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Over the past five years, I’ve heard lots of Chief Marketing Officers, analyst firms and marketing consultants advocating for a centralized digital marketing team.  At first this sounds like a great idea.  Everything is shifting to digital marketing.  So why not build a “Center of Excellence” staffed with your most skilled marketers?  You could assemble all the experts in online advertising; search engine optimization; paid search; email marketing; webinars; social media; and website technology in one killer team.  But implementing this model effectively is more challenging than you would think.

Specifically, how do you segment responsibilities between a centralized digital marketing team and the other groups such as field marketing, marketing operations and corporate communications.  What should be centralized versus de-centralized?  Who owns the budget and vendor selection?  Even issues such as who pushes the button on email sends can be challenging to decide upon.

Here are some questions to consider before you embark on reorganizing with a centralized digital marketing team:

  1. What about the Rest of the Team? –  If you are a global company you probably have regional/field marketing teams in Europe, Asia Pacific, North and South America.  Does the creation of a centralized digital team imply that everyone is else is NOT expected to be skilled in digital marketing?  And if not, what are they experts in?  Analog Marketing?  Direct Mail? Tradeshows? Print and television advertising? Sales Tools?  Why would anyone with ambitions of being employed more than five years from now want to specialize in the non-digital areas?  And what is the role of a field marketing organization when there is a Digital Center of Excellence?
  2. How will the Team be Staffed? – Are you going to take the best digital marketers from the existing marketing organizations to build it?  Or will you build the team with new outside talent?  Few companies have the budget for building a whole new team.  But pulling the digital talent from the regional marketing teams isn’t going to be easy either.  Try stealing away the Marketo-guru from your VP of North America Field Marketing who invested countless hours to recruit and retain her over the past few years. And once the team is built, will it be viewed as “the place to be” with the most advancement and training opportunities?  If so, will there be a stampede of talent seeking to go from the field marketing teams into the digital group?
  3. How will it the Team be Staffed Internationally? – Is the digital marketing team all located in the same physical location or geographic region?  If the digital team is all in the US, how do you support Europe and Asia?  What hours will they work?  What happens to the hard-core digital marketer your Director of Japan Marketing hired a few months ago to support the local business?  Should that person be moved into the global digital marketing team?  If so, that creates a challenging management situation.  Now you have a non-native English speaker in Japan reporting to someone 12-14 time zones away in the US.  Every time the Japan team needs a digital marketing program they will have to set up a call with the headquarters function to discuss their needs?  This seems a bit bureaucratic when they could simply walk down the hall to have a conversation in Japanese.
  4. Who owns the Budget? – Will the digital marketing team control the budget for your Google AdWords spend?  Your website development agencies?  Your search engine optimization agencies?  Your marketing automation tools?  Some of these spend categories benefit from centralization, but others are inherently challenging.  Suppose, for example, the regional US marketing team wants a new microsite and paid search campaign to support its financial services sales organization.  They request budget and resource from digital marketing, who responds that they are “maxed-out” on budget for Q1, but would be happy to support it in Q3.  The VP of Sales wants the initiative now and is not willing to wait until Q3.  Is the regional US team empowered to hire an outside digital agency?  If so, does the digital marketing team supervise the agency?
  5. What about Local Market and Language Support? – Will the digital marketing team be staffed to support the various countries in Europe, Asia and South America with local resources?  For example, what happens when your German team wants to boost paid and organic search for particular keywords?   Who runs the vendor selection process for a local SEO agency in Germany?  Does the digital marketing team speak German?  Do they know the vendor landscape?  Alternatively, what happens when the Brazilian team wants an updated website?  Will the digital marketing team (who has no Portuguese-speakers on it) develop the new site?  Will they manage (remotely in San Francisco) a digital agency in Sao Paolo to build the site?
  6. Who Controls the Technology? – Who has rights and access to the various marketing systems?  Does the field marketing team need to put a request into the digital team for each website update? Or do they have rights to self-publish content?  Who can raise or lower bids on paid search or banner advertising platforms?  Who has rights to Eloqua/Marketo?  Does the digital team need to get involved every time you need a landing page created or an email developed?  Centralized control over online advertising, web content management systems and marketing automation platforms reduces risk.  However, it significantly slows down the pace of the marketing organization and adds considerable overhead to business processes.
Steve Keifer

Steve Keifer has led marketing and product management teams at seven different SaaS and cloud providers ranging from venture-backed, early-stage startups to multi-billion, publicly traded companies - including several that experienced hypergrowth, filed IPOs, and reached unicorn status. In Bantrr, Steve shares many of the best practices and lessons learned from building and scaling marketing organizations. Topics include new category creation, brand development, and demand generation.

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