Brian Creath

Marketing Services: Should You Build or Buy?

In Advertising, Brand, Brand Strategy, Communications, Corporate Marketing, Market research, Marketing, Strategy on March 8, 2012 at 1:10 am

decision1

While I was courting the business of a Fortune 500 company last year, the company’s CMO turned to me and said, “You know, I can hire people to do everything but think.”

The company’s marketing staff – good, smart people, all – had become institutionalized. They were having a difficult time thinking outside of their own politics, and an even tougher time translating positioning and real benefits to those outside their own walls.

Thankfully, after the CMO overturned a longstanding policy of not hiring outside strategists, we were hired.

This illustrates a debate companies have been having for years: Should your company build marketing services internally or outsource them? Today, as the economy forces companies to more carefully scrutinize budgets, more and more companies have made the decision to take marketing matters into their own hands.

That’s certainly a logical option. Especially for those efforts that directly tie to the day-to-day operational and financial workings of the business. But there is another issue. Value. Does what you buy (internally or externally) provide you with the best possible chance for marketing success?

Twenty-five years of careful study have proved one point: With very few exceptions, when a solid marketing department supplements its efforts with a quality outside firm providing strong counsel, strategy and creative, the results will be more successful than that of an internal marketing department working alone. (And yes, I have been on both sides of the table.)

There are a number of reasons this truth holds. Among them:

  1. Objectivity – an outside firm can ‘speak the truth’ easier than someone on the inside, often solving problems that others may not see
  2. Talent – pure strategists and pure creatives are more often found on the outside of corporations
  3. Focus – because outside firms usually work in a specific role, the work is often more focused than that of a marketing department wearing many hats
  4. Perspective – outside firms work with other clients; they tend to have a broader world view and can utilize the experience of similar situations and efforts
  5. Collaboration – in situations where an internal department demands and champions great strategy and creative, and an outside firm develops and produces it, marketing success will follow (if not, you’ve got the wrong firm – but that’s another post…).

Perhaps the better question today is not “to build or buy,” but rather: Given your budget, how can you structure your marketing functions to give you the best possible opportunity for success?

Unlike any other time in the last 50 years, today’s economic environment offers companies a chance to wipe the marketing slate clean and start over. To customize functions and efforts based on real opportunity and need, vs. what has been done in the past. For most companies, the right answer isn’t an all-or-nothing proposition; but rather, a blended approach: of quality and affordability, of strategy and execution, of internal staff and external resources.

To those looking for a firm, find one that can provide continuity between strategy and execution. This will allow internal staff to partner with the firm at all levels, utilizing services as budget and need allow. This continuity will also provide insurance that the firm won’t build efforts in a vacuum — that each will be cohesively and consistently tied. Today, it’s more important than ever that you find a firm that will work with you at a business level, and not just a tactical or creative level. If you can, work with principals to ensure you will be working with the same people tomorrow.

(By the way, if you’re looking for a firm, I know a good one.)

While I’m working on my next post, I hope you’ll read about how Cohesion helps organizations build stronger messaging to increase consistency, lower cost and drive growth, here.

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  1. An outside resource can be of tremendous value. Fresh and independent thinking…not afraid to take risks…and with the entire team committed to a “sense of urgency” and delivering above ones expectations (no..make that above one’s imagination)… is the hallmark Brian has built into Cohesion. I can personally support the fact that Brian’s teams have consistently filled the promise of the 5 points listed above…in fact, providing guidance to the world’s #1 producer of popcorn, developing a $150MM business in 18 months under the Dr. Scholls license, and aiding a start-up company’s brand expansion efforts.

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