Outsourced marketing is a reality for small, medium, and even large companies. We know this. It can't be helped. Whether it's niche digital advertising, rebranding, or website redesigns... even large organizations have to outsource niche expertise. But, have we considered the cost... the major disadvantages of perpetually outsourcing our marketing? Could serial, outsourced marketing be damaging our brand story in a way we never took the time to realize?
Watch us wrestle with this on our podcast (full transcript below):
Consider these many cons of outsourced marketing.
The obvious issues of outsourced marketing.
We'd be remiss not to at least list the most common and understood problems that arise when a company continually outsources its marketing needs.
- Lack of control: Outsourced marketing means that you are relying on an external agency or consultant to make critical decisions about your brand and image. << Let's come back to this, because we're not just talking about the visual expression or basic messaging. We're talking brand story ownership. (skip ahead)
- Communication barriers: When working with an outsourced marketing team, communication can be challenging. Not only the reality of conducting business in a now-virtual world. But, differences in vocabulary and core values.
- Cost: While outsourcing marketing can seem like a cost-effective solution in the short term, it can end up being more expensive in the long run. Outsourced agencies may charge high fees for their services, and you may also have to pay for additional expenses such as travel costs or software subscriptions. Though, we all understand the reality of fractional hiring. Getting five experts for the price of a single hire can still be advantageous.
- Quality concerns: Outsourced marketing teams may not have the same level of understanding of your business and industry as an in-house team. This can result in lower-quality marketing efforts that do not resonate with your target audience. If you don't have a strong strategy already, you may not find a magic bullet in an external marketing team.
- Security risks: When you outsource marketing, you are often sharing sensitive information with an external agency. This can increase the risk of data breaches and security threats if the agency does not have adequate security measures in place. So now's the time for us to ask... how many legacy outsourced team members are still admins on your social media accounts...?
- Integration challenges: Integrating outsourced marketing efforts with other parts of your business, such as sales or customer service, can be challenging. This can result in a disjointed customer experience and harm your brand reputation.
What about the consequences of outsourced marketing on your brand story?
Lack of internal understanding
When outsourcing marketing, it can be challenging to maintain a cohesive brand story because the external agency may not have the same level of understanding of your company's values, mission, and vision as an in-house team. This can result in messaging that does not align with your brand story or is disconnected from your core values. << Again, let's come back to this "core values" conversation. (skip ahead)
Inconsistency in messaging
An outsourced marketing team may not have the same level of attention to detail as an in-house team, resulting in inconsistencies in messaging and branding across different channels. This can lead to confusion for your target audience and hurt your brand image.
When working with an external agency on a perpetual basis, it can be difficult to make changes to your marketing strategy quickly. This can limit your ability to respond to changing market conditions, customer preferences, or emerging trends in your industry, potentially resulting in missed opportunities or a lack of agility.
We used to offer holistic, outsourced marketing services. And, we had no choice but to determine our activities at the beginning of the quarter. Once agreed upon, there was no interrupting the "sprint" of activity.
This makes sense because if we can't focus we can't be successful. But, it really drives home the reality that in-house team members can pivot at a moment's notice. External agencies just can't afford to run their projects that way.
Slow response times
Outsourced marketing agencies usually work with multiple clients simultaneously, which can result in slower response times to your requests or questions. This can be problematic when you need quick turnarounds or have urgent needs.
Ever heard of the Good/Fast/Cheap rule? When you use fractional hiring, you're really choosing to pick two of these constraints. And if you chose cheap and good, you'll inevitably have to live with slow response times.
And, the mother of all cons: Lack of ownership
Often, the year-after-year practice of outsourced marketing leads to a complete lack of brand story ownership.
The core values and authentic personality that were present when the company was started, or when a new CEO took charge, are widdled away as the brand is passed from one firm to another. In the jumble of back-to-back strategies, exciting campaigns, or new marketing initiatives, brand owners find themselves with a ball of spaghetti and no method to make sense of their buyer's journey.
The fact is: ownership of your brand story cannot be outsourced.
