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An Introduction to the Marketing Supply Chain

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  • An Introduction to the Marketing Supply Chain

    An Introduction to the Marketing Supply Chain

    By Richard Romano, Industry Analyst

    Most people reading this are likely familiar with the concept of the “supply chain,” the businesses that provide the resources that printers need to get jobs produced: paper suppliers, equipment dealers, consumables distributors, and so on. Naturally, printers are part of their customers’ supply chains. In fact, every business in each link in a supply chain has its own links that make up larger supply chains—with so many chains it’s a veritable army of Jacob Marleys.

    We can narrow things down a little further by talking about the “marketing supply chain.” (Wikipedia defines this 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, although what we will be talking about here is a bit different.) A print provider produces any or all of a wide variety of marketing and promotional materials for brandowners (i.e., their customers). These can include, but are by no means limited to:
    • Business cards
    • Flyers
    • Brochures
    • Sell sheets
    • Wide-format graphics or signage
    • Advertising specialties like pens or smartphone cases
    • Apparel like hats or T-shirts
    • Full marketing kits comprising many different items, such as some combination—or even all—of the above.
    All of these items are called “marketing assets” and more and more print service providers—especially those who consider themselves marketing services providers—need a system that streamlines all aspects of production for the printer, and at the same time facilitates the ordering and reordering of these products for the customer. In other words, they need a system that manages the marketing supply chain.

    Let’s define the links in the marketing supply chain

    The process starts with ordering, or getting customer jobs into the chain. In the old days, this was handled manually, but that is so 1992. Today, jobs get into the system via some kind of web-to-print portal, online storefront, or whatever one of a thousand terms you want to use. Here, we’re going to use marketing portal. You want to give your brandowning customer a single access point for all their marketing assets, whether it’s their business cards, brochures, advertising specialties, branded apparel—everything in the above list and more. The marketing portal needs to have all the brandowner’s marketing assets in one easy-to-access place. It needs to ensure brand protection, identify which products can be personalized and which need to remain static, and indicate if approval is required before that asset is sent to actual production. And all of this has to be self-serve.

    A crucial part of the marketing supply chain is asset management. Anyone who has ever used a computer for any purpose knows that files, be they pictures, videos, songs, PDFs, whatever, accumulate rapidly and being able to find a specific file in a reasonable amount of time becomes a major challenge. (What is Apple’s iTunes really but a digital asset management system?) Most of us are familiar with the concept of asset management—it’s been a topic of trade magazine feature stories for at least 20 years—but marketing asset management goes one step beyond simply managing the customer’s logo files, images, fonts, and the other building blocks of print. It’s also about managing all those marketing assets so they can not only be found easily, but also shared, downloaded, proofed, edited, and so on by the customer as required.

    The web-to-print engine is another crucial link in the marketing supply chain. This refers to the part of the system where templates of these marketing assets are uploaded, edited, and sent to production. How easy is it to upload or create templates for these assets? Can the customer specify which assets are editable—and by whom—and which are not? What assets can be personalized? What brand protections are provided—i.e., preventing someone from accidentally resizing a logo or otherwise altering the branding? Inventory management is also a part of the web-to-print engine, facilitating just-in-time/print-on-demand production, as well as ensuring that there isn’t a pallet of brochures already sitting in the warehouse.

    You may have noticed that there is a bit of overlap among these three marketing supply chain links. The marketing portal, asset management, and the web-to-print engine are all tightly integrated customer-facing aspects of the marketing supply chain. The customer logs onto the marketing portal, scopes out all the marketing assets available, selects what s/he wants to print more of, adds the desired personalization, and hits “confirm” or “send.” Then the asset goes into actual production. And here comes another important link: any effective marketing supply chain management system must offer complete production management. This is the link that is specific to the print services provider. It’s not just about getting a particular marketing asset through prepress, print production, and finishing with as few human “touches” as possible, but also coordinating everything from procurement, to inventory management (how many brochures are already printed and warehoused vs. how many need to be printed), to kitting, to fulfillment, to final distribution.

    It’s also important for a marketing supply chain management system to provide constant and relevant feedback—what items are left in inventory and how much of them are there? What consumables are running low? Does paper need to be reordered? And, perhaps most vitally, is all of this actually making money? What are the actual costs, and are the assets priced properly so that the business is actually making a profit? After all, the best marketing supply chain management system in the world is good for nothing if the business is losing money.

    To get a better sense of how marketing asset management works, it’s helpful to see it in action: Propago offers a marketing asset management platform that comprises all of the features mentioned above, all of it completely configurable to a print business’ own unique needs, and all of it cloud-based.

    Marketing supply chain management—and indeed any kind of automation in general— is ultimately about making the business leaner and more efficient. And after all, an efficient business is a successful business.
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