Reviewing the majority of reports and trend forecasts regarding the fortunes of the manufacturing and engineering industry, one cannot fault the increasing sense of optimism within the market with all indictors pointing to the green shoots of a recovery being felt.

Mark Prisk, Minister of State for Business and Enterprise commented at the Institute of Mechanical Engineers, London, 2nd March 2011. “Despite what some people think, the UK remains one of the world’s leading manufacturing nations. Industry generates £140bn a year to the economy , and it accounts for 55% of the UK’s total exports”.

What is clear is that by the time we reach recovery, there may well be companies of all sizes who have had to change their roadmap so significantly that their position will be substantially different from that they held before the ‘recession’ took its toll.

So, now recovery is on the horizon, who has made it to the starting line fighting fit and ready to welcome in the upturn?

Costs within Manufacturing and Engineering have sky-rocketed, both from raw materials, energy and general business costs driving companies to focus on efficiency. No doubt, over the last few years, companies have undertaken a number of initiatives to weather the storm. These strategies more than often have fallen into one of 2 camps; either battening down the hatches and cutting all possible additional expenditure or investing strategically in efficient route-to-market initiatives. Companies who have refocused on the ideal customer and have invested in target selection, assessment and execution together with a commitment to increased market / brand presence are finding that they have created high efficiency levels for customer retention and acquisition.

As every good marketer knows those who leave marketing until the curve starts heading upwards tend to find they are a little too late. Companies that will be well positioned to maximise the new opportunities that come along in 2011 are those that have remained committed to marketing; internally and externally.

Job security has been high on the radar for many employees, and those companies that have held onto and protected their good staff can hope to hang onto them as we come out of the current situation. Those that haven’t may well find their best people jumping ship as the employment market picks up. This is just one example of the importance of internal communication and marketing which should yield a good ‘return’ as the best people remain in their roles to maximise sales growth moving forward.

Companies who have worked hard to retain their customer base and profile in the marketplace are those who have understood the value of marketing and who have seen it as a business protector and builder. Customer service, price positioning, trade support and visibility are some of the elements which will have formed the basis for the wiser companies. Price positioning does not, in this instance, refer to price slashing - moreover it refers to protecting perceived value through initiatives other than discounting. Many companies, understandably, will have used price as a mechanism for growing volume rather than value, but might be faced with a tricky situation when they try and put prices back up!

Communication underpins all activities for success, never more so than in challenging times, when it comes to the fore as a strategic tool. Communication is the key to selling in value – in our experience over the last couple of years, a very simple communication tool has shown significant success in terms of maintaining profile, customer confidence and market interest – and this has been the humble case study.

Being able to demonstrate project success and communicate WIIFM (what’s in it for me) has gone a long way to create pull strategies within markets. Potential clients are far more likely to buy into a counterpart’s comments than a sales message from a business.

This is just one example of the power of communication moving away from the overt sales messaging. Staying on top and front of mind over recent years has been down to perceptions - never more than in recent years have brand personality and perception been so heavily used within the industry. Retaining position through association cues i.e. success, credibility, trust, peace of mind and happy customers, has been a strategy employed by companies and brands of all sizes. The last couple of years have seen the goalposts shift – where larger companies have not necessarily held their game and smaller companies who have had greater focus on clear and consistent communication have come to the fore.

Powerful marketing hasn’t been about big budgets in recent years and even in 2011 and beyond this will more than likely remain true. Marketing has become more than ever about communication – understanding all the audiences, acknowledging their concerns and pressures and working harder and smarter to reassure, support, partner and build success together.

So, if the predictions are right and 2011 sees a turnaround in fortunes, then all good – but there is still time for markets to shrink, competitors to drastically change their strategy, prices to continue to rise – all placing more pressure on day to day activities. Not quite time to sit back and relax just yet. Adopting a clear communication strategy now will ensure a good position moving forward and if implemented correctly will continue to yield great benefits in the years to come, delivery real route-to-market efficiency.