With customer journeys becoming more self-directed than ever before, the importance of marketing collateral—once seen as a handmaiden to the flashier broadcast and other paid advertising types—has risen substantially. And so, too, has the need for polished, professional execution.
For brand managers in distributed marketing environments, this is a challenge that can quickly grow overwhelming. It’s one thing to ensure that your company’s brochures, sell sheets and flyers are on-brand and informative. It’s quite another thing to maintain those high standards while at the same time making sure that collateral content is customized to the needs of each individual market—or even each individual customer. And yet this is the delicate balance that more and more brands are asking their creative-production teams (both in-house agencies and external partners) to strike.
To achieve consistent excellence in your marketing collateral’s relevance, creativity, and quality, you need to implement a clear-sighted marketing collateral management strategy. And like all good all strategies, this one needs to encompass people, process, and technology. In this post, we’ll dive into all three topics, to help you make sure your marketing collateral program is set up for success.
What Is Marketing Collateral Management?
Marketing Collateral Management is a subdiscipline of marketing resource management, or marketing asset management, specifically focused on the designs, text, images, captions, charts and graphs, and other content components that together comprise brand-approved marketing brochures, sell sheets, flyers, direct mail pieces, landing pages, e-proposals, and other “long-form” marketing communications. Active management of marketing collateral is critical to ensure that customers are receiving relevant and current information about your company’s products and services, and that these communications are delivered in ways that are consistent with your brand standards and guidelines.
A Brief History of Marketing Collateral Management Approaches
Back when I first started my career as a copywriter, marketing collateral was the responsibility of a tightly defined creative team, either in-house or at an agency of record. These teams would implement a classic creative process to produce brochures, sell sheets in response to requests from sales and other related departments, delivering a specific single asset, purpose built to that need.
But in today’s environment, this one-off, handcrafted approach to marketing collateral production simply doesn’t scale sufficiently to keep pace with the voracious demand for customer-specific content to support the buying journey.
What are the signs that your marketing collateral production process needs an update? First, you’ll find that use of static, pre-printed brochures begins to decline and you have a rising marketing collateral inventory. Another indication is that customer-facing salespeople begin to create their own versions of marketing collateral, outside of the accepted process. A third (more advanced) sign is that requests for new marketing collateral designs begin to fall off as well, meaning that the business has begun to carve out new communications avenues with clients.
Before your reach that point—which can be difficult to return from without imposing stringent rules and constraints— it’s best to make sure that you have a marketing collateral management system in place that allows you to keep pace with today’s ever-increasing content demands.
Creating Modular Content for Marketing Collateral
The key to success in marketing collateral management is to create your content in small “chunks” that can be re-used and recombined in many different ways, across many different collateral types, both online and offline. By modularizing your content in this way, you can help to speed production, prevent errors, minimize duplicated content, and ensure compliance with brand standards.
Modular content requires a new mindset in your creative teams. Instead of long, monolithic narratives, you’ll need to build discrete units of content, each focused on a specific, highly focused topic. You’ll want to separate the content from the design environment, so that a single chunk of content can be deployed in a print brochure, an e-proposal, a blog post, or a tradeshow leave behind, without the need for manual editing.
Modular content also requires marketing collateral templates that can enable the rapid assembly of customized content packages to support individual customer experiences.
Smart Templates: As with content creation, template composition requires a new kind of design focus. You’ll need to make conscious decisions about the rules regarding document assembly and customization, so that you maximize content reuse and minimize the possibility for errors.
Questions you’ll want to address when building marketing collateral templates include the following:
- Length Limits: There’s an old adage in advertising that says, “The more you tell, the more you sell.” Local marketers often fall into the trap of cramming collateral with so much content that the result document becomes unwieldy. But today’s customers often want to consume content in much smaller, and more focused packages. As you assemble marketing collateral templates, you’ll want to think about the balance that’s right for your customers, and your selling process.
- Content Styling Rules: Consistent typography is one of the hallmarks—perhaps the most important hallmark—of a disciplined brand. How much flexibility should you give to your local marketers when it comes to type-size, typeface (bold, italics, etc.), and type color? This is where an upfront pow-wow with your brand management team can help you to establish rules of the road that give local marketers the flexibility they want without straying from the brand’s look and feel.
- Image selection and cropping: This topic can bring up surprisingly strong feelings among designers and brand managers. Should users be limited to a small collection of image selections when building marketing collateral, or should they be able to choose from an extensive library of stock images assembled by the brand? Should they be able to zoom and crop images, or even upload their own? The answers to these questions will vary depending on the sensibilities of your brand management team, and may even vary from one type of marketing collateral to another.
- Content Pre-population: One great benefit of auto-populating templates with content based on the author’s profile or their selling location is that you can keep their hands off the keyboard, and thereby eliminate the possibility of embarrassing typographical errors. Keep in mind, though, that pre-population involves planning and content management upfront, so you’ll want to make sure that you have a content management plan—and the time in your team’s schedule to implement it.
