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The Marketing Supply Chain Field Guide: Part 9 – Materials in the Chain

Marketing Materials in the Supply Chain - eLynxx Solutions

Over the past eight installments of our Marketing Supply Chain Field Guide we’ve discussed mechanics, functional areas and roles. Now it’s time to open a new chapter and take a look at the goods the marketing supply chain delivers – marketing materials.

Admittedly, a deep-dive into marketing materials may not sound like edge-of-your-seat kind of stuff, but that is exactly the point. It’s so easy to lump so many forms and mediums of communication that are so crucial to your marketing efforts together under such a simple – and frankly – bland term. But when you stop to think about the breadth and depth of everything that could be considered marketing materials those notions go right out the window. Marketing materials are anything but simple. Their variety and complexity is the antithesis of bland.

The oversimplification of such a complex operational category is likely one of the key factors in the marketing supply chain goes unrecognized. It’s also an important reason to consider purpose-built tools for managing projects within the marketing supply chain. Let’s take a look at some of the more traditional or common marketing materials that may be flowing through yours.

In the Universe of Marketing Materials – Here’s the Black Hole

It’s known by about as many names as there are varieties of it. Collateral, pamphlets, documents, handouts, fliers, folders, booklets, rack cards, one-sheeters, sales kits, brochures…you get the point. What we’re talking about here is one of the foundations of marketing and promotional communication and something that’s still effective even in the digital age; good old printed, branded and distributed information. Marketing collateral (let’s call it that for now) is pretty much the catch-all classification in the marcom world. Here’s the catch about this catch-all though; while it’s so familiar and seemingly basic, it’s really anything but. Everything about it is variable. Size, format, content, purpose, complexity (or simplicity), design, method of distribution – you name it – all varies from item to item. What doesn’t tend to vary is the need for consistent branding across all variants and the fact that collateral changes frequently to stay up-to-date.

Some organizations rely on hundreds, if not thousands, of forms of marketing collateral. Sometimes collateral is produced by multiple teams from different locations where each may be responsible for its own sourcing. Keeping information, branding and targeting current in the face of such an environment can be tricky at best. The simple act of having reprinting last year’s brochures suddenly isn’t so simple. In a well-managed marketing supply chain, marketing collateral can be a model for efficiency instead of a black hole where “everything else” ends up.

Snow, Rain, Heat and Gloom of Night Are One Thing – Project Complexities Are Another

Even today, direct mail is still considered one of the most effective ways to reach a client and customer bases. The ability to put a highly targeted piece of communication right in the hands of its intended audience is powerful. And say what you will about the state of the post office, it still does a remarkably reliable job of getting the message where it needs to go. Even though neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night, as the old saying goes, are supposed to hinder the delivery of your next direct mail campaign; its own complexities could hinder its production. The term direct mail, like marketing materials, is another convenient phrase that oversimplifies a not-so-simple concept. Direct mail campaigns run the gamut in terms of design, format, content, purpose and complexity. About the only thing that remains constant across direct mail campaigns is the fact that they rely upon the post office for distribution. Even that is a point of complication.

Take for example a postcard campaign. It’s a single piece that’s self contained. No envelope is needed; postage indicia, and even addresses, can be printed directly on it. But like any marketing material there’s always a catch. There are stipulations on everything from physical size to stock thickness, finish and even layout and content. Significant attention must be paid to providing the appropriate space, on a printable and clearly visible surface, for bar codes to be applied for proper routing. Copy that is too close to the designated address area could cause machines to misread the address. Even when designs account for all postal regulations, simple production errors or variances, that are negligible in other instances, could render a postcard campaign undeliverable or much more costly to mail. Precision specifications and strict adherence to them in production are absolutely crucial to direct mail even in its most simple form.

In more complicated forms of direct mail, not only do size, thickness and weight come into play, but often multiple pieces as well. In some of the most effective and powerful direct mail campaigns there may be many creative assets with production spread across different vendors. Traditional (think ink on paper) and non-traditional (think plastic cards or product samples) media are frequently combined. Personalization is often involved in more than just the address. Mix in kitting, list and mailing services and direct mail project management might be as complex as it gets. In an organized marketing supply chain these complexities can be harnessed and the full power of direct mail channeled when you use tools that were built for the job.

Keeping the Publication Gears Turning

The fact that some catalogs, newsletters and other marketing and public relations publications are going strong while others have given up paper for pixels clearly illustrates that people take one of two sides on them. Those who continue physical publication of catalogs and outreach obviously see value and power in them with their specific audiences. The ongoing impact of printed publications seems to remain very strong where specialties, special interests and niches are concerned. Such audiences tend to be more deeply connected and involved and hard-copy publications speak well to that involvement.

Anyone who is involved in projects involving publications of any kind is sure to tell you that while techniques and strategies may be similar, each and every publication is unique. Because of the number of moving parts within them, there is a lot of opportunity for things to go awry in the creation, production and distribution of a publication. Nothing is inconsequential managing a publication project. Even a simple approval getting held up in the works could bring a publication that is critical to an organization’s marketing communications goals to a grinding halt. Big money could be lost and that deeply involved and connected audience could be left hanging. It is hard to squeeze something as individual as a publication into a one-size-fits-all approach. It’s near impossible to manage a publication project without the ability to adapt your tools to the specific resources, needs and purposes of your publication.

Join us next week when we continue to break down the many different kinds of marketing material projects the marketing supply chain is responsible for creating, producing and distributing.