Unlocking Your Sustainable Competitive Advantage

Manufacturer's Competitive Advantage

As the leader or marketing mastermind of a manufacturer, one of your duties is to defend the company from external threats, similar to how a moat protected a castle.

It was the first line of defense against invaders. In those days the enemies were few and easily identified. In modern times they chip away at the walls from all directions. Some are actual competitors (other manufacturers), some are category-changers (i.e. Uber), and some are existential (how we think about our place in the industry or in our customer’s lives). Now that competition is a way of life, the sustainability of your moat i.e. your true competitive advantage will make you untouchable or vulnerable to invasion.

Bigger Isn’t Always Better

Back when your company was started, manufacturers had few competitors. A game-changing competitive advantage was simply the void you filled with an exceptional new product. It didn’t even have to be the cheapest—it was considered the best, and was typically the “only.” Revenue increased and the company grew. But, money and scale aren’t always sustainable in a 21st-century overly crowded marketplace. Bigger isn’t always better i.e. Instagram had eight employees, no profit and sold for one billion dollars less than two years in business. Their moat was of the category-changing sort.

If money and scale are eliminated as differentiators (aka: moat protection) then the most obvious competitive advantages are customer service and quality products, right?! In a recent marketing article, David Baker affirms that these are not sustainable differentiators either and we should throw them directly into the moat. They’re like everyone else. In this day and age, quality products and great customer service are expected; the cost of admission. So, not true, sustainable differentiators.

At this point, you may be leaning on your “proven manufacturing process” as a competitive advantage. Whether it’s actually proven or not, your competition is, most likely, claiming the same thing and it also doesn’t address what’s in it for the customer (what they actually care about). It’s more about you.

Three Sustainable Competitive Advantages

To gain a truly competitive advantage and become untouchable, unlocking your long-term advantage, aka widening your moat, is key. Here are three “moat-worthy” competitive advantages that are true and sustainable and, as Baker says, worth “trumpeting from the parapet on your castle wall:”

Brand Positioning Spectrum

Image: Brand Strategy Insider

Whether challenger, rival or leader, strong positioning can create a sustainable competitive advantage. A challenger ceases an opportunity to copy a product or service model that already exists and engages with buyers at standard touch points with the goal of “carving out a piece of the pie.” The opportunity lies in choosing a very specific piece, aka audience segment, and serving them whole-heartedly and better than the industry leaders. A rival engages with buyers at identical touch points, challenging competitors efforts. The opportunity exists to address the elephant in the room, like Avis did, and promise to always “work harder” or create a new model, like Toms shoes, and contribute to the greater good. Leaders build a community (or a cult: Apple) and offer an experience that transcends what they make and market. They strategically engage with buyers at every available touch point and measure return on investment, innovation, and influence.

A commitment to solving specific challenges for a particular audience (coupled with an ironic name that no competitor would copy) gives Big Ass Fans, for example, a sustainable competitive advantage. They are an untouchable manufacturer that does four things consistently to support this competitive advantage: invest in what matters to each audience segment, contribute to the conversations and causes that matter to them, demonstrate a high level of understanding through consistent actions and creativity and create products, services, and communications that are relevant to their audience.

“The white-hot center of competitive advantage is based on a compelling customer experience. In effect, brands that are loyal to their customers, not the other way around.” (Derrick Daye)

Team members who embrace your positioning and thrive in a healthy, vibrant, differentiated culture stay longer and are of greater service to customers. Rather than delivering great customer service, they always go above and beyond to create memorable customer experiences.

WindsorOne has a sustainable competitive advantage with a culture of creativity. They empower their team to consistently surprise and delight customers. When calling Kurt for a Shirt, a non-kilt-wearing team member may answer the phone instead and you can bet they’ll be just as enthusiastic about helping you as Kurt would. And, when vendors and customers are invited to their facility for a “sales tour,” they are treated to a thematic “event-like” experience that is custom-made for them, including personalized shirts, schwag and unsurpassed fare and accommodations. No bland binders or generic PowerPoint presi’s allowed.

Becoming known as THE “Black Box” resource for your customers/their challenges/the industry can be a sustainable advantage. “Black Box” because it’s proprietary and not because it’s inscrutable. Be the brand that collects and shares real industry data, promotes advocacy and creates a trusted community. Consistently develop products and processes that contribute to your customer’s overall success. Embrace the whole system, instead of the part you provide. David Baker deems this “A little bit of certainty in the world of marketing where there is precious little certainty. You protect it not with IP locks but by constantly enhancing it. Making it deeper.” Widen your moat by being the transparent resource that consistently strives to give more than it takes.

