Organizational options in digital marketing

Next to the job description, the second most important document for me in the executive recruitment process is the organizational chart of the marketing department. As you can imagine, after 27 years in executive search, I’ve pretty much seen it all- from highly hierarchical to super flat. I even remember one digital marketing organizational structure I worked with where project leaders ruled the day- no titles, no departments, no departmental leaders, just teams all reporting up to a President.

With digital marketing ushering in an era of rapid transformation for businesses, the digital marketing organizational structure must evolve along with it. A number of research and advisory firms, mostly notably Forrester, argue for marketing structures that are less product or channel-focused and more customer centric, and indeed, a number of my clients have moved in that direction.  The other big change I see:  One way lines between the marketing leader and functional team heads have been supplanted by lots of two way arrows going back and forth as the shift to digital tears down silos. Everyone, and everything, is integrated and interconnected. Beyond that, organizational charts are truly reflections of the organization’s culture- some are organized around product, some around content, while others put design and creative at the center of the universe.

I thought it might be informative to share some of the different types of digital marketing organizational structure I’ve recently encountered- and in one case helped design- as clients continue to transform their businesses and make room for new digital leaders in Marketing and Marketing Operations:

-In this first example org chart, a Vice President oversees both Marketing as well as Operations.  Direct reports include a Director of Customer Insight (or Market Intelligence, Customer Intelligence, or any number of similar titles), and a Product Director assigned specifically to the Web, with the various digital specialties like social, email, search and even web development, reporting up.  A separate VP of Product Marketing oversees a team of product managers assigned to products that are sold and marketed via offline channels, such as field sales and trade shows. In this particular digital marketing organizational structure, product is king. As the product mix grows, the idea is that additional product managers can easily be slipped into the org chart. Marketing operations is tasked with optimizing the customer experience.

– This next client showed me an org chart that was very flat- not unusual for smaller organizations like theirs that often don’t put a lot of emphasis on position titles.  Here, the responsibilities of the VP of Marketing are wide and varied, ranging from video production to training. If my memory serves me right, I believe there were something like 8 or 9  department heads reporting up to the marketing Veep. I recommended they carve it up into two groups, each run by a Director. But there was no mistake: This was a marketing driven-company all the way. Even warehouse workers and finance were considered “extended” members of the marketing team. I see structures similar to this often.

-In contrast, for another marketing group I recently worked with, and also played a hand in re-structuring, we decided to put the organizational focus on the customer journey, with department heads leading each of the stages including awareness-based branding, lead generation and conversion. After much analysis, we all reached the conclusion that this was the most optimal org chart for their specific go-to market strategy, and it also aligned very well with the CEO’s cultural vision. Knowing how much easier it is to retain existing customers than it is to acquire new ones, for this particular situation I recommended a stand-alone customer retention team, which they adopted. Marketing Operations serves a support function across the enterprise.

-Yet another client aligned their marketing team to spotlight content and contextual marketing. So much so, that only one of the three directors reporting to the VP of Marketing manages something other than demand generation or content (in this case, it was product marketing). In this structure, content is the internal “agency” and all other marketing departments are its clients.

There are countless types of digital marketing organizational structures that exist for digital marketing and ecommerce-focused businesses. From an executive search perspective, it’s not so much which boxes are on the chart or where they’re positioned that matters, but rather, that each box has clearly defined roles and responsibilities, so that taken together, all marketing team members are in full coordination behind a common purpose: To drive the business.

Jerry Bernhart, Principal of Bernhart Associates Executive Search, LLC, is one of the nation’s preeminent and veteran executive recruiters in ecommerce, digital and multichannel marketing, and CRM. With 80 published LinkedIn articles, Jerry is the “voice” of best practices in the recruitment and hiring of ecommerce and digital marketing professionals. Jerry is also the author of the critically acclaimed book, “Careers in Ecommerce and Digital Marketing,” on Amazon, and participates in many leading digital marketing and ecommerce conferences. Jerry has been recruiting and placing marketing professionals for more than 28 years. Check out Jerry’s other insights on the Thought Leadership section of the Bernhart Associates website.

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