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Rethinking Marketing’s Org Chart in an Omnichannel World


Marketing organizations have been so busy transforming that they’ve barely had time to figure out how to arrange themselves for the future. This opposing logic crystalizes the fluid state of marketing team structures today.

On one hand, “many chief marketing officers are tearing up their org charts,” write Millward Brown Vermeer marketing consultants Marc de Swaan Arons and Frank van den Driest and Unilever Chief Marketing and Communications Officer Keith Weed in their Harvard Business Review article “The Ultimate Marketing Machine.” On the other hand, these coauthors also assert (more than once) that a simple, widely applicable blueprint for the 21st century marketing organizational structure does not exist.

So, what’s a CMO to do when it comes to coordinating the troops to thrive in an increasingly omnichannel environment? Although the exact answer differs by marketing function, two important elements of the solution include creativity and the ability for the executive brain to hold two opposing ideas at the same time.

Let’s get physical—and logical
“To be honest, the big message, and one that we communicate internally, is that our physical org structure is very different from our logical org structure,” says Rick Jackson, CMO of Qlik, a B2B data solutions provider. Both of these organizing principles deliver benefits.

Qlik marketing department’s physical org chart—what you see on paper—is based on traditional marketing functions; what it refers to as centers of excellence: product marketing, solutions marketing, digital marketing, events marketing, content marketing, etc.

From a practical (i.e., logical) perspective, however, the marketing function aligns the bulk of its activities around three go-to-market “streams.” These streams include existing customers, new customers, and enterprise prospects with specific functional or industry-based needs that correspond to specific Qlik product offerings and functionality.

The physical, on-paper org structure is essentially marketing or channel focused. Marketing professionals are assigned to centers of excellence based on the skills and expertise they possess. The logical structure is more customer-centric. This structure brings Qlik’s different marketing experts together to attract and engage prospects and customers regardless of what channel they’re using.

Qlik’s practical structure is a reflection of the marketing industry’s recent ongoing transformation that, similarly, is a shift from a marketing-centric perspective to a customer-centric one. Customers and prospects don’t see channels (a marketing-centric word that 99.9% of customers probably have never uttered in this context). Instead, customers see the company or the brand, period. That’s why banking customers get so dispirited when customer service reps place them on hold before handing them off to another customer service rep within a different internal service line (e.g., personal checking, credit card, business checking). Many, if not most, companies are structured based on how they view their product and service offerings. Similarly, many marketing teams are organized based on how they view the channels through which they interact with customers.

As the need to maintain a consistent message and intimate experience across all channels intensifies, these channel-centric marketing structures aren’t cutting it. But there’s a hitch to reorganizing around the customer: While it’s logical to restructure the marketing function in response to the new omnichannel reality, some aspects of legacy marketing structures still offer highly practical benefits. “Our physical structure is there for a few reasons,” Jackson says. “One is for recruiting. You have specific expertise in each of those [traditional marketing] groups and you always need to bring in more expertise.” It’s easier to attract digital marketers to a digital marketing center of excellence than it is to hire them for an “installed-based, go-to-market stream,” for example.

Restructuring realities
Jackson’s hybrid approach marks just one of several creative new strategies for aligning resources to deliver consistent messages and experiences across more than one channel. Before considering other approaches, it helps to keep the following in mind.

Omnichannel is not yet a reality for everyone: The rise of omnichannel marketing, as well as the structures and talent-management strategies that some companies have created in response, are truly transformative, even inspirational. Motorola’s marketing organization has a marketing SVP who also leads the information technology function; at Unilever, Weed oversees communications and sustainability in addition to marketing. Unilever and Diageo have sent some of their marketing leaders to Facebook for training. Despite these impressive examples, omnichannel marketing structures remain an aspiration for many companies. “Although there has been a lot written about the difference between multichannel and omnichannel, I find that a lot of organizations are just trying to get their head around how to better optimize multiple channels in a more integrated fashion,” Qlik’s Jackson says. “To be honest, right now we’re more focused on integrating across the channels, as opposed to leveraging channels against each other and creating a more optimal experience. We’re still fairly early on in that journey.” Despite that self-assessment, it’s notable that Jackson has seen fit to alter Qlik’s marketing structure to help it progress on this journey.

No rebuilding effort is an island: Knocking down internal
marketing silos requires external assistance, notes Glen Hartman, Accenture Interactive’s global managing director for digital transformation. “As every business becomes a digital business, C-suite executives will need to collaborate to drive successful digital transformation,” Hartman says. “New, emerging roles such as chief digital officer, chief customer officer, and chief experience officer will become integral parts of the digital lineup.” They will also need to be incorporated into new marketing structures in ways that the senior executive team understands and supports.

Restructuring involves a lot more than structure: Breaking down silos, removing traditional marketing functions, and creating new organizational strategies is major work. But restructuring also requires changes to performance measures, compensation structures, and traditional training and leadership development approaches. When asked to identify the most formidable omnichannel-driven restructuring challenges, InsightSquared Director of Marketing Brian Whalley points to skills development. “Consistently challenging and working on our status quo will help us find inefficient processes, or places where we’re not staying on topic,” notes Whalley, whose firm offers business analytics applications. “The only way to challenge our process is to enable the team to explore new techniques and technology.”

An incremental approach
Sometimes, the marketing function can notch genuine restructuring progress with a single hire. Last fall InsightSquared saw a sudden increase in its offer launches and promotions. That was the good news; the bad news was that the surge in work was difficult to handle. “We had several content launches in a row that were not executed well,” Whalley says. During one launch, the marketing team realized it hadn’t written any social media posts or updates, and scrambled to complete those on the morning of the launch.

“There’s no reason to be doing that kind of work the morning of,” Whalley says. “It should have been done thoughtfully and a week in advance of the launch date.”

As a result, Whalley hired a new Web campaigns manager—not only to avoid last-minute social media sprints, but also to help the company adapt to marketing’s expanding sphere of influence. The new campaigns manager has central responsibility for quality and consistency of execution. “Because so many people across groups will work together on a launch or activity, we need to have one person centrally charged with responsibility for it,” Whalley explains. “For each launch, he has ownership of the release process and making sure that we have a consistent message, presentation, and execution.”

A flexible alternative
For a more sweeping approach to restructuring, Millward Brown Vermeer’s de Swaan Arons and van den Driest, and Unilever’s Weed put forth what they describe as an “Orchestrator Model.” In this structure, marketing professionals (and even business partners outside the marketing team—and company) operate on three different short-term task forces: One group is focused on data analytics (the “Think” group); the second is focused on customer engagement (“Feel”); and the third on content and production (“Do”). 

The relative size of each task force flexes up and down depending on the nature and emphasis of the task at hand. For a marketing initiative focused on alleviating customer confusion about bills, one company pulled together a task force to develop a personalized video message to explain the bill. In this case the task force that primarily consisted of customer engagement (about 60% of the team), with assistance from content and production (25%), and a little help from data analytics (15%). A marketing initiative related to personalization, for example, likely would require a team with a much greater data analytics representation.

This flexible task-force approach likely is best suited for marketing functions on the leading edge of omnichannel performance. But it should also serve as a motivating example of what’s possible and necessary. As Forbes marketing columnist Jennifer Rooney recently wrote, “Marketing organizations that aren’t restructuring to meet the demands of 2020…will be left by the wayside.”

The best way to avoid this fate is to get started restructuring by thinking differently, and meshing the traditional with the practical. As writer F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” The same, it seems, holds true for marketing executives wrestling with restructuring today.

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