyota’s Formula for Mastering Innovation.

As Toyota surpasses GM as the #1 U.S. automaker, we should all take note that Toyota implements one million new ideas a year. I’ll repeat: 1,000,000 new ideas! That’s an average of about 2,740 innovations every day!

There are a couple of key factors behind this astonishing success that are worth repeating:

  • Toyota’s people – every day, everywhere, throughout the organization – are looking for problems they can solve. Management doesn’t block them, but actively encourages these efforts. By recognizing that perfection is a pursuit and not a goal, they accept the fact that small failures (or skinning your knees as we call it at SH) are a natural part of the process.

  • Innovation The Toyota Way focuses on smaller, easy-to-implement ideas that, believe it or not, “respect the box.” In fact, “swinging for the fences” is something Toyota avoids like the plague. They reason that they can’t afford high strikeout rates in today’s highly competitive market. They also know that working within the system is important until it’s time for a new box. There’s a rhythm to change and innovation that has to fit.

May challenges business leaders to understand that innovation is not as much about new technologies as it is about opportunity and impact. We not only should expect good ideas to come from anywhere in our organization, we should also demand and reward it. In doing so, we’ll unleash the full potential of our organizations. In not doing so, we can expect the Toyotas of this world to pass us by.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

3 Media Myths We Need To Get Over

Recently, I attended a webinar that set out to bust the media myths we’ve all come to believe. Ketchum and the USC Annenberg Strategic PR Center presented survey results from a media study including 500 communications and marketing industry professionals and 1,490 adult Americans in seven major cities.

I’d like to share a few lessons from this seminar with anyone looking to get their message out in the B-to-B landscape.

Myth #1 – Traditional media is dead. After all, I’m speaking to you through a blog, right? The dominating Baby Boomer demographic still relies heavily on traditional media. Even 18-34-year-old consumers have one foot in new media and one in traditional, meaning your marketing communications plan must include a media mix for the most impact and best results.

Myth #2 – All you need is a good web site. If you build it, they will come. That may work in baseball fantasy movies, but not in corporate communications. It’s important to keep corporate sites up to date, but the amount customers rely on your site has more to do with the information they are seeking.

According to the research, a company web site ranks very high when searching for reputation/recommendation information or stock information. However, it’s ranked low among other forms of media for corporate announcements or crisis response.

Myth #3 – Fiscal calendar timing is important.
Too many companies coordinate communications around their schedules, such as the end of a quarter or fiscal year. But customers want information when they want it.

Remember to speak when your customers are listening, not just when you have something to say. Placing customer needs first will help you communicate with them when they’re open to hearing you … whether it’s a holiday season, industry event or a political debate.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Jargon be gone!

Today begins my battle against banal business-speak.

Hi, I’m Tom. I’m the new kid on the blog. It’s good to join the discussion as your copy-focused contributor. I’m looking forward to exploring what makes effective writing.

You’re meeting me while I’m in an unusually positive frame of mind, partly because it’s good to be a copywriter in general right now. Nevertheless, I’ll start things off with a bit of constructive criticism, in the form of listing a few business marketing clichés I never want to see or hear again. What’s wrong with these hackneyed bits? Their overuse bores readers. They add no meaning, only extra words. And they annoy me. So please, don’t test your audiences’ patience. Avoid:

  • Moving forward: That’s what I’m doing past any sentence with this phrase.

  • At the end of the day: The sun goes down. Get a new metaphor.

  • Think outside the box: You knew this had lost its impact when the Taco Bell folks tweaked it for their tagline.

  • Built from the ground up: Please tell me in which other order you would build it.

With all the information competing for attention these days, it’s hard enough to differentiate a company, even without getting bogged down in these same-old phrases. That’s why I’m keeping a running list of clichés to stay away from. This list to be continued …