Outsourcing is the mode du jour for businesses. While budgets and staffing decline, in the quest for economic turn-around the need to manage assets and leverage them to support sales efforts increases. No stranger to the rise and fall of marketing budgets, Leopard, a business-to-business marketing communications services provider, saw a need for outsourcing the digital asset management that effective marketing mandates. Serving as an outsourced marcom provider for over 20 years to technology-centric clients like IBM, Sun Microsystems, and JD Edwards, the company frequently found itself in the position of actually having to create technologies to better deliver marketing messages. Thus, it added technology services or "business process outsourcing" to its traditional role as developer and deliverer of marketing strategies. "As an agency," says company CEO Sherri Leopard, "we've got to help our clients survive so we can survive."
As Leopard describes it, "We started out as a B2B marcom agency and clients came to us with the pain they had over having created all of these assets, but that they haven't been able get it into the hands of the people that need them, like their sales force." In an effort to ease this pain, the agency developed its Leopard em "technology for marketers by marketers."
Leopard em (em stands for electronic marcom management and measurement) is a hosted, Web-based application that enables companies to manage marcom assets—including high-resolution imagery and design guidelines , presentations, white papers, and print-on-demand PDFs—and then leverage metrics to track user activity and asset usage. The inaugural version, developed for long-time client IBM Global Services, was released about 15 months ago to manage the companies 1,400 marcom-related digital assets. Along the way, says Leopard, "We found that, while marketing creates these assets, it's really sales that are the primary users of the assets." And "in the B2B world," she notes, "if you can prove you are empowering your sales force, you can justify your budget."
In the recently released second version of Leopard em, the company has taken steps to recognize both the increasingly broad user base of DAM systems—which now includes technical users along with less technical marketing and sales people—by overhauling the user interface. The latest version also seeks to more clearly and effectively demonstrate the ROI of both the DAM system itself and each individual asset through five reports: user usage, asset usage, asset expiration, asset usage rights, new assets via Crystal Clear— all with an underlying DB2 database.
The latest version also increases delivery options for the assets, again recognizing that the sales force will often drive demand. Leopard says, "Sales might be looking for a white paper or other collateral. Then they might want to email it to a customer, they may want to print on demand, they may want to compile—zip and download—several assets and put it all on a CD, or even email a link directly rather than download and attach," all of which are enabled in the latest edition. And, by tracking when these assets are used and delivered, Leopard says marketing professionals have the added benefit of "being able to track what marketing items are being used at which stage of the process so you can better release materials as they are needed."
Leopard, a company of about 65, "doesn't really make a distinction between the agency and application services sides of the business." Leopard says, "What we are seeing in DAM is that it can't stand by itself. It's either becoming part of an enterprise content management solution or the underpinning of a new set of outsourced business processes." In any case, the agency recognizes that its DAM offering must be able to interact with other business processes like CRM and even homegrown applications. This is one reason the product is based on open source (including Apache and XML), though keeping the cost of the product competitive was another.
Both because the Leopard agency doesn't have any plans to be a hosting provider and to provide pricing flexibility as clients' needs grow, they have chosen to partner with IBM's Global Services Web Hosting Group for asset storage. Leopard says this prevents "the need to charge clients just in case" their assets repository grows and allows them instead to increase fees on an as-needed basis.
While she emphasizes that they are not trying to be a software company but rather to be "a business process outsourcer," Leopard does have plans for the growth of its Leopard em DAM offering. "With the first release, the interface felt a lot like our competitors; it was designed for someone application-savvy. In release two, it's as easy as using a browser. And we think that, as we get to release three late next year, we will appeal to a lot of mid-market companies that may only have one person doing their marketing. But we're trying to take this growth slow and do it right." If nothing else, the provision of DAM outsourcing by a marketing communications agency offers a unique spin in a competitive environment and a potentially powerful union of technology and service outsourcing.
"At the end of the day," says Leopard, "agencies have to step up to the fact that it isn't just about creative anymore. We don't believe that, going forward, an agency that doesn't have some kind of platform will be able to provide the service that clients need." (www.leopardem.com)