When Should Digital Marketing Be DIY Marketing?

photo of a man hammering a nail - text says - anyone can hammer in a nail, therefore anyone can build a house, therefore we are going to build this house all by ourselves

This article examines the underlying logic of SMEs taking a DIY approach to their marketing

It's 2015 and digital marketing has now had a mainstream set of practices and skills for at least 10 years. Yet we are still in a time when digital/online marketing (which from here I will refer to just as "marketing") is commonly considered a Do-It-Yourself working area.

In small businesses it is very often the owner or one of the main service/operational managers who works hands-on, informally, on all sorts of nitty-gritty of website page editing, PR, brochures, advertising campaigns, market research, email newsletters, and social media. In such cases, the scope of things included within "marketing" is never exactly clear, but there is always something each day that needs updating or prodding, and it's the owner or senior manager who gets stuck in. Marketing is DIY by default.

A further symptom of the DIY-marketing assumption is that ordinary startups (the Mom-and-Pop or High Street variety, not the Silicon Valley kind) not only do not budget anything for marketing human resources, but usually do not consult outside for ideas about what kind of work and resources might be needed. Assuming at some point the owners/management have acknowledged that some marketing is going to be needed, apparently the assumption is that it will all be DIY, and therefore in resource terms indistinguishable from the normal administration work of the office team.

Quite often it is the receptionist, or more politely the office administration manager, who - as a kind of afterthought - has "marketing" tacked on to the job description.

Even the more medium-sized organizations which have their own marketing team / department are often operating under a similar DIY assumption: they usually employ junior generalists to cover a mixed (and often undefined) set of online marketing tasks, and because of "already having marketing staff" they do not need to consider (or budget for) external assistance.

A DIY concept of marketing says that someone who can do one type of marketing work can also do all the other types of marketing work. This is why you find "marketing specialists" in SMEs where they were employed thanks to having some experience with X marketing work in a previous job, so now they are going to be assigned to work on X, Y, and Z marketing work in this company. This is not to denigrate the expertise and hard work of such employees: but they would probably agree that the normal way the job works out means the job title is "marketing generalist" not "specialist". Junior generalists mean the business is taking a DIY approach to marketing.

This situation has come about partly because digital marketing is a new and unfamiliar mix of skills and working areas, so managers and HR don't have any widely-accepted templates to follow. Defining job scope well is a challenge for all working areas in all businesses. But still at the heart of the problem in creating efficient and coherent coverage of marketing work in a business, is the assumption that marketing is probably all kind of DIY-able.

And jobs you can DIY, you should DIY and not waste money paying expensive contractors. Right?

Actually, as I said, digital marketing has already had at least 10 years of establishing disciplines, skills, best practices, main strategic mixes (if you focus on A then it means you do B and C too but little to no D or E), and reasonable transparency in budgeting and planning. So the only people who think marketing is a non-skilled, entirely generalist, and non-cost-centre-worthy topic are those who have not started looking at it.

But even without knowing much about all the tools, tactics, specialisms, and developing practices of digital marketing -- as it would be unreasonable to expect any business owner or manager to be that interested -- it is still doubtful whether a DIY assumption stands up to scrutiny.

It seems the "marketing is DIY work" assumption could come from three underlying ideas, or as we would call them, fallacies:
1 - marketing work is easy
2 - marketing is not that much work
3 - marketing is not that important

I am going to argue that the DIY assumption about marketing work doesn't make sense even if you believe that these three ideas are not fallacies!

1 - "marketing is so easy, we can do it ourselves"

Easy, limited, safe, definable, repeatable work is the kind of work that you can package up and delegate.

Let's say for the sake of argument you are right, and marketing work is easy like that.

Does that mean you do the easy work yourself?

Let's take a simple example. Cleaning the office is a good job for an office cleaner or office cleaning company. You would not assign this work to the office manager or normal staff. Any of them could do it, possibly very well. But it wouldn't make sense, since their time is not free and in fact their time is valuable when working on the best things you can put them on. Meanwhile, it is easy to find a cleaner who can do the job.

As you can see, just because something is easy does not mean it automatically makes sense to do all the work yourself.