The values and core of your brand story have to be owned by team members within the company. Vision and personality must be driven from the top down.
Normally, the onset of a new agency relationship comes with a square-one mentality. There is hope that a new outsourced team will fix the holes and make sense of the mess. We expect them to create something effective and cohesive. And, when they fail... or when we're on the other side of a project and the relationship is over... we hire a new team and the strategy session starts back at square one.
Tools for insourcing your brand story.
We've already said it: outsourcing is often a necessary evil. So, what's the game plan for keeping your brand story intact? How can you steward your brand story while still hiring experts to do what they do best?
Well, the full answer will probably require a longer conversation. So...
But, here are the basic tools needed:
- Solidified Buyer's Journey: Niche, outsourced teams must be provided with a solid buyer journey so they're building on top of a foundation. If they can start their efforts with a clear understanding of how your buyer thinks, what problems to align on, and how to speak their language, you won't have to start from scratch.
- Clear Brand Story: Well-crafted value propositions, stated enemies, aligned values, and clear problem sets help any marketer to stay ON message. And to be more effective from minute one.
- Branding Guide: This is often the only tool a company has in its belt to ensure their brand stays unified. That said, keeping your visual cues, colors, and logo from being morphed and changed is very important.
- Team Training: Leadership and sales team members need to buy into your brand story architecture. They need to know the talking points, know how to defend the reasoning, and steward your brand story.
- Try out our Brand Platformula to get your team working on brand thinking.
Full podcast transcript:
Amy Alexander: Welcome to Valiant Business, where we champion and equip freedom and faith minded business leaders to fuel growth so they can make a measurable difference in their community and their world. I'm Amy Alexander, and I am the focus are of growth strategists
David Mills: Hey, I'm David Mills. I am the, my streaming service cutoff the last two minutes of the Super Bowl, so it was very anti-climactic of growth strategists.
Amy Alexander: That was very clever
David Mills: That's a high bar though.
Amy Alexander: for the first year maybe ever. We just, I shouldn't say maybe ever. We did not watch a Super Bowl this year. I'd say every year Chad, we like at least make some effort to like kind of tune in ish or go to a [00:01:00] party or something. This year we just straight up nothing and then everyone was talking about Rihanna and I was like, I don't know what's happening.
Amy Alexander: So that's,
Amy Alexander: that's what's up.
Amy Alexander: your interest.
David Mills: It's all about the commercials, man. It's all about the commercials. I will say that there was. A very well-known marketing, um, spokesperson who was on the news yesterday morning bragging about he was flexing his muscle about how they had clients with ads in the Super Bowl, and he told which ads they were, and then when I watched those ads, they were very underwhelming.
David Mills: So I don't know if he
David Mills: should have been doing That There.
David Mills: There was
David Mills: some good ones. Yeah. Yeah.
Amy Alexander: Yeah. Super Bowl commercials. [00:02:00]
Amy Alexander: Yeah. They've lost some of their magic. They used to be like, so, I dunno. But, alright, let's dive in.
Amy Alexander: So today we are talking about. Outsourcing when it comes to marketing, outsourcing is extremely common. It's a great solution for managing ads, website development, social media, content production. Anything else that falls in the broad umbrella of marketing.
Amy Alexander: We have been on the receiving end of outsourcing work for years, but is this approach really ideal for your company and what as a business might you be missing? If outsourcing has become sort of your mo, your obvious marketing choice year after year. And lastly, is insourcing even possible.
Why Companies Outsource
David Mills: Big topic today.
Amy Alexander: that, yeah, I feel like we have to talk about at least briefly. Why do people outsource? What challenges bring people to say, oh my gosh, I've gotta outsource? [00:03:00] What are top of mind for you guys in marketing, I should
David Mills: I mean, I think a lot of it comes down to we don't, we feel like we have to do this thing. , but we don't have the talent or knows how to do it. Or we have a, we have one marketing person and we've already got them maxed out and they can't do anything extra. So we're gonna find someone that can do it.
