I first wrote about this in 2014 when, after visiting with enterprise marketing and creative services teams, I started to see the emergence of something I called the creative production supply chain - something I saw smart organizations designing and continuously improving to create a competitive advantage.
2 years later, after having met hundreds of enterprise marketing and creative teams, this approach is still very common - especially at organizations that have the most efficient in-house creative teams, so I thought it was a good time to highlight this practice again.
Why do enterprise marketing & creative teams take a supply chain approach?
+ It allows them to produce more assets.
+ It allows them to reduce the production time per asset.
+ It allows them to reduce their cost per asset.
+ It allows them to measure everything, identify what's broken quickly, and fix it.
All of which translates into being able to produce more assets, and make them available for campaigns.The advantages are real, and the advantages are significant.
Supply chains are how successful creative operations teams manage creative work.
I know. When you think about supply chains you don’t think it applies to how marketing assets or creative work is produced. You probably think of something much more industrial, like auto manufacturing. Well guess what? The same supply chain discipline that has been at the heart of the automotive industry is now also at the heart of how creative work is managed.
It's really just the coordination of people, activities and information involved in producing the assets that fuel all marketing activities. Consider all the "steps" involved:
1. Marketing hands off a creative brief to the in-house creative team or to their agency.
2. The in-house team / agency will assign the project to an account team (designers, illustrators, copywriters, and someone to manage the project).
3. The project team then produces work that needs to be reviewed and approved by key stakeholders (marketing team, legal, brand, product line owner). In some cases, depending on available resources and skill sets, some or all of a project needs to be outsourced.
4. Feedback is provided from reviewers. Creatives incorporate requested changes, and iterate and revision until a final approved asset is created.
5. The approved version is then published, plugged into a campaign, and then tagged and stored in a DAM or content repository for re-use.
When you step back and look at it, the creative production supply chain involves coordinating, communicating and collaborating across a lot of resources to make sure that what needs to be delivered is being delivered in time to plug into campaigns.
Now imagine the above steps multiplied by thousands of assets, different types of media, and with various deadlines and requirements. Without an efficient creative production supply chain, campaigns risk being left waiting for the required assets to show up, and opportunities are missed.
What’s fueling the need for all these creative production supply chains?
Last year, when I spoke to the teams who are designing, developing and constantly optimizing their creative production supply chains, I ended up with a handful of things that drove them to that move. Since then, and after spending time with even more enterprise creative operations teams, I've been able to summarize the key drivers into what I call The 3 V's: Volume, Velocity, and Variety.
The First V: Volume of Assets
The amount of assets that brands need to produce has grown exponentially thanks to big data and the hyper-segmentation it enables. Even one email campaign might have 25 potential variants based on customer data – and enterprises are launching dozens, if not hundreds, of those campaigns. They need so many assets that they need to find cost-effective, quick ways to produce them. This is driving them to make more use of options like freelancers and external (lower-cost) creative services bureaus, alongside their in-house team. All of these elements need to be efficiently coordinated and collaborating, otherwise the time-to-market and cost savings can quickly evaporate.
The Second V: Velocity of Assets
Not only do more assets have to be produced, they need to be produced quickly. After launching campaigns, data comes in quickly and teams need to react just as fast. If they don't, the investment and value that comes from having access to data isn't driving the results it could be. Yes, that's a nice way of saying it's wasted. Companies can use their creative supply chain to take advantage of the opportunities data creates, by making sure they have creative resources ready and available when they need them.
The Third V: Variety of Assets
The days of asking Brian at the desk in the corner to build a website are long gone. Today's marketing assets are more sophisticated in terms of both design and functionality, and require the expertise and input of a whole range of creative team members in order to reach the standard they need to. However, the best – or most cost-effective – talent might not be local, or in-house for that matter. The creative supply chain is how teams manage and integrate different creative experts and resources to make sure collaboration happens - and to make sure assets get completed.
The days of solving a production problem by throwing more people at it are over for marketing.
The 3 V's coexist with the simple fact that budgets aren't unlimited, and marketing teams are under more and more pressure to justify the ROI of their decisions and investments. As budgets are more closely monitored, efficiency becomes the only way marketing & creative teams have a hope of meeting the other challenges they're facing (more assets, less time, more collaboration.)
Since the challenges facing marketing teams can't be solved with more people (because it won’t scale) or more money (because it’s not always available) that’s where the creative production supply chain can be leveraged as a competitive advantage. It’s also why we’ll be seeing more (smart) big brands design, deploy and continuously optimize their creative production supply chain.