Anyway, unfortunately marketing is not that easy. The DIY argument may seem to make sense if marketing work is easy, generic, routine -- and if doing easy + generic + routine work on marketing gets you all the results you want. (Please, get in touch if you have found some effective marketing tactic or combination of tactics that fit that description.)

a guy sits next to a pool working on his laptop - text says - this one easy trick - is what everyone wishes digital marketing consisted of

(Please call us if you've found the one easy trick.)

In general it is not true that digital marketing is like this. Sure, many of the tools and actions involved in digital marketing are easy or can be easily learned. But hammering a nail or sawing through a plank are easy, and that does not make you a carpenter.

It is true that you can separate out some easier, more routine, more delegate-able marketing tasks after you are already at a certain scale and maturity of your marketing, i.e. where you have transitioned from your marketing being mainly experimentation to it being mainly operational. But at that stage, it is a non-trivial marketing and management job to be able to separate out and package / assign / train / supervise those tasks. Junior marketing specialists don't automatically know how to translate company strategy into detailed micro tasks, and they won't self-coordinate to get the job done. Which means we are back to the original point that getting marketing done actually is not easy.

Marketing Is Hard

Saying marketing is hard is not saying it is rocket science or secret voodoo magic. Marketing is a complex mix of experience and intuition, experimentation and measurement, tactics and habits, creativity and imagination, hard work and repetition, technical skills and headaches, software and systems, research and study... oh and about 5000 hours of trying to align things in CSS.

So, sure, anyone can do marketing, but anyone actually going ahead and doing it will need resources and will do the job better the more skills and experience they can bring to the table.

Another thing: the default mode in marketing is to be very busy and get no results. The majority of things which can occupy your time, energy, and budgets will be partially or wholly ineffective in getting you commercial results. This means that marketing that works is a more difficult, harder-to-discover subset of marketing, which is difficult work in general.

This brings us back to the main drift: if you accept marketing is hard, why are you killing yourself trying to do it all by yourself?

2 - "OK, even if marketing is not that easy, it is not THAT MUCH work, so we can do it by ourselves"

In our office cleaner analogy, even though cleaning is technically not that difficult*, we decided not to DIY because our time is more valuable working on our core skill/assignment areas.

[*Actually cleaning well is difficult, or at least hard to get done consistently, and so you should choose a good office cleaning agency!]

OK, but what if the office cleaning is not that much work? Then it would not make sense to go to the trouble of hiring, assigning, supervising, paying etc the office cleaner. We could easily just put in a few minutes a day to get it done.

But we agreed in the case of marketing it is usually not going to be something as easy as vacuuming or washing up coffee mugs.

Let's adjust the analogy to something that is quick but more difficult.

Let's imagine once a day someone has to call up the head office and give a status summary of some key figures. It only takes 5 minutes, but it is difficult because you have to have access to the right reports and understand the data... oh, and the head office contact is in Hangzhou and only speaks Mandarin [welcome to the 21st Century].

Now this 5-minute task doesn't sound like you are going to have a lot of volunteers. In fact, you will have to pick the person who is most qualified to do it. In fact, if you don't have the putonghua speaker on your staff, shock horror, you're going to have to look outside for that expertise πŸ™‚

In this analogy we can see that just because something is quick, it doesn't mean anyone can do it: if it is something hard then you still look to the most qualified person to do it.

BUT the same way we saw it is a fallacy to assume/hope that marketing is easy, unfortunately it is also untrue that marketing is quick. You definitely cannot solve your digital marketing in 5 minutes per day even if you employ a rock star or ninja. In fact even with small businesses with only a few staff, you probably cannot solve your digital marketing adequately with 100% of the hours of one full time employee (which wouldn't make sense anyway based on avoiding the generalist-DIY trap). This is especially the case with the extra marketing work involved in starting up a new business.

A woman sits at the bottom of a swimming pool with an ipad - text says - solve your marketing in 5 minutes per day - underwater, with your eyes closed

Actually, you have to plan (and budget) for marketing being a main working area of your business

Marketing is resource-intensive

Resources: time, money, energy. Marketing needs plenty of all of these, because -- as with all the other areas of your business -- it's not going to happen by magic. And as with everything else in your business, the resources need to be focused correctly to be able to get results, so you also need expertise and management.