Festool has a sustainable competitive advantage by being the go-to resource for power tools for professionals. The sections and boards on the FESTOOL OWNERS GROUP site are a banquet of information for every segment of the collective: external customers and dealers as well as internal employees. They review all kinds of tools, not just their own. With F.O.G., Festool has created a 360º view of everything that could interest their most avid brand customers (influencers).

In these crowded, fast-paced “have you downloaded the latest release this week” times it’s more important than ever to unlock your true sustainable competitive advantage. A shift in positioning, in culture or in your overall mission for the greater good will lay the groundwork for sustainable growth. Become as untouchable as any manufacturer can be. Widen the moat!

Allison DeFord POSTED BY: Allison DeFord| Leave a comment

LOCATION: The State of Visibility

Location: The State of Visibility

Back in the day most road trips had a big destination, whether it was the Grand Canyon, Disneyland, or just Grandma’s farm several states away. But along the way you could break up the trip with a few quick stops at roadside attractions. You could see them coming from miles away, thanks to brightly-colored billboards and other horizon-breaking features. The World’s Largest Penny in Woodruff, Wisconsin. The basket-shaped Longaberger headquarters in Newark, Ohio. The World’s 2nd Largest McDonald’s in Orlando, Florida.

While many of these places were little more than tourist traps, there were some real gems as well. Whatever the appeal, a great LOCATION could create anticipation before you arrived, give you a great experience while you were there, and stay memorable long after you left.

Since THE NEW STATE OF MARKETING Road Trip can’t visit all of you in person this month, we’re dropping by in spirit by making a stop in Headquarters, Washington. It’s not going to give the World’s Largest Cowboy Hat & Boots in Seattle a run for its money anytime soon. In fact, its primary appeal seems to be that the nearest Starbucks is just three miles away. But the name reminds us of assets that many manufacturing companies aren’t taking full advantage of: the elements of LOCATION.

While we don’t recommend that you start winding up another contender for the world’s second-largest ball of twine in your parking lot (last we checked there were at least three players in that game), we’ve noticed a related trend: companies who optimize their LOCATION elements create a memorable experience and attract more buyers.

What if the World Came to YOU?

LOCATION isn’t just about the place you do business. It’s any kind of direct contact with your home turf that can enhance your reputation with current and potential buyers. It’s what your buildings look like when customers visit. What your people are wearing. What buyers see on your company vehicles. How your employees talk to them on the phone. Even the sign over your door. LOCATION elements make your brand visible: on the road, in a warehouse, at a trade show, even in online video.

How Do People Know It's You?You can ignore these aspects of your business and write them off as things you don’t have time to mess with. You won’t know what you’re missing and neither will your buyers, because they won’t notice you at all.

Or you can use them to your advantage by being THERE, with “there” being where your customers are. Increasing your brand visibility with the elements of LOCATION makes it easy for buyers to remember that you were there. It makes you part of a shared story. You become familiar to buyers, setting the stage for the trust that leads to lucrative deals. It creates opportunities for you to encourage customers — and even your own employees — to perceive your business as a trustworthy partner.

Smart businesses use the elements of LOCATION to encourage familiarity, credibility, and trust. Like the successful roadside attractions of old, LOCATION elements attract attention, paying you back many times over by fostering buyer anticipation, providing great experiences, and building long-term loyalty. LOCATION elements also create an opportunity to shape the marketplace to your strengths by extending your brand culture, voice and personality into the real world.

Is Your Vehicle Branding Memorable?You don’t need neon signs, a wax museum, or a gift shop to generate this kind of excitement. In fact, the primary tool that creates strong LOCATION connections is so simple that it’s a wonder so many companies are missing out on the benefits it delivers. Want to know what it is? Using clear, consistent brand messaging and visual cues on everything — from vehicles and buildings to company uniforms and invoices. (Of course, clean restrooms don’t hurt either.)

Incorporating the elements of LOCATION into your marketing make you look more professional, experienced, and worth doing business with — as well as having a surprising impact on the people who work for you.

See you down the road,

Your friends at FELT

Lori Sallee POSTED BY: Lori Sallee| Leave a comment

Convert Browsers To Buyers with Trade Advertisements

Are Your Trade Ads Working?Despite the popularity of the Internet and social media, print is still the dominant and most trusted form of marketing—especially when it comes to trade advertisements.

Today, most buyers are 60-90% through the sales cycle by the time they contact you. It’s a safe bet that they’ve already been exposed to your company online, in social media, in person, and at conferences/trade shows.

