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Featured in Crain’s by Laura Sheridan, President of Viva La Brand: With supply chain issues, inflation and staffing shortages, it’s time to re-evaluate your advertising plan | Viva La Brand

Marketers are in a pickle. The pandemic has created new challenges as everyone’s trying to grow their brands while not disappointing their customers. Supply chain, inflation and staffing shortages require a reexamination of your advertising program.

Another layer of complexity is the fact that people hate ads! As advertisers bombard consumers across platforms like TikTok, Facebook, television, billboards and more, consumers are trying to avoid them, signing up for ad blockers and subscription services. We’re all getting better at hitting the “unsubscribe” link in emails.

If you’re short on product, then now is not the time to waste money on stimulating sales you can’t fulfill. Even if you’ve been advertising in the same publications and online channels for years, it’s time to redirect the funds.

However, don’t confuse advertising with communicating with your customers. Even when demand exceeds supply or your ability to deliver a great customer experience is declining, it’s not time to stop talking to customers.

When you’re consistent in your communication and your message, customers are more likely to trust your brand. When they trust your brand, wonderful things happen. People are more likely to buy from you and believe positive things about your company. Positivity is at the core of social sharing.

Instead of promoting a product of the month in your e-newsletter, share tips that relate to your customers’ challenges. Instead of inserting a coupon in packages, insert a “thank you for your business” note or share ideas on product usage or expanded applications.

Be honest with your customers. Let them know what’s going on. Manage expectations. Let them know you value your relationship. Keep talking.

If you can’t fulfill orders, then how about redirecting your sales teams’ efforts? Instead of focusing on closing deals during sales calls, use the time to learn about your customers and prospects. What challenges are they facing? What’s holding their businesses back from growing? What new products may they value? What’s causing friction in their lives?

It may be time to temporarily change how you measure your sales team’s results. Stop tracking new sales and start tracking what you know about your customers. The new learnings about your prospects and customers will catapult your ad results when it’s time to resume advertising. Knowing more about your customers will allow you to craft more targeted, effective advertising.

While you’re scaling back on advertising, redirect resources to developing your brand strategy.

What is brand strategy?

Brand strategy is more than your logo, tag line or color palette, which are creative elements that represent your brand. It is the entire experience your customers and prospects have with your company, product or service. It’s what differentiates your brand in meaningful ways in the eyes of your customer. It’s what enables luxury brands like Rolex, Porsche and Gucci to charge premium prices.

It answers the question, “why should consumers pick you?”

It starts with customer research. Who is your target audience? What job are your customers hiring you to do for them? What’s their perception of your brand and how does that sync with what they need? What words do customers use to describe your brand; the problem your product or service solves for them; their needs?

The most effective advertising and marketing messages use your customers’ words, not yours. Then, when they read your materials, the messages will resonate, and they’ll feel like you’re talking directly to them.

Savvy marketers with sound brand strategies pre-COVID recognize the need to begin the process again. Why? Because consumer habits, behaviors and needs have all changed since the pandemic.

Since a brand strategy is all about differentiating your brand and how you talk to customers in ways that are relevant and valuable to them, when their behaviors change, yours need to also.

A smart brand strategy informs far more than your advertising. It’s a guide that can and should be used when you’re making decisions regarding new products, features, services, marketing channels, hiring talent and more.

Brand strategy work can take time, and marketers are inherently impatient. Now, while you have supply chain, inflation and staffing headaches, is a great time to redirect your marketing resources. Scale back on advertising. Ramp up on brand strategy. Then, when it’s time to advertise, your dollars will go further.

Laura Sheridan is president of Viva La Brand, a Cleveland-based brand and marketing strategy, research and agency search firm.

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