How much time / money / energy / expertise / management is marketing going to take? It is going to be proportional to your business at its current stage and the market you are competing in.

Every marketer is going to ask you for more resources than you want to put in.

On your side, you are going to push every marketer you are paying, to over-deliver versus the resources you are giving.

So there is not an objective, Harvard Business School textbook answer.

What is important is at least to have a resource<->results concept in discussion, with the expectations at least in the ballpark of reality. A combination of familiarity with your business (you) and experience in marketing (your marketing consultant / expert / agency) will help you arrive in the ballpark of reality.

If your planning around marketing resources does not involve the advice of people experienced in marketing and marketing resource planning, i.e. you are taking a DIY approach, then your ideas may be wildly unrealistic. Unrealistic business planning has a habit of not working.

If your resource allocation for marketing, in terms of time / money / energy / expertise / management, boils down to "we do it all by ourselves"... it either means you have decided your business does not need marketing, or it means you have not realistically scoped out the required work.

3 - "OK, even if marketing is hard and it is going to take quite a lot of work, it is too important for us to let someone else work on it"

We assume you agree that marketing is important enough to do (a) at all, and (b) properly. But what if you look at the difficulty, resource commitment, and potential impact of your marketing and realize it is at the heart of your business model... in fact, it's too close to the heart -- it seems too important to be given to third parties at all!

Firstly we can rule out the possibility that all important work areas of your business are too important to give out to external specialists: because you already do this in your accounting, banking, and possibly legal / IP areas. Possibly you also involve external expertise in HR and recruitment. Clearly, something being important doesn't in itself mean you can't take it outside your walls.

Perhaps there is something about the marketing (as opposed to finance, legal, HR) that can't safely be outsourced?

I think for marketing the "it's too important to give out" problem boils down to three different objections:
- the strategy and marketing of our business are too confidential to involve external parties in working on them;
- our business is unique: anyone working on marketing would have to understand our whole business/market/team/product/solution/customers and so external parties will just not be able to work on it effectively;
- it is too risky to give out such important work because failure / waste / mistakes would impact the whole business too much.

Unpacking these:

Confidentiality: it makes sense to be onΒ  your guard, particularly in regard to protecting business information from competitors, and particularly if your business handles IP and data that you have to protect. This issue is something that should make you selective in which external parties you work with, and this applies to financial and legal areas too, but is it something that means you absolutely cannot work with any outside agency? Most likely, if you can work with reasonable expectations of confidentiality with one type of professional business, then you can use the same models of supplier selection and management with others, like marketing firms.

If the issue is more that you (and your management team) are simply not comfortable working on strategy and marketing topics with external people, then that is not a confidentiality issue. It is a trust and relationship question -- which is reasonable... but again more about the selection of the right external experts to work with, rather than something that should stop you looking outside and force you to do everything yourself. You absolutely should select marketers to work with where you feel comfortable collaborating on the strategic essentials of your business. But if you don't look for a good match, you can't reasonably force yourself to DIY your marketing just because you assume that a good match doesn't exist.

Even if you try working with external marketing consultants or an agency and it doesn't work out for communication or relationship reasons, you should take this as an opportunity to define more clearly what you are looking for (and looking to avoid) in your next selection, rather than closing up and concluding that "the whole lot of them are no good".

Uniqueness: every business feels its own uniqueness very acutely... and in fact it is a top-level part of your marketing strategy to be able to define that uniqueness and package it in a way that makes sense to your customers. But just as an iPhone still sits in a box on a shelf, or a Ferrari has tyres and sits in a showroom window, there are lots of mostly generic parts of your business model around the core unique proposition. Experienced marketers will help you separate the commonalities of your business from the unique aspects.

You should look to work with marketers who try to understand and develop the unique proposition of your business. At the same time, you don't need to reinvent the wheel in marketing where there are many tried-and-tested tactics to employ. (Tactics you will have a trial-and-error-ridden learning curve to climb if taking a DIY approach, instead of working with specialists.)

