It’s no secret that the universe of marketing technology options has exploded in the past decade, making it difficult for teams to sort through the options and find the right solutions for their needs. To help combat that confusion, it helps to start with a clear definition of what distributed marketing is, what types of companies should be interested in it, and a list of some of the terms by which distributed marketing has been known over the years.
- Distributed marketing is a sub-sector of the marketing discipline, focused on the activation of a brand at the local level, by affiliates including franchisees, resellers, dealers, and sales representatives. While it is subject to the same principles and best practices that govern brand marketing generally, distributed marketing is focused on the processes, tools and teams that make brand assets and messaging available to local affiliates, while helping to ensure that those resources are used in a manner consistent with brand guidelines and standards.
- The discipline of distributed marketing has reached its most highly evolved practice in economic categories that feature franchise-, agent-, and dealer-driven brands, including automotive; financial services; travel and hospitality; quick-service, fast-casual, and fine dining restaurants; wine and spirits; health and fitness; home-improvement; and consumer packaged goods (CPG). In recent years, these early adopters have seen their distributed marketing practices adopted by other categories, including education, government and non government organizations (NGO).
- Over the years, distributed marketing has been referred to by a variety of names, each with nuances of its own. Co-op marketing is the term used to describe local marketing activities that are conducted under the aegis of – and with cooperative funding by — a master brand. Local marketing is a broader term that sometimes includes the activities of independent “mom and pop” shops, but that has gained prominence as media techniques such as search-engine marketing, and mobile marketing have come to represent larger and larger portions of the $1 trillion annual spend on marketing in the United States. More recently, terms like “brand-to-local” have come into vogue, as mechanisms for referring specifically to the unique tools, processes, and teams that together govern and enable brand-consistent local marketing activity. Finally, “channel-marketing” is a term that has been used for decades to talk about the methods that major enterprises use to market to and through their channel partners—dealers, resellers, etc. More recently, the analyst group Forrester Research has popularized the term “Through-Channel Marketing Automation” to refer to the tools and techniques used in this arena.
For a good overview of distributed marketing, check out Susan Murray's article on
What are the unique challenges of distributed marketing?
The art and science of branding have always been difficult disciplines for companies to master—and the distributed or channel-based model adds a number of unique issues on top.
- Brand Consistency: The larger a brand’s local marketing community is, the greater the chance that some or many of those local affiliates will misuse brand assets and content. Sometimes, these mistakes are inconsequential, but often they can dilute or confuse brand message and tone, resulting in eroded brand equity. Whether it’s the use of non-compliant typography or colors, or the misapplication of the brand logo, inconsistent executions, when left unchecked, can undercut brand awareness, or even soften brand preference—two of the key metrics on which the value of the brand to the organization (including local marketers) is based.
- Marketing Orchestration: Offers promotions and campaign themes work most effectively when they are received by consumers consistently across any given media region. Brands that fail to coordinate marketing activities throughout their local marketing network often see lower redemption rates on offers and promotions. Moreover, an uncoordinated rollout can cause the brand to run afoul of legal or regulatory constraints—which can create significant financial risk.
- Content Currency: One of the most glaring problems in distributed marketing is the continued use of assets that have become outdated or otherwise have fallen out of synch with the brand strategy.
- Governance: Brand managers often will devise finely targeted rollout strategies for promotions and campaigns, both for purposes of testing, and to tailor offers, creative and language to local populations. In a distributed marketing environment, it can be difficult to achieve this kind of precision in the absence of tools and systems that govern the assets and campaigns that local marketers have access to.
- Local Activity Analytics. Marketing leaders of distributed brands often struggle to gain insights into the kinds of marketing activities that are happening at the local level, and the impact that those activities have had, both on sales/revenue, and on brand activation and awareness.
Why do distributed marketing communities need a unique kind of DAM?
To get control over the problems outlined above, leaders among distributed brands usually turn to Digital Asset Management (DAM) technology. But experience has shown that traditional DAM tools are typically designed and implemented with the needs of corporate brand management communities, rather than local marketing networks. To optimize chances of success, brands should keep in mind the following aspects of the distributed marketing environment.
