Op-Ed: For Supply Chain Managers, Success Means Becoming Storytellers

No longer confined to process management per se, supply chain managers are being called upon to embrace and, in some instances, to create brand narratives.

This was one of the startling near-unanimous insights that emerged from polling members in the second session of the European Supply Chain Advisory Panel.

[Read Part I in this three-part series: Supply Chain Execs Share Insights in Groundbreaking European Advisory Council]

This is further confirmation of the shift in the roles and responsibilities of supply chain managers which will most certainly now include a “storytelling” capability.

“We must know our strengths from the perspective of the consumer’s ‘value appreciation,’ including how, why and where products are made…so we must become brand storytellers,” one European manager commented.

How relevancy serves a brand’s story

This consensus falls under the heading of relevancy, which applies to both internal and external brand scenarios and options (e.g. where do we manufacture product X and how does this impact on the brand’s position and consumer perception in the market? What alternatives should be considered that are consistent with the brand values?)

With such a perspective, the topics of sustainability and transparency are clearly evident, animating and underscoring this commitment to relevancy. Until recently, few really cared about communicating to what extent the brand was respectful of environmental and social rights. Nowadays, at all market levels from fast fashion giants to luxury powerhouses, state-of-the-art storytelling reveals how strongly brands are committed to narrating their green practices, working conditions and how they support social issues.

But it is also apparent that the scope of branding has considerably expanded.

A brand’s commitment to authenticity and coherence (relevancy values) increasingly requires that their industrial side become part of their narratives. Brand marketing focused on value-adds, such as “made in,” re-shoring, artisanship, and made-to-measure, to name a few. Each brand should therefore have a very clear understanding of, and be able communicate with emotional engagement as its objective, its unique value proposition on the industrial side

Consequently, brands are commissioned to provide added value, and in the future an increasingly relevant part of that value will be related to how products are actually made. Unveiling the efforts for having a stable supply network and for creating end-to-end integration and visibility can document the reasons why it’s worth preferring a brand and its products against its competitors.

Not everything is about Millenials

This strategy is not only being driven by relevancy to Millenials but has become a reference point for other consumer cohorts as well. (i.e. Generation Y and Boomers, albeit based on different emotional drivers).

The financial community is also now more interested in learning how sustainable and strategically shaped brands’ operations and supply chains are. In light of this interest, the premium and luxury brands must be able to better protect their medium term value, as analysts’ reports are increasingly investigating this area in search for proof of strategic value.

In short, the time is right to dissolve the stereotype that the industry and “industrial” values are a necessary evil in the fashion sector, and the power of the brand narrative communicating a new vision can drive this dissolution.

Bernard Arnault’s brand vision for supply chains

Ten years have passed since we first heard Bernard Arnault say supply chain would make the difference for achieving the high standards of product and service required by the fashion and luxury market. Naming things and understanding that these industrial and operational elements belong to a brand value platform and as such must be properly narrated and communicated is an important step in this direction.

However, what’s really fundamental for fashion, premium and luxury companies, is to explicitly identify the most valuable elements of their supply chains—like country of origin, internal production, internal core competences, partnership with core suppliers for innovation, and exploitation of excellence districts, among others—and find the most appropriate framework for including them in the overall storytelling of the brand.

This, the panelists agreed, is one of the most challenging of their new tasks as it requires not only communication and people skills, but internalizing the language of the brand as a means of reaching and integrating these supply chain components into a common brand narrative.

In our next and final installment in this three-part series (read Part I here), we’ll examine the reflections and concerns about responsiveness, looking at how and to what extent supply chain managers must lead and/or listen, and what role leadership plays in a successful transformation of supply chains.

 

*The European Supply Chain Advisory Panel has been organized under the direction of Flavio Sciuccati senior partner and head of the Global Fashion Unit of The European House – Ambrosetti, the No. 1 think tank in Italy and in the top 20 of global business and fashion consultancies.

Bill D’Arienzo is the founder and CEO of WDA Brand Marketing in Princeton, New Jersey, and ApparelAnalytics an online consumer research service, and serves as U.S. strategy advisor for The European House – Ambrosetti.


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