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4 ways to take advantage of modern manufacturing trends

(BUSINESS MARKETING) Big companies are in a bit of a bind currently with ongoing trade issues and environmental impact, so wouldn’t local manufacturers be the way to go?

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A lot of trends are impacting the world economy and the manufacturing sector in 2020. We don’t always get to choose our circumstances, but we do choose how we react to them.

The following is a rundown of the four biggest trends affecting manufacturers today. Knowing how to meet these challenges — and when a problem is an opportunity in disguise — could be the key to survival in increasingly competitive markets.

Here’s how companies can weather ongoing and future changes and come out the other side stronger than ever.

1. Domestic Sourcing and Manufacturing

Multiple reasons exist for why domestic sourcing and manufacturing are trending right now in the United States. One is the environment — shorter supply chains lead to smaller carbon footprints. Another is ongoing trade tensions making international freight more complicated than it needs to be.
To figure out if switching to domestic sourcing of materials and local manufacturing makes sense, businesses have some questions to ask themselves. Domestic production is making a comeback because of higher buyer control and potentially lower costs. However, determining real-world ROI is more complicated. It requires an understanding of factors such as:

  • How large is a typical run for your company? Overseas manufacturers often require larger batches. This process, in turn, requires the storage of more inventory than you might want.
  • Is the product light or heavy? Transporting cumbersome items over a distance is more resource- and labor-intensive than shipping smaller ones.
  • How much collaboration do you require with your suppliers and manufacturing partners? Speaking the same language and having the option to visit a factory are major advantages.

2. Additive Manufacturing (3D Printing)

Additive manufacturing has the potential to change the game for small and large companies completely. The ability to quickly prototype new product designs or fabricate replacement parts in-house is exceptionally enticing for manufacturers. However, these are just a hint of the advantages.

Research points to a potential 41 to 74% energy savings for 3D printing compared to traditional large-scale manufacturing techniques, such as injection molding. Manufacturers that incorporate 3D printing into their operations may also reduce waste and improve productivity and efficiency.

Not every company produces the types of consumer goods for which 3D printers are best suited. Several questions should come up before adopting additive manufacturing, including whether 3D printing-based “manufacturing-as-a-service” is a better way forward.

Is the part highly complex? Does it require post-processing? Current 3D printers don’t always play well with highly convoluted shapes and may require post-processing that would occur in CNC machining anyway. How much assembly is required? It may be tempting to 3D-print one consolidated part instead of assembling five separately machined ones. However, 3D printing large pieces can be much more expensive than manufacturing them separately and assembling after.

Is the company not yet ready to purchase a 3D printer? Manufacturing-as-a-service could be the path forward for many companies that lack capital but not creative vision. Rolls-Royce was one of the first to offer industrial services on a per-use basis, but 3D printing is revolutionizing the concept thanks to collaboration tools, such as the easy exchange of digital blueprints.

3. The Industrial Internet of Things

The Industrial Internet of Things, or IIoT, is bringing smart manufacturing to the masses. Smart manufacturing refers to networks of digital and physical systems that make industrial data available anywhere and anytime it’s needed.

Many examples exist of how the IIoT delivers value to manufacturers. These instances include gathering equipment data in real-time to spot trouble and avoid downtime, tool monitoring to maximize product quality and consistency and the means to track and reduce energy usage across a facility or supply chain.

Choosing and implementing the right connected equipment and IIoT products isn’t always straightforward. It requires close attention to factors. Compatibility and interference, for instance, bring new connected devices onto the factory floor and require input from engineers who understand how different devices connect as well as how they can interfere with one another. LCD screens are standard in human-machine interfaces, but choosing low-quality components can introduce interference and other unpredictable behavior.

Physical and cybersecurity is also a point of concern. Not every IoT vendor takes safety seriously. Connected factory equipment requires new levels of training and vigilance. Physical assets should have reliable access controls to avoid purposeful or accidental tampering. Plus, all data transmitted off-site should be encrypted first.

4. The Skilled Labor Shortage

Estimates claim that around 2.4 million skilled and semi-skilled manufacturing positions could remain unfilled by 2028. This trend will continue to impact companies throughout the coming years if they don’t figure out how to turn the situation to their advantage.

If manufacturers find their way back to the apprenticeship model and other forms of onsite training, they can attract not just potential talent, but engaged expertise. Studies show that workers are likelier to stay with companies that invest in their development.

Manufacturers can also set themselves apart from the competition in the eyes of job-seekers by working closely with universities and trade schools. This strategy could open the door to students earning credits and degrees onsite instead of in classrooms. Jim Nelson, a VP at the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association, says, “Every job should have a pathway to a bachelor’s degree. But not every job starts there.”

Plus, smart automation on the factory floor can pick up the slack during downturns in talent availability without displacing existing workers. Robotic inspections outperform human inspectors while allowing management to lift employees into more rewarding, more challenging, less repetitive positions.

Manufacturing in Flux in the Wake of New Trends

More than ever, success in manufacturing requires a careful balance of humanity, culture and technology. Companies with the right approach can benefit from these positive trends and learn to see the less-favorable ones as opportunities for reinvention.

