Liz Kokoska spent 10 of her 20-plus years in pipeline generation-focused marketing in leadership roles, including six building out the demand gen function at Okta. An identity and access management company based in San Francisco, Okta provides cloud software that helps companies manage and secure user authentication into applications and developers build identity controls into applications, website web services and devices.
When she came to Okta she was leading a team of 1 field marketer and when she left Okta she was leading an organization of over 200 frontline marketers and SDRs for the Americas. Kokoska’s pipeline generation team of marketers and xDRs (extended detection and response) were directly aligned to sales in the field.
In those early years, the first thing Kokoska noticed when it came to swag and printed materials was the inconsistency. To bolster the power of the brand, she knew there had to be a repeatable way to create the marketing assets. The marketing closet that housed the wealth of Okta’s materials was not the reservoir it needed to be. She knew that righting the ship meant undergoing an extensive RFP process involving several different supply chain vendors.
“Our biggest pain point was not knowing where everything was and then running out of the things that we had,” says Kokoska, who now is the VP of Revenue Marketing for the B2B enterprise software company Alation. “Working with 15 different field marketers to try and track and understand the inventory had become almost impossible.”
At one point, after trying to find banners that featured the right brand messaging—as well as ones that were not torn or broken— Kokoska had reached a breaking point. The goal was simple: Find a strategy that could offer a repeatable promotional strategy that could not only deliver items like banners, pens and mugs, apparel, etc., but also do it consistently.
After conducting an exhaustive RFP process, Kokoska and her Okta team wanted to find someone who could be accountable for managing and updating its in-house needs. “There came a point where we not only had so much stuff that needed storing, but a lot of it was out of date. There was a lot of swag and promotional collateral that was just being wasted. How we were doing it, how it was being policed, everything had to change.”
The strategy required finding a vendor—one that had the capability to deliver marketing collateral, promotional products, banners and wall graphics, direct marketing analytics and mailing services, and technology-enabled distribution, kitting and fulfillment. Among the marketing supply chain (MSC) vendors Kokoska initially reached out to was Almaden, a marketing supply chain service that provides products and services to marketing, sales, human resources, recruiting and event teams.
In the trove of challenges the Okta sales and marketing teams had, one of the biggest was that it did not have adequate storage space, or capacity to pull together and house everything that was needed in a timely and efficient manner. “We not only needed a partner who could do all of this, but one that we could trust.”
Building the perfect beast
The ideal marketing supply chain possesses several key characteristics, each of which contribute to its effectiveness and efficiency. They include integration, collaboration, agility, data-driven, efficiency and cost-effectiveness, sustainability and continuous improvement (See sidebar, “Embracing the Chain.”) Being able to incorporate these traits can provide a solid foundation for building an efficient and effective marketing supply chain.
As the Senior SEO at MRB Marketing, Brian Vastola specializes in e-commerce, marketing and content creation for the Margate, Florida-based firm. MRB prides itself on offering a plethora of SEO-related services that help its customers become more visible in their local markets. Part of the job is making sure he and MRB’s customers are lockstep in all facets of the marketing process, especially the marketing supply chain side.
Vastola believes it is imperative that today’s marketers understand the ins and outs of the process. “With all of the energy and effort it takes to create sales traction for a product and your brand, the last thing you want to do is not have something to sell your audience when the time comes to cash in,” Vastola says. “Amazon, as well as other e-commerce marketplaces, will penalize your product listing visibility heavily if you are actively advertising a product without satisfying that demand. That being said, you don’t need to understand or manage your supply chain if you partner with someone who is doing that with your best interests at heart.”
Vastola is a firm believer in embracing the earmarks of a marketing supply chain strategy. He believes the upside is that you are laying down a stable and secure foundation from which your brand can build. “Sales and marketing will always be a moving target, but you can minimize your business’ exposure to risk by managing this aspect of your business properly since there is less volatility in its year-to-year operational consistency. You must have strong, fast and consistent lines of communication between your business and your supplier/manufacturer. There also must be reliability when it comes to product quality and communicated production turnaround times. Having shared values between your business and your supplier is critical since they are essentially an extension of your own business.”
When your brand begins to build this consistency and foundation, the real work can begin. “It allows you the creative elbow room to concentrate on telling your brand story in more creative and compelling ways without the downside of splitting your time to also personally manage the supply side, which is a completely different animal,” Vastola says.
Another key is to have senior leadership involved in the process. Vastola says it is vital to have access to the high-level, solution-oriented ability of someone with prolonged experience on your team. “If they are great at disseminating that knowledge to their less experienced team members when the time comes, they might not necessarily have to be directly involved to make an impact.”
Johan Holmström, Head of Marketing for campaign management company Mediatool, says that today’s marketers should view the marketing supply chain process holistically. That means not only focusing on individual components, but also understanding how the components interact. “It’s important to leverage technology and data to gain insights and drive continuous improvement. A robust MSC process can actually promote creativity by freeing marketers from logistical constraints and allowing them to focus more on strategic and creative tasks. When processes are streamlined and well-managed, marketers have more space to innovate.”
In the end, the journey to creating an efficient marketing supply chain can be filled with its share of challenges and triumphs. Through strategic collaboration, data-driven decision-making and a relentless pursuit of improvement, marketers can turn what once may have been mayhem into a well-oiled marketing machine.
Embracing the chain
Building the perfect marketing supply chain (MSC) means including several key characteristics that can bolster effectiveness and efficiency. They include:
Your MSC should be seamlessly integrated with other functional areas within an organization, including sales, product development and customer service.
Effective collaboration between marketing teams, suppliers, distributors, retailers and other partners fosters transparency, communication and a shared understanding of goals.
Being capable of responding quickly to changing market conditions, consumer preferences and emerging trends allows for swift adjustments to marketing strategies, promotional activities and product offerings.
By leveraging data and analytics, brands can gain valuable insights into consumer behavior, market trends, inventory levels and channel performance. Data-driven decision-making enables targeted marketing, improved forecasting and inventory control.
Efficiency and cost-effectiveness
Streamlined processes, optimized inventory management, reduced lead times and efficient logistics translate into lower costs, faster time-to-market and improved profitability.
Sustainable supply chain practices not only align with customer expectations, but also contribute to brand reputation and long-term business viability.
Embracing new technologies, adopting best practices and fostering a culture of learning and innovation contribute to the ongoing evolution and optimization of the marketing supply chain.