Something funny happened on the way to the future.
As organizations have cut back on budgets and taken many marketing services “inside,” many have also become extremely insulated. Often, seeing things solely through the lens of an office window.
It’s certainly an age-old business school question: For any specific organizational function, should a company hire new (or use existing) staff, or simply outsource? In other words, should a company build or buy? In our current economy, the answer has increasingly fallen to using internal resources.
For many areas like manufacturing or customer service, this question often has a simple, logical answer — one that can be easily derived from any number of cost and quality formulas. However, when the question is applied to marketing, there are a number of additional issues to consider. Issues that reach beyond simple numerical formulas.
Of course, the basics of cost and quality apply here, too. But because marketing is principally tasked with being a liaison of relevance and understanding to a company’s customers and other external audiences, a critical dynamic has to be analyzed: Are internal resources simply too insulated and, in some cases, too “institutionalized” to be as effective as an outside resource?
Because the management executives making the ‘build or buy’ decision are most often financially and/or operationally focused, they often view marketing (and every other function) as a manufacturing function: “How much work can be done by how many people at what total cost?” Marketing, in this light, simply becomes a production effort.
Which turns the question to marketing agencies and consulting firms: Have you fallen into this “production resource” trap, or are you actively marketing the value of your “outside perspective”?
It’s a trap that’s easy to fall into. On the surface, it’s exactly what a client is asking for: a functional production arm that makes something. But in the end, if no value is perceived or added beyond this functional capacity, the agency or firm that works under this context runs the risk of being a casualty to the very thinking that got them hired in the first place. There is always someone cheaper; always someone faster.
The one unique position that marketing agencies and consulting firms own is that they are NOT encumbered by the day-to-day politics and insulated thinking of the company that hires them. This gives them a perspective and a point-of-view that the company simply cannot have. And because these firms work for a number of clients, they carry a broader perspective than that of a company and its internal resources.
The agency or firm that leverages this perspective, regardless of core competency, has the opportunity to create a true, strategic relationship with its client. A relationship that also has the opportunity for higher margins and longer shelf life than that of a “production”-focused relationship.
Leveraging this perspective also allows agencies and firms a reason to continue talking with the potential client who says, “All our marketing is handled in-house.”
I know that in my world as a brand and strategy consultant, I’m often faced with the unique challenge that my potential client is, oddly, my competitor. More often than not, it’s not another firm that I am competing with, but rather whether my prospect will choose to develop strategy work internally.
My answer, in these situations, is that while my client might be extremely bright and competent, they have often only developed brand strategy and/or marketing strategy for a handful of the companies with whom they have been employed, versus the hundreds of companies for whom we have worked, as experts. And, because strategy development is our only focus, and we can bring a “best practices” perspective, based on the numerous experiences we’ve encountered.
Is your firm doing all that it can to deliver value-added marketing perspective to your clients?
Whether you’re a traditional agency or a vertical marketing resource, you owe it to your business and to your clients to make sure everyone is benefiting from your unique marketing perspective. If not, you’re undermining your revenue potential and severely limiting your future.
Originally published Mar 28, 2012 2:00:37 AM, updated July 28 2017