Don’t outsource your soul. Build soul mates instead.

The following essay was featured in Campaign Magazine’s annual Power Essays supplement here in the Middle East. Excuse the lack of hyperlinks, but it was written for analog media🙂.

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Throughout the last 12 years on the client side of things, I’ve always been amazed at how many companies outsource their “soul” by assigning critical customer facing tasks to external agencies and consultants. Customer service and call centers are operated by external providers with heavy cost reduction pressure on them. Social media presences are managed by social media agencies because brands are afraid they don’t understand the “social space”. Creative agencies are used on a case-by-case basis to communicate (and often dictate) the brand essence of the company.  SEO & SEM tasks are outsourced to media or specialist agencies with no client interest of delving into the topic. The list goes on…

This needs to change. The Internet has brought along some major disruptions to the media landscape, along with it a fundamental shift in control. Brands are no longer able to control the message across the touch points, but rather live in a scenario in which the brand perception is a hybrid between company and customer perspectives. Customers are more in charge than ever before and the traditional media landscape (as it used to stand) simply no longer exists. Before the Internet, mass media dominated the audiences. This led to corporate ways of working in which the brand used mass media to broadcast its message and the “conversations” were outsourced to agencies behind a phone line or repair centre to deal with. In today’s time and age, these “conversations” and their amplification possibility has caused this shift in control. It is now more important than ever, to engage in these conversations, co-create value with customers and fuel your brand presence through advocacy, not mass communication.

In marketing and advertising, the old broadcast paradigm still seems to hold many corporations down. Most of the marketing budgets are placed on bought media and the conversational marketing costs are always questioned. Mass media still prevails, merely because of engrained habits, but also due to the same paradox in which brands outsource their souls by replacing time with money. In today’s time and age, time cannot be replaced in the manner it was replaced during the “mad men” times. Time is the “new money” as brands need to take the responsibility and accountability of interacting with its customers. Social media and community managers are often the core voice of the company towards customers. Call and customer service centres are not merely “cost centres”, they can become significant profit centres when positioned and managed properly.

Advertising is also evolving. Going from seasonal campaigns only, into continuous engagement and “always on” marketing efforts, allows brands to deepen their relationships with customers. These kinds of changes require brands to rethink their strategies but also their budgets. The notion of human media becomes a cornerstone of an engagement platform. Instead of funnelling money to outside agencies and bought media, brands should first look at investing the proper amounts of resources to handle their customer facing engagement roles.  Once these roles exists, brands will get much more mileage from the creative and media agencies as the same co-creation principle applies just as much in a client – agency relationship, as it does with end customers. This calls for brave CMO’s and marketing managers.

Why is it so easy for brands to invest hundreds of thousands of Dirham’s into TV advertising, while hiring a few full time social media managers seems to require more approvals, amendments and bureaucracy than passing a new law in the UN? The reason is simple. In most companies, human media is still perceived as a non-working cost from a financial perspective. Marketing headcounts are kept low, because most of the actual work is done by agencies and over 70% of the budgets go to bought media on various channels (aka working media). With the emergence of digital channels, all of this has changed. 70% of your budgets should not be going into bought media alone. By investing more time and money into your creative/brand, you ensure you give your brand presence a continuous voice. Hiring internal resources to manage your “always on” performance media and social presences, is just as much working media, than buying TV spots.  By having this human media inside your organization, you ensure that you have accountability as well as a proper workflow of knowledge gathering and sharing. Continuous engagement strategies stride on co-created value with the customers. Co-created value fuels advocacy and advocacy fuels positive WOM or earned media. This is like steroids for any brand.

The marketing organization of the future is one that understands the importance of its human media as well as the importance of cultivating conversations with customers. In-house conversational marketing teams will become more and more popular as they end up driving cost efficiency as well as a whole new degree of accountability and customer engagement.  External resources are not seen as agencies, but rather soul mates. With the digital revolution that the Internet has provided us, customer-facing roles and channels have grown and the need for continuous dialogue, interaction and engagement become a standard part of how brands interact in this space. Customer engagement is much more conversation driven, in which dialogue and engagement begins to provide a shift away from a bought media and broadcast driven marketing alone. Internal creative agencies, customer service centres, community managers and brand architect’s begin to drive a fundamental transformation in the industry. An industry fuelled by your soul: the human media. Don’t outsource your soul.

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