By Lisa Balcerak,president of Balcerak Communications based in the Milwaukee, Wis., area.

20160913_131011_resizedLast week at IMTS I had the chance to see the key trends in the manufacturing industry. In my Sept. 6 post, I predicted that three of the top trends to explore at the show would be Internet of Things (IoT), in-sourcing and energy savings. I was a bit surprised by what I found. Here are a few observations I made while at IMTS 2016.

Historically, the big push at IMTS has been about machines, machines and more machines. This year was no different. If you make a machine, there is an unwritten rule that you must have the entire thing it in your booth; even if it is gigantic and will make your show booth cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Do people who want to buy machines really need to see them up close and in operation at a trade show? And since so many machines have a very similar appearance, is their display clearly demonstrating what makes it different from the other machines on the show floor?

While many exhibitors could have invested in clearer messaging to explain their companies’ advantages, the story across the show was still “check out my cool machine.”

On top of that, there was a big push to have the most eye-catching machines in the booths, including race cars, luxury cars and airplanes While these were definitely effective to hook in attendees walking by, I’m curious to know if those displays really resulted in any hot leads from customer prospects.

What Does Branding Mean?
To understand how companies perceive their own branding messages, I visited a few booths and asked, “What does your slogan mean.” Really, I was a bit surprised by what I heard. Most people said, “It just says we are the best.” My follow-up question was what made THEM the best. In every case, they indicated that they were best because their machines were the best. That’s it. End of story.

So, if I had been shopping for a new manufacturing machine at IMTS 2016 and had visited five booths with similar products, if they all answered with “our machine is the best,” how would I know which machine to choose? How are those companies showing me that they can help me in my unique situation? I would have left that show more confused than when I arrived.
There were some winners that infused brand messaging with industry trends. Here are just a few I noticed:

Internet of Things
While IoT was not necessarily a key message around the show, terms like “smart machines,” and “connectivity,” were more common.

Not too surprising, one of the clearest communicators about IoT was Dell, which included an educational component to the booth through signs, literature and a speaker. They demonstrated how to use IoT and the benefits it can bring instead of giving a sales pitch of Dell products. This company succeeded in communicating about its brand and IoT through education. Since this is still a difficult concept for some companies to understand, education is the gateway to building trust with customers that will eventually seek help for their IoT needs.

Buy American, because….
I was extremely surprised to see very little reference to “Made in America” throughout the entire show. Insourcing and reshoring are growing trends, so I expected to see more references at the show. However, I found a booth for the Alliance for American Manufacturing. This non-profit organization started by leading manufacturers seeks to encourage more companies to move to American-based manufacturing and to promote that fact as a benefit in the marketplace.
At the show the Alliance asked show attendees to write down what “American Made” means to them. The resulting answers were incorporated into an artist-drawn mural that reflected many positive attributes. The photo above shows how it turned out.

So what can Alliance for American Manufacturing do next? How can this group help more manufacturers to see how being American-made can be a true game changer in the industry? This will likely involve more education, more hard research and marketing programs that make it simple for manufacturers to share the “Made in American” message. I’ll be watching this organization to see how they progress in this fight to grow an important issue.

With energy management such a big factor for manufacturers, both financially and for regulatory reasons, I expected to see more “energy efficient messages. But, I didn’t. However, one manufacturer really hit a home run with this ability to incorporate its own branding message with a message of eco responsibility: Mitsubishi Electric.

Mitsubishi, whose company slogan is “Changes for the Better,” has added a new “Eco Changes” program to its product marketing. Eco Changes is an initiative that promotes how Mitsubishi solutions can reduce energy use. Mitsubishi has found an elegant way to bring ecological benefits into the existing branding message so it’s not just shoehorned as a single message point to satisfy a fleeting trend.

Two Years to Build a Better Message
Here’s my advice to exhibitors at IMTS 2018: since you’re going to be investing in being at the show, make the most of your investment by really finding out what makes your company special. Don’t produce product specs and wait for your customer to figure out that you’re the best choice. Help prospective customers see why they should choose you as a partner and solution provider, and then make that message loud and clear. Don’t hide behind a cool-looking machine on your show floor and expect customers to figure it out themselves.


ProMat photoMy note: We’re getting ready for the International Manufacturing Technology Show 2016 – it’s going to be a really groundbreaking show, and my colleague Lisa Balcerak at Balcerak Communications provides a preview. The show will run from Sept. 12-17 at Chicago’s McCormick Place.

By Lisa Balcerak

IMTS is one week away, and I’m eager to see how exhibitors communicate some of the biggest trends in the industry, particularly Internet of Things (IoT), in-sourcing and energy savings. While new products and solutions are always a big push at trade shows, the messages used to market them can make the difference between success and failure.

Internet for Everybody!
I predict that at IMTS, many companies in all areas of manufacturing will say that they have jumped into IoT. I’ll be most interested to see how those companies handle the bigger challenge of communicating differentiation. If every company can provide customers with IoT solutions, how is one company different or better than another? How can a company stand out when there are thousands of companies jumping on the same bandwagon? What will make a customer choose one provider over another if the products are similar?

The answer may lie with customer service. There will be many customers at different levels within the company—from operations to the office— who will be unclear on IoT and how their company should implement it. The winning companies will be the ones who help customers understand IoT, how it benefits them, and how to go about implementing cost-effectively and with minimal disruption.

It may take some hand-holding and a greater investment in time than usual, but the benefits can be huge if a customer gains trust and feels confident in working with you well into the future. Too much information can scare a customer away, so it will be essential to know a customer’s level of understanding (and understanding among the many people making the decisions) before beginning a sales pitch.

Making it Local
“Support local” has been a mantra for consumers for years. Eating locally grown food and shopping at locally owned stores has been growing as an important factor in purchase decision making for the last couple years.

It’s no surprise that this philosophy has moved into manufacturing as well. A company may stand out over competitors by promoting that they source their parts and services from companies nearby, or at least in the U.S. Customers can feel better about buying from suppliers that support the region or country. In addition to the potential stigma of a “Made in China” label, in-sourcing can reduce transportation-related costs and allow for faster response time to customers.

A company that is sourcing locally can have a real advantage over competitors who outsource to other countries. This message needs to be loud and clear in the marketing as soon as possible, because as more in-sourcing takes place, this message will become diluted across the industy as many companies implement in-sourcing.

The Business of Energy
The drive to save energy is an old concept, but the stakes are getting higher as companies develop their own energy-reduction standards and regulations get tighter. Plus, energy prices fluctuate, causing inconsistent profitability. I suspect that nearly every IMTS vendor will have the world “Sustainability” somewhere. It’s obligatory. Everyone is already on that bandwagon, right? But the meaning is truly empty if customers don’t know how to choose an energy-saving solution in a market crowded with solutions.

To differentiate, a message of partnership will likely have the greatest impact. There are hundreds of energy-saving solutions a manufacturer can choose, and hundreds of suppliers who provide similar or identical solutions. In those situations, pricing is likely to be the top factor in a purchase decision. But an energy-saving advisor and partner is more valuable. It’s about more than providing new sensors or motors or internet connections. It’s about looking at the specific situation for a customer and determining what solutions make sense, and helping the customer to see that. Such a technique will build trust and brand preference that can supersede a pricing war.

So at IMTS, I’m going to be looking for the meaning behind the messages at the show booths. Are they telling their companies’ stories in a way that matter to their customers? Will they stand out in a sea of other manufacturing suppliers? I’m looking forward to finding out next week.


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