Why not give buyers a consistent experience wherever they are? Connect your trade advertisements to other touch points: online, in social media, on the phone and face to face.

Marketing consistency begins with content strategy, goals and metrics.

A Goal Without A Plan Is Just WishingCONTENT STRATEGY

Identify your audience and what matters to them. Use the following questions to build a strategy.

1. WHO is your ad for?
Everyone is not your buyer—but someone is. Use buyer personas to define who they are and more importantly, who they aren’t.
PRO TIP: One size doesn’t fit all.

2. WHAT’S in it for THEM?
All buyers want to know one thing: What’s in it for me? (Or, “How will this help MY business?”) Before production begins, take time to identify buyer pain points and gain points. Address buyer’s concerns before talking about your company, products or solutions.
PRO TIP: Demonstrate you know what matters to them.  

3. WHY should they buy this?
Map buyer’s problems (pain points) to your products/services (gain points). Make it easy to see how you solve buyer’s problems quickly, and effortlessly.
PRO TIP: Bulleted lists of features and benefits have limited persuasive value. 

4. WHY should they buy this from YOU?
What is the exclusive value you provide for the buyer, that competitor’s can’t claim? The thing buyers can’t get anywhere else? This is your differentiator, or unique selling proposition. Audit your competitors and insure your message is unique.

Beware of common industry claims: years in business, year company was started, family-owned, quality, customer service, solutions, awards, lean manufacturing, “the best”, etc.
PRO TIP: Your differentiator is something no one else can own—only you.

Remember Why You StartedGOALS

Identify the purpose of your trade advertisement. Use the following questions to clarify goals.

1. WHO is this for?
Is it for a product launch? Is it for engaging a new audience segment? Is it for boosting sales in an existing audience segment? PRO TIP: Specific content reaches better buyers faster than generalized content, and helps you stand out from the noise.

2. WHERE will buyers go?
Create a sales path for buyers that begins with the trade advertisement. Know ahead of time, where they will go from there and what you want them to do. Map content to each step in buying cycle. PRO TIP: Make it easy for them to do business with you.

Map Content To Buying Cycle from Trade Advertisements

3. WHAT will buyers do?
A clear call to action (CTA) guides buyers through the sales path you’ve created for them. Foster immediacy by connecting your CTA with the buyer’s most intense pain points. PRO TIP: Passive or vague CTA’s are confusing, demotivating and easy for buyers to ignore.

Everything is connected to everything else

Identify measurements for your trade advertisement. Connecting trade advertising to other touch points makes ROI easier to measure and more accurate.

1. Trade Advertisement + Phone:
This seems obvious, but there are still ads that fail to list a contact phone number. Track trade advertisement ROI with a dedicated contact phone number.
Success Indicators: Calls, prospects and conversions

2. Trade Advertisement + Web:
Instead of simply listing your website home page (yourcompany.com) and never knowing how many visitors came from the trade advertisement, create a landing page and be certain.
Success Indicators: Visitors, time on page, click-through rate, newsletter sign-up, etc.

3. Trade Advertisement + Social:
List your social networks as well as your username—especially if it isn’t identical to your company name.
Success Indicators: Likes, follows, retweets, reposts, pins, etc.

4. Trade Advertisement + Email:
Why not use your corporate communications to support trade advertisement? Connect verbiage and a dedicated link to your trade advertisement in your HTML email signatures.
Success Indicators: all of the above.

5. Trade Advertisement + Conference/Trade Show
Utilize pre-show advertising to drive engagement and booth attendance at the show. The busiest booths engage show attendees long before the show begins. “Visit us at booth #___” a few times before the show, isn’t enough to make your exhibit a must see. Give attendees a real reason to visit your booth first.

Use strategy, goals and metrics to connect your trade advertisements to multiple touch points. If you want buyers to be interested, be interesting. Convert browsers to buyers with felt marketing.

Let’s talk. 877-764-1771


Lori Sallee POSTED BY: Lori Sallee| Leave a comment

MOBILE: The State of Habit

Welcome to your new habit: MOBILEWe’re cranking up The Who’s classic hit “Going MObile” on the 8-track tape player as THE NEW STATE OF MARKETING Road Trip heads for Habit, Kentucky. It’s in the middle of nowhere so we’re also cheating a bit, setting our retro vibe aside long enough to fire up the GPS app on one of our phones. Luckily, Mobile is this month’s theme — otherwise we’d never find the place.

Going Mobile Changes Everything

The automobile wasn’t the first mobile revolution. The horse, the wheel, the train and other innovations have earlier claims on that distinction. But the car changed the way we live and work on an amazing level.