David Mills: And sometimes it's simply a long-term strategy to, to fill out where we don't wanna have to staff. Um, and the other reason we prob we might be doing it is because we have an urgent need of some kind. We need to get our campaign up. Maybe the staff person who's been doing this particular thing, like they're running our digital.
David Mills: It's not really working, so you're looking for an expert. You don't wanna hire that person full-time. So I think that makes sense, right? That we would find somebody who could fill a gap in our staffing.
Amy Alexander: One thing we see a lot is serial outsourcing for marketing. Um, I think one of the biggest reasons this happens is that marketing tends to be a budget line, not a [00:04:00] profit line. So it doesn't make a ton of sense to bring in a staff of marketers. It doesn't make a ton of sense to bring in your own graphic designer or your own web developer,
Amy Alexander: Even large places like in large higher ed, they still, you might, I mean, When I worked, uh, in higher ed, we had teams of writers and designers and web people, and we still outsourced branding . Um, and we brought in like a huge name in higher education branding, and we were engaged with them for many years.
Amy Alexander: So, um, it doesn't always make sense, but I think the core of that has to do with like, would you ask a business person or tell a business person that having a sales team is only a cost. Like, why would you have a sales team? Like, what, what owner would be like, why would I not have a sales team? How am I supposed to sell stuff?
Amy Alexander: right. But when it comes to marketing, it's only ever [00:05:00] seen as a, as a cost and a budget line. It's not really a profit line. Um,
David Mills: Well, interesting to dive into that a little bit, Amy. I think it's interesting to dive into that. So I do think that hiring people for strategy or outside perspective, so branding is a good example. It's not something you do all the time. It's not something you may be really experts at and you want the real experts to help you.
David Mills: You want to up your game. And so you go find somebody who can really up your game in branding. Uh, and we do this kind of work, right? And so we can help people to step into a new level, um, of how they're expressing their brand. Um, and I think that makes sense. It's not necessarily a permanent deal though, right?
David Mills: It's temporary. But I do think this thing, thing you brought up about how we treat marketing as an expense line in sales, as a revenue line, um, is really interesting because. . The real truth is that about 95% of people are gonna find you, um, and learn about you and consider you based upon what marketing is doing, and sales is [00:06:00] probably gonna close, maybe close the deal.
David Mills: And more and more we're seeing those transactions actually occur in the marketing space online, and the salespeople aren't even involved. So we have like digital, you know, RFPs that are going out and being sold or other kinds of transactions, um, ever without talking to someone. And we also see sales going to customer service, um, who.
David Mills: Who are involved and we know we consider them probably an expense too. It's interesting how we view these things. I have seen that. I do think that in a lot of cases there's an attitude that goes with the outsourcing, which is, this is something I don't really care that much about. This is something that we have to do.
David Mills: It's kind of like the trash collection. We have to get trash collected. I don't wanna hire a trash collector. Or maybe that's a too extreme of an example. yes, we, we outsource the trash collector cuz we don't really respect or value what they do and what we're really saying [00:07:00] when we are saying that we should outsource something.
David Mills: I think sometimes what we are saying is that we don't really respect that activity very much and it's not a core activity for our company. So the. We're not going to try and bring it in as a staffing position, so we'll outsource it and we'll use up that outsource resource and we'll discard them whenever it's convenient for.
David Mills: Um, so there is a dis, there is a, um, disposability that we come to outsourcers with. We think, well, I can get rid of 'em. I need to, right. Just let 'em go. Um, no, no harm, no foul. Right? But people I'm hiring, I'm making a commitment to, and I'm gonna train them and nurture them and invest in them. But not those outsourcers, those guys we're just gonna let them kind of hang, ignore if needed.
David Mills: Fire. If, if have, if we have to.
Amy Alexander: Do you think most people hire a marketing firm expecting to fire them at some point?[00:08:00]
David Mills: I do, I think most of them have, have already done that
Amy Alexander: Yeah, a bunch of times. Totally.
David Mills: Yeah. So they'll, so they use what they can get from 'em and then they move on. Um, and so it's an interesting, you know, it's an interesting deal, but in our society today, we're in a gig economy, and so the number of people who are gig workers, um, the tables are turning a little.
