Mapping a logistics strategy
Wednesday, July 24, 2013
What does a boutique advertising and marketing firm in Southern California have to do with global logistics? Well, it’s an interesting story, and one that highlights the way innovative thinking can drive the way logistics service providers attract customers.
Green Street Ads, a small firm in Altadena, Calif., started working with the global 3PL Agility shortly after the company’s inception under its current name. Agility’s roots were in the Middle East, where it was founded in Kuwait in 1979, but it went on an aggressive acquisition spree from 2004-08, rebranding itself as Agility in 2006.
Green Street was tasked with coordinating branding for Agility across its expanding global network — a cohesive message and look that would be as recognizable in the United States as it would in China or Germany.
From that relationship sprouted a technology that Green Street developed to aid Agility in its efforts to market its services in specific regions. The tool, dubbed GeoBrands, uses so-called geographic information system (GIS) technology to allow maps to be developed, showing where and how Agility was operating in certain markets.
GIS has been described as the intersection of cartography and statistical analysis, so it’s easy to imagine how a tool such as this would be useful to a number of departments in a company managing cargo on a global basis. It gives users the ability to easily develop maps that simplify the often complex nature of logistics services.
Think it’s easy to display a map-based service network in a way that’s digestible for a potential customer? Then remember the last time you looked at the spaghetti noodle service map airlines pop in the back of their in-flight magazines. And that’s just airport-to-airport services. That doesn’t include the legs to and from the airport.
Cargo supply chains are, of course, many times more complex, and thus difficult to represent. Given Green Street’s role in brand development, it was natural to consider the mapping tool a mechanism to build Agility’s brand. And, indeed, in a survey of users of the tool, Green Street found nearly two-thirds came from marketing.
Less than 20 percent came from operations or IT. Part of the reason is the tool, as it’s currently built, is static. Logistics operations personnel are interested in dynamic mapping tools that track, for instance, the real-time location and characteristics of their cargo.
John Espinoza, chief executive officer of Green Street Ads, said the company is thinking of
developing a more interactive version of the tool. But in the meantime, he sees supply chain and logistics firms as ideally suited to use his product. “This is a product that seems well-suited to logistics firms that have multiple global offices,” he said. “It standardizes the branding. It creates maps that reflect the organization’s brand, so on an enterprise-wide basis, it helps standardize.”
Using the company’s experience with Agility, Green Street has pitched the concept to some other big names in the industry, including Kuehne + Nagel, UTi, and FedEx. “For FexEx Asia, we illustrated how they could do service arrangements by showing how they can cut transit times a day early,” he said. The company has also approached a major U.S. West Coast port, which was interested in developing a map that showed, down to a street-level, where cargo from the port is drawn and destined. “We do see our growth coming from responding to what clients are looking for,” Espinoza said.
The tool uses Google Maps as its backbone and was developed in tandem with Agility, which Espinoza said uses the tool frequently. “Prior to this, they were developing generic sales maps out of 100 offices,” he said. “They were asking how they could develop their brand via a map.”
So GeoBrand takes data points from an Excel spreadsheet (Agility’s service centers, for example) and makes it easier to graphically manage those locations, using a tool like Adobe illustrator combined with a GIS map. The tool’s intrinsic value is that it allows anyone in an organization to quickly and effectively develop a tool to sell the company’s services, rather than relying on a third-party (or even an internal marketing department) to do the same.
“Ultimately the value is to be able to own the solution you draw on with the corporate identity,” Espinoza said. “The solution has more presence because it looks like it comes from your company.” In an age where presentation and image are so critical, where companies struggle to differentiate their brands in a crowded marketplace, the ability to quickly and effectively present service capabilities in a graphical format would seem to be gold.
“We looked at the product and thought, we could take this to other companies within the supply chain world and bring value to those companies,” Espinoza said. “We know we could spread to other markets, but this is where we focused on developing the product to solve problems, for companies that operate within and between countries. It seemed like the greatest impact we could have is staying within the logistics and supply chain industry.”
- Eric Johnson