- Local Marketer Skill Levels: Most local marketers have an “operations first” mentality, as they spend most of their time dealing with issues associated with the delivery of the product or service. This means that details of marketing that come naturally to marketing pros are easy for local affiliates to overlook. Further, local marketers probably haven’t received the same kind of training or experience in creative operations that marketing professionals typically have. That means they may find creative tools (Adobe Creative Suite) difficult, if not impossible, to use.
- Short Turnaround Local Demands: Most local marketers conduct marketing activities on an unplanned, ad hoc basis. This often means that they need immediate (same day/next day) support from brand resources to take advantage of a local opportunity or to respond to a competitive threat. Failure to keep pace with these periodic emergencies is often cited by franchisees and other local marketers as their number one complaint about the brand.
- Activation Local Media and Publishing Vendors: Local marketers often struggle with the vital details of delivering creative materials in the right format, color space, etc. for their media vendors. The proliferation of digital media environments and opportunities makes this challenge even more significant, and can result in mistakes that cost precious media dollars, and consume the attention of both local marketers and the brand-level staff that supports them. A Distributed Marketing System can help insulate users from these complexities, reducing risk and costs substantially.
What happens when you get distributed marketing right?
Some people have questioned whether the benefits of a mature approach to distributed marketing are worth the investment that’s required. Even a brief review of those benefits demonstrates that the return on investments in distributed marketing can add up to millions of dollars annually—even for brands with just a few dozen or a few hundred locations in their distributed marketing networks.
- Better Brand Alignment: The first and most visible impact of a good brand-to-local balance is organizational in nature. You’ll find that relationships with local marketers are less contentious, and that a whole host of nuisance conditions and emergencies begin to decrease both in frequency and in intensity. Complaints from leadership about inappropriate brand executions begin to decline. At the same time, noise from the field will begin to abate. And when issues do arise, your distributed marketing system will likely make resolutions faster and less expensive.
- Reduced Stress on Creative Resources: When you’ve got distributed marketing done right, you’ll find that your In-House Creative Resources are freed up from the slew of one-off requests from the field that used to consume large chunks of their working week. With more time to think, design and create, and less time devoted to mechanical changes, your creative teams will likely deliver more ideas, and better ideas that have the potential to enhance your brand. You may also find that “technology leaders” emerge in your creative team, to manage the finer points of your distributed marketing system; these are the kind of multi-skilled and multi-talented folks that you want to hang onto for dear life. And speaking of creative retention, you’ll find that employee satisfaction goes up and churn goes down when your distributed marketing ecosystem is up and running at scale.
- Higher Brand Consistency: This, of course, is likely the number one goal you had when you first tackled the problem of distributed marketing. It will take some time for the effect to become noticeable, but it will indeed appear the next time you or your team do a site visit with a franchisee, dealer or affiliate. You’ll find that more on-premise materials are reinforcing the message; that social media communications feel better aligned with your brand objectives; and that advertising, direct mail and email campaigns all have a higher level of “fit and finish”. One thing to keep in mind, as this effect takes hold: be sure to provide encouragement and reinforcement. Think about setting up a recognition program focused on the proper local use of brand-supplied assets. When local marketers stay on brand, share their work with their peers, to reinforce and spread the behavior. And if possible, keep a count of the number of instances of off-brand executions; as that number declines, your system (and you!) deserve credit for the improvement.
- Greater Marketing Agility: As your distributed marketing system matures, you will find that subtle changes begin to take place in your own planning and thinking. For example, you may begin to develop expectations for shorter turnaround times in the rollout of new brand campaigns. You may call on your creative teams (in-house and external) to develop a greater number of more tightly targeted campaigns for specific regions or market segments. You may challenge creatives to come up with more copy and artwork options for local marketers to choose from, recognizing that greater freedom within the brand framework leads to greater engagement with franchisees. You may even find yourself pushing your own comfort zone about how much you can accomplish with the resources that leadership has provided. All of these are signs that your distributed marketing approach is becoming more responsive and more nimble.
Download the eBook: Distributed Marketing On Steroids for help with developing a successful distributed marketing strategy and expert advice on how you can boost your local marketing efforts.
Pitfalls on the Journey to Distributed Marketing Success
Like any transformative exercise, distributed marketing success is a journey that takes place over the course of years, not months. As you travel that road, there are some common obstacles that you’ll encounter, and that you’ll want to be prepared to respond to effectively, so they don’t stall your progress.
