Manufacturing Meaningful Stories

Is manufacturing really going away in the USA?

There is a lot of talk about the decline in manufacturing.  We hear things like, “we used to make things, but now we slouch in our chairs, staring at computers, and tweet in 140 characters.”  The truth is that even as manufacturing employment has gone down, industrial output has steadily increased.

We are entering a new industrial revolution.  New methods such as computer aided design and 3D printing are transforming the way we make things, while robots like Baxter are advanced enough to work alongside humans and can be trained to do new tasks in under an hour.

The result is that manufacturing is coming back to the US.  A survey by the Boston Consulting Group found that 37% of firms with over $1 billion in sales plan to return at least some production to the US.  With the cost of automation falling fast and quality going up, we can expect those numbers to grow.

In manufacturing it is easy to focus on the production side and the products, but let’s focus on how manufacturing companies communicate. Part of this new industrial revolution is with digital media. Marketing and communications have gone through an evolution and many manufacturing companies are modernizing their communication tools.

The more things change, the more things stay the same.

At its core, marketing and communications has always been about authenticity and telling meaningful stories. The digital revolution is much more than a set of new tools. Being authentic plays a crucial role in digital marketing. It is the “Age of the Customer” which means interaction and engagement are more critical than ever. Being a customer-centric organization pays off, especially when the interactions are personalized. In our digital age, this means being able to engage with customers on their preferred channel: social media, mobile apps, online TV, etc.

Saint Gobain is a great example of a company that continues to reinvent itself with innovative products and technologies, in addition to the ways in which they engage their audiences.

Saint Gobain is a 350-year old company, with a rich heritage going back to Louis XIV and the famous Hall of Mirrors, located in the Palace of Versailles in France. The room’s 578 mirrors, which were of exceptional size at the time, were produced at Saint Gobain, the Royal Glassworks established by Louis XIV in the seventeenth century. The mirrors made in that Paris factory represented the royal effort to establish monopolies on the production of luxury goods.

That same technology that was used in the Halls of Mirros is still being used today, and Saint Gobain has evolved into the world’s largest building materials company.

Think aboHall of Mirrorsut this: 52% of fortune 500 companies from the year 2000 do not exist today, or have fallen off the list. It is remarkable that Saint Gobain has been able to survive (and thrive) this long. I wanted to learn more about that story, so I had a conversation with Carmen Ferrigno, the Vice President of Communications for North America.

Carmen has a background in political science and English. When I asked him how that has prepared him for success in his current role, he pointed out that the ability to tell stories and focus on structure is important. Further, by focusing on conflict and what needs to be solved, you’re able to tell stories that resonate with an audience.

So, what problems are they solving?

As mentioned, Saint Gobain has its origins with the French aristocracy, but today, their products are improving the lives of people in all walks of life. Carmen shared an example of how Saint Gobain is using their expertise in building products to make a real impact on the communities they are a part of. Through a partnership with YouthBuild, they are helping low-income youths to learn construction skills to help build affordable housing. (https://www.youthbuild.org/)

It is easy for organizations to say that they care about improving lives, but Saint Gobain is actually doing it. They are rebuilding hope with underprivileged kids, and building up the necessary skills that stretch far beyond the walls of their communities. That is a story worth sharing!

The ways in which stories are communicated continues to evolve. I asked Carmen how technology has changed the way that Saint Gobain connects with audiences and he pointed out that “the internet has collapsed time and space, enabling us to reach a wider audience, very quickly.” He also emphasized the importance of delivering relevant content: “Having access to a large audience is great, but you need to be able to create meaningful segments. As segments are created, each business line has the power to speak to their own audience.” Carmen’s responsibility is to ensure that all of those conversations across the brand are in harmony.

Structuring Communications

In manufacturing it is easy to focus on products and the technology. Saint Gobain is comprised of exceptional scientists and engineers, who love to talk about “the thing,” but Carmen pointed out that it is critical to have conversations about how “that thing has a purpose – you have to move away from products and look at the cumulative impact. Saint Gobains focus has always been on elevating mankind.”

Carmen also mentioned that there needs to be constant measurement to see how people are responding to know if their messages are resonating with the right audience. Today there is a lot of talk about having the right content, but Carmen argued that context is king, “you need to understand the audience.” When you are constantly measuring and analyzing audience data, you’re able to use those insights to connect in a meaningful way with people.

Saint Gobain has won a lot of marketing and communications awards; I asked how they have been so successful and Carmen pointed out that “credibility over time equals trust. When you keep it up over many years, that is how you build trust – that ultimately leads to having an outstanding brand.” He also cautioned that “anyone in the digital space who says that they have it all figured out is probably lying. You need to keep learning and evolving.”

Conclusion

As I pointed out in the beginning, manufacturing is coming back. Those organizations that focus on improving technology across the entire business, especially in regard to communications, will thrive, while the laggards will find it hard to survive in the new manufacturing era.

More than just making great products, success is predicated on the ability to manufacture meaningful stories and then broadcast them to the right audience in the right place at the right time (sorry to use the cliché, but it fits).

“As a 350-year old company, we have a unique story to tell and I’m extremely proud of how we communicate our story across a variety of platforms, engage audiences with our brand in a meaningful way, and most importantly how our communications strategies help impact the lives of our customers, employees, and future generations,” Carmen Ferrigno

What’s your story?

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