Suddenly you didn’t have to live around the corner from your job. You could get a house outside the bustle of the city, where land was cheaper (for a while) and elbow room was easier to come by. You could go anywhere whenever you liked, whether or not there was a train headed that way. It became easier to buy products from all over the country, and even the world. Business trips and family vacations became more economical, whether across town or across the country. And our beloved pastime — the Road Trip — was born.

The explosion of Mobile technology is changing the world in much the same way, only it’s not just people on the move. Now they can access information, communicate with your business, and purchase nearly anything, from any place, at any time.

Say hello to a new world of opportunity

Mobile gives B2B buyers freedom to do business anywhere.Mobile phones aren’t just for talking anymore. They’ve completely changed our habits (hence this month’s destination). For example, many people now prefer to text instead of talking on the phone. Today your phone is a portable entertainment center, a camera, a flashlight, a compass, an interactive map, a game console, an encyclopedia, and a whole lot more. You can even use it to control a flying drone.

But what matters most to your business is this: we use them to buy.

Mobile now influences every phase of the purchasing cycle, from the content prospects read when they’re at the top of the sales funnel…to the specs they review in the field…to apps and websites they use to place orders. The latest devices even process the payment itself. If all else fails, they can call still do everything the “old-fashioned” way just by tapping your phone number. If you’re mobile-friendly, buyers can do business with you just about anywhere, from Duluth to Dubai.

Here’s another trend you should be watching: people aren’t afraid to buy with mobile devices anymore. According to a study released by the Reputation Institute in April of 2016, the most trusted company in the United States (not just online) was Amazon.com. In fact, buyer trust in Amazon ranked higher than Hallmark, Johnson & Johnson, Rolex, and even Disney. Later that month Amazon’s stock surged on news that its revenue was up 28 percent.

Buyers are mobile. Are you?As Mobile becomes a universal way for customers to research and purchase everything from light bulbs to lumber, their expectations are changing. As of last year, customers who are thinking about buying are reaching for their phones and tablets more than 50% of the time. That will affect your business sooner or later, converting mobile from an option that’s nice to have into something you can’t live without before you know it.

Why wait to become obsolete? Mobile can offer your manufacturing business significant advantages right now.

See you down the road,

Your friends at FELT

p.s. Curious to see where you stand? Download our free quick start guide for No-Fat-Fingers: Improving Your Mobile UX

Download "No-Fat-Fingers: Improving Your Mobile UX"

Lori Sallee POSTED BY: Lori Sallee| Leave a comment

Click With Buyers Online

Clickin' With Buyers Online

“Breaker one-nine! Breaker one-nine! This is Java Mama rolling down I-35 from Big D on the way to Click, Texas. Any panda bears ahead?” Okay, so we may not have the ’70s-era CB Radio lingo just right, but you get the idea. We’re tuning into channel 19 as we head south from Dallas, not just because we don’t want to get pulled over, but to make a point about how Online marketing has changed your world.

Long before the CB craze went mainstream, it had its roots in the bottom line of one particular business —  long-haul trucking. Many truckers are paid by the mile, so it’s not unusual for them to try for 500 miles or more a day.

Truckers and other motorists used the CB radio to connect in a virtual world.

But that business model ran into roadblocks when the oil crisis hit in 1973. The national speed limit was slashed to 55 miles per hour and fuel shortages drove up the price of gas.

Truckers and other motorists responded by embracing the CB radio. It was the first time people could be mobile and have two-way communication. Virtual communities and spur-of-the-moment alliances formed as drivers helped each other find good fuel locations, avoid construction and foil speed traps. Many people never met in person, and yet were “friends” over CB Radio. It was more than just a fad —  it was a productivity booster for everyone except the cops.

The modern equivalent of this experience is the Online “virtual world.” Like the CB, the Internet has made it possible for people in different locations to share information easily — but on a vastly larger and more significant scale. The online world has changed the face-to-face “real world” forever, and how you adapt to this new reality can make or break your business.

Online Makes Marketing A Two-Way Street

Online marketing is the new face-to-face

Imagine picking up the phone to find a buyer who has already spent hours learning everything they need to know about your product. You didn’t do anything to find them —  no cold calls, no trade shows, no direct mail. Yet here they are with a credit card or purchase order in hand. All they really want you to do is close the sale.

This isn’t a business owner’s fantasy —  it’s happening every day for companies that have learned how to harness the most recent evolution of online power. (Hint: that ten-year-old website that you, your nephew, or some kid in the warehouse threw together doesn’t make this happen.)

