The Old “Supply and Demand” Model is All Wrong — Here’s How to Get It Right & Grow Your Business

When I say “supply,” you immediately think, “demand,” right?

The most basic economic principle scientifically proven over and over again. If you’ve tried to find toilet paper, hand sanitizer, or bread flour at the grocery store in recent months — only to have to pay an extortionist’s price online — you know that supply and demand still got it.

Sort of. Scarcity, as a tactic, can be powerful. That’s the supply end of the equation. While it can be used strategically, it also can bite your brand if you legitimately are out of product at a critical time. Supply, in my opinion, is a one-trick pony.

And you know who doesn’t need supply’s help anymore? Demand.

I design demand for a living, and it’s almost always for products that have plenty of goods in stock. It’s how Digital Surgeons helped classic products like Jarlsberg cheese see new user visits to their website jump by 1,358% and footwear legend Sperry see 37% average year-over-year sales growth through digital channels.

The experience economy doesn’t give a shit about supply. It wants what it wants when it wants it. The knowledge economy means that everything is a swipe or tap away — so many options, so little time.

And that’s precisely why the key to designing demand is not a binary, supply vs. demand, operation. It’s a multi-faceted proposition that requires brands to think both large and small — globally to micro-moments. Because in between where people are now and where they want to go, lies the secret to drive desire and ultimately, action.

Demand Design Principle #1: Perception powers reality…

The most significant marketplace lever that supply and demand principles don’t factor in is consumer perception. How a product or service is perceived is driven by not one, but many triggers, and topping the list is human behavior. You’ve got to have a deep understanding of your customers and what resonates with them most. What behavioral connections can you make to evoke an emotional response that leads to the customer taking action?

The trick is to take that knowledge and amplify how you make life easier/better/happier for them in every micro-moment.

This is where you can take a page out of the influencer’s playbook. They might start as tastemakers, but they get the big bucks because they intimately understand their audience and continually relate to their followers in a human and empathic way. They visually integrate products in their stories — not just social media “stories,” but actual narratives about their lives. They’re skilled at making it simple for their audience to see how a particular product can make them feel or look a certain way (happier, stronger, sexier, more confident) or can help improve their life in other ways, for example, by saving time or money.

When repositioning Jarlsberg as a brand for a new generation, where cheese isn’t just for holidays and Grandma, we turned to micro-influencers to help shift perception and drive demand. They featured Jarlsberg on their blogs and social media with mouth-watering original recipes from a colorful Spring cheese plate to decadent french onion buns. These influencer posts reached over a million users in the target market and helped skyrocket website traffic and in-store sales.

By tapping into human problems and delivering the must-have solution, perception artfully, and effectively up-levels demand.

Demand Design Principle #2: … Presence powers perception.

A brand is not just a singular promise that it makes — it’s the sum of all its parts. It’s the beliefs that a company has and the values it holds. This is more important now than ever before. The customer is the hero, and the journey you take that person on includes how your brand behaves behind the scenes and public-facing.

Notice that I said, “person,” singular. Your audience is not a sea of nameless, faceless people identified only by a handful of demographics and psychographics. The days of a simple persona are over, so resist the urge to see your customers as a composite stick figure.

Today’s buyers may have global traits, but they act individually — and they take their brand associations personally. That’s why Gen Z, a quarter of the population with $44 billion in purchasing power, over-indexes with purpose-driven brands. And it’s not just about “Cancel Culture,” and public shaming. It’s about the reality that in our instantaneous digital culture, brands can’t hide their misaligned places. If your brand spotlights a value, for example, being animal cruelty-free, then you’ve got to be sure that your parent company doesn’t also own a steakhouse chain.

Remember, trust comes in on a donkey and out on a freight train. And demand for your brand rides on delivering on that core promise by acting with integrity, responsiveness, and inclusivity.

Demand Design Principle #3: Dive into the discourse

Thanks to social media, it’s not hard to see what’s trending and what people love. But what I like to look for is actually what people hate, which is also very easy to do online. Not because I’m a negative person (I’m the opposite, actually), but because that’s where people are looking for alternative options.

So, for example, we helped launch a startup healthy snack company make a splash by first diving into what people didn’t like about the competition. Topping the list was a lot of angry comments on social media about how the competitor was positioned as a healthy alternative but was filled with chemical additives. (See Demand Design Principle #2.)

That made our first campaign easy — and successful. We amplified our client’s snack’s value proposition, which was 100% real ingredients. That wasn’t about bashing the competition; it was about elevating messaging to talk about what people were demanding: a genuinely healthy snack. And that resulted in an uptick in demand, which allowed the client to steal market share from their leading competitor.

Demand Design Principle #4: Be bespoke

By now, you’re getting the picture: demand isn’t about building a singular experience and assuming people will come. It’s about understanding where your customers come from and where they want to go. And always meet them where they are at all points in between.

Personalizing the experience was the core tactic in helping Sperry find their footing with a whole new generation of customers. Appreciating high quality, iconic brands is right in the modern shopper’s wheelhouse, as is diving into aspirational, adventurous, story-driven content that includes tons of ways to make the experience their own. By making every digital moment shoppable, we made it quick and convenient for people to snag a pair of Sperrys and continue on their journey of personal expression.

This brings us back to Demand Design Principle #1 and understanding the real place in space that your brand or your business serves in your audience’s life. When you tap into their needs and desires at the truest, deepest human level and solve their problems, you’re on the right path.

Just be clear about what you’re doing: are you taking up someone’s time, or are you saving them time?

Because ultimately, time is what’s in short supply. Waste someone’s time, and you’ll pay the price. Optimize it with personally meaningful experiences that respect their time, and you’ll reap the rewards.

And always remember, that while ideas are never in short supply, they are nothing without execution. In-demand brands understand that — and make it their business to continuously find new ways to surprise and delight their customers.

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