David Mills: And the gig workers, you know, are rising up and they're saying, Hey, you know what, I'm gonna fire you if you don't fit into my vacation plans, baby
David Mills: spin.
Amy Alexander: disposability. You're close though.
David Mills: It's not a word either. Like none of those are
David Mills: words. [00:09:00] [00:10:00]
Amy Alexander: Yeah.
David Mills: in, in a gig economy, you cannot afford to play that game because you're gonna get people that you really, really need and you're gonna have to be, you have to treat them differently. Um, and they are gonna be doing things that you are unable to hire, even if you try, because they're gonna know that they're.
David Mills: And they, they're not gonna allow you to take up all of their time for a minimal amount of money, right? So there is a value exchange going on here as well. And so I think that, um, there's an interesting dynamic changing in this area, and I think it's interesting to think about how we invest in our outsource relationships.
David Mills: Um, we actually had a, one of our clients, we were outsourcing some work for them. They actually gave us a bonus. It's the only client who's ever. Right, but they recognized that we had contributed [00:11:00] to their growth in, in a meaningful way, and they, and they wanted to share some of their profit. I thought, you know what, that's pretty honorable that they would do that.
David Mills: And it also spoke very loudly about, you know, the kind of relationship they, that they were working toward.[00:12:00]
How We Treat Outsourced Teams
David Mills: and is That really the way that we should be engaging with people? Should, should we be [00:13:00] engaging with people in a way in which we treat them as disposable? Or should we look at every single hire, whether the hire is W-2 1099 um, outsource contract of some kind, gig work? Should we be looking at each one of them as someone that we're actually responsible for that?
David Mills: We have a, we owe a. debt Of honor to that we need to help them grow or should we just use them up? Right. So they're, so this whole thing is really important, you know, otherwise what ends up happening is like we are, we're becoming part of the extractive economy. and we're going to take people and use 'em for what we can get.
David Mills: Now, clearly we do live in a, a market economy, which means that we, we do want to buy things at a good rate and sell them for more, and we have to be able to do that. Um, the challenge with marketing outsourcing is that we are essentially, we're not outsourcing a, something that is directly in our minds tied to.
David Mills: it's tied to [00:14:00] overhead. It's tied to something we have to do to operate. You know, it'd be like, it'd be like buying tires for the trucks in our fleet. We have to have them. Um, and they do help us to deliver goods, but they're not actually making any goods. Um, so they've become overhead for us. So the mechanics to fix the trucks, you know, so I think we have to think differently about the way that we are treating people in.
David Mills: Um, and you know, there is a, there's a Hebrew passage that talks about how sometimes the shepherds eat their sheep. and I actually, I really feel personally that a business person, um, is a shepherd of the people that they are hiring no matter what form that hiring takes. And so there is an obligation here of care and concern and goodwill and, you know, wouldn't it be better if that person got something out of the relationship besides the lowest possible? they could get, they could learn something new. They could build their own [00:15:00] expertise. They could get a good reference from you. They could work collaboratively with people and be part of a team, even if they're, if their check does not come as a w2. Right. So
David Mills: I guess I have some, I have some feelings about this, I guess.
David Mills: Huh?
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Alright, back to the show.
The Dangers of Outsourced Story
David Mills: I think one of the things that happens when we outsource our brand story kind of perpetually and without being an active owner, is that we outsource things that we can never afford to outsource. So things like our values.
David Mills: Um, our relationships, uh, the trust that we're building with our customers. We actually even try and outsource the sense of passion and excitement. We want someone else to be passionate for us, and, and then we even try and outsource like the expertise. We want someone else to be the brand expert. Um, and, and so there are companies that are.
David Mills: Brand experts, like they only work in one vertical. They work in manufacturing a certain kind of manufacturing or construction, and they know a lot about construction. And so we think we could outsource our expertise to them and they can handle it. But the truth is they're just gonna say the exact same thing for everyone of their clients.
