The either/or fallacy of inbound marketing outsourcing

Ed Marsh | Feb 12, 2016


Not quite a red herring

By definition a red herring is intentionally misleading when it's used as a logical fallacy. By that definition, therefore, the simple choice between DiY industrial inbound marketing vs. outsourcing to an agency isn't exactly a red herring. It's rarely intended to be intentionally misleading - rather it's simply the product of common practice.

B2B companies in the industrial manufacturing space typically ascribe less value to marketing than other types of companies. They often have a small staff that's responsible for trade shows, some print brochures, an occasional press release and some advertising. As those traditional approaches yield increasingly meager return, companies turn to digital alternatives. The natural inclination is to assign an inbound marketing program to the same marketing team. In other words their industrial inbound marketing effort inherits a portion of the resources available to marketing - including the internal skill sets & biases.

And often that results in a frustrating lack of results.

The alternative, they're told (and as conservative industrial manufacturing companies they're typically resistant to) is to pony up $250K for an agency for at least a year. With enough faith, time and investment, an agency will rescue them from internet obscurity and start driving leads.

Some companies embrace that path - and in some cases the agencies deliver. But not always. And so the choice which industrial manufacturers are told they face - to struggle with a DiY approach or to outsource their inbound marketing to an agency at significant cost - actually impedes progress.

Another option - consulting

You already use a different model. Take your accounting for instance - you've got internal AR and AP functions. You may outsource payroll or manage it internally. But you've got an accountant that provides advisory services, finance strategy guidance and some technical skills that you couldn't afford to have on staff. You probably use a similar model for legal requirements and maybe insurance and benefits. In none of those cases do you see your options as a simple binary choice - manage it all internally or outsource it all.

Seth Godin recently published a brief piece on patterns - and recognition vs. matching. His point was that you can mislead yourself into believing you see trends where you just see similarity. In this case both are important. You need the pattern recognition ability to see how changing buyer behaviors require adapted revenue growth approaches.

But you also need to recognize appropriate matches - and successful inbound marketing is closer to other critical business functions than you may realize. That means that the model that works well in other functional areas - outside advisory expertise to compliment your internal efforts - is a potential match to consider.

Domain expertise & business acumen

One of the great ironies of the profusion of digital marketing agencies is that the delivery of service that's supposedly built on the ethos of helping buyers, is constrained by agencies that dictate a "good, better, best" menu of services to their clients

 When B2B companies outsource their content marketing what they're typically buying is the routinized execution of a set of steps. That execution seemingly relieves them of the burden of content creation and removes the admin barriers around simultaneously managing the many interrelated activities.

What they don't often receive (but typically assume is part of the deal) is domain experience and business savvy. Agencies that are experienced in helping consumers select renovation contractors, for instance, won't have fluency in the language of manufacturing companies buying complex engineered solutions. But even when they have similar clients, marketing project coordinators that have never carried a P&L, never sold complex industrial solutions and never weighed corporate investment decisions simply can't effectively oversee a program that must incorporate those elements.

They muddle along though, because hiring the talent and experience to deliver that depth isn't feasible - it would distort the cost of their services well beyond the insourcing alternative.

That's precisely where a hybrid approach can outperform for middle market industrial manufacturers.

The industrial mindset

There's another factor to consider. Marketing has traditionally not been accorded organizational significance in industrial manufacturing firms. R&D, Sales, Operations and even Finance are seen as key organizational units - marketing organizes trade show exhibits.

This plays into the logical fallacy that industrial manufacturers should either outsource their digital marketing to an agency (it's too complex to manage internally) or manage themselves (after all it's just marketing.) Yet when most manufacturers start to look around for an outsource partner they find a large number of agencies telling a similar story, but without any actual industrial sales and operations experience on staff - critical compliments to the academic marketing elements.

In reality they may well have adequate staff and internal capabilities, which if properly advised, could produce impressive results.

Wondering if content marketing is right for your company? Check out our eBook on how the process works.

Wondering about the cost and return? We've got info on that too.

And wondering whether a consultant model might be appropriate for you (instead of the false choice between DiY and outsourcing to an agency?) Here are the sort of outcomes that our clients realize working with us.