Internal alignment is critical, but consumer manufacturing brands struggle to achieve it when they bring new products and services to market. As these brands launch new products more frequently, internal teams have a hard time keeping up. Soon, they find themselves overwhelmed with information.
Competing initiatives and ideas from leaders only add to the confusion. Some use more standard processes like internal communications to get information to different teams, but others go rogue and take matters into their own hands.
This combination of movement and inconsistency has consequences for frontline teams. They don’t know what to focus on because they’re being presented with so many competing priorities and messages. And when they’re confused about the story they should be telling, it results in misalignment that directly impacts the customer experience.
To come together and find brand alignment, marketing teams need to play a bigger role in setting sales up to succeed. They can change the game by consistently communicating their brand vision and going the extra mile to help frontline teams become passionate believers in what they share with customers. That said, there are some key challenges to overcome in finding that alignment — six, to be exact.
1. Overcoming customer confusion
2. Streamlining go-to-market messages
3. Avoiding commoditization traps
4. Providing brand vision tools
5. Focusing on outcomes, not products
6. Turning knowledge into belief
In this guide, we’ll walk you through each of these challenges and offer ways to resolve them.
Challenge 1: Overcoming Customer Confusion
Big-ticket consumer purchases like home improvements (flooring, roofing, windows, siding, etc.), appliances, HVAC, and others can be overwhelming for a variety of reasons. For one thing, many consumer manufacturing brands offer products that most consumers simply don’t know much about. The choices are seemingly endless. The products look alike. Most of them offer similar benefits. Ultimately, customers don’t know how to distinguish one from another.
On top of that, consumers don’t make these big purchases regularly. This means they have less experience going into these decisions. The products are often expensive and complicated, and it’s intimidating to spend money on things that aren’t easy to understand.
However, customer confusion doesn’t have to be an obstacle — it can be a door to opportunity. Customer uncertainty gives frontline teams a chance to make the buying process better and the experience exceptional. The more they do that, the more brands can build loyalty and preference with consumers. By creating a seamless experience — from initial online research to customers’ time in the store or with a contractor — companies can put consumers’ minds at ease.
Helping customers combat confusion is excellent, but you can’t help them by overwhelming them with information. The same goes for your salespeople and distribution partners. Instead, you have to take the time to understand who they are, what they need, and how you can provide them solutions. Here are three strategies to jump-start that process:
• Equip all stakeholders in the value chain. Shifting from talking about how great a product or service is to focusing on how to improve the customer experience is a big deal for many companies. But aligning yourself with customer needs allows you to find alignment internally. Everyone in the value chain needs to be ready to make that shift, too.
• Keep the brand consistent at every touchpoint. Brand alignment doesn’t mean that customers will hear the same thing every time they interact with your brand. It does mean that your brand themes are consistent and cohesive, though. Translate your marketing messages into a whole experience that matches your brand vision.
• Use internal marketing strategies. Just like you run marketing campaigns to customers outside of your company, you should also run internal marketing campaigns to internal customers. It’s an effective way to shift the focus from product to experience.
Challenge 2: Streamlining Go-to-Market Messages
As marketing messages make their way through companies, they get more muddled with every handoff. It’s a lot like a game of telephone. An idea starts as one thing but becomes something different every time it’s passed on to the next person. Marketing messages might go from marketing teams to sales teams, sales teams to distribution partners, and distribution partners to the people who serve consumers directly.
Considering how many times they change hands, it’s easy to see how these messages get lost in translation. To stop that from happening now and in the future, follow these steps.
• Gather feedback to see where the breakdown is occurring. Avoid the top-down approach in which marketing pushes a message downstream and hopes for the best. Ask employees how they view the brand messages. Find out what distributors or dealer partners are hearing from customers. Gathering regular input will help you assess where your message is breaking down.
• Keep messages simple. Don’t put all of your energy into teaching employees and partners about new product features. Instead, develop a simple message that focuses on your main themes. Rally internal teams around a few bite-size messages rather than a million granular details that they have to piece together.
• Illustrate the story. Giving employees a one-sheet with new product information isn’t enough. You can’t just tell them the story; you must show them. If you make your brand vision an engaging experience, you strengthen alignment and help eliminate breakdown.
Challenge 3: Avoiding Commoditization Traps
Most companies sell products that are similar in price and features to their competitors’ offerings. Because the core offering is essentially the same, companies end up battling over which one can attract customers with the lowest prices. But price wars only make commoditization worse: They encourage and condition buyers to pick the lowest price, causing profit margins to suffer and forcing companies to fight to grow even a little.
How can you ensure that you don’t blend in as just another commodity competitor? Offer a standout customer experience. Customers want to see value when they buy something. They want to share their experiences with others. If you can offer a distinct, consistent, fantastic experience, you’ll break through the commoditization trap.
Customer experience can be a hard thing for manufacturers to think about. With all the people, partners, and layers involved, it can seem daunting. However, brand marketers need to take responsibility for equipping all stakeholders to play their roles in differentiating their offerings. Here’s how:
• Establish how each new product fits into your brand vision. Whenever you launch a new product, think through how it fits into your vision and story. Launching new products just for the sake of new products won’t help you break out of commoditization; it will just overwhelm customers and employees. Make sure all your stakeholders are clear about what you want the experience with the customer to sound and feel like for each product and service you bring to market. It should also fit your overall brand themes.
• Customize your brand messages by role. Customers want consistency. If you are going to deliver consistency, everyone who represents your brand needs to know what roles they play in delivering the experience. Think of it as breaking a book into chapters. Not every person will need to tell the full story or deliver the full experience — if they handle their parts well, however, the story is flawless.
