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Developing a Brand Centric Supply Chain
by Thomas Marlow


With regard to supply chain security, reducing inventory levels and RFID implementations being just a few of the subjects on the minds of supply chain management professionals throughout the supply chain community lately, there is little time left to consider the one thing that will often keep the client from turning around and walking out the door.

This article proposes some insights on how to better support and serve your client’s brand and help you to begin developing long term business and branding strategies of your own. These strategies are designed to drive costs out of the supply chain and discover a clearer sense of the relationship between “brand” and supply chain management.

Every interaction consumers have with a company reflects its brand, and affects the customer’s willingness to seek or to continue using a company’s goods and services. Scott Bedbury, Former Chief Marketing Officer for both Nike and Starbucks and now the Principal at his brand consultancy, Brand Stream, defined “brand” in his book “A New Brand World” like this;

A brand is the sum of the good, the bad, the ugly, and the off strategy. It is defined by your best product as well as your worst product. It is defined by award-winning advertising as well as by the god-awful ads that somehow slipped through the cracks, got approved, and, not surprisingly, sank into oblivion. It is defined by the accomplishments of your best employee – the shinning star in the company who can do no wrong – as well as by the mishaps of the worst hire that you ever made. It is also defined by your receptionist and the music your customers are subjected to when placed on hold. For every grand and finely worded public statement by the CEO, the brand is also defined by derisory consumer comments overheard in the hallway or in a chat room on the internet.”

Your brand’s “relevance and resonance” is continually defined and recognized by every interaction that your clients have with your company. By the same token, your client’s brand is also reflected in every interaction consumers have with their company, and the actions of their supply chain partners, internal and external, contribute to their brand “relevance and resonance.” The way that a company presents its brand can make or break an organization, or at least the love affair the client/consumer has with a service/product.

A great brand that comes to mind for me is that of McDonald’s Chipotle restaurants. What a great concept! Steve Ells, Founder & CEO, certainly embraced the philosophy of keeping things simple. Chipotle has great customer service, healthy and tasty food, a great atmosphere and a guacamole recipe that speaks of perfection, all at a reasonable price. The sense of teamwork found behind the counter would put the nation's football league (NFL) teams to shame. Their advertising concept reflects the “keeping things simple” idea as well with plain white backgrounds and clever and eye catching phrases. In a nutshell, what defines Chipotle is the consistency of service, from the cashier to the cleanliness of the bathrooms to hog farmers extraordinaire who collectively make up the “Porkutopia” who raise the free range pork to make their Carnitas tacos and burritos. I frequent Chipotle at least once or twice a week and I’ve never once known them to falter in their service. Chipotle is a company I defiantly brag about to my loved ones, friends and colleagues and say, “Hey, let’s go eat at Chipotle.”

Truly successful companies seem to have every employee believing in, and being direct representatives of the “dream,” if you will, the dream of a creating a great company. A great brand, that fuels the entrepreneur’s motivation to work hours into the night and on through the day. Howard Schultz, Chief Global Strategist, Starbucks Coffee, has been able to achieve this throughout the Starbucks organization. He and his employees have developed and embraced the dream and vision of the Starbucks brand since he took over the company in 1987. Believe it or not, a barista behind the counter at a southern California store was the one that came up with the famous Frappaccino drink.

I won’t speak for all of us, but I believe that most adult humans gathered in the 48 states, and many abroad, have come to depend on that particular jolt of morning pick me up that Starbucks has shaped into their own unique “blend.” Sure they have good coffee, but that’s not what Starbucks is really serving. Starbucks serves up a great customer experience, a place to meet with friends before the Friday night movie or a place where business deals take place, as well as a good cup of coffee.

As supply chain management professionals, an immense amount of responsibility lands squarely on our shoulder because we are direct representatives of our client’s brand and our every action supports them. In the case of Starbucks, the freight forwarding companies, the trucking companies and the distribution companies and everyone in between represents the Starbucks brand. Everyone, right down to the person delivering the coffee beans, milk and cups and how they interact with people on the street and with Starbucks staff when they enter the store and the way they do their job, all enhance or destroy the brand that Starbucks is trying to create and preserve just as much as the baristas behind the counter who interact with the customers and make the lattes.

Here are a few suggestions to help your company to develop a supply chain service that maintains a positive brand effect on your client’s brand.

  • Define your company’s brand. Develop a business and brand strategy of your own in which you can foster client loyalty.
  • Develop your human resources department and employee training programs to be aligned specifically with your brand vision and also with your client or client’s brand.
  • Develop a clear definition of professionalism that all new employees and existing employees are required to meet.
  • Introduce your entire team to as many of the C-level, mid-level, and store managers of your client’s company as possible.
  • Encourage your employees to continually ask questions about how to serve your company’s business better as well as the client’s business better.
  • Allow your floor personnel and delivery drivers to have direct responsibility to customer service by setting up an e-mail customer service program where the clients, both internal and external, are able to get across needs to the personnel that actually affected their order.
  • Use the data collected here to develop a database with specific information about the client’s “default” needs and requests which all your employees have access to.
  • Empower your employees with supply chain and business education and encourage your employees to share their insights, innovations and process improvement ideas.

What difference might it make to train all your employees this in-depth? Sure it is a costly and risky proposition, but what direct and long-term value would be gained by the employee or group of employees that go above and beyond the “ho-hum” and truly shine as a direct result of progressive training? For example, the receiver could manage the receiving process based on what he knows he needs to have completed by the time the order pickers arrive to begin their day, even if the carriers are behind schedule. Another example might be the purchasing manager that helps to establish quality control protocols with the suppliers they manage to make the jobs of the receivers, order pickers and other distribution personnel that much more efficient. Might understanding the client’s brand motivate your employees to evaluate their tasks so as to minimize the impact on their fellow employees or your client’s employees? Might empowering your employees help you save in employee turn-over or accumulative overtime costs? Might that then create a brand resonance with your clients? Might that then help you retain your top accounts and lead to other profitable opportunities?

Some of the points touched on here bring about ideas and suggestions that explore areas not normally thought of as being of importance to the everyday logistics operation. Things like innovation and knowledge management, the professional development of every employee and a company’s cultural development. Yet, in this day and age of bigger, better and faster, those supply chain services organizations, concept distribution companies and 3PLs that learn how to harness these business strategies and develop a true sense of their own brand and a keen knowledge of their client’s “brand” will surely establish themselves as a trusted and bragged about organization. And a tour de force to be reckoned with.

Like warriors preparing for battle in the ever increasing fickle consumer environment, supply chain service companies and supply chain management professionals and consultants become an extension of the client's brand that they serve. Perhaps our mission as supply chain management professionals is to make sure that our client’s businesses run as smoothly as possible, and to make sure that we have protocols and metrics in place to 99.99% guarantee the perfect order to our clients. We as brand stewards help to ensure that the brand of the companies that we “quietly” serve are represented in a manner that fosters a desire in the consumer to keep coming back for more...

...and perhaps bring a friend or two.


The Author


Thomas Marlow is the Principal Team Leader for Logisteon Supply Chain Solutions who provides consulting services and outsourced personnel to operate and manage supply chains.

Many more articles in Logistics & Supply Chain in The CEO Refresher Archives
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Copyright 2005 by Thomas Marlow. All rights reserved.

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