The image of manufacturing: aligning strategy, culture and branding

Posted on 6 Nov 2023 by Joe Bush

The Manufacturer Editor, Joe Bush catches up with Gilmar Wendt, Founder of creative change consultancy, GW+Co, to discuss why strategy, culture and brand should not be overlooked by manufacturers.

When you throw around terms such as culture and branding, you would perhaps be forgiven for conjuring up images of open plan offices equipped with bean bags and pool tables. Plus, with the myriad of challenges facing manufacturers today, it is perhaps understandable if these elements of a business are neglected in some quarters.

However, Gilmar explained that not only is culture, strategy and branding far more than just livery and logos, they are fundamentally linked to how a company understands its own business. To this end GW+Co helps its clients to achieve this through the creation of its business propeller, which links strategy, culture and branding together.

When it comes to strategy and branding, Gilmar warned that a common mistake he often sees is that companies tend to either lack communication around these two critical elements of the business, or communication is practiced through commands, which is ineffective in terms of generating employee engagement.

Management guru Peter Drucker said, “culture eats strategy for breakfast”, and this is a sentiment echoed by Gilmar: “I’ve gone into businesses where the CEO has performed some sort of restructuring strategy, but when we go and speak to the middle management layer, their perspective is more: ‘I’ve survived three strategies, I’ll survive this one.’

“If that’s your starting point, your project is not going to be very successful. You have to embed strategy and culture early on, not after everything has been decided. Don’t only involve people at the end of the process.”

When speaking around brand and culture, Gilmar added that the plethora of available communication channels, some of which are difficult to control, makes transparency key. Whatever you say publicly, you’ll be found out very quickly if it’s untrue. Branding will be undermined if it’s done superficially.

When to get help

Gilmar added that companies seek the services of GW+Co for three key reasons. The first is when an organisation is experiencing a growth pain; either there is a desire to grow and the company is seeking guidance or new ground is being broken and structures need to be rethought and repositioned.

The second is when there is a pivot pain i.e., something hasn’t worked and strategies need to be reworked and rethought. And thirdly, companies may seek help during acquisitions and mergers. “It’s not unusual for a company to approach us having already invested in a branding project. It may be beautiful and look nice but it hasn’t changed anything, so it’s merely a sticking plaster,” he added.

He stressed that solutions to these problems can be found by engaging your people. Wisdom is not always found at the centre of the company – it is sometimes at the edge and Gilmar explained that GW+Co has developed tools to help organisations get there.

The business propeller
The business propeller

“The way you communicate needs to reflect your strategy. And you will be surprised how often that isn’t the case,” he added. “If you look at the three blades of the business propeller; we’re concerned with the parts in between, which is effectiveness between culture and strategy; authenticity between culture and brand; and impact between strategy and brand. If you just pull on one side of the propeller you will eventually break the blades – if you want to fly, you have to turn them all together.”

Waking up

As mentioned, these elements are perhaps not at the top of a manufacturer’s priority list, particularly when you consider the other ongoing challenges currently facing the sector. However, Gilmar added that the sector is starting to change and wake up to the concept of branding and culture.

On the one hand, manufacturers, by their very nature, are great at process, operations and refining them to be more efficient – that’s the engineering mindset. However, the tricky part is when that same ethos is applied to people, who are all different, with diverse set of ideas and thought processes.

“The 20th century model of business is based around compartmentalising,” Gilmar continued. “This is focused on a top down approach where different elements of the business represent cogs in the wheels of a big machine. And as long as everything is well oiled, the machine will run. However, that model completely negates the human dimension – you can’t think of human processes in the same way as operating processes.”

He added that when considering human resources in many manufacturing organisations, they tend to be very bureaucratic, inflexible and administrative, much like a production system. This leads to a clash between operations – where efficiency is the name of the game – and humans who want autonomy and appreciation, which is hard to achieve with a traditional approach. This means that the potential of an organisation’s people is often being missed.

He went on to highlight the need to change the aura of manufacturing in the UK; to shift the way the industry presents itself in order to entice much need skilled people in, and not to lose them to other competitive sectors.

Ultimately, it will be engineers who solve the biggest problems we’re facing as a society and it’s in factories where these changes will take place. It’s a future oriented and future enabling industry, but the aura needs to shift. Currently factories are presented as places where young people will end up if they don’t learn or pay attention at school. That needs to change.

The biggest barriers

Gilmar added that this mindset is often the biggest hurdle that manufacturers have to overcome. To address this he advises tapping into the wisdom that already exists within the business; bringing skilled people from different parts of the business together to solve a problem, in what he describes as ‘jamming’ sessions.

These creative environments often identify the problem as being something completely different to what was originally thought. “We often test assumptions, sometimes by going to customers; helping the company understand the differences between assumption and reality.

“We had a client come to us and say that their reviews weren’t good enough, so the assumption was that their app needed a fix. We brought together a team consisting of app developers, customer service personnel from three different regions of the world, marketing and branding, technology and product. All very different disciplines, and we worked with them on a blueprint for the customer experience.

“We found the app wasn’t the problem at all, it was the symptom for the way they handled customer problems. That is invaluable because they could have changed the features on the app 1,000 times and it wouldn’t have altered a thing. We mapped the customer journey and discovered that there were gaps that hadn’t been seen.

“That then fed into a series of initiatives that were presented to the board, and rated how critical and/or expensive they were. That’s an example of what we call collaborative design. And we wouldn’t have got there if we hadn’t brought all those different perspectives together.

