They’re not just shortages: There are three kinds of supply chain challenges that affect branding and marketing, too. Here’s how to prepare for them.
When Supply Chains are Tight, Do More Vetting, Not Less
The more unpredictable circumstances are, the more important resilience is. Finding resilience requires good vetting—or having a good partner to do it for you.
Where there are issues in a supply chain, there is temptation—the temptation to be a little less picky when it comes to sourcing suppliers, products, and partners.
The thinking goes something like this: “My company is having issues getting the materials it needs, and my current suppliers are not able to provide what I need to market my business. But if I cast my net wider, I can find more suppliers that might have what I need. To cast my net wider, I need to be less picky about whom I choose to partner with.”
Just because this thinking seems logical, it does not mean it is sound. To be successful these days, especially as a brand steward, you need to resist the temptation to do less vetting and take on any supplier that says they can deliver.
When supply chains are tight, you need to do more vetting, not less. Here’s why.
The Origin of Supply Chain Issues in the Marketing World
There are a number of supply chain issues that can occur, and they are often more complicated than “suppliers of X ran out.” For example:
- A strike at a paper-maker in Finland led to shortages of certain kinds of paper in Europe, which drove up paper prices across the U.S. as makers here sold into a hot market.
- Understaffed apparel factories overseas and continued delays in international shipping have made branded apparel difficult to obtain and costly to resell.
- Parts for machines are more difficult to come by, and replacing them with new machines is increasingly more expensive, which means that a malfunctioning press might not be fixed or replaced in a timely manner. This means certain processes grind to a halt.
- Disasters, such as California's wildfires, Texas’ ice storm, or tornadoes in the Midwest, have shut down (for an indefinite period of time) the operations of businesses who don’t have a contingency plan in place.
- The reduced availability of labor is also making things challenging. Some suppliers can’t keep qualified workers. Others are able to entice good workers with higher pay and more flex time, but this can squeeze margins and make delivery times more unpredictable.
The takeaway here is that there is a complex web of relationships between suppliers of marketing materials and their manufacturers, competitors, and employees. When the end client hears “We can’t fulfill your order until next month,” that is simply the end effect of a longer chain reaction in the economy.
That chain reaction means you can’t simply think to yourself, “Okay, this vendor is out of the hoodies I need, so I’ll just switch to that one.” What is needed is an understanding of the state of the entire supply chain, and how the economies of the moment affect available options. A large part of that understanding is identifying suppliers that are most resilient to current events.
Good Suppliers are Resilient
Resilience is the idea that something can resist outside forces and continue to operate and grow. People are resilient, for example, when they can handle adverse events in their lives and continue to grow. Experts also talk about supply chains being resilient, meaning that they can resist or avoid the impact of disruptions and keep the flow of goods moving.
It is also helpful to think about how resilient individual suppliers are. Can they deliver even if circumstances change? Are they flexible enough to continue operations even when things go wrong? What mechanisms are in place to ensure quality and dependability?
The more volatile and unpredictable circumstances are, the more important it is to have resilient suppliers in the marketing supply chain.
Think about it: When things are humming along, any number of look-alike suppliers can meet a need. The differences between printer A and printer B are probably not that apparent. It’s only when the going gets tough that resilient suppliers will shine, over and above their less-resilient peers.
Which means that the best way to prepare for supply chain disruptions is to fully vet the dependability of suppliers.
Considerations for Vetting for When Marketing Supply Chains are Tight
So what does this kind of vetting for suppliers of marketing materials look like? Here are some things to consider:
- Financial stability of the supplier
- Detailed overviews of their quality control processes
- Supplier contracts and contingencies
- Business continuity plans
- Data security/information security policies and procedures
- Physical security measures
Why There is ROI in Having Others Do the Vetting
Here’s the bad news: It’s really not feasible to do this vetting yourself if you are a marketing department or similar brand steward.
First, vetting is a very time-intensive process, and it has to be done right. With all the other responsibilities of the average marketing department, there is often not enough time to review properly.
Second, recall what was said above: What is needed is an understanding of the state of the entire supply chain, and how the economies of the moment affect available options. It does no good to vet a few suppliers for a project; to do this right requires true strategic sourcing. Think of it like understanding a traffic jam: You can’t simply measure the speeds of a few cars. You have to analyze the layout of the streets and the density of cars over the whole of a route. Only then can you predict where the traffic jam will go, and when and where it will dissipate.
Most marketing departments simply don’t have those kinds of resources in-house or relationships in place. This is why it pays to have a partner who has already done this kind of deep, comprehensive vetting. With that kind of evaluation already done, the partner will already have a resilient supplier network in place, which will create new options when there is a disruption.
This has always been RBO’s methodology. We have a strict vetting process to ensure we are bringing on only the highest-quality and most resilient partners. By doing this, we can help our clients navigate their potential marketing supply chain issues.
Because, when times are chaotic and unpredictable, that is not the time to loosen the reins. The execution of your brand is too important for substandard marketing alliances. So, when supply chains have tightened up because of the kinds of events we’re seeing these days, more vetting is needed—not less. Turning to a partner like RBO means you can leverage all of our industry knowledge to your advantage.