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If you haven't been living under a rock for the past two-three years, you probably have seen / heard about many of the problems that technology surge has created for companies across the board - from small to mid-sized business to large corporates. Those of us who work in the 'digital field' - though most if not all fields tend to be digital(ized) these days and those of us who are active on business networks, busy with reading, discussing and attending digital conferences have already become pretty worn down by terms of 'transformation', 'digitization', 'digital brand', 'eCommerce' etc. However, the sad truth is that for majority of companies, especially global brands and large companies there's still a huge digital capability gap size of a Grand Canyon between the available digital technology possibilities and their (not so digital) internal realities. For that reason it's still worth writing, discussing and advancing knowledge around digital - changes it implies and advances it can bring.
The sad truth is that for majority of companies, especially global brands and large companies there's still a huge digital capability gap size of a Grand Canyon between the available digital technology possibilities and their (not so digital) internal realities.
As my field of interest and expertise evolves around digital and brands, this time I wanted to pick up on my Digital Brand Discussion Article Series and talk about a very specific perspective that basically touches upon anybody involved in creative, marketing, brand, eCommerce, strategy, or management functions - the Supply Chain of Digital Brand Content.
The Supply Chain and Supply Chain Management (SCM) - what is it?
If you work in a global organisation or multinational company the concept of a supply chain is probably more less familiar to you - it's those 'non-sexy' departments (presuming marketing and brand departments are sexy) that make sure that the product gets from point A to point B - most likely and overall from far East (production) to far West (consumers). "A supply chain is a system of organizations, people, activities, information, and resources involved in moving a product or service from supplier to customer." (Wikipedia).
Some supply chains are simple, some are complex - most complex supply chains tend to be in automotive industry - imagine how many parts and how many different suppliers need to be aligned and synchronised so you would get your new car on time. Also, imagine IKEA's supply chain - thousands of products and parts sourced from suppliers across the world to points across the world. Worth mentioning one of main company strategic market and competitive advantages are exactly the value chain capabilities. Any waste of time, leads to significant costs in real terms but also in terms of lost market opportunities. No wonder that Supply Chain as a Function is rigorously systematised and subject to continuous improvement practices - continuous measurement of process performance and improvement of steps that bring faster, cheaper and smarter ways of delivering value to customers.
One of main company strategic market and competitive advantages are exactly the supply chain capabilities
As the understanding that basically any product or service that reaches the end customer is a cumulative effort of multiple organisations and that the value is created and enhanced by looking beyond "four walls" of a single or individual organisation but rather across them, the concept and the need for active management of chain of activities and links between them arose - taking a shape of Supply Chain Management (SCM) as concept, practice and field of research. The organisations that make up the supply chain are “linked” together through physical flows and information flows. Supply chain management (SCM) is the active management of supply chain activities to maximize customer value and achieve a sustainable competitive advantage. Management of chain of activities with aim of maximising return on efforts and maximising customer value while reducing costs across the entire chain of activities and organisations rests on the use of two core perspectives - the existence of Physical and Information flows.
Physical flows involve the transformation, movement, and storage of goods and materials. They are the most visible piece of the supply chain. But just as important are information flows. Information flows allow the various supply chain partners to coordinate their long-term plans, and to control the day-to-day flow of goods and materials up and down the supply chain.
Kaizen and Supply Chain Management (SCM)
Integral part of management of the supply chain is it's continuous improvement. Fast changing and highly competitive market environment requires continuous improvement of strategic capabilities and among others the supply chain capabilities. Continuous Improvement also known as "Kaizen" is a long-term approach to work that systematically seeks to achieve small, incremental changes in processes in order to improve efficiency and quality. To achieve continuous competitive advantage in creating and delivering value to customers one must actively manage and continuously improve the value supply chain - chain of activities across organisations (departments) that take shape of both upstream and downstream physical and information flows. Kaizen in Supply Chain Management takes form in never-ending effort to expose and eliminate root causes of problems and waste within and across participants of value chain activities.
To achieve continuous competitive advantage in creating and delivering value to customers one must actively manage and continuously improve the value supply chain - chain of activities across organisations (departments) that take shape of both upstream and downstream physical and information flows.
Global Brands and Digital(ized) Brand(ing) Content Flows - How is it done?
Key terms highlighted intentionally in above paragraphs on Supply Chains and Supply Chain Management are : System, People, Activities, Information, Resources, Moving a Product or Service, and From and To, Value Chain, Strategic Competitive Advantage, Waste of Time, Waste of Market Opportunities, Cumulative Effort, Organizations Linked Together, Information flows, Physical Flows, Coordination, Value Chain, Looking Beyond "4 walls". Together, they shape a perspective of Supply Chain Management I want to offer when looking at Global Brands and Global Branding.
Global Branding and Global Branding Paradox
Global brand as a marketing strategy is built around the idea of creation of a single global strategy that can be replicated in local markets. One story that can be literally and figuratively translated in multiple languages so that it will resonate and engage consumers around the globe. Branding operations in global organizations that implement global brand as a marketing strategy are an example of a global value chain - geographically dispersed corporate value adding process. To execute global brand strategies in local markets within a common framework and to reach economies of scale and scope in communication, production of materials, campaign management and execution, many wish to standardize their branding operations.
