• December 6, 2021
  • By Tina Wilson, global head of product, outcomes, Nielsen

How to Plan Holiday Campaigns Amid the Global Supply Chain Disruption

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Marketers must always be agile in their holiday campaign planning, as they juggle consumer demand with their brand’s ability to fulfill orders. This balancing act has become even more difficult amid global supply chain disruptions. Low product inventory and uncertain shipping timelines have put limits on which products marketers can promote, since consumers don’t want to be advertised a product that is sold out or that they can’t get in time for the holidays.

The holiday season is vital for many brands who benefit from consumers’ eagerness to shop. The last thing marketers want to do is lose share of voice by holding or pulling ads to manage shoppers’ expectations. So how should marketers and advertisers approach campaign planning for the upcoming weeks despite low inventory or shipping constraints?

Focus on Long-Term Brand Building as Well as Short-Term Sales

While marketers should typically nurture customers and prospects across the entire shopping journey, focusing on brand-building efforts that secure consumers’ business in the long term alleviates some of the inventory pressure until the supply chain steadies. This might be a change of pace for brands that, during the pandemic, prioritized marketing efforts that produced quick sales. But for brands with inventory pressure, attracting new prospects and keeping them engaged until stock replenishes is important for locking in a pipeline of future sales. Moreover, continuing to execute conversion-oriented tactics when supply is low risks turning off customers who, upon realizing the product they were advertised isn’t available for purchase, lose trust in the brand.

Emphasizing upper-funnel activities not only buys brands time until inventory levels resume, it widens the brand’s audience. This strategy can also make lower-funnel activations more effective in the future, as those strategies will then be applied to a greater volume of consumers. As evidence, a recent Nielsen study of the personal electronics industry found that the ROI on a brand’s incremental spend would be 78 percent higher than the baseline if the brand took a long-term approach. By contrast, the ROI would be 8% lower than the baseline if the brand pursued short-term driven opportunities.

Switching to a long-term approach doesn’t need to be a dramatic change. For instance, marketers can swap activations designed to deliver immediate ROI with ones that show delayed returns; an example would be replacing a “Buy Now” call to action button with a “Sign Up for the Waitlist” one. By adding customers to an email database, marketers can automatically provide updates when sought-after products are back in stock—as well as keep customers in the loop about future promotions. In the meantime, consumers will still be attracted by upper-funnel efforts to shop from available stock, which produces sales until the supply chain steadies.

Even if there is a slight chance that all inventory is delayed, brands should continue advertising to stay top of mind for customers. In response to the prevalence of choice and access—U.S. consumers say that 12.1 percent of their online purchases involve a brand they had not purchased before—brands don’t want to lose future business by spurning any customers with false promises this season.

Be Nimble in Mapping Media Buys to Inventory

Plenty of brands up the ante on holiday marketing spend, adding campaigns like local TV ads to target people who are home for the holidays. However bigger-budget placements like these might work against marketers while supply chain disruptions are at play. Brands cannot easily pull TV or magazine ads if inventory runs low—nor would they want to, given the spend behind them.

To avoid this, marketers must select media channels that offer more agility in editing or removing an ad if they run out of product. For example, if a brand knows there’s a chance it can’t get product to consumers by Christmas, they should prioritize campaigns on their owned channels or place media buys on social media—where it’s easier to change or halt a campaign in-flight—instead of on traditional platforms.  

When evaluating where to put their media spend this season, it is also important marketers consider how specific platforms can support marketers campaign objectives. The right messaging can fall flat if broadcasted on the wrong channel, so marketers switching up their media buys will likely also need to alter their messaging. Video and offline media tend to be more efficient at driving long-term sales. That said, a channel’s effectiveness is also relative to a brand’s industry, so marketers will need to look at their own data to know whether online or offline media is best suited for carrying their brand awareness campaigns.

Smaller or Challenger Brands Should Seize the Moment

With larger corporations struggling with supply, there’s an opportunity for smaller brands (who may have inventory) to intervene and take over larger competitors’ market share. As bigger brands peel back on advertising—or continue to promote ads that don’t align with inventory, which could frustrate customers—smaller businesses should double down on advertising to reach their consumer bases.

By identifying the seasons’ most sought after products and showing how their own products deliver on consumers’ wishes, marketers can redirect shoppers’ attention to their business. Over one-tenth of consumers’ online purchases involve a new brand, so how can marketers make those purchases their brand? Then, once marketers make that initial connection with new buyers, they can apply their remaining tactics to sustain the relationship and encourage sales over time.

Marketers shouldn’t just rush to land placements, though. They should make buying decisions based on data-driven insights, such as which platforms their target customers are gathering on and when. With digital-forward media planning tools, marketers can secure both audience insights like shopping patterns and media behaviors along with competitive intelligence on the overall media landscape, giving them the necessary knowledge to differentiate themselves and drive optimization.

The holiday season regularly tests the strength and stamina of the supply chain; however, the pandemic’s impact this year is complicating matters further. Supply chain disruptions shortchange many arms of a brand, but marketers can do their part in alleviating the burden by redirecting shoppers’ attention and encouraging long-term engagement. By being agile in what is being advertised—as well as when and where—marketers can mitigate consumer frustrations and in turn lock in their business for months to come.

Tina Wilson is global head of product, outcomes, at Nielsen. A 25-year Nielsen veteran, Tina leads teams that are the epicenter of media consulting, leveraging Nielsen’s world-class data assets to inform clients’ decisioning on reaching audiences, acquiring and distributing content, and understanding media outcomes. Wilson has held progressive leadership roles at Nielsen in the United States, Canada, and Europe and is an active member of the Marketing Advisory Board at PLNU, a Steering Committee member for the World Economic Forum’s Media, Entertainment and Culture initiative, and a Member of Paley’s LA Board of Governors.

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