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Sue Mucha

Ramp the advertising programs and support them with content tied to sales efforts.

In my last column, I discussed the communications strategies that were most important as Covid-19 began to change our working lives. This month, I look at communications strategies that will be most important as we resume the new normal working world.

As I write this (Apr. 16), the strategy for reopening businesses is just being formulated. From everything I’ve seen reported, it appears the strategy will be a rolling relaxation of restrictions, which means geographic advantages for companies in places that either had minimal infection rates or have successfully flattened their curves. Rolling increases of restrictions are also likely if a region starts to see new spikes in infections.

From an electronics manufacturing services (EMS) provider perspective, what does that mean? First, consider what Covid-19 has done to this business sector. Many EMS providers remained operational at some level thanks to product mixes that included essential products that support infrastructure or medical needs. However, even those companies typically are working at reduced levels and have experienced employee angst about virus risk. Customers with nonessential product are in some cases cutting forecasts dramatically and in other cases will have a lot of pent-up demand. Those trends depend on whether the product is something buyers have simply been waiting out the quarantine to purchase or will likely not purchase for months after the quarantine ends. When you overlay today’s trends on a post-Covid-19 world, it translates to manufacturing constraints, supply-chain constraints, plus pockets of oversupply. If a large part of the US gets back to work by May 1, it is likely that pent-up demand will continue to be a factor. If the quarantines in place in mid-April extend through May in a large part of the country, it is hard to predict what the demand landscape will look like. Datacom, industrial and medical products will likely remain strong, but consumer demand will drop dramatically.

The international picture is also a factor. While most of Asia and parts of the EU are either back to work or planning to get back to work shortly, Mexico is just starting to feel the impact of the virus, and the inefficiency of Mexico’s state governments in determining essential businesses is going to impact EMS facilities. Companies with good Mexican legal counsel and strong relationships with their local maquiladora associations are likely to do better than those without those relationships. The global supply chain remains imbalanced, which means logistically that transport chains are also imbalanced. Even if a manufacturer can produce, it may not be able to get that product from point A to B as quickly as its customer needs. OEMs also cannot get their products from point A to B as quickly as their customers may need.

From a marketing perspective, it becomes important to get into the mind of prospects and customers. The scenario I’ve just laid out has created frustration and destroyed every 2020 forecast and budget in existence. It also shows the weak spot of supply-chain consolidation. Sourcing strategies that have geographic variety are now more relevant. So, while little will change immediately, sourcing teams are likely compiling lessons learned right now and formulating new sourcing strategies. As a result, EMS marketing activities should align with the lessons-learned mentality that sourcing teams are likely to embrace. Here are my thoughts on marketing strategies most likely to work:

  • Prospects that evaluated your company but elected to stay with current suppliers are low-hanging fruit. Sourcing teams aren’t going be excited about jumping on planes for a few months. Consequently, companies they’ve already evaluated may be the first they consider if they need to shift production due to capacity constraints at their current suppliers or decide to begin moving production from China. Sales teams should build relationships by providing educational content on recent customer success stories in the areas of project transfers, mitigating supply-chain constraints or ability to support unanticipated surges in demand. Workplace infection mitigation strategies should also be highlighted. Also, determine if there is a way to support virtual facility audits, should a prospect that has previously toured want to take a next step without travel.
  • LinkedIn, blogs, article placements and advertising should expand. Trade shows are going to be unlikely for months. Even if third-quarter trade shows are held, many companies may be restricting business travel to discretionary events, so attendance will be down. At the same time, OEMs will be reevaluating sourcing strategies. From a marketing standpoint, it is important to have strong, targeted messaging reaching as much of the market as possible. Companies with limited budgets can use social media, blogs and PR to get out that message. However, advertising is likely a good investment for the rest of the year because it acts like a road sign directing readers to your more detailed educational content.
  • Messaging matters. In a stable market with little differentiation among suppliers, decisions get made on price. In a chaotic market, decisions get made based on a sourcing team’s perception of which company is most likely to address the challenges their team is facing. The biggest challenges today are getting projects transferred quickly, managing supply-chain constraints, addressing spikes in demand, supporting legacy product, staying operational and addressing logistics challenges. Companies with geographically dispersed facilities and those with facilities in areas that are remote enough to have not seen infection have a competitive advantage. Companies whose social media, web, advertising or whitepaper content discusses how they have solved some or all of those challenges, or highlights the geographic resiliency of their facility locations, are going to be more competitive than those talking about capacity or equipment.
  • Transparency still matters. It is still important to be honest in communications about operational constraints with employees, customers and prospects. Marketing messages shouldn’t overstate a company’s ability to deal with regional constraints. In situations where constraints exist, it can be helpful to discuss a company’s ongoing efforts to restart production as quickly as possible. Enhance customer retention by helping them understand what is being done to negotiate reopening with local governmental authorities, how furloughed employees are being retained, what infection mitigation practices are in place in each facility and how project recovery activities will be handled. In the absence of information, sourcing teams will develop their own recovery plans.

Covid-19 has caused massive disruption around the world. However, chaos always opens the door to opportunity for those who look for it. Start planning and executing post-Covid-19 marketing strategies. This will be an educated sell that requires content that addresses how an EMS provider is going to solve common challenges. Consequently, marketing programs that work will have detailed content backing up whatever advertising is done and strong linkage to sales efforts. 

Susan Mucha is president of Powell-Mucha Consulting Inc. (powell-muchaconsulting.com), a consulting firm providing strategic planning, training and market positioning support to EMS companies and author of Find It. Book It. Grow It. A Robust Process for Account Acquisition in Electronics Manufacturing Services; smucha@powell-muchaconsulting.com.

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