Many manufacturing businesses don’t see the Internet this way. They think investing in two worlds, the real one and the virtual one, is a nuisance expense that needs to be held to a minimum. But like it or not, Online has already changed your business. Your competitors used to be up the street, around the corner, or in the next county. Now they might be anywhere in the world.

The web gave buyers superpowers

Worse, you can’t ignore the Internet anymore because it’s given your buyers new superpowers. Today’s sales conversations are shaped by how they search for products, not how you talk about them in your sell sheets or at trade shows. It’s easier than ever for price-shopping clients to throw you over for a rival who charges a penny less. And anyone with an axe to grind can literally complain to everyone they know in an instant.

But as the example above suggests, the untapped potential of the Online world is vast.  And most manufacturing firms aren’t taking advantage of it yet.

While a connected world requires every business to step up its game, the payoffs can be huge. Yet for some reason, manufacturing has been slower to embrace digital marketing than most other industries. Most are content to stick with the online resources they have —  however outdated they may be —  as long as their competitors don’t look any better.

That’s a huge mistake. In the short term, companies with a solid presence on the information “super highway” are grabbing a competitive edge and industry leadership. Soon online expertise will be part of the price of admission. Some would argue that we’ve already reached that point, but either way this much is certain: the longer you wait, the harder it will be to catch up to the rest of the pack.

A window of Online opportunity is open today. Your buyers are already profiting from it, so why shouldn’t you do the same? Take advantage of it before your competitors do. Start with a free download to see how visitors respond to your website: THE 5-SECOND TEST.

See you down the road,

Your friends at FELT

p.s. Don’t miss the FREE DOWNLOAD, THE 5-SECOND TEST

The 5 Second Test

Lori Sallee POSTED BY: Lori Sallee| Leave a comment

PRINT: New Routes for an Established Vehicle

Greetings from Typo, KentuckyThis month the FELT Road Trip has us rolling over the high, wooded hills of Typo, Kentucky. Our destination is no mistake, because this month we’re focusing on Print — though you might have trouble finding it in the AAA travel guide.

There’s something relaxing about hitting the open road in country like this, even if you’re taking back ways that are off the beaten path. It’s easy to get where you’re going — with or without fancy electronic gizmos — because you probably knew what most American road signs meant long before you learned how to drive. It’s so familiar that you can sit behind the wheel, have a conversation with the person next to you, and still find your way without even thinking about it.

When it comes to marketing your business, print enjoys all the same advantages. It’s tangible, familiar, and easy to use anywhere. And unlike new-fangled digital tools, you never have to worry about the hard drive crashing.

But just because print has been around for ages, that doesn’t mean it still works the way it always has.

PRINT: The World’s Most Versatile Marketing Tool

See things differently with printWhen you’re on a road trip, you don’t just see new things — you see old things with new eyes. It can be as simple as seeing a traffic light hanging from a cable instead of sitting on a pole. Your perspective changes when you see something familiar being used in a way that’s new and different to you.

In today’s marketplace, print is still creating a lot of “wow!” moments like that.

Fifty years ago, print was the first choice for every form of marketing from brochures and sell sheets to direct mail and advertising. All that stuff still has its place today. According to a 2015 report by the Direct Marketing Association, direct mail alone still outperforms every digital outlet combined by 600%.

But print’s versatility also makes it the easiest marketing element to integrate with other ways of communicating. It can:
• Drive buyers to online media (like the post card that may have sent you here).

• Respond automatically to conditions that make people ready to buy (like moving or starting a new business).

• Deliver a personalized experience far beyond adding “Dear firstname” to a letter, with custom content and full-color images specific to the reader’s needs and interests.

• Make buyers feel like part of an exclusive group, because print is less common than in the past.

Millennial respect printEven the Millennial generation, habitually plugged into their smartphones, sits up and takes notice when something tangible crosses their path. Raised on cheap pixels, they know that only serious companies invest in print. Recent studies have shown that young adults, 24 years and younger, are among the most direct mail responsive, and that 92% of young shoppers prefer direct mail when making purchasing decisions.

So if you’re not taking advantage of print’s new capabilities, you’re missing opportunities to reach and retain great buyers. Before you decide to take new print marketing out for a spin, look in the rearview with your free download, MANUFACTURERS’ GUIDE: LOCK & LOAD Print Marketing.

See you down the road,

Your friends at FELT


p.s. Don’t miss the FREE DOWNLOAD,
LOCK & LOAD Print Marketing



Lori Sallee POSTED BY: Lori Sallee| Leave a comment