The CMO’s Guide to Digital Marketing Organization Structures
Digital is everywhere. As a result, the pressure on leadership is increasing to redesign the marketing organization structure towards more customer centricity, customer experiences, data driven and personal marketing.
Marketing leadership is reacting by investing in new concepts such as content marketing, inbound marketing, marketing automation and (big) data marketing. But without the right organization, any of these new concepts is set for failure.
But today’s modern marketing organization is complex, and requires purposeful planning and a combination of talent, technology, and consumer insights in order to have a positive impact on the company’s bottom line.
In this blog post, I want to explore how you can structure your marketing organization, and answer the following questions:
- what skill-sets and profiles do you need?
- what organization structure do you need?
- what new functions and teams do you need?
- how will departments work together in new agile ways?
- how do you structure for content marketing?
- how do you organize for agile marketing operations?
I have been long wanting to write this blog post.
But writing it turned out to take longer than I first anticipated. Designing or re-designing a marketing organization for digital has so many aspects to it, that in the end this blog post has become a big long-read of close to 3000 words.
But if you want to know what elements come into play when rethinking your organization, I seriously hope that I have given you a couple of clues on how to do this.
Typical organization structures
Before we dive into digital marketing organization structures, it’s interesting to see how the role of marketing can be positioned within a company.
Often organizations are structured by brand, by product line, by geography, by business unit, by project or by platform (e-commerce platform, web-team, social team, …).
There are a couple of ways organization can be structured:
- Functional organization structure: One of the most common types of organizational structures, the functional structure departmentalizes an organization based on common job functions. So, for example, an organization with a functional structure would group all of the marketers together in one department, group all of the salespeople together in a separate department, and group all of the customer service people together in a third department.
- Divisional: Product-Based Org Structure : You can think of a divisional organizational structure as a structure that’s comprised of multiple, smaller functional structures (i.e. each division within a divisional structure can have its own marketing team, its own sales team, etc.).
- Market-Based Org Structure: The divisions of an organization are based around markets, industries, or customer types.
- Geographical Org Structure: The divisions of a geographical structure can include territories, regions, or districts.
- Process based Org structure: divisions are organized around the main processes, like customer acquisition, order fullfillment, logistics, etc.
- Matrix org structure: all employees have dual reporting relationships. Typically, there is a functional reporting line as well as a product- based reporting line.
There’s nothing bad about any of these models, it just depends on your business. But any of these models have some pro’s and con’s to them:
Current Challenges of Marketing Organizations
The core challenge is that organizations need to move from product centric to customer centric. This requires evangelization and adoption of new customer centric thinking in all departments. And this alone is for sure a struggle.
Departments are used to only think and work on one single element of the customer journey. Sales does sales. Logistics does logistics. Projects do projects. And customer service does customers service.
These are the much talked about silo’s within organizations.
But in a digital world, where customer have all the power, marketing must think of ways to bring one customer experience along the complete customer journey. Customers expect sales to know about customer service. And customers expect customer service to solve sales issues. Systems, processes and the organization in general must be changed to answer to these challenges.
Not only are you challenged by current operations, the biggest change inhibitors are bigger than marketing:
- Getting C-level buy-in: the magnitude and complexity of the challenges for marketing managers makes it difficult for them to formulate the change that is required. What is our vision and strategy ? What tactics will we use? What team do we need? What budget do we need? What technology do we need? What will be the return?
- Bridging silo’s: marketing is in the driving seat for many changes ahead driven by the digital world we live in. Extra responsibilities that used to live outside the marketing team are suddenly part of your responsibility. Think of digital customer experience, social selling, employee ambassadorship, post-sales customer experiences, etc. The big challenge is in organizing or orchestrating this on a company wide level to get a seamless digital customer journey experience. This is where you bump into budget allocations issues, governance and politics. You are suddenly responsible to bridge the departmental silo’s.
- Closing the skills-gap: How are you going to close the skills gap to introduce new skill-sets that understand buyer centricity, content and inbound marketing, marketing automation technology, digital media and content & conversion optimization. How are you going to organize yourself to continuously publish relevant online content, aligned along the digital customer journey, using data triggers and behavior of customers that trigger marketing and sales actions?
- Activating employees: Attracting and engaging new and existing customers is done through relevant and in-depth content and stories that are locked in the heads of employees. How are you going to activate these employees which are scattered throughout the organization, employees that have different priorities (marketing is not my job!), and which are no writers or storytellers, and god forbid, sharing and education is not part of the company culture.
Within this challenging environment, the question is how should you structure your marketing organization?