David Mills: Right. Their expertise is limited to what they know from the outside. So we're taking an outsider and we're expecting them to become the [00:19:00] experts in something that we have spent years or decades, and our team as a whole may have many decades of experience in. So we outsource all of that. Um, and so that's a big problem for us to give that stuff away.
David Mills: Think about this. We're outsourcing the communication of our values to someone. , else they're gonna put, try and put our values. Even if we have a value statement, like our four values, like, you know, four generic values that we don't really pay attention to those kind of values that we're, they're gonna outsource, that they're also gonna become our personality.
David Mills: They're gonna represent our personality to other people. That's a lot of stuff I don't think you can outsource. I think you have to own it. And so I, I believe that the long term impact. of Perpetual outsourcing of your brand store is actually, um, real damage to that brand story.
Stewarding Your Brand Story
David Mills: [00:20:00] [00:21:00] [00:22:00] [00:23:00] Well, you know, a lot of it comes back to this idea of being a, a brand story owner yourself,
David Mills: and understanding that passion and expertise has to come from you inside your team. It can't come from somewhere else, and so don't ask people to do things that they cannot do. Um, they should be able to help you to do it.
David Mills: but they should be doing it with you. So that, I think that's the big thing, is do it with them and don't expect them to do it for you. Don't, don't just out. If you, if you do decide just to get rid of it and give it away, then what you're pretty much gonna guarantee is you're gonna hollow out your brand.
David Mills: Um, now at a high level, right, at a high level, large enterprise level corporations, they have people who are just, they're the. The brands are, and they are, you know, they're on that brand all the time. They're professionals. That's all they do. They're watching the brand, the brand tone, and they're shepherding that brand.
David Mills: They're, they're the professional owner of that brand, [00:24:00] but most medium, small size companies cannot afford that. So a large company would, would have people who would do that professionally and they would make sure that anyone that's a vendor or an outsource to them, they would in fact be shepherding that brand.
David Mills: So I think that's the big. , look at your brand as something you have to shepherd and realize that passion and expertise have to come from inside. And who is it you want your customers to actually trust In the end, you right? So don't expect someone else who's not you. to communicate the things that build trust and rapport with your customers.
David Mills: Cause it won't work, right? But there's lots of things that people can do to help you with that, um, and help you do it better and help you facilitate it. But in the end, the heart of the brand story has to come from the heart of your business. And it can't come from somebody who's just a heart surgeon. Oh, I like that.
David Mills: That was. So, yeah, go to the doctor. Hey, do go to the doctor [00:25:00] and, and go get surgery if you need it. But you, you should, your, your own heart should be pumping blood, right? Don't
David Mills: outsource that [00:26:00] [00:27:00]
Insourcing Brand Ownership
David Mills: I I think. also, I think
David Mills: it's really good. I think that a, a positive way to look at your outsourcing relationships is there should be a two-way exchange of. , um, you're paying them, right?
David Mills: You're giving them the opportunity to work with you. You should be including them in, in being a part of your team. They should have a team experience that's a part of the value that they get.
David Mills: They should get positive feedback from you, right? That's value they get. Um, they should get constructive feedback as well. That's value. But the, the value you should be asking for [00:28:00] from them is not just produce something. You should be asking the question, what deposit? Will this team leave inside my company?
David Mills: What skills and capabilities will they impart or train up or coach into my team when they're gone? Because, you know, most outsourcing teams good for a couple years, uh, depending on what their project they're working on, when they're gone, what kind of gift will they have deposited in my company to make my company?
David Mills: and I think that's how you should view your outsource relationships. It's a two-way deposit. And then I think also what kind of deposit will the you have made in them? What will you have transferred to them in terms of knowledge, of confidence, experience, um, encouragement. Uh, I, we, we have a friend we've been talking to and he's been, he's got some great feedback from some of the companies he's been working with that has been very instrumental in helping him figure out how to do his company, how to do his work.
David Mills: And, and really what he's really good at. So the, this relationship has to [00:29:00] go two ways, and there's a deposit being made in two directions.
