In-house vs. Outsourced Marketing

Sarah Cucchiara | November 30, 2020

How many marketers does it take to build a brand?

This article was originally published in ANA Newsstand.

Choosing between in-house and outsourced marketing is an age-old debate, and there has been a lot of industry discussion over the past year about brands opting to bring their outsourced agency work in-house. The idea is that brands can cut costs, increase focus on their business, and improve speed to market. However, there are pros and cons to making this change.

Taking marketing in-house is hard enough when the brand’s distribution model is direct-to-consumer or all corporate-owned. It becomes even more complex with distributed channel partners, like agents or franchisees, because a consistent brand message must be distributed by hundreds or even thousands of independently owned locations. Regardless of the engagement model, the most effective marketing strategies have one thing in common: a strong partnership.

Instead of trying to decide whether in-house or outsourced marketing is right for the brand, companies should ask how often they should engage a partner and for which challenges they should leverage outside resources. When asking those questions of themselves, companies must consider the following aspects needed for a successful, sustainable marketing strategy — and then try to find an ideal balance of resources.

Reducing Friction Between Corporate and Channel Partners

Sometimes, the goals of in-house corporate marketers and their channel partners clash.

Most channel partners sell competing brands at their retail locations, and corporate marketers may turn a blind eye to the fact that partners aren’t going to market their brand exclusively. Reducing this friction between the two stakeholders by listening to partner needs and supporting them with accessible tools is key to improving partner adoption of corporate marketing. But, according to BrandMuscle’s “State of Local Marketing Report 2019,” 52 percent of channel partners feel corporate marketing support efforts are no better than a “check-the-box exercise” and 58 percent feel training and education are limited. It can be trying for an in-house team to empower channel partners when they’re laser-focused on promoting the brand nationally. It can be even more difficult for them to build a program that establishes trust so local channel partners aren’t concerned that their leads or customers will be poached by corporate sales teams.

Agencies can be useful in acting as a third party to address the inherent friction between corporate and channel partners. They can also objectively identify the pain points of both parties and work to find a solution that upholds the integrity of the national brand while making it easy for local marketers to access marketing materials that fit their unique needs.

When in-house marketers partner with an agency, it can ensure the goals of both the national and local marketers are supported. Plus, it can ease the intense workload that comes from juggling both the inception of a national campaign and the local marketing execution effort.

Local Scalability of Corporate Campaigns

While in-house corporate marketers are skilled in developing effective messaging for the brand as a whole, local scalability can be a challenge. They may struggle with how to tailor campaigns to be locally relevant and scale them for success across the country, or even the world.

Tight targeting regions and the difficulty of tracking conversions create an additional level of complexity that an in-house team may not be able to address. Conversely, many agencies already have the infrastructure in place to implement campaigns at scale. The software tools, quality assurance processes, and media buying scale required to create and manage hundreds of localized campaigns can be cost-prohibitive (and extremely time-consuming for a corporate marketing team). Working with an agency can help keep these costs down.

Scaling marketing campaigns is a prime area for partnering. While in-house marketers have deep business knowledge, relationships with channel partners, and wide exposure to pricing and product discussions, which they can share with an agency partner, agencies have the tools and knowledge for delivering the corporate message to each individual channel partner’s audience.

Access to Specialized Talent

Finding and keeping the right marketing talent is a challenge for any business. In fact, a 2018 study by LinkedIn revealed that marketing departments have a 17 percent turnover rate — notably higher than other functions.

Taking marketing in-house enables companies to offer a wide variety of career options and room for growth within the brand, from additional positions in marketing to technology to various other business opportunities. However, it also requires companies to create the processes, training, and business infrastructure to support the success of internal marketing employees. Therefore, many companies may find that it’s easier and more cost-effective to hire a small internal marketing team to oversee the overall brand and work with an experienced partner to manage the day-to-day marketing execution needs.

Outsourcing marketing to an agency offers the benefit of tapping into multiple experts in a given field who have focused on growing that specific skillset their entire career.

There are huge advantages to looking to an agency for a specific marketing service, such as paid search. Many agencies have entire teams of three to 30 people dedicated to executing paid search campaigns across multiple clients. Rather than relying on the brand’s marketing director to know a little bit about a lot of tactics, a brand can access whole teams of professionals who have extensive experience with a single tactic and can execute it flawlessly.

Brand Knowledge

Having an understanding of brand guidelines, consumer profiles, segmentation, and how consumers interact with a brand is crucial for marketing success. In-house team members live and breathe the brand every day, and they will inherently have more in-depth knowledge of it than outside agencies partners.

Still, while agency employees may have a lower level of brand-specific knowledge, they have a comprehensive understanding of the vertical and best practices across the industry, given the typical fractional time dedicated to any given client. Therefore, having a partnership where the in-house and agency teams can collaborate will result in the most on-brand, well-informed strategy.

Ultimately, the question isn’t whether to take marketing in-house or outsource it, but how to find a collaborative balance that allows the brand to accelerate its marketing as seamlessly and logically as possible. It’s highly improbable for a company to have all the skillsets and knowledge areas needed to be successful using a single all-in-house or all-agency team. Taking everything in-house presents issues with scalability and talent acquisition. Outsourcing everything makes it difficult to stay connected to the brand and understand how the business operates at the ideal level. But when a partnership is in balance and the right mix of in-house and outsourced agency resources is achieved, optimal business results are realized.

The best approach to brand management requires clear communication, defined goals and objectives, and best-of-breed talent and software. It doesn’t quite take a village to build a brand, but it does take a strong partnership.

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