In today's push for comic-based films, Deadpool is unique in that he breaks what is known as "the fourth wall". Starting back in the days of Hamlet, "breaking the fourth wall" allows the character to speak directly to the audience, in their own words. It allows the audience to hear that character through their own thoughts, rather than adding our own, and enables the audience to more effectively empathize with them. It's a direct connection and relationship with characters we care about, instead of a bird's eye view.
Yet technology and society today has pushed us in the opposite direction. Most modern brands rely heavily upon NOT breaking the fourth wall with their customers. Think about retail establishments — they show you exactly what they want you to see — a perfectly formed, streamlined version of the brand, including advertisements, graphics and all. You don't see employees in the back break room, guys stocking the shelves, or unloading pallets of merchandise. This is all deliberate — you're being marketed to, and it's all surrounding a carefully crafted, curated message.
But I'd argue that this highly refined level of control is exactly the thing that is holding the brand of manufacturing back. While obviously the quality of product and reliable delivery are key factors in any B2B purchase, there's a level of authenticity that is lacking in today's manufacturing brands. It's not just about being part of the community or U.S.-basing your supply chain. Smaller manufacturers need to find ways to effectively compete, and breaking the fourth wall is one of those ways.
A great example of this concept in practice is in the brewery industry. Small, local brewers, took a sledge to the fourth wall possibly more out of constraint than intent. The divide that separates the big, national brewers (such as Budweiser) from your local brewery is more than just barrels per year. The national brewers have focused on crafting and fostering a "lifestyle brand" that they package and sell. Since small breweries can't effectively compete on that massive scale, they must play the one-on-one game and concept a brand narrative that connects their audience to them on a personal level. Some big companies try to do this through creative, "personalized" campaigns, emphasizing the "you" or "we" within their multi-million dollar advertising efforts, but in the absence of truly saying and showing anything personal about themselves, their messages lack genuineness. Local brewers bring their employees to the forefront, and connect the personality of their people to their brand in the most genuine way possible — through complete transparency.
What is unique about mid-market manufacturers (and should be capitalized on) is the fact that you have a real story, driven and led by real people. There's an intrinsic value in knowing who makes your product, not to mention where and why. There's something to be said for knowing who you're doing business with. Transparency and a genuine connection with a target audience, provides a way to shape a small brand that a large company can't replicate. Instead of marketing to other marketers, manufacturers need to focus on marketing to the people that make up their target industries.
Become immersed with their business challenges and communicate with them on subjects that impact their operations directly. Create a customer engagement model built on people and relationships, but not for the sole purpose of directly landing a sale. Deliver a level of customer service designed around their needs, not yours.
These strategic approaches serve two purposes. One, it enables your employees to build relationships with your customers, increasing their value and purpose to the organization. (Everyone enjoys being able to speak to someone that knows their business, rather than relay the same information over and over again to get an answer to a question) Two, it sets your organization apart from the myriad of "vendors" out there, all fighting for the "best price bottom". In a time where customer engagement has been automated, streamlined, and digitized, it's essential to look at breaking your fourth wall, and start getting face-to-face with your customer instead of hiding behind a generic, sanitized brand identity.
Andrea Olson is founder of marketing and communications strategic consulting firm Prag'madik.