David Mills: Yeah. Do you think there's a, there's a balance here, so. , let's just say that I'm a business owner. I've decided I'm [00:30:00] gonna own my brand. I'm going to take charge of it, which is a really good thing for me to be doing. I want my brand story to be something that comes out of my internal values in my team, the real values of my team, the real culture of my company.
David Mills: Um, so that's a really good ethic. It's kind of the flip side of that coin. The negative version would be, um, would be the, um, The people that think that they, because they've seen a logo before, that they are experts on logos. Or the person that's seen a video before they've been to movies. So therefore, they are a video producer, right?
David Mills: Uh, they're right. They're in, they're a new, uh, whatever we would want, wanna call them, right? Um, and so I think that there is, there are limits to what we. and, you know, humility and integrity suggest that we admit when we don't know something and we also recognize it. And so the danger in becoming kind of a, a assertive or proactive, um, brand story owner [00:31:00] is that you can forget.
David Mills: There's a lot of stuff you don't know. . And one of the greatest gifts an outsource team can bring to you is to help you recognize things that you don't know. And so part of the deal is you have to listen to what people are telling you, and you have to be able to take constructive, constructive criticism yourself, right?
David Mills: If someone's a vendor, they could never challenge you. It would, they would never be allowed to do that. But if someone is a partner, then you expect them to challenge you and say, Hey, I think you need to think about this area, because I don't think this is working quite right. So I think that's a constructive way to look at this.
Tools for Brand Ownership
David Mills: [00:32:00] [00:33:00] Hmm. well they end up being like a, like a studio lot, you know, where they've only built the facade and there's not actually anything inside the door. You know, Amy, the buyer. , the, the, one of the big values of a buyer journey is not only for your outsource relationships, it's actually for your internal team.
David Mills: And it creates a way for everyone to collaborate around what is the path that our buyer is going to take to go from first hearing about us to becoming a great customer? What are gonna, what's gonna have to happen in that process? Where are we doing well? Where are we not doing so well? And so it creates this institutional know, [00:34:00] About the, the experience of your buyer as they become a customer.
David Mills: And that is what a, a buyer journey will do for you, and you can work on that year after year and really create that knowledge. That's a great way to equip multiple people in the company to become brand story owners. If you don't have a buyer journey, you can't really be a brand story owner because you don't know what the story's about, right?
David Mills: Because the story isn't just about you. It's really. Your customers. And so that buyer journey is a critical step. I think that's a great thing you brought up.[00:35:00]
David Mills: Yeah, I think there's a great challenge in this, and that is number one, to realize that [00:36:00] you have to be the brand story owner, and it's not just one person in the company. It's really, it's really the core team of the company all has to work together to own the brand story.
David Mills: And when you have a relationship with an outsourced team, you should invite them in to be part of that. And you should expect there to be a relationship of trust that develops and benefit that goes both directions. And that should be something that really helps you grow, as well as helping that outsource team to do their job better.
David Mills: Um, imagine bringing in somebody to, I had somebody come to my house. We need to raise the level of my, my front sidewalk because, uh, the steps were too far apart and people that were. Strong and the walking skills getting older. Couldn't get up the stairs, so I brought in a brick layer Now. I don't know how to lay bricks.
David Mills: I could, I certainly could mix up some mortar and slap it on the concrete and stick a brick on it. But what they created was this [00:37:00] beautiful walkway with these shaped cut bricks. It's really, really pretty. Right. So that, that was a great relationship. It was a defined relationship because he was coming to do this one thing, which he did really, really well.
David Mills: Um, and it was, it was great. But I think. If I hadn't treated him well, maybe he wouldn't have done the extra work to make it look that special. He would've just done more kind of blocky square things. But because we developed rapport, he did this really beautiful piece of work, and now I'm left with this beautiful sidewalk.
David Mills: He actually is shown my sidewalk to other people. He wants to do work for. So now we have this mutual relationship, right? Um, and I think it's beneficial. So that's what we should be looking for is these mutually beneficial relationships. We're supporting each other and we are respecting each other, and we're all working toward the common benefit of each.[00:38:00]
David Mills: Hmm. [00:39:00] That's good. Thanks for sharing that.