A true global branding campaign execution is a highly complex organisational endeavour which brings together countries, vendors and partners working as virtual teams that span both geographical and time zones in intense time sensitive coordination and communication tasks.
Benefits of global branding such as communication effectiveness through consistency and risk reduction through scaling of individual market successes across multiple countries can be offset by complexity costs of organisational structure and its misalignments. Lower marketing costs are annulled by higher management costs.What happens is something called "Global Brand Paradox"— requirement to maintain brand consistency and capture economies of scale & scope across borders while leveraging lessons of shared knowledge without letting complexity get in the way of speed and agility of execution.
A true global branding campaign execution is a highly complex organisational endeavour which brings together countries, vendors and partners working as virtual teams that span both geographical and time zones in intense time sensitive coordination and communication tasks. It is because of this that we at SO DIGITAL look at global branding and branding operations as a supply chain management challenge and create solutions and services with this perspective in place. To avoid the "Global Brand Paradox" which translates to countless hours of waste in misaligned activities taking form of endless email chains, endless chases of digital assets and continuous organisational executional ambiguity of global branding, global organisation need to both perceive and manage global branding through the lens of supply chain management - look at branding as physical and information flows across countries, vendors and partners. The waste of time, in age of digital properties, where We All Compete on Digital Customer Journeys game that require continuous "feeding of feed" supply of brand content, translates directly to wasted market opportunities.
We at SO DIGITAL look at Global Branding and Branding Operations as a Supply Chain Management challenge and create solutions and services with this perspective in place
The Current State of Global Branding Supply Chains and Operations
Branding as a non-process driven function is highly dependant on individual professionals skills & capabilities which results in non-institutionalised and non-standardised execution workflows. Instead of frictionless digitised speedways of digital brand content creation, distribution and application most if not-all of content is managed manually, individually and ad-hoc. The reasons for these are multiple and range from innate characteristics of branding as a function ("art and science" mantra), to organisation design (and rewards) and digital capability gaps I mentioned in the opening of the article. Moreover, matrix organisations present in most global organisations by design exacerbate the conflict of brand and digital which I wrote about in a separate piece - The Conflict of Brand and Digital in Matrix HQs
The usual Global Branding Content Supply Chain is more of a Hazard and Liability then a Competitive Advantage.
Keeping emotions live and keeping brands alive in customers minds in a continuously fragmenting environment of digital brand touch-points with continuously refreshing feeds and disappearing messages is a matter of of a robust and responsive brand content supply chain (in)ability. Keeping your brand present in the customer's mind is a question of keeping it continuously present in the feed. That in turn is a question of how good and fast your organisation is able to create, distribute and deliver the content to its consumer. In this context a digital(ized) brand content supply chain is a necessary condition to survival - as it is the only scalable way to help internal departments and staff cope with scale, scope and complexity of increasingly digital environment.
Digital Brand Touchpoints are increasingly expanding
However, the usually present global branding content supply chain is more of a hazard and liability then a competitive advantage. Non-existence of digital technology based process enforcement solutions make every global branding campaign a matter individual acrobat skills and muscle flexing than organisational performance. Physical and information flows from HQs to countries and back are fragmented, misaligned and executed via endless chain of emails which make brand management talent waste time on daily micro-management and 'fire-figthing' rather than on strategic activations. If you're one of those that spend most of your time in email inbox, email chains for approval and reviewing of materials, you're feeling the Rise of Digital Brand Touchpoints wawe.
In a world of continuously fragmenting environment of digital brand touch-points with continuously refreshing algorithm driven feeds and disappearing messages, keeping brands alive in customers' feeds and minds is matter of a a robust brand content supply chain performance
Non-existence of technology platform enabled workflows organised per process in a supply chain manner create executional ambiguity which in turn creates waste of energy, time, data, and money leading to a failing performance. To make sure that your brand content is at the right place at the right time along the digital customer journey across your network of countries, retail partners, vendors and their physical and digital properties you need a high performing digitalised and digitised brand content supply chain in place.
So, where is the market at the moment in comparison to the proposition of this article - formation of Digital Supply Chains of Branding and Content? One could say that they're still in early stages - but on the right track.For most companies, the first challenge and hurdle is actual formation of 'digital warehouses' - locations where assets are physically (digitally actually) stored and organised. Most of companies now are busy with trying to find, integrate and handle in general DAMs( Digital Assets Management), PIM (Product Information Management) which in perspective to a Process that needs to be accomplished using branded content are just warehouses - nothing more. Some more advanced softwares are taking into account the 'dispatching' of assets - externally , having a simplified access or additional operations part within (reviewing, collaborating on assets) but none having a supply chain perspective inline with the actual goal(s) of using those branded assets for branding operations. So warehouses are there, but the operational process links between them and people, stakeholders in the chain (eg. Global and a Country Retailer) across organisational levels is missing.
Global Organisations, especially those that follow the Global Brand as a Marketing Strategy need to Digitise their Global Branding Supply Chains. This will enable them to achieve economies of scale and scope that will fuel the global branding operational effectiveness and efficiency and avoid the organisational complexity cost and "Global Brand Paradox". Once digitised they will be enabled to be a subject a systematic continuous improvement practices and activities and as such gain continuous competitive advantage in a digital infused marketplace.