When working with external marketing consultants or agencies, you should certainly plan on keeping full ownership and control of the core unique aspects of your business. For example, brand decisions, main vision and strategy statements, and product/market positioning ideas -- should all be under the supervision of your central management. External agencies help, advise, contribute, and package -- but most of the thinking and all of the decision-making responsibility lie with you. The skill of becoming effective in using external experts - including but not limited to external marketing experts - is that you can identify core decisions and maintain control of them, while taking advantage of their ideas, skills, and energies in a way that is not impeded by your desire to micromanage.

If you can identify the difference between management and micromanagement in your marketing, or even if you are asking the question, you are well on the way to being able to take advantage of skills and resources beyond your own team's DIY capabilities.

Risk: the possibility that giving marketing work to an external agency will harm your business... so you really need to keep the supervision and control fully to yourself. To a large degree this is the same issue as the question of micromanagement: yes, you need to keep the right decisions under your control, but do ALL the decisions and work areas need this?

One of the first areas to limit risk is in budgeting. Setting limits and understanding what you are paying for are essential for working well with external agencies, and good agencies will help you set up this shared understanding. Part of this is also setting up clear expectations and performance indicators -- which are shared and agreed -- which can then enable you to cut or extend different types of marketing work without the sense of risk of things over-running or creating open-ended costs.

Finally, the risk of impact to your reputation is a highly significant marketing consideration. Once again, this is a matter of selection: who are you working with? If you pay less for services of any kind, you can usually expect to have to balance that with increased need for supervision, which is a real cost.

In summary, issues of confidentiality, uniqueness, and risk are essential considerations when considering bringing in the right marketing expertise, but they are not blockers to doing so.


photo of a disassembled laptop - text says - DIY computer assembly, clearly only for enthusiasts with plenty of time for trial and error - but DIY Digital marketing sounds like a good idea for your business?

Conclusion

In reality, marketing is difficult, resource-intensive, and critically important to your business.

It is way, way too difficult, too resource-intensive, and too important to consider doing all or most of it in a DIY approach.

Therefore:

  • Marketing should not be ignored in your planning: you should think about it and provide resources for it;
  • Marketing strategy and planning should not be left to guesswork: you should get good advice to inform your decisions and budgeting;
  • As a small business owner/manager you should not assume you will do the marketing work by yourself: because that means you are either crazy or will soon go crazy from trying;
  • You should not assume all of the work involved in marketing can be done by your in-house team: you should make informed decisions based on the complexity and priorities of the marketing work you have planned to undertake -- and look outside for expertise in particular specialisms not covered by proven resources inside your own team.

How To ^NOT Do It Yourself

Here is a quick cheat sheet, and forgive us for being a bit facetious:

  • If you do not have a digital marketing strategy or budget: look for a Digital Marketing Consultant
  • If you are building or redesigning a website: look for a Web Design Agency
  • If you are building content for your website and other needs, define what content, e.g. Video Production Agency, Graphic Designer, Marketing Copy Writer
  • If you are going to work on SEO: look for an SEO Agency*
    *spoiler: this means you are working on content marketing, so you can also search for Content Marketing Agency
  • If you are going to work on Social Media: look for a Social Media Marketing Agency
  • If you are going to work on Email: look for an Email Marketing Agency (which is not the same as an email research/list provider or an email sending system or an email template designer)
  • If you are going to work on Pay-per-Click: look for a PPC Marketing Agency [that's us]

If you think you are going to work on all of the above but know you can't afford 4-5 different agencies, return to step 1 and talk to a different Digital Marketing Consultant! (To clarify, if your budget can't cover a "multi channel" "full spectrum" approach then you are going to have to prioritize and focus.)

TL;DR

As a marketing agency, we advise you that the only rational practice for your business is to employ a marketing agency. Furthermore, as a professional and expensive high-value-added agency, we advise you to be careful about expecting results from unprofessional and cheap agency offers πŸ˜€

But seriously we dare you to argue with the logic in this article.

KnowledgePower is a digital marketing agency based in Havant, near Portsmouth, UK -- specializing in Pay-per-Click campaign setup and optimization.