This is an original article by Michelle Kelly of K+L Storytellers.
Your story is the best competitive advantage you have because no one, NO ONE in the entire world has your story. They never will.
Here are 14 story strategies specifically written for you during this time of immense disruption with examples from global manufacturing brands. You do not have to be a billion-dollar brand to be relevant. Every company, no matter the size, has an important story to honor.
Lastly, know this: You -- the manufacturer, noble maker and idea innovator -- will triumph. Your story endures.
|1| A story of stability. People want to know your company is stable. Gather the evidence: the number of new orders you have, new project overviews, number of runs, how you have ramped up and the speed of deliveries. Then share this information with your customers, in media pitches and with your entire team. If you are experiencing supply chain disruptions with parts arriving late or new suppliers coming on board, be transparent. Communicate delays to customers while communicating your continuity plan. Example: Koch Industries put out a story on how Georgia Pacific is meeting rising demand for toilet paper.
|2| Your team. Over-communicate. Fear comes from not knowing. Hold debriefs with direct reports about remote working challenges and successes. Some people in manufacturing like operations, might be more taxed at this time than others. Upskill those who may have more downtime. People care how you are treating your team too so share updates on how you are keeping your team safe -- physically and emotionally.
|3| Take yourself out of the equation. Truly, this is the most important story strategy of all. If you insert yourself first, you will lose sight of the hero: your customer. Take yourself out of the equation by talking to customers and asking how you can support them. Make sure people on the frontlines of sales share customer conversations across the company so people learn from one another. House a repository of that information accessible by all. Now is the time to tear down silos. Example: General Motors published a landing page on how they are handling COVID-19 with specific links to how it is impacting four key audiences: customers, employees, visitors and communities. One small detail that is really helpful: GM specifies when the information was last updated.
|4| Your leadership story. Classic basketball advice: don't hesitate. Industrialists today must be thoughtful, but not wait. Your customers, team, board of directors, investors, supply chain partners and strategic partners are waiting to hear from your top leader. Map out your plan to find a way through. Example: Caterpillar did an excellent job of explaining the measures they are taking to protect employees. Caterpillar's statement is written the way real people talk — in a conversational tone (not complicated legal jargon).
|5| Workforce/pay reductions. Every day brings a new set of circumstances. Communicate what sacrifices are being made at the executive level before any are demanded or disclosed from those working in the factory or office.
|6| Think beyond the standard conference calls with remote workers. The novelty of suddenly working from home wears off quickly. Remote workers may feel out of the loop compared to those working at the plant every day. Great communications is part of culture. If you hosted happy hours on Fridays before, consider bringing them back virtually. At K+L, we're being invited to virtual "coffee" chats and "happy hours" (It's kind of fun to hop on a video call while throwing back a glass of Ruffino Chianti.)
|7| Inspire confidence with your vision story. Your vision is the world you hope to create, but which is not yet formed. Your vision story might be changing now and that's understandable. What is the world you see? Share your vision story. Write a blog on this, put it on your website, include it in a handwritten note to customers, put it on the bottom of your emails. This is where hope for a better tomorrow lives.
|8| Focus on the customer exp[erience. Ask your customers what they need, where they are struggling most and how you can support them. They are the hero of your story. Thinking about their success is one of the best ways to create great content. If one customer is asking the question, most likely many are. Write a blog addressing top customer questions, film a video or podcast, or conduct a webinar/growth call/town hall. Example: PMMI, Packaging Machinery Manufacturing Institute, just launched a Virtual Town Hall Series, inviting people to explore critical topics. You don't have to be a large company to communicate well.
|9| Reach out to the media as a subject matter expert. Manufacturers have a rare opportunity to take center stage. Media are looking for stories about business's response in this time of great change. Brainstorm with your staff on influential media in your industry. Write down two or three innovative ways you are adapting, then call or email editors and show hosts. Radio and TV are fair game. Look on news websites for the executive producer.
|10| Manufacturers are oftentimes family-owned businesses. As such, you have a remarkable opportunity to share your founder's story. What led to your endurance -- grit, courage and foresight to persevere -- will see you through this time. Don't hesitate to share your original "why" and how it ties to your purpose.
|11| Communicating new safety practices in tandem with ongoing measures. Communicate safety measures around COVID-19 while also pointing out the safety measure you've always practiced (i.e. FDA, SQF, OSHA, ISO, etc.). Align safety with your company values. Example: Global welding manufacturer Lincoln Electric leads with safety on their COVID-19 landing page. They talk about their role in critical supply chains and how they are moving business forward while keeping "employees, partners and communities" safe.
|12| Reassure prospects. Let prospects know you are there to support them! They may postpone buying decisions now, but if you stand by them through this crisis, they will remember you and trust you when it comes time to sign that purchase order. Even more importantly, they will remember the feelings you inspired in them: courage and compassion.
|13| Partner with your supply chain. A National Association of Manufacturing: survey indicates 35.5% of manufacturers are experiencing supply chain disruptions because of COVID-19 (this number rises to 75% for US companies, according to the Institute of Supply Management). Now is the time to stand together. Consider drafting an FAQ about any changes in distribution, logistics, inventory and delivery to inform everyone in your factory. Bring a larger solution to customers by hosting a webinar or virtual town hall with key supply chain partners. Collect insight and deliver greater business value to customers and prospects by showing your value chain strength.
|14| Celebrate your story. We wrote the following in chalk on our front sidewalk: "We stand together even when we stand apart." In this time of social distancing, we need to celebrate little triumphs: how we got an order out on time, how we made a customer smile, how we encouraged a colleague. These become the little victories that define us and our story for the long haul. Share them with your team. Post them on social media. Recognize them on the team call (or, better yet, over a Friday happy hour celebration that you finished the week strong!).
Where Do You Start When Your Marketing Foundation Has Cracks? Webinar
September 23 @11:30am
Learn how the combo of website, SEO, CRM, social, and analytics are the base platform from which to engage with the market & customers.