Outsourced Marketing for SMBs: The Complete Guide
Virtual, modular, and outsourced marketing – just a few names for the idea of an outside marketing contractor, or in many cases, a marketing agency. The concept isn’t new, but it’s evolved quite a bit from the heady days of Mad Men and Madison Avenue’s ‘Advertisers Row’.
The “classic” model goes something like this: company with a high-functioning marketing department brings on highly regarded consultant or ad agency to craft a specific message and creative direction around the brand, product, or objective.
While big number consultants and agencies like Ogilvy, Deloitte, and McCann still exist (and for the most part do great work), strictly speaking, startups and small to mid-market businesses generally don’t have the cash to bankroll the Madison Avenue business model.
More importantly, the marketing landscape has gotten infinitely more complex over the last decade. Technology has reshaped the way we communicate, requiring businesses to rethink this top-heavy model in a world where the goalposts are constantly moving.
Today’s growing SMBs often meet this challenge by flipping the traditional outsourcing model on its head. They use their resources to hire a core full-stack D or C Suite marketing executive (or smaller core team) and leverage outsourced marketing resources to mimic short term expertise in highly focused areas like visual design, development, and content marketing.
In fact, an entire economy has developed around these strategies. From online tools like UpWork (where you can select from a global pool of short-term talent), to fully embedded marketing agencies that function more like easily scalable and free-floating marketing departments, like 1205.
So, what are the pain points, potential solutions, and advantages of working within this new paradigm and how can SMBs make it work for them?
The Challenges with Outsourced Marketing
If you’ve ever worked with an outside partner before, these may sound familiar. If not, it’s important to note that outsourced marketing hides some inherent challenges that – while manageable – you should be familiar with before getting started.
These generally take one or more of the following three forms:
Familiarity (or lack thereof) with the nuances of your brand, the subject matter of your work, and your processes, policies, and procedures. As a Director, VP, or even CMO, continually onboarding new partners can be exhausting. Working with each to develop an understanding of the unique nature of your brand identity, products, and even technology takes time and money.
Making the most of outsourced marketing resources requires an interstitial knowledge of each strategy you’re trying to use. It’s great to rely on your experts. Having an intimate knowledge of (and experience with) how they can be leveraged against each other to amplify the impact of your goals is invaluable though.
Each contractor in your marketing stack is competing for the same budget. I.e. the digital person is suggesting more AdWords. The comms agency wants another round of pitching for your latest press release. The design people want to redo your brand identity.
It’s up to you to make an informed decision, but be aware that while each contractor is likely making good faith suggestions, they are also working to ensure that those suggestions earn them a larger share of your overall marketing spend as well.
A Solution for Outsourced Marketing
The white whale, of course, is an embedded, full-stack agency. What does that mean? Conceptually, the embedded agency acts more as an offsite marketing department than an outsourced marketing partner; a self-contained and fully scalable resource with a wide variety of expertise, and the experience to make them work together.
They generally run on an integrated model with multiple service stacks and an overarching layer of project management expertise. You’re able to call up various services as needed and you’re working across initiatives with a team that understands your brand, inside and out.
You might be saying to yourself “That sounds like a “Jack of All Trades, Master of None” scenario. And in some cases you may be right; you’ll have to vet each partner yourself. There are absolute experts out there in any field – the top 1% of their industry, as it were. That said, they often come with a price tag to match and we’d argue that 90% of your marketing needs don’t fall into this category.
The Benefits of Outsourced Marketing
And now, on to the good stuff: Outsourced marketing can offer an incredible resource for growing SMBs and even mid-market businesses. Not only do these solutions plug a giant resource hole in the growth curve, but they also offer a vastly extended pool of expertise, often at huge cost savings. That allows growing companies to stay lean and agile.
If you represent a growing organization, you’re likely facing a scalability challenge when it comes to marketing. Like almost all SMBs, your marketing needs are growing more quickly than your revenue. That means that your deliverables, and thus requirements, can fluctuate wildly.
You have spurts where you need to launch a new product or build a website, but you certainly don’t need a full-time branding or visual design team. Outsourced marketing partners can help you scale or dial back these resources with short term or subscription-based services that you can spin up and down, as needed.
Building any structure requires three levels of expertise: architects, project managers, and specialists. Building a high-function marketing program isn’t much different. As a marketing executive, you’ll often be standing in for one or more of these roles.
As you grow, you’ll likely remain the architect, but it’s important to consider what resources you’re drawing on to fulfill the other two roles and what function you being directly involved with them serves. Is there someone who could do it better, cheaper, faster?
Outsourcing components of your marketing strategy to an independent contractor or highly specialized agencies can help you fill the gaps. A fully integrated – or embedded – agency, however, can offer an added layer of project management experience that helps glue the whole thing together and lets you focus on the overarching strategy.
The traditional way of thinking about any budget would have us start with the assumption that outside marketing resources are more expensive. But, when you factor in the cost of a full-time employee, including taxes, benefits, and the risk of having to phase that person in or out, things start to look differently.
It’s probably fair to say that you’d easily pay $500 an hour for a resource with a $5000 an hour ROI. When calculating your decision, It’s important to think about your collateralized costs of agencies, contractors and employees. These can be financial in nature, like the cost of labor. They can also be relative, like the value of your time and attention to manage these resources or the cost of the tools and software you’ll need to empower this person to do their job.
You’ve likely got a range of marketing activities you want to accomplish in the next year and a hard budget to get them done. It’s important to think about economies of scale here. Most growing organizations are looking to maintain a certain base level of marketing activities.
Can you hire a social manager for 3 hours a week? Maybe. Add on a digital resource manager for 4 hours a month, an SEO for 100 hours a year. Bundling these services into a general subscription model may help you come in at budget with more value than purchasing services independently.
What to Consider Before Making Your Move
If you’re thinking about outsourced marketing as a solution for your business, there’s a lot of good news. It can save you time, money, and help you scale your business. The first step is to do the research on your marketing partner and make sure that they understand all sides of your marketing strategy before jumping in.
- Scope – What part of the marketing stack is your partner or employee is filling. Are you looking to them for full-stack strategy, creative, execution, etc.? Understand your scope before going in. Doing so will allow your partner to focus on supporting you in the most helpful ways possible.
- Long term strategy – For most organizations, the endgame is to become a profitable entity. Scale is the name of the game and that means a fully-staffed marketing department. What’s your long term objective and how quickly are you looking to get there?
- Consider the real / hidden costs for both insourced and outsourced marketing options. It’s important to factor in your time and energy as the marketing manager as well as support and resources.
If you’re looking for an outsource marketing partner, 1205 offers on-demand services for growing organizations throughout North America.