More specifically, what happens when brands can access the tools agencies deploy? Do they still need an agency? Could they go it alone, or should they self-serve in some way with some advice and strategy support from an agency? Or, just perhaps, could there be a middle ground of insourcing?
I say there are two words colliding because in a previous life I covered business process outsourcing. As clever outsourcers developed tools that could whizz through clerical chores at breakneck speed for far less money, big business queued up to take their offer. Then big businesses started to be able to access these tools themselves either stored internally or accessed via the cloud. It meant there was a major shift that led, for some clients, to insource. A smart third party would help the client set up their own operation, or at least self-serve from tools hosted in the cloud, with typically a bunch of strategic support backed up by a small team of staff who worked from within the client.
Simon Martin was in marketing at insurance giant Aviva while this was happening and realised the model could be translated into marketing. As marketing automation reaches the hands of the brand, and isn't the preserve of agencies and their partners, he wondered if brands would pick up on an offer of using an agency for consultancy backed up by insourcing a small team from the agency to help set up and run operations from within their own offices.
The Post Office is a prime example. Oliver provides strategy and consultancy, but perhaps more importantly, places content experts within the client's offices so the guys are based there and not at Oliver's London office.
"The opportunity just seemed so obvious to me and it still does," he says. "If you insource you get smart agency people in your office which means they're always with you so you can move at great speed. You don't have to keep having agency meetings -- you just work with the agency from within your own offices. It saves brands money too because they can dial up or dial down the resource they have."
Indeed, when I talked with The Post Office, its CMO Peter Markey revealed that the organisation insources from agencies in a couple of key areas, data management being a prime example. The overall savings mount up to a six-figure sum, and of course, the company is more independent with its permanent staff learning key skills from the agency experts they sit next to.
I must confess that I had not really heard of insourcing in digital marketing. I've covered it in the past for other industries, but when you think about it, it makes perfect sense. Some brands will always want a big agency to do everything for them and then report back at regular meetings. And that is their right -- nobody would suggest it isn't. However, for those that want to learn more about the technology and self-serve with an ultimate view to maybe become self-reliant in the future, insourcing has to be a viable route, doesn't it? You're still calling on an agency's expertise, but in a way that you can operate more leanly and your own staff can learn from.
It's been a massive hit in business process outsourcing and as marketing automation rolls on and on, I would hedge a bet that it has a bright future in digital marketing too. It's not quite the either x or y decision of working fully with an agency or going it alone but a meeting of two minds in the middle.