Can Marketing Technology Help Us Overcome the Supply Chain Crisis?

Businesses must adapt their marketing strategies if they hope to survive the next global disruption

COVID-19 was a much-needed reality check for global enterprise. It revealed just how much stress is placed on our supply lines, and how little room for error there is in the transportation of goods from one end of the world to another. But have we gleaned enough information from this particular disruption to be better prepared for the next? Many companies have gotten ahead of the game, making bold moves in diversifying their supply chains and competing to develop new technology. This helps them better understand the ebbs and flows of supply and demand, and where the pressure points of our current system lie. Understanding which technologies are being adopted, and which are just starting to pique business leaders’ interest, can be a massive advantage for businesses looking to market themselves as a solution to supply chain issues.

A Global Problem

One of the central issues facing business during the peak of the supply chain crisis? They were operating along the same supply lines as competitors within their industry. This is partially inevitable in America, as the low-cost production offered across the Pacific means that it’s cheaper for businesses to have items sourced, assembled, and shipped from overseas than it is to pay American workers from the next county over to make a similar product. One way businesses could sidestep this issue is by restructuring to operate on “supply networks” rather than “supply chains.”

The concept is simple enough, if you have more than one option for obtaining what you need, you are less vulnerable to disruption if something should happen to your supplier. In practice, however, it’s much more complex than calling up the next-best manufacturer of a particular product. Each point on the supply chain represents a complex web of manufacturing, freighting, and middle-mile shipping companies, all of whom directly rely on one another to deliver end-products to consumers.

Companies who have started to operate via supply networks have a leg-up when it comes to marketing as well. Reliability is a huge factor when attempting to build brand trust, and brands that operate via supply networks offer a much better safety net than their counterparts. Marketing themselves as a more stable, reliable option and emphasizing the diversity of their supply network can help to separate businesses from the rest of their industry.

Who’s in the Driver’s Seat?

We’ve all seen the news stories of container ships stuck in harbors for weeks at a time. So how do we alleviate this congestion of supply lines? One innovation that may be a game changer over the coming years is Driverless Technology. Trucking can be an incredibly difficult and dangerous job, and It’s one of the industries experiencing a massive labor shortage. Lack of available drivers to offload cargo at ports is one of the reasons countries have been experiencing shortages of goods, so many businesses are hoping that driverless technology will alleviate some of this stress, making the shipping process safer and more cost efficient. Driverless technology could, theoretically, also eventually apply to all methods of transportation, driving profits for companies by eliminating wasted time and labor costs. The transition to driverless technology could help ease the stress on ports and distribution centers, while allowing middle-mile transportation to occur overnight rather than at rush hour, saving businesses hundreds of hours and millions of dollars annually. Driverless technology, once it is sufficiently advanced, also represents a reduction in liability for shipping companies. Driverless vehicles would never go beyond the speed limit, miss their exit, or fall asleep at the wheel, meaning that expensive insurance and settlements could be a thing of the past.

Allowing Driverless technology to “take the wheel” could revolutionize the global shipping industry and insulate businesses from breakdowns like the one we experienced during COVID-19, and businesses who utilize driverless tech should shouting it from the mountaintops. Being an early adopter confers almost all of the benefits the new tech brings onto the business itself. For example, being an early adopter of driverless tech shows that a business is concerned about safety, efficiency, and forward thinking. Showcasing implementation of driverless tech generates goodwill, and serves to distance a brand from their competitors, who now seem outdated and unconcerned in comparison.

Not the Scary Kind

Another potentially revolutionary advancement promising to combat supply chain trouble is AI. You may be imagining something like SKYNET, but simple AI like Warehouse Management Systems (WMS) have been in use for quite some time, and are used to drive efficiency across many industries. Much of AI’s true potential lies in its ability to predict and then circumvent supply chain issues. AI’s predictive capabilities outclass traditional computing methods by miles, and could allow us to essentially peer into the future of supply and demand. If your network detects there are complications in the manufacturing of specific materials that will affect the delivery time of your products, its ability to pivot and find ways around this roadblock can give you a leg up on your competition.

AI can be used to find the most available materials, fastest shipping routes, the quickest offload times at ports, and the most efficient transportation source to get your products to a consumer’s door. But what’s important is that AI can do all this before the need even arises. Our supply chain crisis was, in part, exacerbated by poor planning and reluctance to think ahead. Letting AI do this planning and coordinating of the complicated moving parts could possibly help us in the event of another global slowdown of production.

Effective marketing of AI potential is, in some ways, difficult to pull off. Many people have fears of rapidly developing technology, and whether that fear is science or science-fiction based, it’s important to take into account. Emphasizing the human side of AI, where human ingenuity and computer capabilities are blended to achieve the best results, is the best bet for companies to alleviate the concerns of their consumers. Instead of using intimidating imagery, companies are best served by evoking a sense of connection and reassurance.

Blockchain & Business

Blockchain technology has seen rapid growth over the past decade, but the potential value and versatility has been largely overshadowed by its association with cryptocurrencies. The blockchain represents a unique opportunity for businesses to be early adopters of technology that could revolutionize the entire world. Just like when the internet was coming about, the first businesses to embrace it and understand its scope were the ones who have remained juggernauts of their industries.

Blockchain tech offers a few key advantages that make it ideal for integration into the business world, and specifically for supply chain management. Advancements in blockchain technology are shared by its users, and the blockchain is largely immune to cyberattacks and hackers, two very troubling impediments to businesses that rely on secure data. Blockchain technology also increases transparency by recording each transaction on a central ledger, allowing businesses to track their materials through their lifecycle. This centralized ledger also prevents price gouging by giving everyone equal access to the data, and increases consumer trust in the businesses they buy from.

Businesses can start getting involved by adopting blockchain technology in their accounting departments (where it is most reliable and most available), and researching potential partners in their industry who are also looking to the future. While they’re at it, marketing themselves as a blockchain-friendly business has enormous potential upside. While it’s important to maintain the right distance from more unstable aspects of blockchain technology, the underlying system is widely accepted as the next frontier of data management. This open-minded appearance plays very well with young audiences, especially as they become more familiar with the blockchain and the many benefits it provides.

Don’t Predict the Future, Create It

While many of the current supply chain issues were exacerbated by COVID-19, it’s important to recognize that the pandemic did not create these problems; it only opened our eyes to what had been there all along. If our supply chains remain inflexible and technologically obsolete, we could see shortages and inflation skyrocket, and consumers trust in business plunge as a result.

Businesses must rethink the way they market themselves alongside the new structures and technology that support supply lines. Emphasizing stability and a forward-thinking nature helps build brand trust, and allows businesses to excel where others have failed. Instead of focusing on the difficulty that supply chain disruption presents, brands should look to position themselves as industry leaders and early adopters, and take advantage of the changes that have come along the way.