Business As Unusual: How to Adapt Your Marketing for Supply Chain Disruptions

  • Categories:

    Industry Trends, Marketing Insights

  • Date:

    February 10, 2022

Business As Unusual: How to Adapt Your Marketing for Supply Chain Disruptions

Industry Trends Marketing Insights

From management to marketing — and everything in between — supply chain issues have become a part of daily strategy conversations in 2022 unlike ever before.

Starting with the emergence of COVID-19, global supply chains continue to experience significant disruptions due to factors such as workforce shortages, material scarcity and fluctuating consumer demand.

In our pre-pandemic world, marketing’s role in supporting supply chain management was already vital to keeping stakeholders informed and aligned on things such as target market needs and interests, industry trends and brand awareness. Today, marketing teams are being leaned on even more to provide valuable insights, compelling content and creative solutions to help keep the brands they support moving forward.

To gain a better understanding of how marketers can add value to their companies during these unprecedented supply chain disruptions, I sat down with three Wray Ward leaders — Leslie Gillock, vice president and director of insights; Heather Tamol, PR/content director; and Rebecca Henderson, associate creative director. Here are the highlights of our conversation.

Let’s get started. What advice would you give to other marketers in light of ongoing product shortages?

Gillock: When product supply is unpredictable at best — and nonexistent at worst — the last thing any company should do is pause its marketing altogether. Instead, this is the window of time to take the long view by shifting your focus from the tangible product to the less tangible, but perhaps even more powerful, brand.

Tamol: Some of the best marketing campaigns during a situation like we are currently experiencing won’t focus on the supply chain at all. Instead, it’s about providing your customers with helpful, productive and relevant information they can use to do their jobs, build their businesses and serve their own customers — even when the product is delayed.

Henderson: Regardless of your product or audience, the goal of your marketing is to foster a lasting connection — and there has never been a more imperative time to balance strategic speaking with insightful listening. It’s important to remember that this is a temporary moment that can feel much more like the beginning of a new normal in the consumer’s mind.

Speaking of the new normal, two years of navigating the pandemic has taught us to be nimble and ready to pivot when necessary. How do you translate this mindset to marketing campaigns amid supply chain disruptions?

Henderson: For me, it’s business as unusual. Now is when defining your audience becomes even more important. For B2B marketing, you are speaking within the trade, and to not bring at least some level of supply chain sensitivity to your campaign could come across as either outdated or irrelevant. People in business are still people — and their problems are still people problems — so that empathetic connection isn’t just valid; it’s necessary. For B2C, I would say it depends on your product and how the perception of your brand is influenced by the emotional impact of supply chain issues.

Gillock: A strong and collaborative partnership between marketing and supply chain leaders is critical to this agility. When these disciplines and teams are in sync and communicating seamlessly amid ongoing challenges, organizations can more quickly pivot to achieve competitive pricing, effective marketing spend allocation, and more targeted and accurate messaging.

To your point, Leslie, the most successful marketing campaigns are informed by deep audience, market and product insights. So, what type of research should a marketing team invest in now that will pay dividends when products become more available?

Gillock: From a qualitative standpoint, understanding both consumer and employee perspectives is paramount. This can help companies empathize and create more meaningful communications that break through the noise. Feel free to keep this informal and iterative via an online community consumer panel, focus groups or one-on-ones with consumers. There is much to be learned throughout, and we need to be flexible in our communications to ensure we are transparent and compelling.

It’s equally important to take a quantitative approach by assessing if and how consumers’ attitudes, perceptions and brand loyalty have shifted due to supply chain constraints caused by the pandemic. How did their purchasing habits shift, and did they try to stay with their favorite brands? Looking forward, what actions would be most helpful or most meaningful from a company during these times? Invest in a 360-degree view of your consumer, and develop a tech stack that easily speaks to one another in real time.

Let’s talk about the value proposition for proactive messaging campaigns as marketers help their clients navigate supply chain issues.

Tamol: During supply chain issues, when product delivery dates are extended or simply not available, proactive messaging can help a company maintain trust and partnership with customers by being transparent. However, it is not a broad brush stroke approach across all marketing. And it is not a one-size-fits-all solution. It’s important to carefully craft the message, identify the best messaging platform on which to be proactive, plan for how you’ll be reactive on other messaging platforms if necessary, and consider the audiences receiving those messages.

Gillock: Shifting to the upper funnel means you are focusing on the bigger picture — the breadth of your offering and the holistic brand. Focus your message on how it’s different, relevant, impactful and of significant benefit/value to customers.

But communications should always go both ways. Take this time and opportunity to engage with customers to understand their needs and concerns. And, be transparent in providing updates, realistic expectations, eye-opening alternatives and apologies for inconveniences and disappointment.

Henderson: If your product has the features and benefits that appeal to this new consumer sensitivity, then sure, you can stay on message without too many marketing gymnastics and make the most of this opportunity. However, smart marketing isn’t just about what you say; it’s about knowing who you are at the table with before you even speak and learning from their response.

Heather, what is your take on how a company’s content and storytelling strategy should evolve during this supply chain crisis to ensure you’re still connecting with your target audience?

Tamol: When supply chain issues are impacting a manufacturer’s, or even retailer’s, ability to get products into its customers’ hands, it’s important to adapt your subject matter to ensure you’re not being tone deaf to a customer’s situation. Storytelling in a vacuum can amplify customer frustration.

So, how do you pivot? If a product is taking longer lead times to deliver, rather than “buy it now” messaging with links to “buy it here” sites, a content strategy might focus more on thought leadership or education. Rather than a case study showing another customer with the now-unavailable product in hand, content can instead focus on products that are available, or storytelling can explore the stories behind the product, such as R&D or sustainability.

This adapted approach to content should spread across blogs, email marketing, social media and influencer marketing. Use the time to connect on a deeper level, guide them to inspiration galleries and thought leadership white papers, and cement your role as a resource for information. By adapting your content, you’ll keep them engaged during supply chain issues, and they’ll be ready to click on that sales CTA when products are available.

As we all try to avoid becoming victims of the moment, how can marketers continue to build brand awareness now to nurture future sales?

Henderson: Great creative work can build awareness that outlasts. When you have the opportunity to shift from only converting prequalified consumers to a space where it is actually most advantageous to be memorable, I say take it. And take it in a big way.

Fundamental brand awareness is too often overlooked in lieu of all kinds of strategic acronyms, which sometimes miss out on that key magic element. Our own humanity gives us the ability to tap into the many empathetic elements that foster the longevity of connection. My personal favorite flavors in this moment are wonder, nostalgia and compassion.

And yes, the bottom line matters. But make great work that is great because it’s honest. Remember, everyone wants the success of a Nike campaign. However, who is willing to actually take that simple advice that lingers in our collective mind? Just do it.

Gillock: If you take your foot off the marketing pedal, your competitors may swiftly and easily zoom past you. Your brand can fade quickly from the forefront of fickle or less-than-patient consumers’ minds. So, it’s vital to shift gears. Prioritize digital channels including search, programmatic and social with better geo- and demographic targeting capabilities and valuable analytics. And, become agile in how you position (or remove) low-inventory products and reallocate marketing spend to promote alternatives (e.g., second-tier products or digital goods), discounts or prepurchase opportunities.

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