Today, marketers are pushing media to more targets, across more markets, and through more channels than ever before. When brands tell stories at a global — or even national — scale, even small inefficiencies in their creative sourcing and distribution process are magnified, creating big barriers to achieving high returns on media spend.

Marketing InefficienciesThe flow of creative assets — images, videos, copywriting — from procurement to publication is driven by your marketing supply chain. This process, like its physical counterpart, can be a source of competitive advantage — or inefficiency and poor budget utilization if your marketing operations are poorly designed. In Gartner’s “Supply Chain Top 25”, brands like Apple and Amazon have become enormously successful through great operations. The businesses Gartner highlights in their list all have this same one trait in common: they demonstrate operational excellence at the intersection of supply, demand, and product. Let’s see how marketers can build their own systems for connecting sourcing and distribution in order to improve their brand’s profitability and growth.

MANAGING COMPLEXITY WITH SYSTEMS

There are several components required to execute a marketing campaign or strategy: agencies, producers or freelancers that handle your research and creative, people and systems you work with internally, and communications channels that connect your brand and your customers.

Marketing as a supply chain

The various interactions among these components introduces complexity into the marketing process. In Part 1 of Percolate’s Co-founder and CEO Noah Brier’s series on Systematizing Brand Management, he writes, “when you’re dealing with a huge amount of change and complexity, as tempting as it is to answer the question with a one off solution, the systemic path is always more powerful.” In the post, Noah explains how P&G introduced brand management as a system architected to manage this complexity.

Let’s see what type of systems marketers can leverage to manage their distribution process.

SYSTEMIZING THE MARKETING SUPPLY CHAIN

Any system designed to help brands build a competitive marketing supply chain should be able to do three things: streamline sourcing, centralize assets, and integrate distribution.

Systematized Marketing Supply Chain

STREAMLINED SOURCING

A marketing organization needs to procure assets and creative that will ultimately be distributed to audience groups. This sourcing process is the key driver in a brand’s “non-working” dollars or production costs — every dollar spent here is one less dollar that can be put towards “working” distribution spend. While some experts argue that the hunt for the perfect ratio of working to non-working spend is counter-productive, marketers should all agree that the goal is to maximize the value they get from their investments in each category.

Coordination costs are one type of inefficiency that shows up in the sourcing phase. Many brands collaborate with several agencies that may have different communication cadences and outputs. Operating across multiple, fragmented processes (or spreadsheets, or even worse, email chains) can lead to missed deadlines, higher procurement costs, and off-brand creative. To solve for this, brands are turning to software. For example, one solution that we’ve seen our clients gravitate towards is our Marketplace, which helps them standardize vendor relationships by providing a single platform where they can share briefs, manage stakeholder communications, and track due dates.

Of course, in addition to improving your sourcing workflows there is a classic way to reduce your production costs: spend less, on average, per asset. Shinola, a retailer of high quality watches, bicycles, and leather goods, was able to do this by adding free, user generated content into their creative mix.

 CENTRALIZED ASSETS

A brand’s digital asset repository bridges the gap between their sourcing and distribution processes. Unlike in operations, there isn’t a high cost associated with storing this “inventory”. In fact, by building up a large collection of easily accessible assets, you can again lower your production costs, this time through reuse and more efficient discovery across your organization.

One great example of efficiencies gained from asset centralization comes from Unilever. With international brand teams searching for images distributed across email inboxes, FTP, and Dropbox, Unilever found themselves spending too much time retrieving assets and not enough time deploying them. They solved this by centralizing global images in one governed environment where they were easily accessible by all teams. Centralization allowed them to reduce costs related to design, content, local specification, and publishing, all while keeping production qualities high across their various brands and markets. In our experience, this approach creates tremendous savings for brands; collectively our clients have added over one million images to their Percolate libraries to take advantage of these benefits.

Assets in Percolate's Media LibraryINTEGRATED DISTRIBUTION

Distribution is the final component of the marketing supply chain; it covers all activities involved in connecting audiences with your messaging. When brands combine efficient sourcing with optimized distribution they can maximize their marketing returns by pushing the right creative — efficiently sourced, of course — to the right audience at the right time. We first partnered with Social Code in September to accomplish this last step with paid media, whereas our Marketo integration gives brands distribution access to marketing automation and email.

In addition to increasing profits, an integrated distribution process can also increase your organization’s agility. For example, if a marketing team decides to tweak their messaging, an integrated system can keep media buyers up to date in real time through automatic notifications. Now brand managers can be assured that their ads across all channels always reflect the most recent thinking and strategy.

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER

At Percolate’s 2015 Client Summit, Ben Richards of Ogilvy shared a great example of a marketing supply chain in action. He showed how British Airways used a digital billboard in London’s Piccadilly Circus to feature a child who would point to their planes whenever they flew by, delighting onlookers in the process. For this experience, Ogilvy worked with British Airways to source creative designed for a very specific distribution channel all while coordinating with engineers, media buyers, and a host of other stakeholders to produce this stunning effect.

Gartner described how businesses have grown by building supply chains to profitably deliver their physical products; brands should invest in similar processes to deliver their messaging. Marketing supply chains are one specific area where brands can use systems to build a competitive advantage — if you’d like to see this type of thinking applied to the entire brand management discipline, checkout part 2 of our Systematizing Brand Management series.