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International Online Marketing: Do It Alone or with a Global Agency?

Yi Wu-Blumenschein

Yi Wu-Blumenschein    04/06/14

International Online Marketing, Marketing Controlling




Many B2B companies have difficulties deciding whether or not to—and if so, then to what extent—run online marketing activities in-house versus partnering with an agency. Cost savings and considerations are almost always placed at the forefront of these discussions. However, there are many other important elements to consider when deciding to outsource marketing services.

The Critical Question: Can It Be Done In-House?
The Internet has certainly made information and opportunities more accessible to more people than ever before. Still, the question remains—can a company realistically manage all of these online marketing services on its own? Which is more cost-effective, outsourcing or in-sourcing? In this way, it is important to note, that according to our own experience, it takes a person on average one month to go through all of the training materials for Google’s AdWords e-Learning Center. Passing the subsequent certification exams takes at least another 6 months of preparation and studying.

Of course, in order to reap all the benefits of any platform, it is crucial that whoever is responsible for online campaigns knows how to use each one effectively. In terms of online catalogs, it’s essential to do price and competitor comparisons between options—as well as managing the bookings and updates along the way. Social media also has to be coordinated, ideally where one person is responsible for each channel’s strategy and posting. Not to mention, fresh content is needed for each of these channels. All of these services and activities can be done by a company in-house, but only if it has sufficient resources—time, money, people, and know-how.

Total Cost = Personnel + Qualification + On-going Training

This formula illustrates the true cost of keeping online marketing services in-house. Online media changes at a rapid pace, making it imperative that the person responsible for these channels has the most up-to-date knowledge about the rules and opportunities available. Know-how, experience, and time are all important factors when deciding whether or not online marketing activities can be done in-house—both economically and successfully.

Running online activities in-house is much easier for a company with a regional focus (such as DACH) versus a multinational with several markets, languages, and cultures to take into account.

International Is Not a Trivial Matter
Online marketing operations become much more complicated when a company needs services and channels in several different markets and languages. Not only is detailed knowledge of each market individually needed, it’s also necessary to know which online channels are the most effective for that particular target group. Which search engines are the most used in that country? What about social media platforms? What is the ratio or best mix of channels to generate the most leads or brand awareness? Under these circumstances, calculating true costs in terms of personnel, qualifications, market knowledge, and training are difficult to determine.

Furthermore, it is also import to consider what happens when, after an employee receives specialized training in online marketing and the local market, he or she leaves the company? Those costs (time, energy, and know-how) will never be recovered, and so the process will start from the beginning.

When taking all of these factors into account, the advantages of working with an international online marketing agency being increasing clearer.

Security and Efficiency
Compared to B2C companies, B2B companies often have relatively small marketing teams. Often, the Marketing Manager must take care of everything, from trade fairs to PR, and corporate communications to online marketing.

In large B2B companies, sometimes there is a dedicated Online Marketing Manager. Even in this situation, it is not a contradiction to work with an external online marketing agency. This type of collaboration can bring many different synergies and benefits for a company.

1. Learn From the Experience of an International Online Marketing Agency
Over the past 20 years, the Internet has developed into a highly complex structure. A wide variety of online media is available, making it necessary for Marketing Managers to have a thorough and well-researched compilation of relevant channels—including information on pricing, reach, performance, and KPIs—in order to make determinations about where budgets should be allocated.

For a Regional Marketing Manager, these tasks may be manageable—however in a global context, this is often impossible. Here, an international agency has a clear and distinct advantage. An agency already has experience in foreign markets and can supply the Marketing Manager with accurate information and support in the decision-making process. Furthermore, an often agency has local contacts and relationships with media providers to facilitate bookings and problem-solve as situations arise.

Similarly, dealing with foreign service providers can be a headache and impose strict criteria that a company might have difficulty meeting. It is often the case, for example, that immediate payment for services is required—not to mention from a domestic (local) bank account. Payment processing can take up to eight weeks in some companies, creating long lag times between services ordered and campaign start dates. Additionally, in many countries, it is not possible to set-up a bank account locally without an established and registered company or physical location in that country—a difficult task for a company just looking to explore a market and determine its growth potential. In these cases, an international agency with many offices globally can help alleviate these coordination and payment problems by simplifying processes and reducing transaction costs.

2. Take Advantage of Streamlined Controlling Processes
Successful online marketing requires comprehensive reporting and controlling consisting of Web Analytics, SEO Tools, and Social Media Monitoring. Which tool is best for each task? How do platforms available scale in terms of international campaigns? Is the data produced by one comparable to another? Agencies, with vast amounts of experience in project management, are able to better decipher and navigate through these topics, and can recommend with confidence the right solution or tool that best fits the needs of online marketing campaigns both at the local and global levels. This can be a real time-saver for a busy Marketing Manager, as well as ensure that reports and KPIs are comparable across all markets and target groups.

3. Minimize Risk and Loss
Personnel changes can be devastating for a company—and especially so when that person has extensive knowledge and training for a particular process or field. This situation also extends to online marketing know-how, and can be especially poignant for Asian markets. In this region, it is common for young employees to stay with a company for less than two years. Costs to replace people leaving are thus extremely high, in terms of re-training as well as time and progress lost that cannot be recuperated. Additionally, if that person is the only online marketing person in that region, all of the knowledge, planning, and execution disappear with that person—sometimes even passwords and accounts.

4. Capitalize on Organized Project Coordination
For international projects, the advantages of working with an international online marketing agency quickly become apparent when discussing project coordination and simultaneous international launches. This includes keeping in touch between a company’s HQ and its branches around the world, as well as with various media and service providers. An agency, in coordination with its subsidiaries and partners, sees to it that the entire project is planned in advance, and that all pieces are moving in unison towards those KPIs and goals. In this way, success is easy to measure against pre-determined targets, and differences in attainment can be looked at with comparable data and processes.

The Marketing Manager and Agency—A Symbiotic Relationship
By working with an agency, a Marketing Manager can save a lot of labor and time in dealing with different online and offline endeavors. However, it is critical to note that an agency cannot and should not replace the Marketing Manager, but rather they should work in tandem to deliver the best results possible. An agency allows the Marketing Manager to focus on developing the right marketing strategy and moving forward, rather than being tied into time- and energy-intensive tasks such as provider search, communications, campaign maintenance, controlling, press relations, etc.

Partnering with an international online marketing agency is a strategic move for companies looking to expand their reach to new, and to get the most out of existing markets in a cost-effective and streamlined manner.