I grew up in Montana, so for a long time when someone mentioned the word “brand” the first thing I thought of was singed cowhide. I’m not sure most manufacturers think of it as much more than that now.

For some, it’s often thought of as a logo or a color palette or fonts. Maybe what a brochure looks like, or the sounds of a radio ad. But for top-performing companies, a brand is a promise and that promise needs to be lived in to be delivered on by their employees. It’s the actions they take to fulfill that promise. And those actions are influenced—for better or worse—by the sights and smells and textures of a company.

What manufacturers can learn from retail

Retail knows this well. They have spent billions developing “experiences” for their customers. When you walk into a store like Home Depot, Gap, Apple or Ikea, every single sign, aisle, shelf, and sight-line has been tested and optimized. The lighting, the sounds you hear, the smells, the feel of the furniture — every detail is part of a meticulous plan to unfold what this company stands for (i.e. the brand) around you. Heck, Ikea even has a section of their site dedicated to helping you make the most of their store experience.

This isn’t new or terribly insightful when it comes to retail. But what about manufacturers? Where does designing a “brand experience” come into play for companies that don’t cater to the common public?

If you’re thinking it doesn’t matter, tell that to Kohler. Granted, they are both a B2B and B2C company, but they have invested heavily in crafting a design center experience that showcases both the raw effort of forging their products as well as their beautiful potential.

Another designed experience that manufacturers often use is a tour site. By carefully displaying a company’s process and past success, they can bring potential customers on a guided tour of their facilities, show off innovations and talk to what working with them is like. Often these tours will include stops along the way where prospects can interact with several employees.

This brings me to the most important designed experience of them all — the employees.

Living the brand inside

B2E (business to employee) is becoming a popular acronym, but often it’s only shorthand for a custom web page or section of an intranet dedicated to information employees want or need. Stopping your employee engagement efforts there would be a missed opportunity. For a manufacturer to achieve unimaginable success, they need employees who aren’t just going through the motions, but who genuinely understand and embrace the vision, are trained on it and have a comfortable, high-functioning environment in which to deliver on it. They need to be physically immersed in the vision.

Knowing a company only spends money on that which they feel is important, employees take note when their environment is transformed and reflects the brand’s outward promise internally. Creative messaging, custom décor, site-specific opportunities can all be used to reinforce your story throughout the workday.

The promise in action

We’ve seen this first-hand. One client we worked with went through a complete rebranding of their company and were poised to unveil it to the world. But before they did so, they took the time and resources to completely transform the office and warehouse over the weekend to embody the new brand. The following Monday, their associates found themselves immersed in their new shared identity and mission.

Did it work? A strategic goal set by the company during planning — to double sales within 1 year — was accomplished within 3 months of the launch, an accomplishment in which the environment played a key supporting role.

Your environment is powerful. It helps drive the emotions that lead to actions. And those actions, when directed toward your customers, are the most powerful asset you have.