branded-materialsGetting packaging, promotional, digital, and other branded materials to market quickly can feel overwhelming.

As organizations grow, additional layers of approvers and stakeholders become involved in the supply chain, accountability becomes decentralized and ambiguous, and workflows do not evolve quickly enough to accommodate the larger scale of work required.

What should be a relatively straightforward process becomes bogged down in a complex and time-consuming web of competing agendas, obsolete policies, and siloed communications. For example, some Fortune 100 clients require a four-month lead time for FSIs (free standing inserts) and a six-month (or more!) lead time to redesign a package. While these may be outliers, they are representative of the types of problems many organizations face, and they prove that agility and responsiveness are critical to achieving topline growth.

To become more nimble, marketing organizations need to think “lean” and remove non-value adding tasks from their branded material supply chains.

Here are six proven practices:

1) Validate your inputs.

While this may be considered a no-brainer, most organizations struggle with input validation because it’s actually pretty hard. Design managers, production managers, and agency project managers are under enormous pressure from brand and sales to “just go.” Projects are kicked off without briefs, die lines, approved claims, or formulas. While this “fix it later” mentality may work anecdotally at the enterprise level, it drives multiple rounds of time-consuming revisions into both the creative and production processes. This habit is the primary root cause of design and production revisions. Strong discipline and leadership are required to break it.

Once this practice has been abandoned, it’s time to organize. Sit down with your agency or production partners to logically categorize all the inputs required to create and produce your materials. Choose a taxonomy that makes sense for your organization. Then, organize the information into a standardized form. This can be as simple as a spreadsheet or as advanced as a database. If you go the database route, you can begin experimenting with linking the data directly to artwork.

The difference between organizations who do this well and those who struggle is striking. Organizations who have stringent validation procedures in their packaging workflows see upwards of 85% of all packaging changes approved within two cycles or fewer.

Organizations with poor validation procedures perform much worse, with only 60% of changes approved in two cycles or fewer. This 25% difference can translate into thousands of hours of lost workforce capacity, weeks added to each project, and significant change fees from agencies and production partners.

2) Streamline your routing and approval process.

Assuming you have a formal routing and approval process, dig in and question why so many people need to approve your packaging and promotional materials. The more people involved in approving work, the greater the drain on your organization and your marketplace agility.

Approvals are a hot-button issue within any content-rich organization. There are often competing internal agendas demanding involvement in approvals, but there is often just as much support for improving this process. To do so, look for opportunities to take people out of the approval cycle, to establish parallel path approvers, and to create simplified processes for simple deliverables.

Streamlining this process can make a significant impact on cycle times. For one consumer product goods company, the number of approvers required across all packaging and promotions routing and approval workflows was reduced by 67%. This equated to 4,000 hours of annual labor savings and reduced average routing cycle times by more than week.

3) Eliminate redundancies.

Analyze the duties and tasks performed by your marketers, marketing communications staff, and agency or production partners. Look for redundancies in project management, approval processes, and meeting attendance. You’re apt to discover that many of the redundancies will be tactical tasks; while each task may only take a few minutes, adding them up annually over thousands of packaging changes, promotional materials, etc., amounts to a significant loss of time and energy.

For example, an analysis of the duties and tasks performed by junior marketers and marketing communications staff at one company revealed task redundancies in the initiation and management of packaging projects. Post-implementation surveys revealed a 15 percent capacity increase within the junior marketer role once these redundancies were addressed.

4) Focus resources and time on what’s most important.

Evaluate your mix of marketing materials and decide which consumer touchpoints are critical to your growth. Then critically evaluate all workflows that support the less critical touchpoints. Media that are not delivering should require little to no attention from marketing leadership in a$1B+ organization. Relentlessly pursuing this philosophy will free up staff to execute more efficiently on high-value activities.

A major company did just this and removed all tasks related to design initiation, review, and approval processes for FSIs from their Marketing team. Across all divisions, this freed up a collective day and a half of weekly status, review, and kickoff meetings.

5) Go digital.

Requesting and trafficking files on CDs and printouts is the antithesis of a “lean” process. They need to be shipped, stored, and managed, and they can’t be indexed for searching on your computer. An all-digital workflow empowers your organization, driving speed, efficiency, and accuracy throughout the enterprise -- a velocity that can provide a competitive difference.

For example, a client had been requesting disks and three sets of printouts for all of their final artwork files. These assets were then stored and scattered across expensive office space in midtown Manhattan. After working through the perceived needs of the organization, we helped establish a workflow and file management strategy to completely eliminate all of the disks and printouts. Doing so saved the organization thousands of dollars in shipping and courier fees, cleared up valuable office space, and mitigated the need to organize and store thousands of files annually.

6) Remove communication roadblocks.

It’s a common occurrence: Agency and production partners are often frustrated by the excessive communication pass-throughs by clients and the red tape around information required to create their branded materials. But trusting your partners and enabling them to communicate deeper into your organization provides them with a roadmap for information. Empower them to initiate approval routes inside your online approval tool. If you have serious reservations about this, spend a few minutes evaluating your concerns to understand if they are related to control, partner ability, or something else. The idea is to remove obstacles and simplify for speed.

To that end, the solution could be as simple as assigning multiple points of contact based on areas of expertise within your organization. One consumer promotions agency was required by a CPG to leverage a single point of contact within the CPG’s brand design group to field all questions and requests. While this strategy was intended to ensure brand consistency across marketing media, it was inadvertently tripling the number of queues within the workflow for tactical requests. Eventually, the agency was provided key contacts within the CPG organization for tactical requests, such as die lines, bar codes, legal copy, and offer codes. This simple empowerment eliminated two workflow queues as well as the redundant communication management performed by the brand design manager and agency project manager.

The speed at which branded materials are created and deployed can drive increased sales, enable organizations to respond to quick-turn opportunities with key retail partners, and free up resources to put against growth objectives. The increased productivity that optimization offers can drive your brand’s performance by delivering it to market more quickly, more efficiently and more cost effectively. The successful implementation of the strategies outlined above will help your organization cut non-value-added time and energy from your branded material supply chains and streamline your processes.

Originally published Nov 20, 2014 7:00:25 AM, updated December 02 2014