Manufacturing companies today face a unique challenge: customizing their marketing to individual customers. Emerging markets and micro-segments, along with the demand for mass customization, make traditional marketing strategies unreliable. They can’t keep up with the complexity and constant change that characterize today’s industry.
Now, customers control the sales cycle. Their knowledge, tech savviness and purchasing power force manufacturers to adopt new ways of developing, branding and delivering products.
But, through digital operations, manufacturers can use this new breed of customers to their advantage. Customers can define and create value, as digitized communication makes mass customization not only possible but also easy. Manufacturers can respond with agility to scale to the different geographies, cultures, languages and customer needs they now face.
The key to bringing customers into the business process effectively—sometimes through idea contribution and other times through analysis of their behavior—is to optimize digital connectivity. Here are a few critical ways digitization can give companies the insights they need to cater to such a diverse customer base and stay on the cutting edge of their industries:
Product design—Through online configurators and platforms like Polycom, manufacturers can enable customers to build virtual and real products and use social media plug-ins to share their purchases and design choices with others. Companies can also integrate data analytics into their design processes, reviewing and leveraging information on customer preferences to determine which features consumers value most and which can be customized profitably. Video, audio and chat tools can also help speed product development and increase sales by linking internal teams, suppliers and experts. For example, Shaun Mundy, group IT director at Buro Happold, says the environment has become central to how the firm works. Every day, engineers arrive at crucial decisions sooner by sharing complex designs, models, and structural analyses over video, and by conducting design reviews in real time. See the related case study video.
Comprehensive connectivity—Adopting digital tools that bridge technologies like enterprise resource planning and supply chain management systems helps give a comprehensive view of data and processes. Polycom enables collaboration across departments, integrating operations and data analysis into each business function. Not only does internal communication improve, but all departments gain access to the customer data most valuable to them—it’s all analyzed, stored and archived for quick access and use. And, it’s available to everyone so business aligns to customer preferences in all aspects of product development and delivery. “Previously, customer meetings could only take place if we travelled to them. In a competitive industry, having the ability to increase a client’s confidence in our people through more frequent contact, can often be a competitive differentiator.” Josey Joseph, Head of Human Resources, CARE Ratings LTD
Digital disruption—Part of optimizing digitization means letting it interrupt innovation at the same time that it streamlines communication. Investing in technologies that help model, prototype and build products quickly can jumpstart development. Some helpful tools include CAD modeling software, 3D printers and advanced robotics. Robots in particular help with customization.
Visual analysis—Companies everywhere are adopting video to enable real-time collaboration with global teams, and its time for manufacturers to do the same. Video can incorporate visualization tools that let employees analyze big data for customer demand patterns and use the information to determine when to introduce, extend or retire products. They can assess unit cost, understand the true cost of customization and identify products with the best ROI. This knowledge can lead to less raw material and inventory waste, higher productivity and better asset management.
Mass customization is the new reality. To date, only 12 percent of manufacturers are “Digeratis,” meaning they use the latest digital collaboration technology. To stay competitive and attract customers, companies have to adopt the tools that will help them integrate customer preferences into their development and sales agendas. It’s the only way to succeed in this customer-driven market.