Fuel the Brand Engine—and Hit the Accelerator: The future belongs to the CMO with a long-term view

If Devin Fisher, senior director, Studios, at marketing solutions provider Quad, has learned anything in his years providing clients with photographic solutions for their marketing needs, it’s that “across the board, people are working in silos. They’re not optimized. They’re not looking upstream or downstream.” And that, notes Larry Fisher, CEO of Rise Interactive, a Quad subsidiary digital media agency focused on what it calls “interactive investment management” (and no relation to Devin), reduces a marketing team’s ability to meet the ever-increasing demands to fuel its brand engines with ever-increasing amounts of content. As Fisher puts it, “everything a marketer does today starts and ends with the brand. The ability for brands to connect with their customers at scale requires more content variety and volume that ever before.” As a result, Devin Fisher adds, “we need to start working smarter, faster, and more effectively, looking holistically at the marketing calendar, optimizing in all those areas. Without that, the CMO is putting gas in the car but not pushing the accelerator.”

In the first part of this series, Larry Fisher spoke extensively about the ways in which the role of the CMO has changed over the past few years, focused primarily on keeping up with change, keeping up with demand, and keeping an eye on long-term strategic goals. In this installment, Devin Fisher reflects on how Quad’s experience—driven by its own need to evolve and diversify its services in an era in which printing is in much less demand—can help CMOs visualize the path toward improving—optimizing—the way they work in the short term to reach even greater heights in the long term.  Much of this is illustrated by the ways in which Quad has worked with its clients to introduce such new technologies as computer-generated imagery, or CGI, and how marketer acceptance of both new technologies and new ways of operating is having an impact on the speed, cost, and quality of the content they’re able to both generate and distribute—in both the short and long term.

“The Duration of the Content”

Devin Fisher reflects on a large clothing manufacturer that had come to Quad complaining that, from a photographic perspective, they “couldn’t get the content they needed created fast enough.” Compounding this problem was the fact that even once they got the content, they “couldn’t deliver it fast enough.” And no sooner was it delivered, he notes, than it was out of date and ready to be replaced.

To reinforce that specific problem, Devin Fisher points to work he’d done years before for a large apparel company. In that case, he points out, they were also wrestling with “the duration of the content.” The e-comm product photography his team provided “was good for about six months at best.” Though the company would spring for an expensive editorial shoot each time, within six weeks, the pants they’d shot were on sale and the focus was on a different product—and a different shoot.

Multiply the expense of a shoot by a large number of products and a decreasing shelf life and both the cost and the frustration involved in generating all this content are exponential. Take potato chips, for example, another Quad client.

A typical campaign, Devin Fisher notes, could include, say, 17 different flavors. If you’re gearing up to shoot each flavor separately, “you have to get a whole pallet of products with cases on it. Someone had to request it, ship it, deliver it. Now we need to have people opening it up, looking through it, cleaning up the product, putting it on set, taking the pictures, sending it to retouching, and then getting someone to approve it.” And then, when a new flavor is introduced, “you need to do it all again.”

“Push a Button. Done.”

Enter CGI. With this system, Devin Fisher explains, it can take as little as a few days to a few weeks to build a model based on client-provided files—the company’s potato chip bag is the same size and shape regardless of what flavor chip is inserted. The only difference between bags is the label. The CGI technology allows Quad to take the model and apply the different label without the necessity of a separate shoot for each bag. “We create a library of bags of chips—or cans of soda, or whatever you’re featuring,” he explains. “So now, if you want to show three sides and seven different views, we just ‘push a button’ and it renders it out.” With the potato chip campaign, Devin Fisher says, “it didn’t even take a day to render out all 17 flavors. We were done and ready to go. And when, a week later, another flavor was introduced and the label needed to be changed, we quickly rendered another file. Done.”

The same technology worked for a retailer selling outdoor furniture. “We created an environment of outdoor sets and modeled them out so that the environment we’re showing can be customized based on the market we’re trying to deliver in,” Devin Fisher explains. “And you can build a library with that. Then if you, as the CMO, want to change the angle or see more of one side than another or add in some plants, our modelers quickly create it, and it’s minutes rather than week to get it done. And once it’s in the library, we can repurpose it at any time.”

The Search for a Champion

Given the palpable savings in cost and time that a technology like CGI delivers over time, one would imagine that CMOs would lap it up, looking to incorporate it into their plans. That’s not always the case, however, as Devin Fisher explains: “Some CMOs don’t understand what CGI is,” he says. “They think of it as Hollywood movies. They think of it as big stuff or feel it looks fake, and that is no longer the case.”

And some are concerned with the time it could take to change systems within a corporation that creates its own in-house capability. As Devin Fisher notes, “By the time you implement everything operationally and get all systems running, it’s a big shift. We’re talking six months to a year”—an amount of time, Larry Fisher explains, that many CMOs don’t feel they’ve got.

“Leaders today are under pressure to show results and impact ASAP,” Larry Fisher says, “and this can lead to short-sighted decision making. As a CMO, you need to be able to show there’s continual improvement, continual incrementality, that you’re reaching your goals every day. You’re focused on hitting quarterly numbers, so why would you invest in something that takes a year? If you have already been in your job as a CMO for a year, the prospect of doing something that takes another year to see a benefit is difficult to get your head around.”

Devin Fisher agrees but points out that “We have found there has to be a champion at the executive level, someone who will lead the transformation and hand it over to the creative team. The creative team may be set in its ways. What they need to do is to think about how they can do this faster, better in the long run—to build it to be more future proof. A process like CGI, for example, gives you speed to market and, in time, allows you to cut your costs. It’s not cheaper on the one item, but when you’ve got 20 items, there’s a savings in spend. And things will flow better; you’ll have a better experience. And that’s where things are going to move in the future.”

The Tipping Point

This is how it worked with the large clothing manufacturer Devin Fisher talked about earlier. “We showed them our approach to optimization,” he says. “We talked about our photography, our process, and our philosophy—both technologically and operationally. They asked us, ‘Can you bring in a team to quickly identify our inefficiencies and develop a quick plan of how to be efficient.’ We brought in our strategic process design team. The company had multiple global projects, and out of that one-hour presentation, they created one more. We’re now optimizing their content creation and delivery workflow.”

Devin Fisher sees CGI replacing more and more photography, in a shift that he sees mirroring the move from traditional to digital photography. “I think we’re at the tipping point,” he says, “where the efficiency, the price, and the realism of CGI is going to grow even faster.”

What resonates in most corporations—and therefore with most CMOs, he adds, “is getting the technologies connected and having a streamlined and well-planned workflow. We’re looking at showing the efficiencies: Here’s what it would look like from end to end, here’s the reduction in steps, here’s the throughput increase in the back end. That’s what’s really resonating: connecting it and delivering assets—it’s the content at scale.”

“And we’ve only been talking about the product photography,” adds Larry Fisher, “for every new advertising platform, there are more ad units marketers need to fuel their brand engines—video, motion graphics, AI experiences, for example. It can feel overwhelming pretty quickly, but these same philosophies and processes apply across all of those to streamline and future-proof content creation.”

In the next three installments of this series, with the CMO’s role more fully defined and brand engines fueled up, we’ll look at how brands can future-proof their audience strategies, act on real-time opportunities, and, perhaps most critically, prove their impact—all supported by some real-life case studies.

Originally posted at MediaPost.

04/20/2022 at 03:31