The American Genius is news, insights, tools, and inspiration for business owners and professionals. AG condenses information on technology, business, social media, startups, economics and more, so you don’t have to.

Business Marketing

7 Low-budget marketing ideas for small businesses [sponsored]

(MARKETING) Marketing ideas are often expensive or ultra time consuming, but let’s talk about some proven tactics that won’t break the bank.

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The following marketing ideas are provided to you buy Threadsy:

No matter the size of your business, marketing matters! It’s important for small and big businesses alike to attract new customers, establish brand awareness, and to create buzz around products and services. But we know that not every business owner has tons of funds to devote to their marketing strategy. The good news? There are some highly effective marketing tactics that are also budget-friendly!

Here are seven low-budget marketing strategies for small business owners and side hustlers to grow their reach:

1. Sponsor Local Events

One of the best ways to get to know potential customers? Actually meet and talk to them! When you sponsor local events, you can be on-site to help people put a face with your business’s name. Sponsoring events is also a fantastic way to offer branded merchandise that can help you get your name and your logo out there.

Besides branded materials like signs, banners, or fliers, think about offering some fun items like wine bags to give away to attendees. Goody bags also make fantastic take-home options for local events. A branded canvas tote can be repurposed as an environmentally-friendly grocery bag, lunch bag for work, or a carry-all accessory for conventions and tradeshows. Print your logo on the outside and fill your goody bags with customized items like water bottles, notebooks, pens, and towels.

2. Let Your Colors Fly

Make some cool t-shirts featuring your logo! Wear them to the sponsored events mentioned above, out in the community, or anywhere you may encounter potential customers and can strike up a conversation. You can also offer t-shirts at a discount in-store or online, and turn your loyal customers into advertisers.

Quick tip: Purchase wholesale shirts to reduce manufacturing costs.

3. Social Media

If you’re not already leveraging social media to promote your business, it’s time to start! Think your customers aren’t using social networks? While certain demographics use various platforms more than others, according to fundera, 74% of consumers rely on social media to guide purchasing decisions. Plus, 96% of small businesses say they use social media in their marketing strategy.

So use your social media channels to level the playing field. To maximize your time and effort, determine where your audience members spend their time. Which platforms are they using? If you have a dedicated social media strategist on staff, they can perform audience research to tailor your approach to your existing and potential customers. If you’re running your own social strategy, spend some time digging into the demographics to determine which platforms make the most sense for your brand. From there, you’ll need to decide on the types of content you want to post, how to interact with your customers online, and create a social media calendar to plan your strategy.

4. Host a Giveaway

Once you’ve got your social media strategy up and running, why not host an online giveaway/sweepstakes to build some buzz, boost engagement, and attract followers? Pick a social media platform where you already engage with your customers. You’ll want to offer an item as the prize. This can be anything from a free product, a discount on an expensive product or service, or inexpensive swag like hats to help you promote your brand.

Once you’ve chosen the prize(s), decide on the terms for your giveaway. For example, an Instagram sweepstakes might look like this:

  • Create posts about the giveaway and explain the rules (multiple stories and 1 or 2 posts depending on the length of the contest)
  • These posts should specify the terms, for example:
    – In order to enter, potential winners must follow you
    – Encourage your followers to tag other people who may be interested. Each “tag” gets them another entry into the contest
    – You can also specify that contest applicants must share your post on their own profile
  • Once the contest has ended, pick a winner. Tag them in a post and story announcing what they’ve won and ask them to also share these posts to their own profile

Quick tip: You can also offer smaller or less-expensive items as consolation prizes. People love free swag and it’s an easy way to get your name out there!

5. Referral Discounts

Offering friends and family discounts on your products or services can help you establish loyalty and promote exclusivity. Offer discount codes or create a refer-a-friend program. You can also offer small incentives for customers who share about your brand on social media. Referral discounts are a great marketing strategy whether you use them in-store, online, or both.

6. Create or Update Your Blog

If you already have a website, you can put it to use to help build brand awareness and attract high-funnel customers. Blogging is a low-cost way to generate organic traffic (website visitors via Google or other search engines). If you don’t already have a blog, there are a number of free and inexpensive blog platforms you can use including Wix and WordPress.

You’ll want to write about topics that are related to your product or service and are of interest to your customers. For example, if you offer graphic design, you might want to create content about how to find an effective graphic designer online, or which projects you can do with an online platform like Canva vs. more complex projects where you should hire a professional designer.

Your website and blog are also great places to post “about us” content to offer website visitors an opportunity to learn more about you, your business, and your mission and values.

7. Update Your Google My Business Profile

Google My Business (GMB) is a free tool that allows you to share important information about your business like your address, hours of operation, and contact information. When your listing is optimized with this information, it’s displayed in Google Search and will also appear in Google Maps, which can help you attract local customers.

To get started, you need to create a GMB profile and verify your business information. This is a relatively simple but important step to ensure customers are able to find your business or service online. Make sure to keep your listing updated if you change any information like your website URL, address, or hours.

