Advertising Without Inventory
What Marketing Departments Should Do in The Face of Supply Issues

Amusement Park-goers thrive on the flood of hormones from high-speed thrill rides. But even the boldest of adrenaline junkies will have their limits, as the human body can only withstand so many Gs before we just pass out. With its ups and downs, the COVID pandemic can feel like the rollercoaster of our nightmares that we all just can’t seem to get off. As if that weren’t enough, we now have to face the latest nauseating set of twists and turns: supply-side turbulence and inventory issues.

Factory closures across the globe, cargo ships hovering on coastlines and in ports with containers in limbo, semi-conductor outages, and worker shortages are all part of the pains shoppers and brands are feeling right now. With the holiday season coming up, these shortages will only intensify when demand reaches its highest. So, what are marketing departments to do when demand is high, and inventory is low? Conventional wisdom might drive advertisers to pause ad spending until they have the inventory to fulfill the demand. But that short-term thinking could be harmful for brands in the long run, particularly when competitors are likely facing the same inventory issues.

The question that looms is still: Should brands advertise during a crisis even when they have no inventory to sell? I know this is going to feel wrong, but the answer is YES, keep advertising.

We know from the seminal work of Byron Sharp and Jenni Romaniuk in How Brands Grow that brands need both mental and physical availability. When inventory issues present physical limitations, it is important to rely on the long-term approach and continue to invest in the brand to maintain salience for future purchases. But let’s not kid ourselves, brands need both mental and physical availability. So, here are some important marketing principles that brands should rely on even during an inventory crisis:

  • Lean on branding. Brand building is a long-term job involving conditioning the consumer through repeated exposure. It takes time. We must be in communication with people long before they are in the market to buy. Use this time to maintain your brand awareness initiatives. Continue to rely heavily on emotional priming to cut through the clutter, regardless of people’s interests in products right now. Keep building those memory structures. You should also resist going off-brand and pandering with “we are all in this together” or “we will get through this” messages. Stay the course.
  • Focus on the inventory you do have. Redirect consumers to inventory you do have and amp up creative media to make it as desirable as possible. COVID is leaving an imprint on all areas of life. Brands can redirect consumers to trying new alternatives. Consumers are ripe for brand switching and trying something new. McKinsey & Company research continues to show that consumers are open to trying new things, new brands, and new retailers to satisfy their needs.
  • Expand the 4Ps and look beyond promotion. When you have inventory issues, look beyond promotion, and focus on the other available 4Ps of marketing. That does not mean price gouging consumers, but it could mean reducing promotions and BOGO events. Limit purchases per shopper. The increased margin may not make up for the short-term loss in volume, but it will help the bottom-line overall.
  • Reward your loyalists and build your 1st party data. Now can be the time to really reward your loyal customers. Give them a sneak peek at products and let them in on exclusive opportunities. Show love and appreciation to your customers in other ways.
  • Be transparent and leverage social media for two-way conversations. Don’t over-promise or take advantage of consumers. Be as clear with consumers as you can throughout the process. For big ticket or high involvement categories, take time to educate the consumer on the product or service to reinforce what makes the brand special. You can skillfully guide them up the emotional benefits ladder and gain future brand ambassadors.
  • Be careful with search bids. Watch inventory levels and ensure you’re not pushing your text-based search ads to out-of-stock inventory. Other ad formats (shopping, retail sponsored search, etc.) should be automatically paused once inventory depletes, whereas text-based formats need to be monitored more closely. As always, keep your digital and search teams up to date on current and potential OOS issues.
  • Sufficiency planning could require adjustments. If you have the formula nailed down in healthy times, you will know what the right weight levels are to be successful in driving business results. But if budgets are cut or reduced, you could struggle to hit the sufficiency levels. Consider flighting your efforts. Media half-lives will carry brands through dark weeks but resist long periods of being dark altogether. In lieu of pulsating on and off, lower always-on levels can reduce budgets and also achieve similar business results, just over a longer period of time.
  • Competition is likely in the same boat. It’s time to take the lead. Your competition is likely in the same position with inventory issues. Brands can take advantage of their competition’s dark periods and increase ESOV to gain market share.
  • Take a flexible media approach. If all the principles above make your CFO nervous, invest in media that allows you the flexibility to cancel or move your investment. Digital marketing continues to offer this for brands.

Now is the time to leverage creative marketing solutions to help mitigate the inventory supply issues. There is no doubt that transparency is becoming a must across the entire business spectrum, and that includes the supply side, where a glass pipeline is more important than ever. Until that happens, brands should work with marketing experts to help maintain positive mental availability in the minds of consumers.

These tried-and-true principles are a good starting point to help withstand the latest white-knuckling loop-de-loops in this COVID carnival ride. No matter how long the rollercoaster’s track is, it will end. We just need to hold on tight in the meantime.

