by Andrea Johnson
For a century, Bemis has supplied specialty adhesives to technical, performance and luxury lifestyle brands. Its long-term goal is to replace sewing with bonding in its marketplace.
The company wanted to take full advantage of the opportunity within a niche market for one of its specialty bonding product called Sewfree® adhesive films. It's a small ecosystem of high-performance products, processed machinery and services that are meant to revolutionize the design and construction of garments, performance wear, outerwear and soft goods.
Bemis wanted to help customers fully understand and take advantage of this value, but it realized it couldn't make that happen by showing them a strip of adhesive. It needed the customer to fully understand how Sewfree can improve the construction and design of their already high-quality products.
In the Sewfree marketplace, Bemis serves leading sportswear brands like Nike, The North Face, Under Armour and Lululemon. The brand has "incredible" relationships with this group, Taylor Duffy, Global Director of Sales and Marketing, Bemis, said. It's always a goal to take those relationships to the next level.
"We really needed to focus on … positioning ourselves as a strategic partner to those brands, particularly in the areas of design, development and innovation, rather than just simply a supplier of raw material," he said.
Bemis conducted a thorough analysis of the organization and its goals, and the issues and challenges of Sewfree customers. That information was used to:
- Intensely focus on how to most efficiently solve the problems of top customers
- Present solutions so customers can quickly understand how Bemis can help them create better designs
- Follow through with manufacturing support to ensure customers successfully use Sewfree within garments
Step #1. Know your company and your customers
Bemis determined its position in the marketplace by obtaining a foundational understanding of what kind of organization it is today, and where it wants to be in the future.
To achieve this:
- The team conducted approximately 30 interviews that lasted one to two hours with key Bemis employees, and then conducted the same amount of interviews of the same length with key customers.
"We had a well-defined script [that focused on] really getting insight from them and what made Bemis different in their eyes, how Bemis added value for them and what opportunities for improvement were, from their perspective," Duffy said.
- They created a picture of both the customers' and employees' perspective of the marketplace, and compared the two to identify overlaps and gaps.
- They conducted three half-day meetings with senior management where they synthesized those insights into a vision for the organization.
Step #2. Narrow your focus
Bemis realized from this research that, to grow, the company had to focus on a narrower marketplace.
"We had to make some tough decisions; [we had to stop] being all things to all people," Duffy said.
Instead, the team decided to focus on high-level design, product development and innovation personnel within leading athletic brands. The team then concentrated marketing dollars and efforts on building connections with actual customers. This was based on feedback from employee and customer interviews. The goal: to solve customer problems and, in essence, make their lives easier.
Step #3. Take what you learn from customers to make their lives easier
The team at Bemis wanted to make sure that they addressed what they had learned from interviews with customers. Their research showed that they had to move beyond simply showing a piece of film to demonstrating how the product can be used in the customers' specific applications.
"We really want to meet what we had heard from them in their interviews around 'Give us tools that make our job easier. Give us tools that help us better understand your technology and that we can integrate seamlessly into the design process,'" Duffy said.
Bemis is able to deliver because of strong customer relationships which allow it to uncover what these major brands are planning in the next 18 months. This enables the company to create a highly customized marketing approach that meets the unique needs of each of its most important customers.
"We use what we call a 'road show' with our top nine brands. It's … a small customer-facing group that includes a sales person, a product manager, a designer and an engineer who present new concepts," Duffy said. "These products and concepts [are presented] to the brand in the context of what they told us was important to them. They are also great opportunities for us to uncover what they might be working on next."
Bemis uses what it has learned from these meetings to develop individualized design boxes
— essentially sales kits — for each customer.
Click here to see the full version of this creative sample
Each box has:
- 10 to 12 application concepts that demonstrate how Bemis products can be used with each customer's particular product.
"So while we're not showing them full garment concepts, what we're showing is part of what the garment would look like with our material designed into it," Duffy said.
- An example that shows an application, such as a pocket or zipper, using the Bemis Sewfree product which would allow customers to modify and customize it to their own needs.
- A full product portfolio — every color and pattern that is available to customers — is broken down by product category, visuals and copy. This helps designers understand where they should be thinking about using products.
- A secondary binder which has its full product portfolio bonded on fabrics.
"It's very important for the designer, developer and innovation personnel to understand how our films and adhesives look and feel once they're applied to the fabric," Duffy said. "The raw adhesive or raw film doesn't really do it justice."
These boxes are updated and changed every six months.
"What goes into the design boxes is heavily based on where we see the market heading or what we see happening in the market on a six-month basis," Duffy said.
Step #4. Provide on-going support
Once the customer has selected a product, Bemis works hand-in-hand, from concept to completion, to ensure:
- The adhesive works perfectly with customers' designs. Customer design teams can come to the Bemis design lab in Massachusetts or Hong Kong. There, they work with Bemis designers to make sure that the product they've selected can be designed into the collections that they're developing.
"It's very common for us to have large teams in our facility in Asia or our facility in Massachusetts from Nike, Under Armour, The North Face and Lululemon to really work hand in hand on the best way to design products," Duffy said.
- The adhesive works perfectly with the fabrics. Bemis tests each customer's fabrics with the adhesives it is interested in to ensure compatibility.
- The factories where customers manufacture garments are using the right processing conditions for the adhesive to optimally bond. Bemis makes machinery recommendations to both the brands and factories.
- Customers have everything they need to develop effective stories they can tell their end user about the features and benefits of a Sewfree-bonded garment.
Bemis achieved its goal of transforming itself from vendor to strategic partner.
"We moved from a manufacturing mentality to a more design-and-development mentality," Duffy said. "We started talking the language and being a part of the world of the people we were talking to — the designers and developers. The target audience is, essentially, some of the greatest designers — at least in the country, if not the world — in the apparel space."
Duffy explained that this affected the visuals and language of their marketing to make it simpler and help their customers "connect the dots."
"It wasn't just material. It wasn't just an ingredient. We became a partner who understood how [customers] were wired and what they reacted to," he said. "We weren't going to show them how to do their job. It was just to say, 'Hey look, this could be this; you could do that. You could rewrite the rules. Here are some tools to help you rewrite the rules.'"
In the two years since Bemis implemented this marketing program, the results have been:
- Overall sportswear business has grown more than 10% year over year.
- Sewfree revenue has grown more than 25% year over year
- Performance-wear segment has grown 20% year over year
"The results of these efforts have been very, very clear in quantitative revenue performance as well as in qualitative feedback we receive from Bemis employees and customers," Duffy said.
- Design box image
— Bemis Associates' marketing partner
ResourcesMarketingSherpa Summit 2016
— At the Bellagio in Las Vegas, February 22-24Three Takeaways on Customer-centric Marketing from Email Summit 2015 Media CenterCustomer-centric Marketing: Learning from customers helps increase lead quality 130%, Sales-accepted leads 40%Customer-centric Marketing: Adding fun to B2BGuided by Buyers: 4 tactics to create a customer-centric sales and marketing strategy8 Questions to Steer Your Marketing Priorities
(From the B2B Lead Roundtable blog)