The Interlock Between Product Innovation and Marketing

May 18, 2022 | 5 min read

Caroline Pan, CMO, Bright Machines

Bright Machines was founded 4 years ago with a vision to change the way final assembly of products is done. Many of the products we use today are still assembled by hand, far from home. This is tedious, time consuming, and difficult to scale. The labor intensity is also such that, over the years, these jobs migrated offshore to countries where lower wages could justify the vast headcount required to perform such manual operations.

In some cases, and in some industries, companies have been able to automate some of these tasks, using robotics for example. This can be very effective for high volume, highly repetitive tasks, done at high speeds – but not always so easy to change once in place. 

What the founders of Bright Machines realized was that by applying software, AI, and machine learning to the problem, we could create “programmable” assembly lines that were automated, but also flexible enough to adapt to a wide range of external conditions.

This led to what we call the Bright Machines Microfactory – essentially, a set of pre-integrated, fully encapsulated robotics cells, configured through software, end-of-arm tools, and material feeding – that offers manufacturers a new, more agile approach to improving manufacturing efficiency and strengthening supply chain resiliency.

Understanding the market opportunity

Part of my role as the Chief Marketing Officer at Bright Machines is to deeply understand the market opportunity for the company, and to ensure that our people and operations are pointed in the right direction to capture share and win in our market.

What attracted me to join Bright Machines was simple:

  • A huge market opportunity in global industrial automation – expected to surpass $250B over the next 2-3 years and continuing to grow
  • Significant and accelerating macroeconomic trends that are generating massive, positive tailwinds for the business.

These trends include:

  • Supply chain disruptions – exacerbated by the global pandemic, trade conflicts, and war
  • Labor shortages – particularly in U.S. manufacturing (2.1M jobs expected to go unfilled by 2030)
  • Reshoring and near-shoring – to mitigate supply chain risk and build closer to where you sell
  • Sustainability – heightened awareness and increased focus on reducing waste and shifting towards smaller footprint, more energy-efficient production

All of these trends are interlinked. Demand for products is growing due to the rising middle class around the world. Couple this with a growing customer and government policy preference for products to be made closer to them. In many cases, that means reshoring production from Asia to higher-cost markets like the U.S. But more expensive labor and worse yet, labor shortages, mean that you can’t just replicate the type of mega-factory you may have had overseas. Layer on top the stress the COVID pandemic put on global supply chains, and we can see that the traditional methods of manufacturing have reached their limits.

Product and marketing working side-by-side  

Marketing teams everywhere have an opportunity to help define which market their company is going after, pinpoint and size the opportunity, understand the macro trends, identify who the customers are and should be, what vertical segments should be prioritized, and so much more.  

Importantly, marketing should also be vocalizing what the customers are saying – their challenges, pain points, and the dynamics they are seeing in their industry and across their ecosystem – as well as any emerging competitive forces that need to be considered.

That said, marketers are in a unique position. We can often get stuck in a situation where we’re the recipient of a lot of other work that goes on earlier in the process. At Bright Machines, we don’t agree with that approach – we believe that marketing should not be relegated to the end of the process.  We need to get involved upfront in product definition and have a strong voice at the table to best balance ideas with insights. 

For example, the need for “flexibility” in manufacturing automation is something we have been hearing repeatedly from our enterprise customers, particularly in recent years as supply chains unraveled. It suddenly became a strategic priority for these customers to increase agility while future-proofing their capital investments.   

Recognizing this signal, internalizing it, and using it as a “North Star”, helps us focus our product development teams and narrow choices when it comes to product definition and roadmap planning.  Not to mention, helps us hone our marketing messaging and better target our campaign work for maximum effectiveness!

This is why there needs to be a solid relationship, with trust and transparency, across all functions, especially between product and marketing – because these insights come to the forefront when teams start cross-collaborating. 

Market-back vs. technology-forward 

In thinking about establishing a symbiotic relationship between functions within an organization – and what you need to think about when you’re in the product ideation phase – I believe there needs to be a shift in mindset from being “technology-forward” to being “market-backed”.

When you’re in an engineering-centric company, the tendency is often to think technology forward. What’s the next coolest thing that I could make? How can I make it faster? How can I add more features? How can I make it smaller (or bigger), or a myriad of other options that are all technically feasible but not necessarily a market requirement or even a unique differentiator?

It is important to remind ourselves to start from what the market telling you it needs – and to understand how it creates a window of opportunity for you to do things differently. Then, balance that research and understanding with the technology so that it’s not just technology for technology’s sake, but rather leveraging and applying technology to solve critical customer problems.

So you can see that marketers have a wonderful opportunity to be that voice of the customer, to bring that external market view back to the product management and development teams, and to create that healthy tension that ultimately results in a better product.

I’m proud that at Bright Machines, our number one focus is on providing solutions that our manufacturing customers need – market-backed solutions that will make them more competitive now and over the long run, even as market dynamics change, as they inevitably will.

Hear more about macro trends impacting the manufacturing industry and how a strong partnership between product and marketing functions is the way forward in the Product Coffee podcast with host Kevin Gentry and Caroline Pan. Full episode here: Co-Creating Products with Marketing.

To learn more about our capabilities in building the backbone of AI, visit Bright Machines.

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