For most, it would be nice to have a single all-encompassing communications unicorn. The marketing ecosystem has gotten more complex in recent years, though. Managing omnichannel communications requires a team of unrelated subject matter experts (SMEs) as well as strategic, creative, and technical resources. Building a full “in-house” team is the goal, but financially inefficient until you reach a significant economy of scale. That’s why leaders have, with increasing frequency, looked towards outsourced marketing to close the gap.
Outsourced marketing is the use of external marketing expertise to bolster your organization’s innate ability to deliver on key growth strategies. In this post we’ll take a deep dive into how it works, potential opportunities, and challenges, as well as how growing organizations can find the right combination of marketing partners for their organization.
The need for brands to outsource some or all of their marketing needs isn’t new. It’s evolved quite a bit since the heady days of Madison Avenue, though. In the traditional model, a company (usually a large one with a pre-existing marketing department) brings on a highly regarded consultant or ad agency. They craft messaging and creatives around a specific objective, implement it, and are largely responsible for the results.
Big agencies like Ogilvy, Deloitte, and McCann still exist and, for the most part, do great work. They’re enterprise animals, though; large, all encompassing, machines defined by tactical objectives and built to address big business use cases. Smaller-scale tactical partners can be equally effective, but tend to avoid addressing the same pain point. That is, seventy-five percent of your marketing budget doesn’t go towards big budget campaigns; it goes towards day-to-day operational marketing activities that are, in their own right, getting orders of magnitude more complex.
Without the resources to support an ever-widening scope of internal expertise, growing organizations have turned to an army of third-party experts to fill the gaps. They range from highly-focused independent contractors to boutique to “full-service” agencies. While some function as outside consultants, others embed directly into clients’ day-to-day workflows. What’s important is that they bridge the marketing gap, allowing the organization to succeed and grow.
Size may seem like the best indicator of an organization’s need for outsourced marketing. In reality, its MOp(s) footprint is vastly more important; the two aren’t as correlated as it might appear, though. For example, while two organizations can be of a similar size, one uses marketing as a sales enablement tool and the other relies on pure marketing to drive sales. Though similar in size, they require vastly different resources. Identifying your organization’s operations archetype should help define what to look for when researching outsourced marketing.
‘Shell’ teams lack internal marketing expertise and are often led by an executive or sales leader who performs marketing as a secondary activity. Without any internal structure, they tend to get the most use out of integrated/full-service agencies partnerships who have a strong internal marketing operations backbone.
‘Hub-and-Spoke’ teams are characterized by single, strategy-focused, marketing leaders. They typically work with multiple outsourced partners, but need operational support to drive integrated marketing strategies at scale. They tend to work with a mix of contractors and embedded agencies
‘Blended’ teams tend to have a small MOp(s) footprint and services-led partnerships that focus on the most important aspects of their strategy. Since they have a greater internal locus of control, they often leverage tactical specialists more than generalists and agencies more than contractors.
‘Formed’ teams have strong internal MOp(s) capabilities and tend to look towards high-performance niche teams to extend or amplify certain aspects of their strategy. Independent contractors are rare at this level and services are usually provided by well-established agencies.
A team can, of course, exist anywhere on this scale. But, identifying exactly where can be a preliminary exercise for the scope of outsourced marketing resources they’ll need as well as how they should be delivered.
There’s a marketing resource to augment just about every type of marketing team – many of which overlap in small ways. Understanding what aspects to focus on can be the difference between finding the perfect partner and everything else.
Outsourced partnerships generally fall into three categories: Independent contractors, retailers, and agencies. Independent contractors tend to be referral-driven, but can be found, increasingly, through two-sided marketplaces like UpWork. Retailers includes, support resources like Penji that allow you to pull from an internal set of resources. Agencies are found through referrals, search, and increasingly through service aggregators like Clutch and expertise.com.
Your industry is unique and having someone who already speaks your language can reduce the learning curve new partners sometimes face. Unless you’re marketing to a very niche audience, though, try not to get too hung up on it. If every partner you work with needs deep industry, as well as subject matter expertise, you’d be choosing from a very small pool of candidates. “Sector” might be a better starting point, but most marketing contractors and agencies work with a wide variety of clientele and grasp new concepts pretty quickly.
When we think of outsourced marketing, it’s typically in channel-related services like branding, digital marketing, and public relations. Service-led partners can be a great way to bolster a single aspect of your strategy, if you already have strong MOp(s) resources. Remember that services partners are siloed and limited in scope, though. While they can deliver critical support, they’re not as good at supporting your overall strategy. For example, a branding partner won’t do much (sans a brand book) to ensure that your communications align with it over the long run.
One of the most notable, but rarely addressed, differences between resources is their approach to partnerships. Today’s marketing ecosystem is three-dimensional. Your audience expects to be engaged with an omnichannel brand experience that helps them learn about your brand. To do it, many SMEs on your team need to work together to achieve a specific outcome. Where services-led resources tend to compete for your marketing dollar, integrated resources rally around it. They embed with your team creating an added layer of project management expertise that allows you to build omnichannel brand experiences.
Some organizations don’t need channel-based expertise as much as the resources to facilitate their strategies. That may include strategic, creative, and technical support, across marketing projects and team. This neutrality can be helpful for leaders working to implement outcome-focused omnichannel marketing strategies that leverage experts across the marketing ecosystem – from automation to web-development.
You should feel comfortable with an outsourced marketing partner, but geography doesn’t have as much to do with the equation as it used to. Even local teams tend to extend globally and global brands are building locally. Platforms like UpWork even allow you to search out marketing partners in other countries. Location can be a critical area of expertise for regional and language-dependent messaging. Don’t ignore it, but don’t let it stop you from hiring a resource you love.
Cost is unique to each project and difficult to difficult to make generalizations about without a scope of work. Like any service, cheap marketing can come with hidden baggage, only discernable to others with an expertise in a particular field. While independent contractors don’t have the overhead of agencies, they tend to not have the resources either. That often nullifies the purpose of hiring an outside resource. In today’s business ecosystem, finding teams that work together frequently can often garner better results and therefore save money over the long term.
Outsourced marketing can be an incredible resource for growing small and mid-sized businesses to save time, money, and help scale your business. Not only do these solutions bridge the gap for growing organizations, they help them punch far above their weight class, often at huge cost savings. That allows growing companies to stay lean and agile, avoid team burnout, and stay focused on their goals and much more.
If you’re looking for an integrated marketing agency, let’s chat. Our team works with clients from around the globe, providing omnichannel marketing solutions with an integrated approach.
Omnichannel marketing offers communications leaders a powerful strategy for creating relationship-driven brand storytelling . It can be enormously effective at growing a loyal following, but delivering on that promise is often more complex than it first appears....