Marketing has always relied on external agencies to support its mission. This reliance transcends beyond the typical functions, such as PR, advertising and direct/email marketing, and it is not atypical for many companies (and I am not referring to just early-stage companies) to ‘outsource’ core functions such as product marketing to agencies.
According to a recent IDC study, the program-to-people marketing spend ratio within the technology industry is 57%, and based on what I have seen the true numbers at many companies are likely significantly higher. I believe we are addicted to the flexibility agencies are providing in terms of allowing us to effectively manage our marketing budgets.
While I have not been able to find comparable figures for social media marketing, my discussions with colleagues and peers across the industry seem to indicate that these norms are carrying over to social media, which as I mentioned in an earlier post, is no longer a one-night-stand, but rather a marriage. The core thesis of the 5 myths I had outlined in the post were centered around the fact that social media is inherently different in that it requires a sustained, and trust-based commitment to engage with the audience we are trying reach. The spray-and-pray, episodic engagement model we have used (effectively?) in the past will no longer work if we are to be successful and create those long-term, trust-based relationships with our audience-the ones that ultimately build customer loyalty and allow us to reach new audiences.
While agencies can undoubtedly add significant value, even in a social world (especially on the creative side), it is the continued use of agencies in core functions that I am most troubled with.
The two core functions absolutely critical to building those relationships are listening (aka finding where our audience is congregating and what they discussing) and engaging (aka orchestrating these conversations). While I agree that many of the underlying technologies are still evolving (you can read my rant here), I still argue this is not a valid excuse for us to be outsourcing such core capabilities. How do we expect to learn and internalize what we are hearing and build trusted relationships if the person on the other end of the conversation is a 20-something hired gun who is also performing these tasks for five other companies? Read this mashable article for today’s mishap with Chrysler’s social media agency – while arguably this could have happened with a Chrysler employee as well, the incident itself was quite timely.
Do we need to blame our CFOs or simply look ourselves in the mirror and ask whether we are doing what we are doing because it’s the ‘easy’ thing to do? I look forward to your thoughts.