Let’s be honest, outsourcing has earned something of a bad reputation. Painful memories linger from the early era of the outsourcing, when customer service and IT support were suddenly moved overseas. But it’s also true that some marketers have bad experiences with outsourcing the execution of digital marketing campaigns to overseas teams.
We believe in outsourcing and the “decoupling” digital production work from creative processes. As we point out here, leading digital production specialists, like Deliver, have applied the lessons from other industries and functions in building more mature and stable models for digital production outsourcing. But we understand why some marketers are reluctant to outsource.
When we talk to companies who feel they’ve been “burned” before, we usually find that mismatched expectations, miscommunication and lack of clarity in requirements doomed the efforts from the start. Less than robust business cases were another common issue. In some cases, marketers simply picked the wrong partners, firms who couldn’t deliver the cost efficiencies without compromising brand quality.
So what are digital marketers to do if they have had a bad outsourcing experience previously? Here are three strategies the Deliver team uses on a regular basis to ensure our clients’ outsourcing experiences are great ones:
1. Be objective about the business case: Digital production “decoupling” is taking hold primarily because it offers a compelling value proposition, with tangible and substantive benefits. For instance, savings of 20-50% on overall digital marketing budgets are common. The savings come from consolidating production teams and leveraging skilled resources in offshore locations, as well as through process automation and standardization. Beyond cost reductions, these steps can increase overall efficiency, shorten turnaround times and boost the quality and consistency of brand messages across formats (from email newsletters to display ads to microsites and online videos).
Companies who have been burned before may be skeptical about quality improvement through outsourcing, but for our clients it’s typically as important a driver as the cost reductions. Business cases for digital production outsourcing should reflect that reality.
As we highlight in this eBook, we encourage new clients to think carefully and complete due diligence in assembling their china business case, which should set appropriate expectations for all stakeholders (including procurement teams).
2. Plan for a smooth transition: Of course, the considerable benefits of decoupling don’t fall from the trees; to realize them fully, careful planning is necessary. As my colleague Mark Andersson points out here and here, successful relationships between digital production specialists and their clients (and clients’ agencies) start on day one.
Clarifying requirements is a critical element. A formal onboarding approach should confirm roles and responsibilities and spell out timelines. Everyone involved in the process – whether they work for the client or at the agency – should understand how the technology and processes will work. How will review and approval requests be sent and to whom? What are the reporting protocols? Sometimes marketers are impatient to skip these details and rush right into development and execution (especially when timeliness are tight), but these formal start-up procedures always save time in the end.
Lastly, for clients who are gun-shy about embracing (or re-embracing) outsourcing for digital production, it often makes sense to start with a project of limited scope; that way, they can kick the tires and get to know their new partners in a relatively low-pressure way.
3. Communicate, communicate, communicate: On an ongoing basis, communication holds the key to a successful relationship. Given the distances involved and potential language barriers in using global production hubs, it’s hard to overestimate the importance of communication. Much of the communication can happen electronically (e.g., formal approvals of assets conveyed through workflow tools or quick status reports via email), but occasional face-to-face interactions go a long way toward strong relationships.
Deliver’s organizational model is designed to facilitate communications. “Onshore” senior resources work directly with clients to understand their latest brand thinking and unique competitive needs. At our global production hubs, senior project managers also interface with clients directly and are incented to ask questions whenever there is uncertainty. For instance, if there are gray areas in project plans, we pick up the phone. Such actions come from our “constant QA” and proactive problem-solving mentality. Communication practices should also allow for project de-briefs and brainstorming/troubleshooting sessions that will help enable continuous improvement.
The subtext of these recommendations is to simply choose the right partner. Again, due diligence is the key. Dig deep as you ask digital production firms about the experience of their resources, their technology capabilities, their QA processes. In the past, some dubious service providers claimed to offer a full range of services, experienced resources, knowledge of new platforms and advanced technology, but quickly folded up when it became clear they had none of these things.
Even some big-name consulting firms that sought to add digital production services to their overseas processing centers struggled to produce the value and quality they promised their clients. The fact is, digital marketing is a unique discipline, so production specialists must bring unique domain knowledge to the field if they are to succeed. Just because a company knows how to process banking transactions or airline reservations doesn’t mean they know how to execute digital marketing campaigns and translate brand messages worldwide.