This is the second in a multipart post on the benefits of outsourcing. In the first post, I cited cost as a primary reason to think first about whether you can outsource something before deciding to do it in-house.
I was talking with a good friend and marketing guru, Greg Wlkinson, founder of the marketing firm GrowthPoint. I mentioned that I had engaged a company to help us with Search Engine Optimization. Greg nodded his head and said, “…one of the black arts of marketing.”
That sums it up for me!
There are some marketing disciplines that require the specialists. Search Engine Optimization is a great example. There are so many nuances to it that the firm I work with has multiple experts each contributing according to their own specialty. For example, one person helps us select our key words based on our target market and message. Another team of copywriters will work on building those words into copy. Another group keeps up on how the search engines measure your web site and determine whether it shows up in ay given search. There are probably even more people behind the scenes.
Not only does each of these areas call for specialization, the rules behind the game are always changing. Search engines develop new technologies and new ways of determining who shows up in the search.
Search Engine Optimization is not for the dabbler.
Given our knowledge of our business we can’t relinquish complete responsibility to the SEO vendor – although they probably wish we would. By working with the vendor, the team is learning a great deal in this project. This knowledge will help us stay sharp and allow us to contribute better quality work. This is critical since search engine optimization is never “done”.
There are many black arts of marketing. What you define as a black art depends on your team’s particular skills sets and focus. Public relations, branding, advertising, and web design might all fit into that category as they each require a great deal of expertise. The trick is to know when you need to call in the experts.
SoftBrands, the company I work for today is a much smaller and much more traditional software company. (about 100M USD in revenues) When I took over leadership of the marketing department here I quickly noticed that almost everything was done in-house. A couple functions such as public relations and design were outsourced to agencies, but even the bits of those that could be done in-house were.
When I asked “why” the team member with the most seniority on the team said, “If we don’t do it ourselves people will think we can’t.”
I’m sure the sentiment he was expressing is pretty common. It’s the idea that we’re supposed to be the marketing experts so we should know how to do this stuff. If we don’t, why do they need us?
In this series of posts, I will give you my many, many reasons why I think FIRST about whether something can be done by an outside resource BEFORE I think about doing it in-house.
Reason #1 Keep Costs Down
The natural assumption is that using an outside vendor can be very costly. Let’s take the simple case of designing collateral.
We probably all have enough of these projects to keep someone busy full-time. However, designers are usually not writers so unless you have an exceptional writer on your staff who is also skilled at design, don’t expect them to be able to both write the brochure as well as format it.
Cost for an FTE vary by region, of course. In any major city in the US when you look at salary plus overhead you’re easily looking at an investment of over 100K to bring someone on full-time. The bottomline is you can buy a lot of very professional design work for 100K. And, unlike an FTE that you hire, if you don’t like the work, you can quickly dissolve the relationship and move on to a new designer. Getting rid of someone you hired is a lot more stressful than changing vendors.
Stay tuned for more reasons why you outsourcing marketing functions is a good business decision.
The problem is, I was evaluating the campaigns through my own filters. I would judge verbiage based on whether I would say it that way. I would judge graphics and layout based on whether it was visually pleasing to me. I thought I knew who I was selling to. In truth, I had only been in the market for a few years and had such a one-sided view of our target customer that any opinions I had were largely irrelevant.
Unfortunately, this isn’t a shortcoming that applies only to the young marketer. Seasoned professionals still make this mistake. Maybe they are even more prone to it since after so many years in an industry feel that they should be the expert. Image is everything as they say. Any appearance of not being the expert could be seen as tarnishing that carefully honed image.
Non-marketing professionals almost always make that mistake. I have had many tense discussions with one particular individual. He is bright, confident, and could “sell ice to Eskimos.” However, his written communications, even to prospects, come across as haughty and terse. He does not appreciate my edits to his marketing communications. I'll share more on dealing with these types of situations in another post!
There are many ways to make sure your marketing resonates with an audience. Here are four:
Develop close relationships with a few of your existing customers. Ask them to critique your message to see if they think it would resonate with their peers. Don’t debate their opinion. Just take it as a data point.
If you don’t have any experience with an audience, do formal research. If you don’t have a research background, I recommend hiring a consultant. It adds to the cost, but it can significantly improve the usefulness of the research.
Go on customer calls with your salespeople. You’re there as an observer, but it will help to hear what prospects say as your products and value propositions are presented.
Finally, be careful asking for opinions from others. You can get opinions from the salespeople, but more often than not, their opinions will be based on the last difficult sales call. Again, great data point, but it’s no replacement for direct feedback from a larger group of customers and prospects.
This one is going to sound a little petty, but bear with me.
I have just edited my umpteenth document this year. In this particular document, the name of our product was misspelled, one of the words in the title that should have been capitalized was not, and there was a variation in font size within the document.
I know typos happen to the best of us. If you go back and read my posts you may find a few. In my defense, I don’t run these through an edit ring. I’m also not technically trying to sell anything. (That’s not entirely true as I realize that these blog posts contribute to my “packaging” as a marketing professional!)
As the Marketing Director and the highest level marketing person within my organization, the buck stops here. Sloppy work casts a reflection on the entire marketing team and on me so I take the time to read and review formal documents that my team creates. (No, I don’t edit their emails – especially those that they create on their Blackberries!)
Even people with very little understanding of the marketing function know that we work with words. If we create documents with something as easy to fix as a typo, why should anyone trust the rest of what we do? In addition, when my own team sends me something that they obviously didn’t take the time to proof, it alters my opinion of their abilities.
It seems like such a small thing, but it seems to me that a core competency for a marketing professional is clean prose. Proofread your own work, even emails, before you send them. If it’s a formal piece, have an edit ring that will take a look with fresh eyes but, don’t assume that the edit ring is going to catch everything.
I have several tips for making sure your documents are error free:
- Starting with the obvious – don’t rely on autocorrect features within your applications.
- Make sure you think your work is absolutely clean before sending it past anyone else. That way, they’ll find the not so obvious items.
- Don’t ask people who aren’t in a marketing or related role to edit your documents. They’ll wonder why they have to do your job for you. The only exception I make is for individuals who aspire to be in marketing. For internal documents dealing with sensitive issues, I may ask a mentor or close peer to review to make sure my point is coming across as I intend. But, I certainly wouldn’t ask them to look for typos.
- Pay close attention to the headers. People will edit the body of the document and completely overlook errors in the headers and titles.
- Read backwards to fool your brain. Everyone knows that your brain sees what it expects to see. If you read a document backwards, you’ll see it as a collection of words and not sentences that convey meaning. Misspellings are easier to catch that way.
- Know your weaknesses. I tend to use an apostrophe when I use the possessive pronoun “its”. Knowing that, I keep an eye out for this mistake.
- If time permits, set documents aside and take a look at them the following day. I reopened this post this morning and have already changed several things. Two of the changes were to correct errors in grammar.
- Email the document to yourself with the text in the body of the email. This works especially well if the document actually is an important email. What I can’t see in a document that I am writing can sometimes stick out like a sore thumb in an email. I don’t know why, but it works for me.
100% accuracy is probably not an attainable goal. We all make mistakes. However, every mistake reflects on you and you would do well to minimize errors in your own documents. An occasional mistake is easily forgiven. A pattern of sloppy work is easily remembered.