Resistance from Creative Teams:
Creative thinkers are focused on, and find great meaning, in doing original, ground-breaking work. When we consider graphic artists and designers specifically, that drive for originality is often augmented by an intense devotion to issues of nuance and detail. These attributes—all vital for success in creative fields—may initially be at odds with the systematic and templatized approach that distributed marketing systems encourage and enforce.
When you introduce the concept of a distributed marketing system, you may find that your creatives rebel against the idea of “dumbing down” the work. If that’s the case, take time to make the distinction between studio assignments that are truly creative, and those that are merely mechanical, and assure your creative teams that the distributed marketing system is intended to alleviate the latter, precisely so that they will have more time for the former.
In these conversations, it helps to ask your teams to compile a list of the repeat projects and tasks that they find the most distracting or annoying—and to use at least a few of these in your initial rollout of a distributed marketing system. By taking away highly visible headaches, you can turn this resistance into enthusiastic support—and that will stand you in good stead for years to come.
Resistance from Local Marketers:
At headquarters, the notion of a “self-service local marketing system” can sound like a godsend. But to over-worked franchisees or dealers, it can sound like just another job getting added to their day. You may find that particularly influential local marketers (the “800-lb gorillas” of your marketing network), dig their heels in and refuse to take on work that the brand used to do for them. This resistance can be particularly tough to counter when the local marketer has the ear of senior leadership and can make the complaint that marketing is getting in the way of sales.
In many cases, a straight-up statement about corporate policy can silence these kinds of complaints. Brand communities are built around rules, and if mandatory use of your distributed marketing system is one of those rules, so much the better. But sometimes, it helps to have some carrots that you can use to soften the sting from those sticks. For example, you might create a template campaign specific to the needs of a troublesome franchisee, and use your distributed marketing system to deploy it for that franchisee alone—so that they feel they’ve got resources all their own. You can also take advantage of the efficiencies that distributed marketing systems provide, to offer a “concierge-like” experience for your franchisees, where your team uses the system on their behalf. This is a great way to help slowly wean them off the personally provided (and time consuming) service your team used to offer, and migrate them to a more efficient self-service paradigm over time.
Over-Promises from Local Marketing Platform Vendors:
In the process of setting up a system, you may find yourself inclined to look past details and to envision a happy future, filled with quiet, happy, self-serving local marketers around the globe. So it’s important to probe your vendors to find out how precisely their system will help you to solve the knottiest problems that your creative resources and local marketers face. Probe to see how skilled your creatives will need to be to manage the content on the system. Ask your vendor to demonstrate how specific customization and deployment problems can be addressed. And probe to see if the vendor has teams on their side to help your team out in a pinch—whether that pinch is associated with sheer volume, or with a complex piece of creative. Above all, remember that you’re putting in place more than just a temporary website; you’re adding a critical component to your mar-tech infrastructure that will have an impact not just on the activation of your brand, but on the evolution of your marketing culture.
Creative-Asset Licensing and Management:
If your eyes glaze over when you hear the term, “rights management”, that’s understandable. The rules regarding use of creative assets has only become more complex and more challenging to manage in recent years. But resist the temptation to shove the issue under the proverbial rug. Ask your local marketing vendor for advice on the installation and use of fonts; the management of photography licenses both with photographers and with stock photo houses. Appoint a member of your team to become educated on trends in licensing and rights management, and look to leading vendors in this area for their thoughts on emerging issues in various jurisdictions. Remember that the demonstrated intent to utilize copyrighted materials properly can often be an important factor in preventing instances of misuse or claims of infringement, as well as an important point to consider when such claims do arise.
Conclusion: Distributed Marketing Is A Competitive Advantage
As you embark on, or continue on, your journey toward a truly distributed approach to marketing and branding, remember that the pace of change in marketing generally looks set to continue or even increase in the coming years. New modes and methods of communicating with customers are emerging constantly, and your distributed marketing system will help you to incorporate these methods and deploy them on behalf of your local marketers more swiftly and more cost effectively. In that way, your distributed marketing environment will be more than just a method of reducing costs. It can be a source of enduring advantage that your competitors find difficult to match.
CampaignDrive by Pica9 is a distributed brand management platform that empowers multi-located brands scale their marketing efforts in a streamlined manner and achieve local marketing success. Want to learn more? Speak with distributed marketing expert today.