The takeaway:

When creating your marketing strategy, remember to stay true to your brand. Not every tactic will be the most effective for every business. Choose the tactics that make sense for your brand or product offering. Another way to prioritize is to consider the perceived impact and effort of each marketing strategy. Use the strategies that require the lowest effort but will potentially drive the highest return.

Once you have those in place, decide which of the other strategies make sense for your customers and your business goals. Also, make sure to keep track of all of your marketing expenditures and the sales from these tactics so you can assess which ones were successful and which ones you may need to re-evaluate or alter.

Remember, when it comes to marketing, it’s an ever-evolving system. Trust the process and try to have some fun with your marketing strategy!

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Business Marketing

Yelp listings now show companies’ COVID-19 policies

(BUSINESS) Yelp has updated their settings to allow business owners to make their COVID-19 policies public, so consumers are aware in advance.

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Yelp recently added tools to help businesses share their COVID-19 restrictions and policies with consumers, focusing for now on vaccinations. This is the latest in a series of attempts to combat misinformation and illegitimate reviews plaguing the platform.

Yelp has rolled out two new attributes for businesses to add to their profiles last week.

One option, a tag that reads “Proof of vaccination required,” communicates clearly the need to carry one’s vaccination card (or, presumably, wear a face covering) to gain entry. The other – ”Staff fully vaccinated” – speaks for itself.

These attributes stand to increase customer awareness of the circumstances facing them before visiting a business, thereby cutting down on frustrations – at least in theory.

The general public’s dearth in understanding regarding social distancing protocols and business restrictions certainly wasn’t helped by the fact that different states had different responses to COVID-19 – and that’s not even taking into account the microcosmic changes cities found themselves making.

For example, while the state of New York may not require proof of vaccinations to enter restaurants, New York City certainly does.

Rumors are that San Francisco may be implementing similar legislation, positing that other cities may very well go in the same direction.

To compound on this lack of uniform response, small businesses are finding themselves having to make their own policies as the cities around them ease up on restrictions. It isn’t out of the norm for a restaurant staffed by at-risk employees to ask customers to wear masks, so as Delta surges in places with low vaccination rates, it isn’t terribly surprising that those same establishments would ask to see proof of vaccination.

Yelp looks to make this process as transparent as possible with their profile attributes, but they’re aware that there was a general uptick in frustrated customers leaving poor reviews for restaurants that required masking or other social distancing actions.

“Yelp says the practice [of review bombing] has gotten worse in recent months,” reports TechCrunch.

In response, Yelp will be employing both automated and human moderation measures to ensure that businesses aren’t unfairly targeted for their protocols. This is actually something the company did after adding the “Black-owned” attribute (and subsequent identity attributes) last summer as well.

If you’re interested in adding either of the new attributes to your business profile, you can find them on the “Yelp for Business” page.

As the pandemic continues to develop, we may see additional COVID-19 attributes from Yelp.

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Business Marketing

Society has changed – no one wants help in a store anymore

(CUSTOMER SERVICE) Times are changing in the retail environment: a once customer-service driven experience is evolving into a minimalistic customer service approach.

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Once upon a time, good retail management meant good customer service skills – asking customers if they needed assistance, helping them decide what looked best on them, and politely stalking customers to insure a sale was completed.

As technology evolves and become more prevalent and pervasive in our lives, these skills are no longer needed or wanted. A new study suggest that shoppers want to be left alone while browsing in stores, rather than be stalked, questioned, and coaxed into buying items they may not explicitly want due to persistent pressure from sales associates.

An HRC survey found that a whopping 95% of shoppers would prefer to be left completely alone while navigating the retail environment, rather than shopping under a constant barrage of questions: “Can I help you find anything?” “How are you today?” “What brought you in?” and the seemingly endless stream of inquiries, not to mention the sales pressure from those employees working on commission, can simply be too much for consumers looking to relax, browse in peace, or simply get in and out of a store quickly.

While the greater majority of shoppers may prefer to be left alone, this should not come as too much of a surprise, considering how much technology has supplemented the shopping experience. With enhanced apps and self-checkout lines it’s not hard to understand why most shoppers prefer to browse solo.

Smartphones have given us the ability to check prices, order goods, and check stock all without interacting with another human.

For many shoppers, this is an efficient way to save both time and money while shopping. For other shoppers, like myself, smartphones offer another way to shop without triggering my anxiety. Asking for help, or a price is nearly impossible – I’d rather go without an item than have to ask someone for help.

Sounds ridiculous? Believe me, it feels ridiculous too, but nevertheless, having alternative ways to shop without interacting, is a blessing for many people, for a variety of reasons.

What does this mean for stores? It’s time to take another look at your apps and/or mobile presence (and in-store wifi availability). Since customers are shying away from human interaction, is your app allowing people to scan for prices? Can your customers check stock and order things online to be picked up in store? Can customers use your app to enhance their shopping experience in-store? If not, you may lose customers to stores that offer these enhanced apps.

Times are changing.

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