“Nakae Architects - NE Apartment - Model 01.jpg” by 準建築人手札網站 Forgemind ArchiMedia is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Just as there's no “one size fits all” stack, there is no single right way to build a marketing organization PHOTO: 準建築人手札網站 Forgemind ArchiMedia

Everyone is looking for a simple prescriptive formula to structure and build their marketing organizations in this crazy technology environment we all now inhabit.

I'll be the bearer of bad news: just as there's no “one size fits all” marketing stack, there is no single right way to build a marketing organization. 

Functions Every Marketing Department Needs

That’s the bad news. 

The good news is that over the last year we have seen a number of common reference points in how highly effective marketing teams are evolving their organizations. 

Every marketing organization needs the following functions. These don’t have to be discrete functions. In smaller organizations, one person may be responsible for two or three of these functions. In large organizations you will likely find multiple people performing each function. 

The Strategist: This is the single most important function in marketing. This person sets the goals, defines the strategy, establishes positioning objectives and frames the tactical plan to make sure that marketing’s work meets the company’s overall business objectives.  

One of my concerns at the moment, particularly for startup organizations, is that strategy is being overlooked in the race to acquire leads. While that may provide near-term results, it doesn’t set a company up for long-term success. This topic is worthy of its own article ...  stay tuned.

The Communicator: Once the strategy, positioning goals and tactical plan have been framed, the Communicator steps in to articulate company and product messaging to support all marketing initiatives and ensure that the organization speaks with a single voice.

The Creative: In our increasingly visual world it is essential to have someone who can translate brand goals and positioning into compelling graphic and video imagery.

The Technologist: The Technologist defines the technology roadmap to serve the overall marketing strategy and constructs and manages the marketing technology stack. It's the Technologist who finds and qualifies new technology for the stack, and sometimes, the technologist even develops technology when gaps in the stack are uncovered and no products are available to purchase.

The Operator: The Operator is the hands-on technology magician responsible for implementing and managing the marketing technology in use by the organization.

The Integrator: The Integrator has one of the hardest jobs of all: making all the technology work together. Sometimes this is a simple matter of leveraging a good API, other times it involves writing code. Sometimes it’s just a matter of keeping your fingers crossed and hoping for the best.

The Liaison: In an organization where marketing programs and technology are distributed across team ands geographic locations, the Liaison is the person that makes sure everyone stays in sync and shares experiences and best practices. The Liaison is also responsible for keeping marketing and IT departments aligned and working well together.

The Hunter: The Hunter is responsible for finding, capturing and driving the elusive prospect into the funnel.

The Sales Assistant: The Sales Assistant gently nudges prospects along the path to making a purchase, bringing the right content and accessories to the dressing room in order to encourage a sale.

The Concierge: The Concierge works hard to ensure customers have an exceptional experience with the brand, including meeting any future needs, with the goal of turning customers into lifelong brand advocates.

The Analyst: The Analyst provides insights to help marketing better understand and target prospective customers and refine the marketing programs, campaigns and channels to ensure the best possible outcome.

The Financier: Not always the most popular member of the team, the Financier makes sure budgets are met and allocated properly and that key financial metrics such as COA and CLTV are met. The Financier is the gatekeeper when it comes to new technology purchases and funding program initiatives.

The Coordinator: The Coordinator keeps everyone organized, ensures deadlines are met and that the cadence of programs, content and campaigns makes sense across the organization.

The Futurist: Every organization needs a futurist, and I’m pretty sure that most organizations already have one. The futurist is the frequently annoying member of the team who seems to know about the latest cutting edge technology and marketing trends. They are often accused of chasing the new shiny object and are generally asking for resources and money to try new things — sound familiar?  

As annoying as the Futurist can be, it’s essential to have someone in that role to help drive innovation and out of the box thinking.  

Marketing Organizational Structure: Two Approaches

Marketing organizational structures fall into two camps: distributed and centralized.

A distributed environment may include a number of discrete teams defined by product line, specific marketing function (e.g. lead generation) or geographic location that operate as independent marketing units, each with their own marketing objectives. 

The advantages of this approach are speed and flexibility. The disadvantages include potential lack of coordination, visibility and disjointed marketing at the corporate level.  

In the last year, we’ve seen companies with this organizational topology increasingly form inter-departmental teams to address issues of coordination and visibility.  

