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By Kevin Groome on July 12, 2021

The Changing Face of Marketing Collateral: 4 Steps You Should Take To Keep Up

Mention the term “marketing collateral” to most people, and the image that comes to mind is of a printed brochure. Multiple pages. Sophisticated design. Long copy and beautiful photography. The kind of thing that makes a sound when you throw it on a conference table.  

Fast forward to the current day, and marketing collateral is all that—and much, much more. The term now encompasses web sites and Powerpoint presentations, landing pages, and podcasts, webinars and trade show giveaways.

But even as the definition has expanded, the means of producing marketing collateral remains largely the same. Collateral was originally the province of in-house marketing and creative teams, and it remains largely an internal affair to this day.  In fact, according to the In-House Agency Forum, marketing collateral can comprise more than half the annual workload of the typical in-house group— a workload that has increased exponentially in the past 10 years.

At Pica9, our systems manage collateral production for dozens of national and global brands, across tens of thousands of local stores and selling locations. This has given us the ability to identify four additional trends that are making the production of marketing collateral even more critical to local selling success—and more challenging from a management point of view. If, like our customers, you’re facing the same challenges, this post offers updated insights and advice for taking a more modern approach to collateral management. 

Top 4 Marketing Collateral Trends for In House Agency Teams

1. Customers want their marketing collateral in digital, print and data formats—all at the same time.

At a major hotel firm, spanning thousands of locations and dozens of different brands, one of the most important methods for driving group business is the meeting proposal. Once delivered as a custom tailored deck or presentation, these proposals are now simultaneously:

  •  Web-accessible: so users can browse an entire mini-site dedicated to the needs of their group or event.
  • Downloadable: so buyers can grab the content and review offline, whenever and wherever they might like.
  • Printable:  because many buyers find it tiring to consume long-form content on screen alone.
  • Importable: so that buyers can compare and contrast features and pricing across different vendors in their own confidential way.

If you’re a designer, this approach requires new ways of conceiving marketing collateral. You need to separate the content from its design “envelope” and then build different envelopes (html, PDF, tab- or CSV-delimited files), so that buyers can get just the content they want, in just the format they want, at precisely the moment they need it.

You can see instantly that this trend toward multi-channel delivery multiplies the design workload for each and every collateral project. Designers need to conceive layouts, narratives, and images that can operate with equal effectiveness on the web, in print, and in a data format as well. And since you’re designing the piece in effectively four different ways, you’re going to have to manage carefully the total number of design packages that you aim to produce in any given time period (month, quarter, year); otherwise, you’ll overwhelm your team in the effort to keep pace. That means adopting a “templating” mindset, even when you’re working to produce collateral in response to an ostensibly “one-off” request.  

2. Componentize your collateral content, so it can be tailored to the needs of a specific customer.

One of the beauties traditional marketing collateral is that a single piece could satisfy the needs of countless customers. But today’s customers expect to be guided through an experience that has been tailored to their express requirements.  To continue with the group-business hospitality example from above, one buyer may be focused on finding meeting space that can flex in many different ways, while a second buyer may have as her top priority the fit and finish of the guest room experience, and a third buyer focused on the details of food and beverage served during the course of his event. This means that the logical flow of a proposal has to be tailored to individual circumstances. One size fits all, in other words, is something that won’t fit for literally anybody in this day and age.  

To accommodate this demand, designers have to break their content into discrete, storable chunks that can be combined and recombined in response to individual customer requirements. The mark of good collateral design these days, in other words, is not only in how a user’s eye is guided to this or that piece of content, but in how the the entire buying experience is orchestrated in response to the buyer’s stated needs. — Build content based on buyer personas.

3. Give the people closest to the customer the ability to assemble collateral on the fly.

If brands need to deliver marketing collateral in more formats than ever before, combining content in more unique combinations than ever before, it stands to reason that collateral production has to be more scalable than ever before.  

In the past, collateral was produced in a studio environment, where a team of designers, writers and photographers would painstakingly craft individual productions in response to a unique creative brief. The process could take weeks, or months, and consume thousands or tens of thousands of dollars. But today, marketing technology has been implemented, so that the people closest to the customer, with the best understanding of the customer’s wants and needs, can assemble the content that best addresses those requirements, and deliver that content in a polished, brand-compliant, and multi-channel way.

As an example, again drawing upon our hospitality example, the system that allows salespeople to build these e-proposals has generated close to a million unique documents since its launch, collectively addressing billions of dollars in pipeline opportunity. 

But of course, technology alone is only part of the answer. The real key to success is engaging people in collateral production who can:

  1. design and deploy dynamic design templates across all media types, online and off.
  2.  create and maintain content in discrete chunks, or modules, that express the features, benefits and advantages of the product in compelling and accurate ways.
  3. assemble content blocks into complete documents that address the needs of the individual, and deliver these documents in the context of a buyer-seller relationship and conversation.