Structuring your digital marketing organization
Designing a modern digital marketing organization is a complex question, with a complex answer, as it depends on your particular situation. Are you in B2B or in B2C? Are you selling online, directly to end-users, or via channels? In what type of business are you, retail or e-commerce? Or maybe even both?
So depending on your business environment, you’ll structure differently.
But here are a couple of things that can help you to overthink your modern digital marketing organization structure:
- Organize along the business strategy
- Organize by functional expertise
- Organize along the customer journey
- Introduce T-profiled marketers
- Introduce new functions
- Introduce agile marketing operations
- Introduce content marketing operations
Let’s dive into the details….
The first element that influences how you should organize for digital marketing or digital in general, is related to your business strategy.
If you are in e-commerce, you most probably will focus on demand generation and conversion. If you are a SaaS company (software-as-a-service), you might be focusing on freemium contact conversion and lead nurturing. E-commerce types of businesses will require more resources to be put on demand generation and conversion. Or if you are a high-tech B2B company, you might want to focus on building trust through a content strategy.
In most organization you will have a mix of business strategies. You might be a retailer, that also does e-commerce. Or a B2B company that does direct and indirect business.
The trick here is to put more resources on the parts of the marketing team that drive the business strategy:
- if demand generation is important, you’ll need to put more people on demand, rather than on product marketing.
- if existing customers are important, you put more people on customer marketing, data analytics, and content strategy.
- if customer experience is important, you’ll put more resources on Customer Experience design, testing, analytics and insight.
- and so on.
You can further organize by geography or sales team, which depends again on your global marketing organization structure. But you get the idea.
Organize by functional expertise
The backbone of a strong marketing organization starts with acumen, in different fields. Take a look at this list to determine if you need to fill in any expertise gaps:
- Insights & Analytics: function providing market, customer, product, and channel insights across marketing and sales to drive analytically based decision making.
- Customer Experience & Marketing Innovation: Function responsible for identifying customer segments, customer experience strategies, and customer-focused marketing innovation to advocate for “customer-first” marketing.
- Marketing Strategy & Planning: Function responsible for setting marketing strategy, annual marketing plan and budgets, and high-level campaign calendar based on prioritization.
- Marketing Operations: Marketing execution arm providing cross-functional program management, agency management, marketing tools management, process excellence, print and fulfillment, and reporting.
- Marketing technology: the increasing technical complexity of digital marketing requires someone understanding both marketing as well as marketing technology.
An easy model to understand the different functional expertise needed was brought by an article in HBR from August 2014, from Marc de Swaan Arons, Frank van den Driest, and Keith Weed.
Organize along the customer journey
Give your broadcast team a problem to solve and the solution will be a TV spot. Give that same brief to your SEO guy and he’ll do it with AdWords and metadata.
That’s natural behavior, but it reinforces silos. Within a silo, your digital marketing team can only do so much as it is able to control.
The main message I’m trying to bring across is to avoid organizing your marketing department into teams per channel like PR or offline advertising or digital marketing.
Better is to work with an organizational structure (teams, divisions, program teams, project teams) in which a “hub person” takes the lead. Sometimes this is also referred to as integrated campaign or program planning. They take a project brief and turn it into the best possible solution in which tasks are performed by different disciplines. “Hub people” have a very wide understanding of all possible go-to-market strategies, (digital) marketing tactics, internal business system and related data, and digital possibilities.
Hub people are hard to find. They need broad experience and an impartial approach to life but the result is golden. Different disciplines work as an integrated project team. No more treating below-the-line as poor performing to mass media; no more SEO guys feeling they’re second to creative.
The need for T-profiled marketers
A concept championed by global design consultancy IDEO’s Tim Brown, the T-shaped individual has “a depth of skill that allows them to contribute” as well as “the disposition for collaboration across disciplines.”
He describes individuals and generalists as follows:
- I-shaped individuals, who may be rock stars in their expertise, haven’t build basic competence across disciplines. As a result, they need to stay in their expertise or risk the failure to deliver value when move outside their comfort zone. They also have a hard time building value in a team environment.
- Generalists (T’s without legs to stand on) don’t earn respect from experts, and that means lack of support and pushback on initiatives.
What you need to build into your organization are T-shaped individuals. These people can tackle diverse projects with creativity and agility while maintaining high effectiveness – because they know enough to implement the knowledge of experts and know when to bring them to the table.
New functions every modern marketing department will need
Digital marketing transformation is about culture, processes, technology, but most certainly also about organization.
Depending on your company size, company set-up (business units, teams, regions and countries), internal structure and maybe internal politics, you’ll need new roles of people that do different things.