“The facilitation of those perspectives and tapping into the wisdom of the firm is one of the solutions that we provide, and it can be very successful. There’s so many ways where you can apply this integrative thinking and collaborative design methodologies.”

What does the GW+Co journey look like for manufacturers?

GW+Co works with manufacturers in a variety of different ways. The first is where a clearly defined project within an organisation is ring-fenced, and a pilot is undertaken for a period of six to ten weeks, at the end of which the client has something tangible to build on.

Further to that a company can embark on a branding programme, often as a partnership, where capabilities are built up on the client side and five strategic challenges are met.

  1. Sustainable growth: Learn how to address the growing pains that rapid growth can cause.
  2. Brand development and rejuvenation: See how brands can lead from the front, leverage heritage and get future-fit.
  3. Business transformation: Find out how to pout purpose at the heart of strategy, culture and brand.
  4. Post merger and restructuring: Learn how to move towards a futures mindset.
  5. Culture and talent: Learn how people, organisations and teams can thrive.

“It’s a journey that needs to be thought of in terms of an expedition that you’re going through, rather than a project that needs to be delivered; that’s when you start thinking in a different way,” added Gilmar.

“This allows you to be prepared for eventualities that you can’t plan. You can work towards a change programme but you don’t know how it’s going to come out, so you have to have an element of agility and improvisation. That is not always easy as business people genuinely want to have control, but you have to embrace a bit of flexibility.

“We’ve got a very tested process and have been doing it for 14 years; it’s both creative and effective, but we can’t pretend that we can plan for everything. If it’s a 12 month project, we don’t know what the 12 months look like; we just know what we want to have at the end.

“So, you need to distinguish between outputs, which you can specify, and outcomes that you need to work towards. And this can be where the problem is with branding. A company could specify that they need a new brand, but often don’t ask what they want it for and whether it’s really going to help the company.”


GW+Co is now working closely with Make UK on raising the profile, and the aforementioned aura of manufacturing. The UK has a proud manufacturing heritage, with countless inventions and geniuses coming from these shores. However, it’s a sector and a profession that is perhaps not looked up to in the same way as it is in other countries, Germany being a prime example.

“We want to change that because there’s a dignity in manufacturing,” Gilmar continued, “The solution to the world’s big problems, such as climate change, will not just come from AI and software, somebody will have to build those solutions. And a country that has got so much ingenuity, creativity and willingness to collaborate, should be doing better.”

Off the back of Make UK’s paper on industrial strategy and the drive to make manufacturing a much larger share of GDP, it was clear to GW+Co that both entities are targeting the same goal. Therefore, in partnership with Make UK, the two are bringing those collaborative practices into the manufacturing world.

Manufacturing case studies


OSRAM, as part of ams OSRAM, is a known brand and a global leader in illumination, however, their presence in the UV-C market has been subdued to date. ams OSRAM saw a chance to become a global leader in this emerging UV-C LED technology and to own the conversation around UV-C LEDs.

GW+Co’s challenge was to give them the voice needed to do this. The creative positioning was born of the product’s defining feature – its ability to kill germs at the flick of a switch. To the layman, invisible light that kills germs in an instant seems like science fiction. GW+Co captured this spirit in the campaign byline – Nothing short of magic.

Brought together, the two lines LIGHTS ON, GERMS GONE have the impact and imagination needed to position ams OSRAM as a market leader.

Control Techniques

Control Techniques is an innovative, global drive specialist with a long entrepreneurial history. After a meteoric rise, the company was bought and integrated into a large corporation, losing its spirit and sales in the process. A new parent company brought in a CEO with an ambition to become a significant player on the global stage again.

Control Techniques bought into GW+Co’s roadmap for change by aligning strategy, culture and brand at all levels of the organisation. A series of workshops with the whole management brought the key challenges out in the open.

Collectively, GW+Co developed a Business Compass, defining the company’s purpose, strategic priorities, values and voice, to rejuvenate the brand. This included the integration of management data reporting, solving the problem of how to connect the brand strategy to the corporate requirements of the parent company.


Nidec, the world’s largest electrical motor maker, celebrated its 50th anniversary this year. Through acquisitions, it has expanded while focusing on performance. Acquired brands get autonomy to meet respective market needs. So at the group level, brand understanding has been industrial B2B-focused. Nidec is key in transport electrification – building charging infrastructure, EV batteries (with Stellantis), and electric propulsion for aerospace (with Embraer).

Control Techniques was founded just a year after Nidec, was acquired from Emerson in 2016. Its CEO wanted to realign culture, brand, and strategy by tapping into founding roots. Through collaborative design, GW+Co helped create a system enabling the company to be a specialist challenger again with tools for employees to embrace. This doubled Control Techniques’ revenue in four years.

GW+Co work with Nidec’s $3.5bn Motion Energy business on its growth plan – assisting with brand and communications standards and raising their profile through storytelling. As humanistic design benefits become clear in engineering and manufacturing, integrating acquisitions will become more compelling.

Gilmar WendtGilmar Wendt is a business design strategist known for his interdisciplinary approach that brings together various professionals to transform businesses. His three guiding principles are: change is collaborative, success is achieved through incremental steps, and sustainability is ensured when everyone benefits. He is the founder and CEO of GW+Co, a multi-awarded creative change consultancy for engineers and makers.

GW+Co’s transformative process focuses on creating a sense of belonging, alignment, and growth among teams, leading to positive transformations in businesses like Control Techniques, Lenzing, CoinShares, Zumtobel, and Peel Hunt. These transformations help companies find their unique voice, foster collaborative cultures, and become effective and authentic in their impact. GW+Co is international with offices based in London and Germany.

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