By Bruce Levinson, Vice President, Client Engagement, SGK
Baseball gurus refer to the term “small ball” as a way of manufacturing runs by executing a series of well-timed plays. It might start, for example, with a leadoff walk that creates the opportunity to steal second base, setting up a sacrifice bunt situation. This approach is in contrast to relying on the “long ball” – basically swinging for the fences each time at bat. I mention this not only because the new baseball season is upon us, but also because it provides a cogent analogy to the way smart brands are winning in the rapidly changing marketplace today.
Brand management is evolving from an annual plan consisting of a few, often well-funded, major events (the long ball) to the more agile management of a stream of activity that is constantly reviewed, evolved and resourced to the degree of opportunity. Both resources and risk are dynamically allocated. Budgets are more fluid and decisions made in real time, not solely as part of an annual exercise.
This is, in effect, small ball marketing and there are important ramifications for brand managers looking for an edge. Small ball marketing tools certainly include social media both for listening to and for engaging with consumers of their brands and categories. Brands must connect with consumers on an emotional level to forge any meaningful relationship. This entails being part of their lives, part of the conversation that most likely isn’t focused on your brand’s features and benefits. It might be about a common belief, value or purpose that your brand can credibly support, demonstrate or contribute to. Generally this purpose is well-known and thoughtfully planned, however the best opportunities to engage are very often spontaneous.
A timely tweet with a meaningful message can be just as effective as a lavish ad campaign; especially one focused on the conversation as it is stood at the time the agency was briefed. Agile brand management goes beyond social listening and timely tweeting. It is also about finding new ways to capitalize on opportunities as they arise. This applies equally to brand communication as it does brand innovation.
Brands are finding competitive advantage in their ability to launch a new product in less time than a competitor. Two companies may have the identical insight or discover the same trend, but one company will better able to deliver on it. This is partly due to a more flexible supply chain and partly due to a mindset of corporate culture that rewards opportunistic marketing.
Two technological drivers are breaking down conventional models of agile opportunistic marketing: e-commerce and digital printing. Volumes have been written about the former, which is changing so much about the marketing landscape, but the area I want to highlight here is the ability for a brands to do three things: (1) carry less inventory; (2) lower their volume hurdle rates; and (3) rollout innovation faster, without awaiting the next shelf reset. These three things combine to effectively redefine a marketing organization’s need for scale and its evaluation of risk. There will be internal hurdles of course because resources are finite, however there is much greater flexibility today as a result of e-commerce.
Digital printing is on the verge of having a similar step-change impact on speed to market. What has for years been a pragmatic solution for quick-turnaround sales samples or other very limited production requirements is becoming increasingly viable for smaller scale production. Digital printing is beginning to change the way companies approach promotional packaging and could enable regionally specific packaging, retailer-specific items, and even consumer customized packaging.
Digital printing is a game changer because it gives brands a fast and efficient way to produce limited runs of unique, promotional, or opportunistic packaging graphics. Whereas conventional printing requires color separations and producing plates or cylinders, digital printing can be turned around quickly and inexpensively so long as the print runs stay below an ever-changing volume threshold and within the parameters of the press, substrates and form-factors.
What’s more, the combination of digital printing plus e-commerce provides the flexibility to, for example, sell a small volume of product to a concentrated, highly loyal fan base that would never be sufficient to meet the hurdles of the physical shelf. These are precisely the small-ball opportunities that large CPGs typically take a pass on, but no longer have to. Today a new model is emerging: one where innovation is brought to market at the point of opportunity, rather than limited to traditional retail or supply chain constraints.
About the Author:
Bruce is Vice President, Client Engagement at SGK, a leading brand development, activation and deployment provider that drives brand performance. Bruce is a passionate architect of brand strategy and is highly experienced in translating consumer insights and client needs. His experience helps clients meet market and regulatory demands while driving brand initiatives domestically and internationally. His previous positions include director-level marketing roles at Unilever in the US and UK, and as an advertising account executive. http://www.sgkinc.com