Considering Biting the Marketing Outsourcing Bullet?

marketing, outsourcingIf your company still holds marketing as sacrosanct and non-outsourceable – even though it has likely embraced outsourcing for other functions – you’re certainly in the majority.

Granted, portions of marketing such as creative work, branding and media buying have always been out-tasked to advertising and marketing communications agencies. But with the shift from traditional media channels such as television, print and radio to digital channels, chief marketing officers (CMO) are facing intense pressure to make significant operational, efficiency, expense and monitoring changes. And as technology is integral to digital marketing, the marketing function has increasingly caught the eyes of CIOs and CTOs who see an overlap with their functions.

These factors, among others, are driving a relook at how the marketing function is handled. While the current model uses specialized out-tasking companies to handle specific marketing activities, models that handle the many transactional areas of marketing as end-to-end business processes are beginning to emerge. And as a result of the requisite mind-shift, organizations are starting to understand that outsourcing marketing can actually be viable.

What to Outsource?

While the creative process and account management must remain onshore for the sake of proximity and customer intimacy, transactional and replicable processes including media, production, content and campaign management, Flash work, pre-press and analytics can easily be nearshored or offshored to third parties. External parties can also support organizations’ need to repurpose content across channels rather than recreate it, translate it many ways to address language and cultural differences, understand how the consumer or customer is interacting, and be nimble enough to tweak the content for different market segments in an almost dynamic manner.

The Provider Landscape

The potential marketing outsourcing provider playing field is actually quite broad:

  • Multinational corporations, such as Accenture, provide a range of consulting, media management and marketing analytics services through its Accenture Interactive group
  • Offshore providers, such as TCS, offer marketing management, marketing analytics and interactive marketing services
  • Traditional advertising and marketing communications agencies, such as those held by Omnicom and Publicis, may try to position themselves as marketing outsourcing providers by expanding services beyond creative into transactional processes
  • Technology companies, such as Webtrends and Omniture, provide platform-based mobile, social media and web analytics services
  • A laundry list of small boutique and niche outsourcing, advertising and technology providers
  • Solutions providers, such as Whitefield, position themselves as “networks of best in breed marketing solutions companies” that build or buy marketing solutions as they aim to provide an end-to-end range of services

Of course, each of these categories of providers comes with some gaps and downsides. The big outsourcers don’t understand creative. The platform people – if they decide to get into marketing outsourcing – don’t understand creative or labor. And while technology is important, someone still has to do the work. The advertising and marcoms firms lack the technology or process expertise. And the networks of marketing solutions companies may have challenges with timely build/buy and scale.

Marketing Outsourcing Provider Capabilities and Characteristics

While there are numerous factors companies considering marketing outsourcing must take into account, the most beneficial capabilities and characteristics to look for in a service provider are:

  • An understanding of consumer behavior, as that is the quest of every CMO
  • Overlays of technology (as that is changing how marketing is consumed), process (as you must achieve a predictable outcome, high quality and acceptable cost) and domain knowledge
  • Ability to offer services contiguous to each phase of marketing, as there will be more integration and less friction between the processes
  • A globally balanced production model, which helps ensure best use of budget
  • Ability to help a CMO from creative design and production and distribution through analytics, rather than a niche provider. This will reduce the number of providers in the third-party services delivery portfolio, which in turn eases management, governance and process integration issues

Defining Success

As marketing outsourcing is currently in such a nascent stage and thus lacks many success stories (or failures) to view as a benchmark, I reached out to Dilip Keshu, CEO of Whitefield, for his view of the hallmarks of success.

According to Keshu, “The chances of success in a marketing outsourcing initiative are higher if customers are more inclusive in their engagements. In reality, the vendor should be as much a part of the team as a customer’s own employee. There is no harm in a vendor who does the print or digital work sitting in a design or branding briefing, even if that part of the process is not outsourced. This allows the customer and the vendor to read a consumer’s need the same way. If creation is an ‘art’ and outsourcing is a ‘science’, they will work best when one is embedded in the other.”

Keshu ended by stating, “Marketing outsourcing is truly a success when it looks like one team has delivered the outcome.”

Yes, marketing is the last core corporate function to be considered for outsourcing. Yes, marketing outsourcing is embryonic. But the baby will be birthed, and CMOs will serve themselves and their companies well by opening their minds to and learning as much as possible about marketing outsourcing…and the right time to start is now.

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