Unconscious Brand Building

I’ll wager there aren’t many readers of this blog who have ever heard of North American Manufacturing.

But I believe they’re one of the best-branded companies going.

They’re a very successful old-line provider of combustion components and systems for industrial applications.

I think they’ve gone about establishing a brand in the business-to-business sector that serves as an example all of us might attempt to achieve.

I first learned of North American Manufacturing while working as new product marketing manager for Coors Ceramics. (Many don’t know that Coors founded this business before WWI to supply bottle stoppers for their beer, and then chemical porcelain equipment when war with the Germans become imminent. Until Coors began making these vessels, Germany was our prime source for these vital lab tools.)

Anyway, I was asked to explore joint developmental partnerships with combustion-related companies to test a high-temperature industrial ceramic heat exchanger for industrial furnaces and kilns back in the late 1970’s.

Since Coors was a customer of burner manufacturers for their kilns, our R & D people were very familiar with combustion component suppliers. They suggested I first talk to North American Manufacturing.

I made a trip back to their headquarters in Cleveland. Their plant was old, undistinguished. Inside, their offices were sparsely furnished with old wooden desks and book cases filled with all sorts of data associated with combustion. I met with their marketing people and their product development staff. Almost to a man (no women in executive positions in those days) these people were engineers. They carried slide rules, wore ties and short-sleeved shirts and brought their lunch boxes to work.

North American Manufacturing logo

I found out later that every individual I met had written articles, book chapters, standards documents and white papers about combustion. They were experts. And more, they were passionate about combustion.

Because of these individuals, and those who came before, the company had established itself as the leader for combustion-related equipment

They had actually written the Combustion Handbook for Industrial Applications. Whenever combustion people gathered for technical symposiums or conventions, North American Manufacturing engineers participated on the panels. Almost single-handedly, North American Manufacturing had written the ASME standards for combustion.

What was more, these engineers were always available for one-on-one consultations with customers and prospects. They didn’t consider themselves to be “marketing” or “sales” people; they were just advisors for their customers’ combustion solutions.

Most innovations in burners, insulations, etc., were developed by North American Manufacturing.

They still dominate the combustion equipment industry. With worldwide distribution, and with the decline of “rust belt” industry in the U.S., North American Manufacturing has adapted.

I may be presumptuous, but I doubt while building their brand anyone within the company had consciously thought about branding. They just wanted to be the best at what they did.

So what can we all learn from this example? I’ve identified seven strategies that I believe have contributed to their leadership:

  • Find and develop employees passionate about your company, your products and your customers.
  • Be active in your industry’s development through standards committees, trade associations, seminars, workshops and publications.
  • Actively innovate new products and product improvements.
  • Provide innovative and dedicated services to install, maintain and troubleshoot customer applications.
  • Stick to what you know best and do best.
  • Practice patience and look to long-term growth.
  • Finally, associate with major engineering schools to further the science and engineering of your product category, and to develop preference among students in the field.

Is business-to-business branding any different from consumer product branding? I think there are major differences, and this example from the combustion industry demonstrates several of them.

Martin Jelsema

One thought on “Unconscious Brand Building

  1. Martin,

    Thank you for sharing. Considering the state of manufacturing and their general unwillingness to brand and market, I am always surprised when I learn of a manufacturer doing it right.

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