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The CMO and Supply Chain

Vice President, APICS Marketing

Monday June 6, 2016


Marketing teams are discovering great brand stories in supply chain

The number of CMOs becoming more knowledgeable and enthusiastic about supply chain management is increasing as leading companies lean on supply chain attributes to position, promote and differentiate products, services and brands.  If you’re a marketer looking for a great story to tell about your company—one that will capture the hearts and minds of a generation of customers—you may need to look no further than your supply chain.

While product marketing and sales teams have always worked with supply chain to balance supply and demand and ensure a positive customer experience, the corporate marketing teams are waking up to the power of supply chain performance.  Supply chain performance is a big deal, a big differentiator, and a game-changer that can dictate the difference between generations of locked-in loyal customers and lost customers for life.

In the past, marketing leaders dug in to supply chain particulars when there was an issue that affected marketing—like a product recall or stockout over the holidays; or an environmental or social issue that might negatively impact the brand; or when there was a risk challenge that required public relations support, like a plant closure, natural disaster or political unrest.

But now, as the supply chain becomes more integral to competitive advantage, profitable growth and sustainable practices, a growing number of CMOs are recognizing that a high-performing supply chain is an important differentiator, and they are incorporating supply chain capabilities into messaging, campaigns, loyalty programs and even events. They are aware of the impact the supply chain can have on their brand—both positive and negative­—and they take proactive measures to protect and promote it.

To the visionary CMO, the supply chain doesn’t run in the background. The supply chain is part of the story. It is part of the customer experience and an ingredient in the brand promise. It’s become a visible component in the marketing mix.

Excellent examples of marketing that weave in supply chain stories abound.  Remember the Ralph Lauren sweaters for the Sochi Winter Olympics? They were the flagship product for Ralph Lauren’s “Made in America” line of apparel for the athletes, rolled out with the story of the Oregon ranchers who raise the sheep and shear the wool, and all the steps in the supply chain required to provide the red, white and blue yarn for the sweaters.  An example of a supply chain inspired marketing event is Amazon Prime Day, when Amazon marketed its Prime subscription service through a rotating lineup of retail specials and same-day shipping that showed off its supply chain supremacy. And there’s the ongoing Jimmy John restaurants’ “Freaky Fast” campaign that’s not just about speedy sandwich delivery, but also embodies an entire corporate culture and its nimble supply chain of fresh ingredients.

Beyond the aforementioned high-visibility examples, there’s the almost endless number of companies offering personalization options (pick your color, add that monogram, design the perfect product just for you!) enabled by supply chain mass customization and make-to-order flexibility. If you’re a marketer and you haven’t been thinking about supply chain, it’s time to start.  Your supply chain is - or could be – a key chapter in your brand story or the attribute that that turns your customers into evangelists.    

Is your CMO forging a more strategic relationship with the supply chain organization? If not, can the supply chain manager reach out to marketing to begin such a partnership? How could your firm’s supply chain performance be leveraged as a marketing tool? Weigh in with your thoughts.