It's the eternal question once you decide to actually start DOING content marketing.
Should you outsource the process or try to do it "in house"?
There are pros and cons to both approaches. In this article we'll weigh up those pros and cons to help you decide whether or not you should outsource this crucial marketing activity.
First though, let's look at some background questions around content marketing and why it matters.
What is content marketing?
The Content Marketing Institute (which incidentally just changed hands for an 8-figure sum) defines content marketing as "a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action."
Is content marketing important?
- 91% B2B marketers use content marketing
- 80% believe content is central to marketing work
How many B2B companies outsource their content marketing?
62% companies outsource their content marketing
So – should my organisation outsource content marketing?
Like most things in life – there is not one (easy) answer, except to say “it depends”!
Content marketing is clearly important – but does that mean we should do it ourselves?
There is one component of content marketing we believe is critical to outsource – however let’s consider (as an example of the thought processes involved) the arguments for and against outsourcing the PRODUCTION of content:
Arguments for outsourcing content production
1. Lack of internal expertise
To achieve the objectives of a content marketing program (i.e. content that is valuable, relevant, consistent – and that will attract and retain a specific audience), our content needs to be written in a specific way.
Not just the writing style, and the message it reveals – but also so it includes keywords that will attract buyers (but not so many keywords that it will repel the search engines for being low quality content.)
It’s both an art, and a learned science. Most of your internal resources can probably think up good content ideas – but they don’t necessarily know (nor have the time) to write in a way to achieve these objectives.
2. It’s not already in someone’s job description
Many internal content development initiatives fail because people just “don’t get around to doing it”.
Outsourcing certainly solves this problem – but equally, writing content shouldn’t be seen by employers as something done “out of hours”. If we want internal resources to produce content, put it in their job descriptions, and ensure they have enough time to do it.
Some training will also help – good content doesn’t happen by magic.
3. Ability to scale
The need to produce content will vary over time – a new product launch (for example) may call for a “spike” in content production, that can’t easily be covered internally. Content agencies are far better equipped to handle this varying demand.
4. Access to and expertise in content development software
Remembering that content formats can vary across written, video, audio, presentation, interactive etc – it can be prohibitively expensive for firms to have access to the best in class software required in each case. Training internal resources in using these tools is also a real expense.
External providers, on the other hand, can justify the cost of effectively using this technology across a range of clients – so by being one of their customers you receive this access for a fraction of the cost and time of doing it yourself.
5. Production of regular and consistent content
Most untrained writers are not aware that they write in their own style – and hence don’t know how to adopt alternative approaches.
Specialist writers have this sense – and hence using an outsourced provider should help achieve consistent styles across a range of pieces. For example, it's important that blog content remain unbiassed and objective - not at all "salesy". Getting a member of your sales team to write the content may skew the point of view too far in favour of your company's solution. An outside agency will ensure this doesn't happen, maintaining your perception as a trusted, impartial advisor to your audience.
Arguments against outsourcing content production:
There are lots of great arguments outlined above to outsource content production – but here are some arguments against:
1. Don’t know your business or industry
No one knows your business as well as you and your colleagues. In some instances, by the time you brief external writers on what's required, and then edit what they’ve written to truly reflect your unique situation, it can feel ike you may as well have done the writing yourself.
Similarly, if you’re writing to be read by members of a certain industry, your content writers (internal or external) need to use the right lingo.
Increasingly, we are finding external copywriters specialising in specific industries for just this reason.
2. It’s an unnecessary cost
This is an interesting one.
Content development takes time – so there’s a cost. It’s just that if it’s done internally, the cost can be hidden.
If your model is to save money by getting your team to write content out of hours, you’ll eventually fail. There has to be a host of other things these bright people could be doing – is creating content the best use of their time?
Our advice is to truly assess the cost of the content production (internally or externally) – but to then measure the returns being achieved. If the content is providing a satisfactory return, you shouldn’t care what the spend is – in fact you should be investing more!
If the objectives aren’t being achieved – it’s time to stop, reflect, and try a different approach.
3. Hard to choose and manage the right partner
As with any outsourced provider, it can prove difficult to find the right one, ensure you’re getting maximum value, and manage challenges along the way.
As the content development market grows, however, increasingly it’s possible to get references and to shop around so as to minimise the chances of “poor partnering”.
4. Won’t (necessarily) question your strategy
Content development agencies aren’t necessarily adept at developing the overall content strategy.
Content marketing sits within a broader marketing strategy framework: the title and format of content needs to change for different buyer journey stages, and indeed needs to be tweaked constantly depending on how other parts of the marketing program are performing.
A “set and forget” outsourcing strategy is foolhardy – if you’re outsourcing part of our content program, ensure the 3rd party is actively questioning what you’re doing to ensure they will genuinely add value.
What SHOULD you outsource?
Forty-eight percent of B2B content marketers have an undocumented strategy, but they are much less likely to be successful, according to CMI’s 2015 B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks and Trends.
So often this is the missing piece!
Whether you develop your content internally – externally – or somewhere in-between – it’s unlikely you’ll develop content strategy more than once a year.
That’s hardly enough to develop best in class strategies.
If you don’t outsource developing your content strategy – at least bring in an expert third party that can add value by:
- Prescribing a best in class format
- Can assist you define objectives for your content marketing plan, in the context of your overall marketing plan
- Can suggest strategies to achieve the objectives
- Has vast experience converting strategies into content calendars – which topic, what format, when
Bottom Line on Outsourcing Content Marketing
As you can see from the above arguments, there's no one clear cut "right" or "wrong" way to do content marketing from an in-house vs outsources perspective.
Both approaches have their pros and cons and what's right for you is going to depend on factors such as the size of your team, your industry, and your available resources.
What do you think? Share your experiences with insourcing vs outsourcing content marketing in the comments section below.