The supply chain challenges have impacted most every aspect of our lives over the past many months, and with the war in Ukraine, challenges will continue to plague brands across many industries.
The automotive industry has been especially hit hard, with more than $200 billion dollars of revenue lost in 2021 from semiconductor shortages. And, unfortunately, this horrific war may further lower global vehicle production with some estimating more than two million less vehicles manufactured this year.
I recently brought my vehicle in for repair, which normally would be a one-day turnaround; instead, it took eight days to complete the job. These unprecedented times are having a major strain on millions of consumers worldwide. As such, it is more important than ever, for brands to keep their competitive edge and brand preference. This can be done by continuing a strategic communication effort to consumers with the hopes of turning product ‘back on’ with supply.
Over time, the auto industry, along with most others, have been developing unique solutions to deal with logistical chaos. Currently, Ukraine provides wiring harnesses for engines and transmissions for many automakers. Quick solutions are being implemented to lessen the disruption such as switching to alternative sources of wiring and duplicating machines which BMW is putting in place to keep up a stock of wiring harnesses.
Not only are creative operational solutions critical to keeping production flow, so is a strategic, flexible communications plan that can evolve to the ever-changing daily challenges.
Over this time, our work supported efforts for many automotive clients, of which we have been hands-on in developing and managing communications for both internal and external audiences.
From this daily, sometimes hourly support, our team has realized that there are several communication imperatives critical to maintaining brand trust and preference with all stakeholders:
- Honesty – this of course is a given; but during this time or any time of crisis, all stakeholders are more tuned-in to messaging that may have ‘elusive fluff’ included. My firsthand experience with vehicle showed me how honest feedback from the Service Manager of my local dealership kept my belief in my vehicle and appreciation for the dealer. And I’m not sure if the manager had a strict messaging script, but he was clear and believable.
- Be Consistent/Stay on Message – certainly this a core fundamental of communications. But, as messaging evolved so often throughout the supply issues, so must this be consistent throughout all channels. According to a Mintel Study – Perceptions of Auto Brands 2022, younger consumers (Gen Z and Millennials) indicate an overall need for education as they have limited experience in the category, thus an important priority when providing critical, consistent messaging for a brand. Keeping all key stakeholders of an organization informed with updated messaging and confirming that the messaging is consistent across all channels is critical to avoiding gaps and missteps. Although not always easy to execute, each business or organization needs to make this a top priority.
- Over Communicate – some believe that this tactic should be avoided in many instances, but in my opinion, not with a supply chain crisis of such magnitude. Continuous updates on supply status are most critical for all stakeholders. But it is essential that disseminated information has useful, updated information. Caution – do not extend communication with the ‘same’ status continuously; this can and will more than likely have a negative impact. When valuable, ‘new’ information is available, communicate in a timely and targeted manner.
- Clarity is Critical – being consistent is certainly essential, but clarity of message is also crucial. Avoid using jargon, industry acronyms and being ‘too technical’ especially to a more general audience. Keep focused on the recipient – will this communication open up a series of questions that you as a brand cannot address? Along with the importance of clarity is tone; make sure that the ‘tone’ not only comes across with clarity but empathy as well. Everyone is affected by the supply chain in some manner, not just a few. Keeping this reality front and center and empathizing with stakeholders and their specific impact shows this understanding and proves that there is a human behind the correspondence.
- Quick to Fix – the volume of information, and frankly misinformation, has been enormous during the supply crisis. It is most important that a brand addresses those that have been widely distributed. Most critical is doing so with speed and accuracy. Having misinformation carry on various channels over an extended duration can certainly lead to elevating a minor issue to a major crisis. This certainly applies to inventory issues and the importance of ‘speed’ when it comes to inquiries. Subaru is one of the top brands responding to customer inquiries. In fact, according to Fran O’Hagan, CEO of Pied Piper, 50 more vehicles are sold when they are responded to quickly, personally, and completely.
Hopefully the supply chain challenges ease soon with less than expected impact. Ultimately, weathering these challenges requires an in-depth alignment on a smart, evolving communications plan and the alignment of extended team members to implement.