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The Marketing Supply Chain Field Guide: Part 2

The Functional Areas of the Marketing Supply Chain

Making Sense Out of Complexity

If you’re going to try to make sense out of something as complex as your marketing supply chain, it’s logical to break it down into smaller groups. In the previous installment of The Marketing Supply Chain Field Guide, we took a look at some of the ways that each marketing supply chain is as unique as the organization it serves. In this installment, and the next, we’ll focus on how all of those numerous unique elements can be organized into four functional areas.

Covering All of the Bases – From One End to the Other

As a concept, the marketing supply chain pulls from many different areas across a wide spectrum of tasks, responsibilities and purposes. Together, these often scattered and dissimilar pieces form what amounts to a workflow that surprisingly enough has distinct beginning and end points. Of course the workflow itself, and its beginning and end points, will naturally vary from organization to organization. The key to harnessing, controlling and coordinating such a complex and varied chain is to ensure that all elements – from whatever the beginning point is to whatever the end point may be – are addressed. That is a key area where one-size-fits-all attempts at managing projects in the marketing supply chain often fail.

You can safely consider marketing supply chain activity to be that which takes a tangible creative concept or design and carries it through to its complete and final form. While it might seem logical to segment such activity chronologically, the fact that every organization’s marketing supply chain is unique rears its head again. There are some touch points that will nearly always come before others, but it’s impossible to guarantee that to be the case all of the time. Chronological organization does play a role but it’s really secondary to functional organization in management of projects within a marketing supply chain.

1. Coordination – Bringing all of the Pieces Together

Coordination of functionality is the starting point of most successful marketing supply chains. Strategic and creative processes have been responsible for developing a concept built of a multitude of assets and details. The marketing supply chain is responsible for bringing the concept to life. Thus, coordinating the multitude of assets and information, some of which can be as different as night and day, is the starting point for managing a marketing supply chain project.

Gathering all of the assets and elements for the project including design files, written copy, photographs, art files, logo files, branding guidelines, targeting data and mailing lists, to name a few, is common to most marketing supply chains. These items are all necessary to write the detailed specifications successful projects require. Often, these various assets must be collected from more than one digital asset management system, electronic library or file server.

Coordination also involves functional roles outside of marketing but still related to the project. Planning for budgets generally necessitates the inclusion of people in finance roles. What processes, deadlines, approvals and requirements will they bring into the mix? Many organizations require legal approval for any communication released to the public. Sometimes estimates from vendors are needed to establish a budget.

Bringing all of these details together isn’t the only important part of this functional area of marketing supply chain project management. Understanding the relationships between each of the assets, resources and details is also important. Successful coordination also ensures that the right information gets to the person in the right role at the right time so that tasks, decisions and approvals stay on-track and the project stays on-time.

2. Acquisition – It’s More Than Just Making a Buy

The projects that are managed in an organization’s marketing supply chain tend to be complex and diverse. A direct mail campaign, a sales flier, a point of sale display and a packaging project may all be flowing through the pipeline at the same time. While one vendor may be best qualified to produce one project, the same vendor may be the least qualified for another. Identifying vendors who are truly capable is a very important acquisition consideration.

Whether the project is a one off or something that will be reordered many times over often makes a difference in how it is acquired. Would it be better to contract it over time or compete it each time? Once qualified vendors are identified and the sourcing method has been determined, there is still all the work and consideration involved in the process of requesting prices from vendors and routing them through the organization for decision and approval.

Even when it comes time to award the project to a vendor, there is more involved than just saying “okay, go ahead, produce it.” Many of the assets and details gathered in the coordination phase need to be provided to the vendor. Terms and conditions, a non-disclosure agreement, master service agreement or other legal document may still need to be sent to the vendor. Schedules must be established and agreed upon and expectations of proofs and distribution established.

But Wait…There’s More

Without these two functional areas producing custom marketing, branding and direct mail materials would be impossible. Coordination and acquisition are both crucial areas of project management within a marketing supply chain, but to think that getting a project to the point of being in the hands of a vendor is all there is to it is a grave mistake. There is still an awful lot of the marketing supply chain to go, and it too needs to be broken down into functional areas. In our next installment, we will wrap-up the four functional areas of the marketing supply chain with a focus on area 3. Production and area 4. Analysis.