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In-house vs. outsourced marketing for MSPs

Content marketing has emerged as an effective strategy for MSPs, but it can get tricky when deciding if in-house or outsourced talent should create these marketing materials.

Like most businesses today, MSPs use various content marketing tactics to promote their expertise, offerings and brand messages to prospects and customers. MSPs produce marketing materials that span blogs, videos and e-books.

When pursuing Content marketing, MSPs must decide whether to create materials in house or outsource them to a marketing agency. Either approach has its pros and cons. Some MSPs find a combination of in-house and outsourced marketing works best for them, while others believe marketing content should originate internally.

A case for developing MSP marketing materials in house

For MSPs that embrace in-house marketing, some discover they can promote themselves in ways many outside agencies and off-the-shelf marketing products would fail to do.

Valiant Technology, an MSP based in New York, has gone the in-house route for the past couple of years. As part of its marketing efforts, the MSP produces a weekly live stream, in which Valiant Staff and President Georg Dauterman discuss topics relevant to customers and prospects. The live streams provide a platform for Valiant to demonstrate its expertise while simultaneously educating viewers about IT trends and issues such as remote work security.

George Dauterman, president of Valiant TechnologyGeorge Dauterman

"Customers are confused about the MSP industry as a whole, and one [MSP] looks very similar to the next," which makes it important for Valiant to showcase what it does, Dauterman said.

The MSP tailors its content to its targeted vertical markets, which include marketing communications, the nonprofit sector and professional services. Content aims to show business leaders that Valiant understands their industry's specific requirements and desired IT outcomes, Dauterman said.

Valiant's livestreams have gradually gained an audience. "Interestingly, we only have a couple hundred subscribers, but slowly but surely, [livestreams are] raising our visibility in IT and the overall community," he noted.

Any system will yield results, but does it really exemplify you, your culture and philosophy? Really great marketing can capture your essence and distill great messaging.
George DautermanPresident, Valiant Technology

In addition, the livestreams have helped with other outreach efforts such as staff recruitment. "Someone we hired the other day said to me, 'I feel like I knew you from the livestream, and it was a very powerful message,' " Dauterman said.

The obvious drawback to the in-house approach is that it demands a lot of work. However, the ability to highlight a company's people and culture makes it a more compelling option than an off-the-shelf marketing product, Dauterman said. "Any system will yield results, but does it really exemplify you, your culture and philosophy? Really great marketing can capture your essence and distill great messaging."

A blend of in-house, outsourced marketing

Rather than go all-in on an either an internal or outsourced content marketing strategy, many MSPs combine the two approaches.

For example, OSF Digital, a digital transformation services company based in Quebec City, said it benefits from using a mix.

The decision to outsource content to freelance writers can depend on the availability of internal resources, according to Iulia Smeria, associate vice president of global marketing, brand and content, at OSF Digital. "It can come down to spikes in workload, and we do reach out to freelance writers whenever we need to create a higher amount of marketing materials in a short timeframe," she said.

Iulia Smeria, vice president of global marketing, brand and content at OSF Digital Iulia Smeria

Sometimes, it makes the most sense to use professionals. For videos that feature customer success stories, OSF hires professional video agencies to do the job, Smeria said. "[Customers] are our most valuable references, and only by outsourcing this service can we achieve high results."

Other marketing activities are better achieved internally, particularly if the efforts require deep business knowledge. Successful marketing content relies on marketers knowing the organization's business inside and out, and that includes knowing its customers, Smeria noted. To that end, OSF Digital taps in-house expertise to create buyer personas. The team develops buyer personas using internal and external research, mapped across OSF Digital's offerings.

"The [buyer persona] is the most important tool you need to have in place before writing any content or creating a content marketing strategy," Smeria said.

Like OSF Digital, Lunavi, a technology consulting and managed services firm based in Cheyenne, Wyo., combines internal and external resources to produce its marketing materials.

Every new marketing project typically starts with content strategy and ideation within the internal marketing teams, said Lunavi Director of Marketing Stacy Kamigaki. "This collaborative approach allows us to identify the most relevant issues at hand and determine how best to address them," she explained. "We then work with either in-house or external experienced content creators, such as writers, designers, videographers, et cetera, to create and curate the content into a variety of deliverables across multiple marketing media and channels."

Stacy Kamigaki, director of marketing at LunaviStacy Kamigaki

Lunavi also augments marketing materials with thought leadership content from analyst firms and strategic partners when appropriate, Kamigaki noted.

"We've seen the greatest success in a hybrid team model: internal solution expertise paired with external creative talent," Kamigaki said.

The in-house marketing approach isn't always the ideal situation, Kamigaki added. It may be difficult to find the expertise needed. Internal talent can also be too costly, especially for skills in areas such as writing, design and multimedia.

"A hybrid approach also allows you to access specific talent [and] resources that aren't necessarily required full time," Kamigaki said. "By contracting on a project-by-project basis, you can access the talent you need when you need it to produce high-quality work in a much more cost-effective way."

A drawback to outsourcing, however, is that external talent can require a high level of management oversight. "Agencies and consultants usually don't have comprehensive knowledge of your solutions and may rely heavily on marketing and subject-matter experts to fill the gaps at various stages of the process," Kamigaki noted. "This can also extend timelines, so you will need to budget for that."

Pros and cons of vendors' marketing materials

Vendors that target MSPs often tout access to marketing materials as a perk of doing business with them. How helpful these materials are depends on the MSP and its marketing objectives.

"We'll take inspiration from vendors and collaborate with them, but we don't want to take prebuilt messaging," Valiant's Dauterman said. He cited a managed security service provider (MSSP) partner that has "great marketing material and people" that Valiant works with closely. In fact, some of the MSSP's marketing staff have made guest appearances on Valiant's livestreams, he noted.

Lunavi welcomes material from its vendor partners, Kamigaki said, "particularly when it comes to addressing customer needs further along the buyer's journey -- when they are evaluating specific products and services." As experts in their technology or market segments, vendors can provide the rich content that customers want late in the buyer's journey, including hands-on demos and workshops, white papers and detailed vendor comparisons, she said.

While OSF Digital has previously used vendors' marketing materials, the company doesn't usually deploy them, Smeria said. "Oftentimes, these assets do not go into as much detail as they should, and we end up not creating valuable and informative content for our audience."    

In-house vs. outsourced marketing: Which approach is right for you?

To determine whether in-house vs. outsourced marketing is the better fit, MSPs must figure out how much time they can dedicate to content creation initiatives, Dauterman said. Livestreams, for example, take a lot of time and commitment, he said.

Regardless of whether the content is generated in house or outsourced, MSPs should ensure the content producers have access to the right resources, such as internal subject-matter experts, Smeria noted. Content marketing requires planning, such as detailed briefs that explain what the content should accomplish.

"In finding the right balance between the two ways of creating marketing materials, you need to audit your internal team, your content calendar as well as your budget, and make the best decision for your unique business model," Smeria added.

Every company needs to consider the volume, complexity and diversity of the marketing content required, then weigh in-house vs. outsourced approaches, Kamigaki said. To determine which approach will work best, the company must assess the talent and capabilities of its in-house team, external resources and outsourcing partners.

"Whichever allows you to meet demands in the most timely and cost-effective way is the right answer for your organization," Kamigaki said.

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