The Supply Crisis Demands a Values Response

Walk the aisles of any grocery store today and it’s obvious — we have returned to a supply shortage. At the outset of the pandemic it was a rush of toilet paper and cleaning supplies. Now, the shortages feel different. They have crept into consumer costs and across-store product availability. Even worse, shortages have gone beyond grocery and are now impacting industries from auto to tech due to chip shortages. 

Worst of all for brands, these shortages are threatening the most sacred shopping period of the year – Black Friday, Cyber Monday and the entire Christmas season. Supply chain fixes are neither easy nor fast and are well beyond the marketing scope, so your brand equity has to step in and bridge the gap. 

Instead, brands have to consider what options exist to connect with consumers who might reach for a competitor when their brand is not available. This week, Instacart introduced “inflation tools” that are designed to give consumers alternatives when the products they want are more expensive or unavailable. The middleman goal, whether Instacart or Amazon, is to continue to deliver on their promise of fast availability, regardless of the brand you buy. 

At Vrity, we think about brand values in three classifications — Business Values, Branding Values, and Change Values. Brands that have historically won on Business Values (like price and availability) are left with little to trade on in the Values economy. If your brand connection is to be “cheap and fast” and suddenly “cheap and fast” go away — you’re stuck. Even worse, in absence of those consumer connection promises, you are at risk of being displaced by brands that can opportunistically provide a deeper Values connection. 

In these moments, brands must develop deeper connections. It will not be easy in the midst of a supply chain and inflation event. But it has to be done. Brands that stand for Branding Values like aspiration and joy need to convert lack of availability into “worth the wait” connections. Brands that invest in deeper Change Values need to lean on those higher callings to keep consumers from choosing Brand B simply because it’s right in front of them at that moment.

The last decade of the Amazon-ification of retail has led consumers to take price and availability for granted. For Brands that laid back and rode that wave, supply chain limitations are bringing a reckoning. For other brands, a deeper Values connection will buy some grace while product inventory is limited. 

Normally, holiday winners and losers are defined by the coolest companies with the hottest products. This year there will be two-types of winners. The first will be, without a doubt, those that can consistently keep products on shelves. The second, and more compelling group, will be the companies that can convince buyers to choose them even when the product is not available in 24 hours or less. Those companies will likely do so because they have made a lasting connection with their customers on a Branding Value or Change Value.