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The Marketing Supply Chain Field Guide: Part 1

The Many Colors of the Marketing Supply Chain

Familiar…Yet Unknown

It may not be in your everyday vocabulary, but if you are involved in the process of seeing creative concepts become tangible marketing materials, “marketing supply chain” is a phrase you’ll want to become familiar with. Why? Because you are part of one. If you are not familiar with the idea of the marketing supply chain, don’t worry, that’s why we created this series.

As a phrase, marketing supply chain is relatively fresh. However, what it encompasses is actually as familiar, and unique, as the work you do every day. That uniqueness is the focus of this installment. Recognizing that every marketing supply chain is different, and identifying how your organization’s is unique, is the first step in getting the most from it.

Beyond the Simple Definition

If a simple definition were enough, we could turn to the great compendium of the world’s knowledge, Wikipedia, where marketing supply chain is defined as “…the chain of suppliers that an organization relies on to produce marketing materials (print, promotional products and point of sale) to market their products and services.” While that certainly is a correct definition; it is also a definition that begs for further explanation. The Wikipedia entry goes on, as do we in the Q&A section of our main website, to further identify, in broad terms, a sampling of the roles, products and processes involved. Those broad identifications are where the endless variety in the marketing supply chain begins

Every Marketing Supply Chain is Different

It is unlikely that the marketing supply chains of any two organizations are exactly alike. Every organization has established its own processes, unique to its structure, that help its people meet goals that have been set. Even if two organizations had structures – and goals – that were identical on paper, the people – and the processes they use – would still be unique.

Take a look at your own organization’s areas of marketing operations. In some organizations marketing is synonymous with the sales force while in others it’s more connected to product development; yet in others it’s more akin to corporate communication and branding. Some organizations consider creative functions like copywriting and graphic design to be core marketing elements. Others focus more on research and analytics. Some consider both the analytical and creative functions to be core. Organizations may keep the majority of their marketing operations in-house. Many turn to one or more agencies or freelancers. Many others rely on a combination of in-house and contracted resources. And the list goes on. How does your organization fit in? What other considerations can you identify?

The structure, functions, and composition of operational areas defined by your organization as marketing are the tip of your marketing supply chain iceberg. Think of those areas that, while not considered to be core of marketing function in your organization, are connected to, or influence, marketing. Perhaps sales functions are considered separate from marketing functions in your organization? If so, chances are the two functions are still allied, and even dependent upon, one another. Then sales functions will be part of your marketing supply chain. What about legal? Is approval required on use of trademarks in marketing materials? Does legal review agreements with the vendors who produce your marketing collateral? Then legal is also part of your marketing supply chain. How about finance? Purchasing? It may be that these other functional areas are involved in the process of transforming creative output into tangible marketing communications in your organization. Or it may be that they are not. That’s just another example of how each organization’s marketing supply chain is unique.

There is No One Size Fits All

By now you may be thinking that, besides being unique, marketing supply chains are far from simple. That’s more than a fair conclusion; in fact it’s an accurate one! Along with the various functional roles that play a part in your marketing supply chain; the processes that the people in those roles administer are equally important. The same goes for the vendors who produce your marketing, sales, direct mail, packaging, display and communications materials. And speaking of the materials; the creative, branding, distribution and other files associated with them are all part of the mix along with schedules, deadlines, goals and initiatives.

As you may note the marketing supply chain is deeply engrained in, and spread throughout, your organization. That is the very reason marketing supply chains are generally not easily recognizable in and of themselves. That is also the reason that marketing supply chains are often hard to control and coordinate. However, by understanding that your marketing supply chain is like nothing else in the world, you have taken perhaps the biggest step forward in learning how to strengthen, control, coordinate, and most importantly, get better results from it.

In our next installment, we’ll begin to make sense of the unique complexity of your marketing supply chain by identifying distinct functional areas into which your people, processes and vendors fit.