• Find unique ways to differentiate your brand if commoditization is inevitable. Ask yourself how you can enhance customer experience and set yourself apart in customers’ minds. If you offer outstanding service, charge more. If innovation is the bedrock of your brand, highlight that and price things accordingly. Know why you’re irreplaceable, and stand by that as you move beyond being a commodity. The key is building confidence throughout your value chain so they can defend these value points.
Challenge 4: Providing Brand Vision Tools
Manufacturing companies have a reputation for distributing bland training content. One-sheets, catalogs, and product webinars are the usual suspects when it comes to preparing employees to sell. The expectation is that they learn all of the information and share it with customers in a way that represents the brand well.
These tools aren’t inspirational — they’re static. They don’t engage the salespeople or make them passionate about the brand. It’s time for companies to say goodbye to bland training and focus on more compelling brand vision tools. By creating and using tools that connect with employees in a more impactful way, you can turn knowledge about products into real belief in your brand.
It might seem overwhelming to change the way you train. You don’t need to start from scratch, but you can make a big difference by adding some fresh tactics to the mix. Simply relying on traditional tools doesn’t serve your audience because those tools aren’t made with that audience in mind. Some companies launch branding or rebranding campaigns without collaborating with their sales teams. Others just share external marketing materials with employees and hope those will give them any information they might need to have new conversations with customers.
An internal marketing approach goes beyond this. New tools inspire frontline teams to advocate for the brand and ensure that they are engaged and part of all new initiatives. These three action items will help you start making the jump from boring training methods to tools that inspire a brand vision:
• Reset your goals. Information alone will not drive the action you want. Information overload is real. Employees can’t easily absorb a million product details and then turn those details into valuable messages (at least not without help). Shift your goal from merely providing information to inspiring new action. You can’t leave it to your salespeople and partners to piece all the details together and figure out what to do next.
• Deliver value, not noise. Too often, marketers put together materials for their sales teams and partners without ever asking what the audience wants or needs. Don’t add to the clutter! Find out what they want to consume and where they have struggles — plug holes instead of overwhelming with volume.
• Hook your audience. Training doesn’t need to be stale — it needs to be attention-grabbing. Examine the tools and information you currently use for training and determine whether they’re inspirational and relevant. Are they making employees passionate or bored? Brand vision tools will provoke action and passion in a way that stale tools just won’t.
Challenge 5: Focusing on Outcomes, Not Products
Focusing too much on product details can seriously damage the customer experience. A product focus emphasizes the company, but an outcome focus emphasizes the customer. If frontline employees tell customers about a product only because their boss told them to, customers will see right through it. But if they tell customers about what value the product could bring to customers’ lives, that could transform the whole experience.
One thing has to be in place for you to embrace an outcome focus: Frontline teams have to take product information and turn it into a cohesive, compelling story. How? For starters, they shouldn’t be focused on minutiae to the point that they can’t get a clear picture of the value they offer. Belief in the brand won’t come without clarity as to what the products can do for customers on a day-to-day basis.
Part of creating that clarity is using internal marketing campaigns to paint the picture for employees. Here are three ways to develop those campaigns and shift your focus from product to outcome:
• Learn how frontline teams talk to customers. How are your frontline teams telling your story? What does a typical interaction look like for a salesperson? Marketers often fail to understand the flow of customer conversations, so they provide information that is hard for sales to use. Every tool marketers provide should be customized to the internal audience and designed to fit perfectly into portions of the customer dialogue.
• Understand those customers, too. If your frontline teams are going to make the customer experience excellent, they need to understand your customers. Customer data is used all the time to build marketing and advertising campaigns, but it isn’t used nearly enough to equip salespeople to have better conversations. Customer insights shouldn’t just be used for ad buys and external messaging strategies. These insights are a powerful tool to help salespeople better understand the customers they talk to every day.
• Let the story evolve. You do not want to change your brand story, but brand alignment doesn’t mean everything stays the same. Good salespeople are going to uncover new use cases and value points for any product. They should be sharing those ideas and adding them to their storytelling tool kits. Any good story keeps its core, but it typically evolves and gets better over time.
Challenge 6: Turning Knowledge Into Belief
It’s critical to understand the difference between knowledge and belief. Marketers work to spark customers’ interest and call them to action. But if brands want a consistent story and customer experience, they need their frontline teams to believe in the story, too.
When frontline teams genuinely believe in the value proposition they communicate to customers, they reinforce the credibility of the brand story. Customer experiences that don’t live up to expectations hurt businesses, but belief-infused customer experiences set brands apart. Differentiating between knowledge and belief starts with strong internal brand engagement.
When frontline teams are engaged, aligned, and connected to the brand story, they stop just knowing details and start believing in value. Belief is the key to achieving internal brand engagement:
• Start with a core message. Share the core part of your brand story with frontline teams from the very beginning. Tell them the value of your offering, why it is the best thing for customers, and what makes it unique. Keep your message short and sweet, making it apparent from the beginning why they should believe in what they’re telling customers.
• Pull teams through the process piece by piece. Once you’ve established the core message, pull your team members through the rest of what they need to know. Don’t throw all of the details at them at once. Give them bite-size, digestible information that continually builds their knowledge while making them increasingly passionate about the brand.
• Celebrate your people. Your frontline teams are sharing your story with customers, and many of them will do it in creative, impressive ways. Build internal brand engagement by calling attention to successes and good ideas throughout your company. The best ideas don’t typically come from the marketing suite — they’re generated by frontline teams that faithfully serve customers every day.