Get The Most Out of Your YouTube Influencer Program
YouTube Influencer Trends In 2021

According to eMarketer, 48% of advertisers plan to leverage YouTube for influencer Marketing in 2021. As celebrities’ engagement rates are dwarfed by local content creators in the industry, micro and nano influencers continue to muscle out their more famous counterparts.

Content creators who are given creative freedom outshine dry, dull scripts created by copywriters and edited several dozen times by compliance.

Advertisers like Gymshark, who crafted an entire business model based on Influencer Marketing, have endlessly proven the obscene power of this type of content.

Marketing agencies are finding value in long-term, collaborative relationships with established influencers, but many have struggled to create value beyond organic content. Profitably adding paid media to an influencer program is a puzzle with lots of moving parts.

At Empower, we’ve cracked the code.

What Makes YouTube Influencers Valuable?

While most think of influencers as Instagrammers, influencers have cropped up in every realm of social media.

Trailing only Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok, YouTube boasts the fourth-highest influencer budget in 2021. Additionally, TikTok and YouTube are the only two of this list that saw an increase in influencer-planned budgets in the last two years.

Consumers want to see a product in action! In fact, 65% of online buyers claim that they’re likely to purchase after viewing the product on an influencer’s YouTube video.

YouTube is long-form content. This means that, unlike Instagram content creators, YouTubers hold their audience’s attention for longer periods of time.

Imagine being able to celebrate your brand with a cold audience…for several minutes at a time! You could train skeptics to become loyal advocates for your brand in one video.

While some businesses have tapped into this ocean of video creators, many categories that YouTube influencers excel in go unnoticed. Stand-Up Comedy, Gaming, DIY, & Music are all influencer-saturated YouTube spaces that rarely get attention in the world of Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok.

What Benefits Come from a YouTube Influencer Program?

At Empower, our Influencer Team identifies different creators using a mix of science and art. Metrics like audience demographics and engagement are just as important as metrics like tone and creative uniqueness.

Influencers know how to develop attractive content for the audience you are trying to reach, so capitalize on their expertise. Their content might turn into your best piece of creative, so be militant about getting the usage rights to that content and the video file itself in your desired format. This includes both on and off-platform.

This can be a tough negotiation since the content creator often feels as much connection and ownership to that piece of content as the advertiser. However, the value of amplification across the internet is too valuable to pass up.

From an organic perspective, your influencer might also be proficient with Search Engine Optimization (SEO) on YouTube, so they’ll be able to optimize content appropriately to get the most organic magnification. This is true at video launch and in perpetuity. In fact, we have videos from different brand partnerships still generating views and traffic a year after publishing.

SEO is a growing trend among content creators on YouTube, so hold them to that optimization expertise for your collaborative content.

A YouTube influencer collaborating with your brand should send audiences to two places:

  1. First and foremost, to your website. Tracking that audience for remarketing will be an invaluable tool for later
  2. Second, to your YouTube page. Some users would rather stay on YouTube than go to a foreign website and, if given only one option, may not engage with the post at all. You can still remarket from your YouTube channel so let your audience engage where they feel comfortable

Finally, have a strategy for managing comments. This is a huge miss when advertisers neglect comments. The last thing you want is unnoticed and unmanaged negativity right below your video.

How To Attach Paid Media & Repurposing Your YouTube Influencer Content

When it comes to repurposing, you’ll need to lean on your investment team. Empower’s Search, Social, Digital, and Programmatic teams are experts at generating high engagement on any given day.

Put this content into their paid ads, and it’s game over for your competitors.

The two things you MUST do to push this content across different channels is to secure the video file and secure the rights to the content.

While YouTube Ads rely on only a YouTube URL, social, digital, and programmatic media won’t get anywhere without an actual video file to upload.

When you run paid ads to supplement influencer content on YouTube, your most valuable asset is your tagged audience. By taking audiences to your website or YouTube page, you’ve enabled paid ads to retarget those engaged audiences in two ways:

  1. From your website, you can tag the landing page with Google Ads code or tag with a UTM code. With a UTM code, you can link Google Analytics to Google Ads and import audiences from a specific traffic source to your website
  2. To retarget YouTube channel visitors, link an owned YouTube channel to Google Ads and import audiences in the same way

At Empower, we’re constantly A/B testing different types of content for your brand. YouTube content creators tend to gravitate toward un-boxing videos, how-to videos, product reviews, and various other video types.

As we learn which types of content are most profitable, we can refine our influencer list according to who specializes in that type of content creation.

Some things we can run on YouTube to supplement your YouTube influencer program are:

  1. Video segmentation and optimization, where we take 15sec and 30sec clips from the influencer content and see what performs best in the paid ad space
  2. Remarketing, using our website tags and uploading that audience list to YouTube
  3. Audience-layering, where we choose to show ads only to influencer audience members who also fit our target audience
  4. Video sequencing in a separate campaign, where we show a segment of the influencer’s content, then show a video on your page addressing a comment that was made.

