manufacturing lessons on brand from covid

5 Things the Pandemic is Teaching Us About Brand and Ourselves

Faced with a global shift on how businesses and individuals need to operate to sustain, we find ourselves adjusting to a new normal, and certain truths are coming to light. Every day, people around the world are becoming more aware that manufacturing is a big part of what keeps our world going, and that a strong brand and powerful story are critical to thrive.

Many of the Heroes are Manufacturers

During COVID-19, healthcare workers have become the new front line. It’s worth acknowledging the heroic sacrifices many healthcare employees are making to curb the spread of this pandemic. Beyond the obvious critical work from these groups, many manufacturers have been deemed “essential businesses” at this time. 

Manufacturing has always been the backbone of our country. It’s not always the most glamorous, but it is truly what keeps our country moving. Suddenly, American citizens are no longer worried about having the latest and greatest golf club, or when they can next get their specialty latte. Now, Americans everywhere are more concerned about the people producing things like respiratory masks and toilet paper. 

Manufacturers are connected to many of our essential services. From creating safe infrastructure for our communities, to producing components for the things we use every day, manufacturers keep churning along in the background, doing what we have always done. Ultimately, bringing goods to people to make their lives safer, better, more connected. 

Without manufacturers, the country would be completely shut down. This industry deserves more than a glance-over and an underrated reputation. It’s not just manufacturing. It’s never been just manufacturing.

Core Values are Being Truly Tested

Teamwork. Integrity. Transparency. A month ago, they may have felt like branding buzzwords. Now, they hold meaning more than ever. These are the core values of many manufacturers. 

Leaders of manufacturing companies have found themselves under unprecedented stress as COVID-19 hits our country, and core values are pressure-tested. They are definitely not buzzwords, they are proving to be what we turned to when faced with a true crisis.

In time of crisis, team members and employees are looking for direction, clarity, and hope. For those companies who have defined core values, it’s a time when leadership can fall back on that element of their identity. They are able to share a clear message of hope with their employees: “This is who we are, and who we will continue to be tomorrow.” The ability to fall back on consistent core company messaging provides a sense of stability in a time when it was much needed. 

The companies who didn’t have clearly defined core values going into this, likely understand them now. Every action your leadership team has taken at this time has been rooted in a core belief that can be tied to a value. Times like these bring your brand identity to the forefront. 

We recommend taking a step back and considering what is coming out of this time. What do you stand for? Documenting the values you hold to during this pandemic could be the beginning of defining your company core values. 

Everyone is Watching How You Treat People

Trying times bring out the humanity in us all, and this pandemic is no exception. The way you treat your people has always been important, but now it is even more noticeable. If we haven’t said it loud enough for the people in the back, your customers, your current and future employees-- everyone is paying attention to the companies that take care of the humans that they serve.

With such a socially connected world, there’s no hiding which companies are taking measures to protect health and safety in their facility, and who is preserving the financial health and stability of their team. The public is looking for the helpers, those who found masks and protective gear to donate to hospitals or allocated some of their fleet to help supplement grocery delivery.

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If it didn’t matter before, it’s going to be essential now. Our societal values are going to permanently shift. The social effects of COVID-19 are changing what people prioritize. 

We’ve said as much before, but the emerging workforce trend is that today’s workforce seeks meaning and purpose from their work. Coming out of this pandemic, candidates will be looking to see how businesses supported the community at this time. Your employer brand will be impacted by how you manage this pandemic. 

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Manufacturing Can’t Avoid Emotion

It can be harder to recognize that emotion exists when you’re often buried in numbers - engineering drawings, production rates, accounting software. Sometimes we forget, because emotions are often subconscious, but in times like this, they are very apparent. 

With a crisis such as COVID-19, the emotion comes out in how people relate to employers and brands that they trust - does their loyalty stand up? Are they helping solve a major problem? Do they feel cared for? Does that company provide a sense of stability? 

In calmer times, your people are actually asking for the same things. What problems can you solve for them? What hurdles can you help make attainable? Can you contribute to a long term, sustainable business, or equip a customer with capabilities to allow them to thrive? These things still matter, and they are still present. 

These are still our behavior and decision drivers. Employees still want to feel safe and stable. Customers still want to feel empowered. Engineering wants to feel excited. Everyone wants to feel like they, and their work, matters.

When we recognize the emotion of a brand, these pieces can all fall in place. As manufacturers, you’re engineering, fabricating, selling, and invoicing. What you’re  actually doing is taking away a problem from a customer - making them more efficient, more profitable, more capable, or a combination. You’re also building trust through each brand touchpoint that you create and manage. 

Customers will buy the products or services that meet their needs, that solve their problems, and that relieve their burdens. When they trust you to follow through on these things, the sale becomes easy. 

Customers will also turn to the brands that they trust. Trust is built by a well crafted and executed brand. It’s built by a consistent experience that’s aligned with what people need. This is just a reminder that emotion isn’t a fluffy term from another industry, it’s what drives people.

The World Isn’t Getting Less Digital

A rapid shift and adoption of social distancing forced many hands into leveraging every digital tool possible. From common tools like Zoom, for online conferencing, to more involved technology such as remote diagnostics, many manufacturers are adapting incredibly fast to new platforms. 

Right now, this connectivity isn’t an employee perk, it’s literally what’s keeping half of our workforce able to be active, to help keep pieces of the economy going while we can’t all be on site. It’s a major factor in what’s keeping some level of productivity, and what will allow us to pick up and run faster when we get into a recovery phase.

The same can be said for a digital presence. Customers with strong digital channels already in place have ways to communicate with their team members, customers, and communities quickly. Business partners didn’t have to search around for alternative ways to connect when they couldn’t stop by the front office. 

Within an industry that often feels like it has one foot in analog, and one foot in digital,  we suddenly need to catch up with our digitally savvy counterparts. If you didn’t feel it before, you’re going to now.  This crisis is going to permanently shift the way we work and the way we communicate, and it’s a clear priority to keep up.

In Conclusion, We Are Always Transforming

Transformation: sometimes it’s by choice, sometimes it’s an evolution, and sometimes our hands are forced. The circumstance might be unprecedented, like COVID-19, or it might be the regular ups and downs of the economy. It might be a change in leadership, or a new product launch, or even just a shift in your culture, but one thing is clear: we are anything but stagnant.

Change is necessary, unavoidable, healthy, but scary. If we all find a better way to prepare for it, find the right partners and guides, we no longer need to hide from it, and can recognize that transformation is really just healthy growth. If we work together to manage all the moving parts, that’s how we’ll be able to not only survive, but thrive.  

Post by: Megan Starshak

Megan Starshak is a Brand Strategist at Strategy House. Backed by a decade-long career in manufacturing marketing, Megan's unique insights and aptitude for visual data help our team and clients bring brand strategies to life. Outside of Strategy House, Megan is an advocate for the Crohn's and Colitis community. When she's not working, you can find Megan biking through Milwaukee's best trails or hosting a game night.