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Centralized versus Decentralized: Marketing’s Ongoing Debate

By Marc Brown | July 17, 2018 | 1 Comment

MarketingMarketing Organization and OperationsMarketing Strategy and Innovation

Marketing leaders face an ongoing dilemma regarding the creation of the ‘optimal’ marketing team structure. Centralizing or decentralizing marketing has been under debate for years. But as marketers face ever-increasing pressure to deliver more to the business – higher ROI, improved efficiency, and growth – team design has once again become a very hot topic.

In my opinion, it’s time for us to move away from this pendular debate. It’s unhelpful, muddles the conversation, and orients to many marketing leaders to think in “either/or” terms. What they need to understand is that modern marketing organizations require a “both/and” approach.

(Source: Kirstyn Paynter via Unsplash)

(Source: Kirstyn Paynter via Unsplash)

Having the right organizational design, utilizing both models, is the key to delivering strong marketing results, balancing control and governance with agility and creativity. Both models have their strengths and weaknesses. Overly centralized teams can’t deliver the domain expertise and responsiveness that most organizations need or desire. Overly decentralized teams have the opposite problem, delivering plenty of domain expertise, agility, and responsiveness, but struggle to deliver consistency across its brand, information sources, and analytic models.

Unfortunately, there is not one model suited for everyone.

Org design is and always will need to be tailored to meet the needs of individual organizations. The model your team requires is likely to be different from others given your corporate goals, organization structure, culture, and staff. But, there are some conventions and best practices to help you optimize your design.

Here are a few suggestions to help you kick-start your optimizations:

  1. Discuss and determine what your marketing’s primary role is – driving revenue, delivering a consistent brand, delivering leads, etc. You need to understand what is expected of marketing. Your answers will dictate your structure, helping define where tighter control is needed, where more agility is required, and so on.
  2. With your marketing role defined, create a tiered organizational model with centralized and decentralized teams working collaboratively in support of marketing’s overall mission, associating each unique marketing function to its preferred model. If you are:
    • Being tasked with growth and customer acquisition with a diverse portfolio, you should decentralize your campaign function into their respective business units.
    • Being tasked with CX and brand, centralize those functions, ensuring tight control and efficiency.
    • Being tasked with a complete rebranding, due to a merger, centralize the team, all functions, for a period of time until the new brand, offers, value propositions, and GTM strategy are understood. You can then decentralize elements to kick-start leads.
    • Being task with ….
  3. With your organizational model defined, prioritize and assign the work across the business, providing clarity and focus for each team, including jurisdiction rules.

If you have been tasked with improving your marketing team structure, keep in mind the “both/and” model. You can also reference the following Gartner research notes (Gartner subscription required):

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  • We had both/and as the primary structure for marketing at Whole Foods for years. It’s funny though…people thought we were nuts at the time. Hindsight, huh?