In a centralized environment, one team runs all marketing activities and acquires all marketing technology. This increasingly rare topology is giving way to more of hybrid centralized/distributed model. As companies chase the goal of a unified customer experience, many other departments (HR, Sales, Customer Service) are engaging in marketing activities and acquiring marketing technology, which by default creates a distributed environment — even if that’s not the intent.  

Each end of the spectrum has its own issues, so define a place on the spectrum that works for your organization and then proactively prepare a plan and set of processes to address potential issues around control and visibility.

Terrified of Technology

There are many approaches to how organizations manage their marketing technology. 

We’ve talked to many CMOs with no technology backgrounds, some of whom told us they planned on retiring because they found the complexity of marketing technology too daunting. Others are embracing the challenge and working hard to adjust to a digital world and transform their marketing programs. 

If you are not a technologist, you need one on your team. You could hire a Chief Marketing Technologist to work alongside you, establish a Marketing Operations function and staff it with marketing technology experts, or partner closely with your IT peer to map out a strategy and execution plan — or do all three.  

As companies transition their marketing spend to digital and marketing permeates all departments, a good relationship with IT is essential. Regardless of your organization's size, approach to marketing topology or number of technologists on the marketing team, having a good working relationship with IT is mandatory to map a path to a unified customer experience.

Alignment of Marketing Skills

CMOs now face the challenge of mapping internal skills to the marketing technology plan. The "digital marketing expert” label is no longer meaningful: Implementing a comprehensive marketing technology plan requires a broad base of technology skills. 

An evolving marketing organization needs a clear understanding of the existing technology skills in the organization and the skills needed to move forward. Ask your team members to provide a marketing “skill stack” which showcases their specific technology proficiency. Include details about the technical proficiency needed in any job description for a new position and have hiring managers ask candidates for details about their proficiency.  

The same goes for hiring an agency: when hiring an agency to support a digital marketing effort such as Paid Search, ask specifically what tools they are competently using.  

Finding Talent Beyond Your Organization's Walls

Speaking of agencies, as you think about your organizational structure, remember there’s no mandate to keep every function in house.  

One way to get the full range of skills you need is to hire an agency specialist or freelance talent. Thousands of agencies provide very specialized skills across all marketing categories. You can search any of a number of sophisticated talent marketplace platforms to find freelance talent for key projects

I recently spoke with James Sandoval, founder of MeasureMatch, a platform to connect businesses with analytics and business intelligence experts. Since I’m still struggling to figure out what I need in the analytics function in my own business I was intrigued by the idea that I could source freelance specialists to attack different analytics needs. 

I asked Sandoval for his thoughts about integrating freelance specialists into the organization and properly identifying project requirements. He said that in his experience, 

“Freelancers, because of their contingent nature, generally require extremely clear, prescriptive instructions to ensure success for both parties. Project timelines, deliverables and expectations tend to go off track when these things are vague, missing, not earnestly discussed, not openly challenged and not negotiated early in the freelancer/buyer engagement. 

"A good set of project brief requirements will include a focus on both hands-on execution and end-game output. The hands-on execution elements should be demonstrable and demonstrated, e.g. ask your prospective freelance partner to identify the key steps in the process to addressing your requirements and then ask them to provide a relevant example from another client engagement.”  

Sandoval also shared his thoughts on ensuring success in a freelancer/consultant engagement. 

“Consultants will likely require hands-on access to or influence of systems integration initiatives, data collection tools, analytics or data management software and more. Set your freelance consultants up for success by enabling them to operate flexibly, albeit securely and within a governance structure required by your business. 

"Breaking down projects into clear milestones helps a lot as well. Most analytics and tech consultants have their own personal approaches to getting work done. Try to understand, up front, her/his drivers and confidence levels and provide constructive support, further education and encouragement where possible and appropriate. Finally, make sure that you consider up front the exit transition of the freelancer and the adoption or integration of the freelancer’s work back into the organization to maximize follow-on value creation."

Plan Ahead

In today’s marketing environment talent is everywhere.  As you think about the next steps for your organization:

  • Make sure you have your core functions covered
  • Ensure that you have a technical strategist 
  • Pay attention to the alignment of skills and technology 
  • Leverage agency and freelance support to address gaps, support short term projects and to augment the skills you have in house
  • Define the right organizational topology and processes for your company to ensure productivity, visibility and coordination.

And finally, make friends with IT.