Building A Modern Marketing Collateral Management Team
Once you’ve committed to a modular strategy to marketing collateral management, and selected a marketing collateral management system that will allow you to execute that strategy, it’s time to assemble the people who will participate in the production process. That old headquarters-based creative team that I was so happy to join as a copywriter years ago has given way to a highly distributed and ever-changing collection of contributors who work together to develop and deliver the right marketing content, in the right marketing template at just the right time and place to inform and improve the customer’s buying experience.
Here are the folks you’ll want to include on your team:
Brand: Effective marketing collateral springs from the brand, and complies with its look, feel, tone, and tenor. Given that, you should make sure brand management is deeply involved in the design of your collateral templates and marketing assets, both images and text.
If you find it challenging to win the attention of senior brand managers (a surprisingly common problem), demonstrate to them that a little bit of time upfront can help ensure brand integrity and brand consistency for months, sometimes years, to come. Schedule a monthly or quarterly session to review with senior brand managers the most popular templates and content. This will help brand managers to see for themselves the positive impact that your marketing collateral management system is having on the brand. It can also help you to identify components or templates that need updating to remain in compliance with brand standards and guidelines. Finally, a regular brand review of your marketing collateral system can help to identify emerging needs and trends that may inspire entirely new campaigns. Treat these sessions as a feedback loop, and you’ll find that they promote both greater brand integrity and increased efficiency at the same time.
Product: Your product experts should be responsible for articulating the differences in your products and services that matter the most to customers. Depending on the size of your organization, and the skillsets that you have available to you, these folks may enter content directly into your marketing collateral management system. Or, more commonly, they will supply content and leave it to you to break that content into modular chunks and then make those components available for use in the marketing collateral production system. Borrowing a page from the disciplines of software development, we have found at Pica9 that it’s much more effective to segregate content creation and content management responsibilities
Creative Production: Your creative production team should be responsible for transforming brand designs and guidelines into dynamic collateral templates that can be populated with your modularized content chunks, resulting in unique versions of marketing collateral for specific markets, opportunities, and customers. This means that your team needs to include folks who have a deep respect for and experience with the classic design process, but who are also well-versed in the discipline of content and template management.
Customer-Facing Field Personnel: These are the salespeople, franchisees, dealers or other local marketers who are responsible for assembling content that is most relevant to the individual market or customer. These are the frontline folks who need to log into the system and produce polished, brand-compliant marketing collateral—usually in a matter of minutes. Your job is to understand the skillset and experience they bring to this task, and to configure your marketing collateral management system so that it produces a consistently positive experience for them.
Technology: Creating A SMART Marketing Collateral Management System
Smart Assets: You’ll want a marketing collateral management system that allows you to deploy static assets (images, PDFs, etc.) to the field in a way that makes them easy to find and use. But at the same time, the system should make these assets available for use within templates, giving you the freedom to mix and match assets in purpose built campaigns and collections.
Smart Content: Your system should give you the ability to organize content chunks so they can be imported into templates based on the needs of the local marketers and their customers. Brand and content managers should be able to make updates to content in a single location. And the design (typography styling, etc.), should be separated from the content itself, so that styling can vary from one media type (say, print), to another (say, digital), without the need for duplication of the content itself.
Smart Templates: As described above, marketing collateral templates must be flexible to the needs of your local marketers, without straining their capacity for complexity or the time they have to produce customized materials.
Here’s a suggestion, born of our experience with more than 100 brand environments. Start out with a small number of highly editable templates. Build in an approval loop for these starter templates, so that you and your team can monitor each document, and modify it as needed. In a very short period, you’ll learn what flexibility your local marketers actually need, and what elements should be locked down to prevent errors and save them time and effort. With that knowledge to guide you, you can edit your templates to strike the right balance, and then turn off your approval loops to save yourself and your headquarters colleagues time.
Smart User Experience: Your marketing collateral management system should also make it easy for your customer-facing teammates to find the assets and/or templates they need—usually within seconds. In a world accustomed to Google search, this probably seems obvious at first glance. But in our experience, most brands find searchability and discoverability much more difficult to achieve than they anticipated.
If you depend entirely on text search to help users locate what they need, you’ll likely discover that your local marketers use a very different vocabulary than your creative production teams. If, conversely, you try to build more of a browsing experience, you will likely find challenges when your library grows larger than a few hundred assets. What you really need is to strike a balance between searchability and browsability, with an interface that allows you to promote both the most popular template, and at the same time to highlight high-priority campaigns, even when local marketers don’t know to search for them specifically. These are the kinds of balancing acts that have consumed the time and attention of DAM managers for years (decades, really), and as the manager of a marketing collateral management system, you’ll likely face them as well. Be sure that the system you select will allow you to find the right solution for your content and user community.
Smart Reporting: As time goes by and usage grows, you’ll want to make sure that you keep marketing collateral tracking in mind. Keep an eye on the templates, content chunks and images that get used most often, and those that are languishing behind. Share these findings with your brand management teams, to help you decide if the library should be improved or if, instead, training sessions focused on specific campaigns and templates would benefit the brand and the field. As mentioned previously, this feedback loop will help you to engage in continuous improvement of your system, which will soon be reflected in increasing user adoption metrics, quarter after quarter, year after year.