Our influencer and media teams collaborate to find the right partner to create authentic recommendations for your brand and then deliver your media KPIs through paid amplification.

Before you know it, we’ll have a highly engaged, highly loyal audience to drive through your marketing funnel, with potential for enormous customer advocacy and a huge upside for new customer LTV.

MRC Ends Nielsen’s Accreditation. Now What?
Big news on the video front.

In July 2021, after earlier claims of undercounting TV audiences, measurement giant Nielsen initially requested a formal hiatus in the Media Rating Council’s (MRC) accreditation process. The MRC declined that request and confirmed they will no longer accredit Nielsen’s national or local measurement ratings, effective later this month.

A quick crash course on the MRC: It is a non-profit industry association whose goal is to ensure media measurement services are valid, reliable and effective. Measurement services desiring MRC accreditation are required to disclose to their customers all methodological aspects of their service and, importantly, comply with the MRC Minimum Standards for Media Rating Research and guidelines. All verified measurement providers must submit to MRC-designed audits to authenticate and illuminate their procedures.

This decision to discredit Nielsen is significant, but not completely shocking given the mounting pressure from the Video Advertising Bureau (VAB) to the MRC to suspend Nielsen’s accreditation, essentially questioning their validity as the measurement standard. The MRC has cited deep-rooted ongoing performance issues that have threatened accreditation of Nielsen’s National Television Service as additional cause for concern.  Widespread accusations of considerable underreporting in 2020 during the pandemic seem to have been the breaking point.

To the networks represented by the VAB, this signals a potential long overdue change.  Sean Cunningham, president and CEO of the VAB, said, “What cannot be evaded or dodged is the level of all-industry intervention coming to Nielsen with a mandate of change-or-die transparency needed for going forward with any real credibility. The VAB will be pursuing the case for radical Nielsen change with more voracity than ever.”

Nielsen’s Response:

While Nielsen has expressed their disappointment with the decision, they are directly addressing the board’s concerns as valid and plan to quickly work with the MRC to regain accreditation through the below:

  1. Panel size and health:  Added 2,500 homes since March 2021 with a target of 41,600 homes by Q1 2022 through in-home visits due to increasing vaccination rates.
  2. Reporting: Placed new policies ensuring communication is faster distributed to their partners and the MRC. These added guidelines should allow a higher quality control to check both data input and output to better assess the impact of any changes.
  3. Broadband only:  Include broadband TV households within local measurement.  To ensure added universe is incorporated responsibly into their local measurement, Nielsen will work with the MRC to refine and audit audience size changes.

As Nielsen goes into review with the MRC to regain credibility, the door is open for new video measurement partners eager to steal the ratings crown or work directly with major broadcast networks. NBCUniversal has already outlined their push for a better measurement partner and attribution to measurement, driven primarily through ex-Nielsen executive Kelly Abcarian. They are currently reviewing several different proposals for what they call a proper evaluation of broadcast consumption. This early adoption network stance may have others following a similar suit within individual partners or, more likely, banding together to create a new unified point of measurement truth.

At Empower, Planning is Art & Science

While there is obvious concern around the validity of Nielsen’s National Television Service, it’s important to remember that planning and buying are equal parts art & science.

When a foundational piece of our science comes into question, attention is warranted. At the same time, we still consider Nielsen and MRI the best resources at the moment and will continue utilizing their measurement as a source of performance and directional assessment of consumer behavior. When Nielsen is leveraged, we tend to use it as a source for conservative estimating for future ratings/impressions for our clients. For local, in particular, the news of this loss of accreditation, combined with the Broadband-Only (BBO) rollout, has our experienced and expert buying team extra cautious when placing future campaigns.

Even with the 6% underreporting for both national and local, this data can still be used directionally knowing the discrepancy applied to ratings have been consistently applied across all buys, regardless of agency or brand category. Similar to other tools within the planning industry, Nielsen data still helps identify historical trends through a consistent form of measurement. Empower has addressed this with our clients, knowing the importance of quantifying their own unique bases and benchmarks for performance evaluation. Nielsen data and movement in trends still allows for correlation analysis with a brand’s business KPIs. It isn’t as much about the actual number but rather the trends and differences when compared to a consistent index of movement.

Moving Forward, the Door is Open for Possibility

Nielsen has always been our best option but not THE only option – and we have always used it as a strong directional tool. While this newest development was disappointing, the nature of the claims, as well as the active stance of Nielsen, we’re confident this all can be addressed and still serve as an immediate resource for the art and science we put into planning.

And, we are continuing to watch, and in some cases, test, the up and comers in this space. Nielsen’s dethroning brings a giant opportunity for another company to step up with a better solution and if credible, will have support across Empower and other agencies alike.

We understand how critical the validation of purchased buys are for both our network partners, but most importantly our clients.