Marc Grabowski, COO of Nanigans recently posted an article touting the benefits of a self-service model for trading desks. Grabowski claimed the benefits associated with self-service trading desks include: cost savings, data protection, speed to market, creation of core expertise for your brand, and consistency of account teams. All these benefits may be achieved through self-service, but full service offerings also offer a number of similar benefits.
To consider how full service stacks up against self-service trading desk models, we first need to define what full service means. Let’s consider full service to be services sufficient to manage and optimize a programmatic campaign such that only an IO is required from the client. These services include development of the technology platform and both technical integration and a business arrangement with any third parties that may be part of the solution. The benefits of full service are highly dependent on the provider, but we will attempt to analyze the benefits of the general approach rather than the advantages of any specific provider.
Expertise Core to Your Brand
Of course, the in-house operators of a full service provider will be experts in operating the system, but expert operators can be hired or developed in other enterprises as well. The real benefit of full service, in-house operations is that the operators are part of the organization that built and maintains the platform. In-house operators have two distinct advantages. First, they have influence over development resources to build and deploy special features and sometimes they have the ability to implement their own special features. Second, they have access to deep and direct support that can range from custom data loads to exclusive access to features under development.
If you are a brand marketer, your expertise is your brand and its products or services. You need to know who your audience is, what they want, and how to speak to them. If you are an agency serving brand marketers, your core expertise is strategy, creative, tactical allocation of budget, and selection of the best experts. You need to know the best uses of every channel and how to coordinate campaigns across channels. Neither marketers nor their agencies need to know the technical ins and outs of executing campaigns in every channel. Both marketers and agencies can and should delegate channel execution to specialists.
Protect Your Data
You should definitely protect your data, and this doesn’t change whether you choose outsourcing or self-service. The other thing that doesn’t change is the need for your partner, SaaS or full service provider, to access your data in the performance of their duties. If you can find a way to protect your data contractually while allowing your partner access to it, everyone will be more productive and your campaign will perform better.
Before assuming that self-service will reduce costs, marketers and agencies should explore the real costs of managing campaigns in-house. My company, ChoiceStream, has chosen to use partners for many aspects of its’ business. We did this because it is both expedient and cost effective. In fact, we pay at least one partner because their efficiencies of scale far exceed the margin they extract from our business.
Consistency of Account Teams
Consistency of account teams is a function of the job market and the pure joy of working with a company. It is hard to say whether self-service providers or vendors have a better chance of retaining any given employee. It can certainly be argued that employees may find more opportunity for advancement and more recognition at a company where their job is the primary function of the company. Since this can be said of both self-service users and vendors, we should probably call this one a draw.
Speed to Market
Most responses to a market requirement depend on at least some enhancement or alteration of the underlying technical platform. Unless they have built their own platform, all self-service practitioners will find that they are no more able to influence the feature set of their platform because they are serving themselves. In fact, since they have contracted for use of the service and deliver of campaigns or whole classes of campaigns is the responsibility of the self-service client, they may have less influence over a feature than a client who can offer more campaigns to run when the feature is complete.
“Penny wise and dollar foolish,” is just another way of saying that paying premium prices for premium services is often the wisest course of action. Full service programmatic media buyers enjoy some practical advantages. They are experts who specialize in programmatic media buying, who have invested the thought, capital, and energy to figure out and implement an optimal approach, and who have honed that approach over and over on a wide variety of campaigns. They have the scale to make many refinements and engage in many practices that brands could never undertake. Full service providers have refined their platforms as they use them over time, and they have refined their practices to mesh with the platform. Full service programmatic media buyers leverage these advantages and often deliver better ROI than a brand or agency could do using the platform themselves. When the ROI is better, the cost is less important.
Self-service and full service do not need to be mutually exclusive. One approach is to self-serve campaigns that align with internal expertise and recruit partners to help with campaigns that require their specialized expertise. Ultimately, the decision between self-service and full service should come down to one of economics: deciding which approach delivers the best, most consistent ROI. Make sure you understand the differences so that your campaigns truly reap the benefits.