Recently I had the pleasure of presenting as part of a panel at the Advertising Claims Substantiation Conference, traditionally held in New York City but virtual this year. The topic of the panel was The Future of Claims Substantiation and Challenges Around Emerging Technology. My presentation focused on how technology, in addition to posing challenges for claims, can help address many issues companies are facing today related to advertising claims management.
I often find that companies can get overwhelmed by the prospect of a wholesale transformation of their claims management practices all at once. Below I’ll lay out 5 stages of technological evolution for claims management. These bite sized pieces help make the prospect of modernizing claims management a bit more palatable.
Recent Changes to the Advertising Claims Landscape
As background, it’s worth noting that the advertising claims landscape has changed tremendously in the past decade, and even in the last 5 years. Social media and more direct to consumer and eCommerce sales have enabled smaller companies, some digitally native, to emerge as legitimate competitors, seemingly overnight. These smaller companies often use very aggressive claims. Consumer expectations around transparency with respect to ingredients, sourcing, and social and environmental sustainability have increased dramatically. And as expected, regulators and retailers have followed and have both become more interested and active in investigating the claims on products sold to the consumer. These and other factors have created a very challenging environment for advertising claims management, across all categories.
Challenges with Advertising Claims Management
It’s no surprise then that companies are seeking ways to better manage their advertising claims lifecycle. Generally, companies use a combination of spreadsheets, email and shared folders, regardless of company size. This results in siloed information that’s not always up to date, lack of access for those who need it, and a lack of clarity around which claims are approved for which brands, products, geographies, or marketing channels. Nor is there a clear link from claims to the underlying substantiation and the marketing materials and packaging creative using those claims.
All of this results in considerable risk to the company and frankly slows time to market for new claims and the products that depend on those claims. This also has the effect of encouraging, if not requiring, a very conservative approach to claim approval and usage because companies simply are not confident they can pivot quickly and react confidently if a claim challenge occurs.
Ironically, this slow, conservative approach to claims is the norm. But what companies really need to compete effectively and grow share in today’s business environment is a more agile, aggressive approach that can tolerate greater levels of risk.
5 Stages of Technological Evolution for Advertising Claims Management
So how can technology help? What steps can companies take to begin to modernize their claims management practices and systems and evolve toward an agile solution that can tolerate more aggressive claim usage? Below are five evolutionary stages starting from the current status quo. These stages don’t necessarily have to be approached sequentially, but it’s helpful to think of them in this way.
- Stage 0 - Status Quo - Siloed, disparate systems, typically spreadsheets, email and shared folders. Characterized by a general lack of access and visibility across the organization, and a lack of traceability to substantiation and usage in marketing materials and packaging.
- Stage 1 - Digitize and Transition to the Cloud - Simply moving your claims and substantiation documentation to the Cloud can help considerably. Cloud-based applications enable universal access, a single source of truth, and transparency throughout the organization. Access rights and privileges may continue to be a problem, however at least access is possible. Companies can start standardizing substantiation rules and permissible usage guidelines for claims.
- Stage 2 - Unify Data and Documents - Once you’ve moved your claims and documents to cloud-based applications, there is still a problem in that the data associated with claims that typically resides in spreadsheets is separate from the documents related to those claims (substantiation and marketing materials). This results in an inability to establish relationships between the data and documents, so you can’t easily go from a claim directly to the underlying substantiation or from a substantiation document to all claims that rely on it for support. Moving to a solution that effectively manages both data and documents in one solution makes these relationships possible, and dramatically increases confidence in how claims are substantiated and where they are used globally.
- Stage 3 - Leverage Strengths of the Consumer Web - We’re all familiar with how various web properties enable us to find what we need quickly and easily and view the status of orders or processes in an intuitive manner. Capabilities such as Google-like search, Amazon-like filters, FedEx-like progress tracking, and Quicken-like reporting and dashboards help us navigate the vast quantities of information on the web and find exactly what we need. Well, similar to information on the web, or the vast assortment of products available on Amazon, a global library of claims with all the details around permissible usage by brand, product, formula, geography, and marketing channel, many in different stages of approval or use, presents a tremendous amount of data and documents to manage. Leveraging consumer web capabilities that we all know well and use already can help us find what we need quickly and easily, identify inefficiencies, and understand where we are in the process as claims move toward approval and use.
- Stage 4 - Incorporate Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning - AI and machine learning are common buzzwords today, that are likely overused, and certainly mean different things to different people. However both have a role to play in advertising claims management that will only be increasing over the next few years. Using AI and machine learning, substantiation rules can automatically be determined based on claim type, category and a few other inputs. Claim risk level can be assigned, driven by things such as claim type, category, and local legal, regulatory, and competitive dynamics. Risk level in turn can trigger appropriate workflows, to include a degree of self service by marketing for low risk claims. Legal and regulatory still have a role to play certainly, but these technologies have tremendous potential ao accelerate speed to market and free up time for all functions involved in the claims lifecycle.
- Stage 5 - Business Process Integration - This final piece of the puzzle is potentially the holy grail, and it’s one that companies are already working towards today. The information required for this stage of integration already exists within companies, however most of it is siloed and the needed connections are not there. However when specific business results can be directly tied to claim usage in a specific brand, product, geography, channel, asset, retailer, or consumer segment, predictions can start to be made around what other claims might be compelling and hold the most in-market potential. Claim risk can be assessed in the context of potential financial gain. And through integrations, AI could potentially be used to predict which formulations might be able to support the most compelling claims and delight consumers.
It’s certainly fun to think about the potential for how these technologies can fundamentally change the way companies manage advertising claims. Although some of these use cases seem somewhat futuristic, companies are developing these capabilities today. There is no need to map out a path to stage 5 immediately. It’s perfectly ok to take measured steps toward the ultimate goal, as long as progress is steady. One thing however is certain. Those companies who move the fastest in embracing technology to support advertising claims management will have a distinct advantage over their competitors.