In September 2014, Mei Lee, Vice President of Marketing-Digital, Conde Nast Entertainment, wrote an article in the Harvard Business Review suggesting that to be a successful digital marketing organisation in the digital age, marketing departments need to be organised by functional expertise rather than by ‘brand, project or platform’.
As organisations radically reorganise their marketing departments in response to today’s increasingly digital world, the challenge lies not just in attracting and developing the array of new skills needed, but in working out how to integrate these skills and shape this new-look team for the future. But Lee’s assertion divides opinion.
No Single Right Answer
Vodafone’s marketing department has teams dedicated to enterprise marketing, consumer marketing, customer insight, strategy and planning, and brand engagement (externally and internally). These teams also work together on broader projects when needed. But Daryl Felding, Director of Brand Marketing at Vodafone, says there is no universally correct answer to function versus brand.
“However you structure an organisation or a department you make compromises,” she says. “The structure should reflect the strategy, so you stand the best chance of achieving the strategy, then you need to put a mechanism in place to cope with the compromises that this creates.”
She believes the functional approach works well at Vodafone for several reasons, including the fact that it has dedicated campaign managers who work across the functional experts to manage execution across the various channels.
“So the answer is, where we need functional experts, we have them, and we have created specific mechanisms to ensure that their expertise does not become detached,” she explains.
Organising Around Channels
Similarly, specialist online retailer Not On The High Street’s marketing department is organised around channel specialisms, and aligns to a funnel marketing approach. In the last 12 months the company has widened the responsibilities and remit of these individual teams so that the focus on existing customers, and customer metrics, are not just the domain of the CRM team.
“We want to build out specialist teams to support our ramp up and broadening of the marketing mix,” says Ben Carter, Global Marketing Director, Not On The High Street. But like Vodafone, the retailer also works collaboratively when necessary.
“We often put together cross-team/department project working groups to deliver on specific campaigns or marketing projects,” Carter says.
The Need For A Broad Understanding
Others take a different approach. Honda’s marketing team has become more centralised over the last two years, and Martin Moll, Head of European Marketing, Honda, says there is no definitive answer to the function versus brand question, believing that marketing teams need to have a very broad understanding of how each campaign works, how its integration through different channels can be optimised, as well as knowing what to measure, and whether targets are being achieved.
“Who does this is less important, it’s more about the business having it covered in its planning and process,” Moll says.
Silos Vs Skill Duplication
The key concern is that a functional approach may lead to too many silos, while working in brand or project teams can mean skills are either duplicated or lacking. Jon Hexter, Marketing Director at logistics management specialist Wincanton, says the company has established a small team of all-round marketers, supported by key specialists in areas such as insight, analytics and PR.
“We have consciously then selected supporting agencies to augment our skills in areas such as digital (for example, SEO and PPC) and social media,” he says.
Hexter believes this approach provides flexibility while maintaining consistency.
The Social Media Conundrum
Social media is one area that continues to confound companies, unsure whether to outsource to those skilled in the art of the medium - but who lack the intimate knowledge of the brand’s culture - or to manage it in-house. Professor Steven van Belleghem, who has worked on customer-centricity with brands including Land Rover and Phillips [and whose latest book, When Digital Becomes Human, is due to be published in April 2015], says that the best approach is to manage social channels in-house. He has also noticed that companies are investing more in their own specialist ‘conversation managers’, which he believes is the right approach.
“The key thing is, can you create a smart, fast and flexible content and conversation strategy? Then looking at your strategy, you can decide what is best based on your resources.”
Carter is of similar mind, with Not On The High Street managing its social media in-house.
“It’s the best way of community management, to ensure a consistent tone of voice and integration with our overarching campaigns,” he says.
Others believe a mix of both is the answer. Honda has an internal social media manager who Moll says leads internal stakeholder management and acts as the link between business activity, goals, priorities and plans.
“However, we have a specific link to a third-party partner, who is closer to the consumer environment, with an understanding of social trends and consumer behaviour, and has creative expertise about how to amplify and what’s strong/what’s not.”
Vodafone also manages social media internally, with content provided by external agencies or partners too, and Felding acknowledges the dilemma.
“Our brand is about strength and substance, and we take the responsibility to provide the network our customers need very seriously; so when we are having some fun in social channels, it can be interpreted as frivolous to anyone who’s trying to resolve a specific account or network issue,” she explains. “We are still learning how to strike this balance, and hence how to skill and deploy our team.”
In-House Or Outsourced?
As new channels continue to develop, organisations are not just faced with meeting current skills demands within marketing, but in anticipating and reacting quickly to emerging and future skills needs. With many companies already struggling to find digital talent, Van Belleghem’s vision is of a networked organisation of freelancers.
“Putting everybody on your payroll makes you slow and less flexible, and in today’s digital world it is key to be fast, agile and responsive in order to be competitive. In my opinion, the only way to succeed is to work with a network of trusted external parties: small, specialised companies or individuals that can help you quickly and efficiently when you need them, but don't drain resources when they are not required.”
The theory makes sense, but of course there is a strong counter-argument. Andrew Ford, VP Marketing & Communications, EMEA, at technology company Pitney Bowes, says it’s essential to think about the opportunity cost.
“Having a network of freelance experts can sound attractive, but more permanent marketing teams allow you to develop a culture, identity and personality,” he says.
Vodafone’s Felding is also unconvinced, asserting that a company can’t build a high performing team with only contractors and freelancers.
“A successful brand only truly comes to life when it’s embedded in the culture of the company,” she argues. “That’s particularly true of one like ours where the customer brand is the company brand. You don’t get that DNA if you contract the whole thing out.”
The debate continues.
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