Creating a “Local Service Layer” — To Build or To Buy?

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BrUw0 2This is the third in a series of articles about the “Local Service Layer,” sponsored by Surefire Social, focused on tools and best practices for brands evolving a national-to-local strategy.

The marketing industry is awash in tools, creating a complex and frustrating landscape for brand marketers to navigate. But in certain categories where the rate of innovation continues to accelerate, the vendor ecosystem can provide brands with an important hedge against an increasingly complex future.

Consider the “Local Service Layer,” an emerging part of the marketing stack that helps brands use their massive network of stores and employees to connect with consumers in unprecedented ways. A bevy of new technologies offer marketers software that provides the business rules, analytics, and automation necessary to create a controlled, flexible and scalable national-to-local strategy. But what’s the best way to execute on that? It’s the age-old question of “build or buy.”

Screen Shot 2014-11-10 at 1.43.19 PMUnderstanding the need for national-to-local

The growth of the national-to-local category has emerged as the role of the brand marketer has changed, from gatekeeper to facilitator. Digital networks now allow consumers, employees and others to share information directly with each other, sidestepping the reach of the more centrally-controlled communication channels and filters such as television that have dominated for a half century. The brand emerges from the bottom up as consumers share their experiences with a product or an interaction with a local sales staff, agent or customer service representative.

That’s why the Local Service Layer is so important. Marketers can use cloud software to empower local affiliates to evangelize the brand in a controlled environment while using data to localize messaging in an automated way. And while technology undoubtedly plays a central role in a successful national local play, marketers also need to ensure they institute the right tactics and guidelines to make sure those tools are used correctly.

The question of “buy or build” is everywhere in technology, and for something as important as brand integrity, it is paramount to making the right choice.  Here we outline the pros and cons of building or buying and offer some insight into each one’s role in the local service layer.

Build-your-own “Local Service Layer”

Developing a local service layer in-house can provide brands with a unique level of customization and integration but it also asks brands to make big bets on a still-evolving technology stack.

Maybe the most valuable aspect of creating a proprietary local service layer is in integrating with internal data management systems. These internal data — information about everything from inventory to employees — offer national marketers a unique resource to tailor messaging in local markets and better monitor the goings-on of their local affiliates.

Often, these systems are deeply entrenched in legacy processes and difficult to integrate with emerging, evolving third-party software. A custom local service layer could build around these nuances and ensure that data flows seamlessly — and safely — from operations to marketing and back.

Buy your way in

The buy-build dilemma often comes down to a critical question: How long will the technology last? In a fast-moving category such as national-to-local, the rate of innovation may pose a risk for brands that want to develop a product internally.

The flexibility of cloud-based software also solves many of the problems traditionally associated with working with a vendor. Since the software is run remotely, vendors can easily customize — and even swap out — individual applications on a case by case basis.

The “buy” option has much undeniable appeal. Often, solutions are open source, which reduces limitations on the ability to integrate with and incorporate tools and platforms, including all major platforms. Third-party providers also bring a default set of services to fully run the publishing, dashboards and internal work-flow.

Key considerations in “buy” versus “build” in the Local Service Layer include:

  1. Costs associated with integration and upkeep
  2. Frequency of platform updates

Most importantly, marketers need to recognize that these technologies are tools. Without the right guidance, brand marketers face an uphill battle in executing a strategy that requires deep expertise which goes well-beyond the application layer.

The secret to the Local Service Layer: People

In developing a local service layer, brands face a unique software challenge — people. Unlike other brand-centered products, national-to-local software is used across an organization by hundreds — if not thousands — of employees, many of whom are not marketers in the traditional sense.

In order to succeed, brands need to put in place structures and systems that ensure the software is used correctly — and used at all. In the next article, we will lay out how to empower local representatives via cloud-based solutions through a plan of education, adoption and engagement.

The Full Local Service Layer

This series explores aspects of this strategy, helping marketers and solution providers understand how it works and how to put it into action.

Read the full series here!