And sitting in the midst of this large and rapidly expanding community of content creators and deployers, is a team that defines and implements the rules governing them all. A team that understands both the essence of the brand, and the necessity of agility in today’s always-connected world. A team that is obsessed with customer success generally, and understands that each customer needs to achieve success by a unique, individual path. A team that possesses skills in brand-management, people-management, and technology management all at the same time.  

And this is where, in our experience, the In-House Agency comes in.

4. Make Your In-House Creative Team The Collateral Management Authority.

Like marketing collateral, the notion of the In-House Agency has traveled a long evolutionary path in recent years. Originally, in-house agencies were seen as mere production arms—organized to pick up the brand assets and brand guidelines and to execute individual tactics in a more or less rote manner. But in recent years, as more than three quarters of major brands have set up and expanded their in-house agencies; according to the ANA, the internal group has developed a uniquely powerful position from which to design and implement componentized content, and customer-obsessed marketing at scale.

Here are just three reasons, among many, why the In-House Agency is the right entity to drive creative production at scale.  

  1. It knows the product and customer community better than external agencies ever could. With the average agency-of-record tenure measured in months, rather than years, the in-house agency is a repository of institutional knowledge regarding brand look and feel, product evolution, and sales force organization. The in-house agency can leverage that knowledge to develop templates that comply more effectively, to write content that expresses the product’s advantage more precisely, and to design creative-production workflows that fit the corporate culture most comfortably.

  2. The in-house agency can develop trusted relationships with the brand’s IT organization, to ensure the security and availability of mission critical marketing systems. More and more these days, external agencies come and go at the campaign level. The In-House Group, though can build multi-layered relationships across the organization to help power through the complexities of single-sign-on, API access, and other integration points, without opening the door inadvertently to security breaches.

  3. The in-house agency has the right blend of skills to develop content across multiple channels, and to keep that content current and accurate over time. In the brave new world of distributed marketing, content management is now equal in importance to content creation. It’s not enough to write a compelling product description (something a copywriter in an external agency might be well qualified to do); that content also has to be reviewed regularly for currency and accuracy. And, it has to be organized, or curated, so that it is available for salespeople and their customers when it’s needed, and kept out of the way when unrelated to the need at hand. These kinds of challenges demand a level of continuity (again, institutional memory) best developed and maintained with a team that is focused on the brand and its content “cloud” exclusively.

  4. The in-house agency can empathize most effectively with the sales force, and make the on-the-spot decisions, and exceptions, on which sales agility really depends. No matter how ingenious your distributed marketing system may be, there will come a day (perhaps many days), when the demands of an emerging sales situation require that the rules be bent—slightly or dramatically—to help the salesperson bring the business home. You might need to circumvent an approval loop. Edit a long-standing piece of boilerplate copy. Add in the customer’s logo or presence to a document that has long expressed the brand alone. When those moments arrive, it’s the in-house agency that can respond the most swiftly, and the most safely, to ensure that the exception is executed with grace and precision, and that exceptions do not gradually become the norm.

Conclusion: This Is Not Your Father’s Marketing Collateral Anymore.

The world of distributed marketing has been evolving for at least a couple decades now (our systems date their birth, for example to 2001). In that time, countless challenges have arisen, and been addressed, making the software a more comfortable fit than ever before. But it’s important to remember that attitudes—about creative production, about brand ownership, etc.—change much, much more slowly than software. As a result, many brands today are finding that the technology pieces are easy to put in place, while change-management remains a much more stubborn needle to move.  

Designing for a multi-channel customer environment is no longer nearly as severe a technology challenge as it once was. But giving designers the freedom to experiment in this more complex, multi-dimensional is still very much an issue.

Building a distributed marketing ecosystem is now more possible than ever before, with platforms that can be deployed in days or weeks, rather than months or years. But building up a commitment to ongoing content management and evolution? That requires a change in corporate culture. 

Giving salespeople the ability to assemble content on the fly in response to customer needs—or giving customers the ability to do so themselves—is more than theoretically possible. It’s been proven in dozens of categories, across hundreds of thousands of users. But for your company, the freedom and the framework required for success has to be negotiated carefully, and monitored constantly.

In short, the future of marketing collateral is filled with promise, for brand that recognize the trend and are willing to make the commitment to it. But the commitment is multi-year, multi-channel, and multi-faceted. And we hope, here at Pica9, that you’ll look upon our team and our technology as a resource in that regard.

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Published by Kevin Groome July 12, 2021
Kevin Groome