That is the question.
Let’s start by addressing a common belief – that marketing agencies are expensive. This is completely true. It’s also completely wrong.
As Warren Buffett once remarked, “Price is what you pay – value is what you get.” The true cost – and value – of effective marketing is a little more complex. Let’s dive in…
Which route to choose?
When it comes to marketing your company, you’ve got three routes:
- Hire an in-house team
- Hire an agency
- A mixture of the above
In principle, the first route has been seen as offering greater corporate understanding and control, with the second giving access to a wider range of skills and more flexibility.
The third – a hybrid model – suggests that you bring in core functions, such as day-to-day social media, and then outsource when you need expertise beyond your company’s skillset.
But what if we are looking at this the wrong way? What if an agency isn’t just the go-to option when you lack skills, but can also offer a whole extra range of advantages, bringing a level of objectivity that is simply not attainable in-house?
Can’t see the wood for the trees
Let’s say that you’ve assembled an extraordinarily gifted in-house marketing team. CMO-led, with design, copy, UX, performance marketing, etc. There are a few obvious downsides to this approach, such as high, fixed monthly outlay and lack of flexibility and fast scalability, but at least the team understands the brand.
But do they? Marketing is about understanding the customer – even more than the product. After all, how does a customer make decisions? They base decisions on what they see, what they read – their information feed. So, effective marketing is about understanding a buying decision from the customer’s perspective. Not working for the company might actually be a bonus…
So, is there another way?
In-house marketing departments are subject to in-house pressures – there’s a hierarchy. It’s very unlikely that an individual designer will take issue with a CMO about brand direction, or that a copywriter will question sales enablement strategy. It’s simply not their department – and it’s not worth their job.
By outsourcing to an agency, companies can find a way to speak truth to power – fresh and controversial ideas can find a way to emerge, protected by the agency ramparts, and contradictory perspectives are allowed the freedom to breathe. The best agencies will usually submit 3 entirely separate design ideas for a brand refresh – all different, some contradictory… but all valid. This would be hard to imagine with an in-house process.
It’s all about flexibility – balancing respect for the client’s expertise within their own business with external objectivity, leveraging unique agency skills while fully understanding the strategic demands of a given industry.
If everything’s important – what matters?
Distance = objectivity. An in-house team deals with the same product, the same service, the same brand – day-in, day-out. This does have real value – they have a profound understanding of detail, specification, and feature, but they might find it hard to look from the outside in. In other words – they are NOT the customer.
Often a fresh set of eyes can see the true value in a product or service – and just as importantly, how to best present that to a customer. Ignorance can, occasionally, be bliss – it makes it simpler to present what matters, simply.
Maybe the future lies in a mix – getting the very best from external agencies while respecting the product knowledge of company experts – and leveraging the best of both. Perhaps what we need is an in-house… agency?