These new roles understand that constant interaction with different roles in the organization are required. They have an open mindset to new ideas, and think broader than marketing. Experimentation, optimization, measuring and constant change are natural and fun to them. Because digital marketing requires constant self-education, internal sharing of knowledge, and internal discussions on new concepts and new trends.
Classic marketers might struggle with the digital mindset of agility, experimentation and analytics. And I am almost sure that not all of them will be able to make the transition. Maybe that’s not necessary. But I am sure that a couple of new roles will need to find it’s place in your organization:
- Chief Content Manager: smaller or large organization will always need someone driving the content marketing strategy building, and pushing for execution, challenging the quality of the output.
- Content Program manager: in larger organization you’ll need a role that support the chief content manager in developing and executing different content programs that are part of the overall content marketing strategy.
- Marketing Technologist: marketing is becoming increasingly an environment where marketers have to deal with more an more technology. Marketing technology is key in a world where customers demand instant gratification and 24 hour service. You’ll need a new role that takes on the overall management of all marketing technology, and plots the vision.
- Online digital copy: digital marketing requires creating a lot of small content assets and micro-copy. Think of landing pages, emails, SEO and SEA micro-copy, memes & graphs. I don’t think this is a role you would want to outsource. That role needs to be internal, so you can move fast and adapt quickly.
- Digital optimizer: digital marketing is about constantly adapting to new search algorithms, testing, and continuous optimization. This role is about bringing in digital optimization into the processes of content asset creation, publishing and maintenance.
- Head of digital: the entire digital environment comprises of search, social, content, tools, apps, websites, internal and external applications, etc. It’s big. You’ll need someone that keeps an eye on the overall digital customer experience, and driving horizontal connections between all digital initiatives, applications and channels.
- Digital communication: if you want to be successful in digital marketing, everyone needs to understand the quality levels required in the digital space. This requires excellence from people in creating, publishing, distributing and promoting digital content across all communication channels.
Agile marketing operations
The topic of agile marketing is not new. Lots of marketers assume that they’re already “doing” agile marketing because they tweak their social media plans every once in a while, or because they test landing pages or email campaigns and make changes based on the results.
At its core, agile marketing is simply another method by which a marketing team communicates the value of their product/service to consumers, with the goal of earning a purchase from those consumers.
But it distinguishes itself from other marketing strategies by focusing on short term goals whose validity can be tested with hard data and continually revised.
Every agile marketing team will also look a little different. The kinds of skills you’ll need represented will vary depending on your product and market, but you’re almost certainly going to need people who can do the following:
- Create email campaigns, including A/B tests, and track their effectiveness;
- Optimize profiles, interact on, and monitor social media channels;
- Create, optimize, and test online advertising campaigns, including ads on social media sites as appropriate, and create landing pages for these ads;
- Make changes to whatever website you’re using for marketing to test consumer behavior and marketing messages;
- Confidently draw conclusions about website behavior using Google analytics or another analytics system;
- Write, edit and distribute content;
- Spearhead in-person marketing efforts like trade shows, conferences, sponsorships, etc.;
- Oversee off-line advertising efforts, such as radio and TV ads.
Possible content marketing department structures
Content operations are a key component of modern marketing organizations. For many companies this is an entirely new field they have to learn, as they are used to focussing on the brand, products and selling.
Content operations are about organizing for content marketing, inbound marketing, customer centric thinking and real-time marketing tactics such as news jacking.
The most common ways to organize for content marketing are the following:
- Content team: a team 100% dedicated to producing content across all digital channels. The team reports to a senior executive who is responsible for content.
- Part of another department: Content production is part of another department, like advertising, PR, or marketing, with limited or no dedicated content staff.
- In-house agency: Team that produces creative in-house across all online and offline channels. Works like an agency with a traditional brief or form.
- Outsourced: Small in-house team of strategy leaders that manage and oversee outside content resources, like agencies, freelancers or production houses.
- News-room: A cross-functional team that leverages social, search and other audience data to drive content production across multiple channels in real time.
- Channel Teams: Channel specialists (email, social, web, mobile, etc.) working in different departments, reporting to different senior executives.
Getting organized for digital is a complex task. But it is a responsibility of modern CMO’s that want to reap the benefits of digital, while remaining competitive.
No-matter how you organize, exploring new concepts like inbound marketing, content marketing, marketing automation or data-marketing will force you to rethink your organization.
I hope this blog post has inspired you where to start.
I am very much interested in learning how you are organizing your organization for digital marketing transformation. So please let me know in the comments!
Tom De Baere
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P.P.S. Other blog posts about this subject on this blog :
- How to become a digital marketing organization?
- 5 Big Fundamentals of Digital Marketing Transformation
- Organizing for Content: A Detailed Overview