How to structure your marketing department the right way

When figuring out your marketing team structure, you are probably struggling with a few different options. In this post we’ll break down the 2 most common ways to structure a digital marketing department, and the advantages of each, so you can finally finish that marketing org chart your CEO keeps asking for.

marketing team structure for your org

Channel based marketing team structure

This way of organizing a marketing department is the most common and has been around for awhile. The theory here is that each marketing channel requires enough depth of expertise that a full-time person (or even a team) should be dedicated to each channel. The most commonly staffed channels being SEO, email, paid search, etc. This is our preferred way to organize a marketing department in most scenarios.

The main advantage to this structure is that you have a dedicated expert that knows everything about their channel – not just the technical best practices but also staying on top of how the channel evolves over time. Marketing channels are constantly changing and many would argue that the pace of change is accelerating. Organizing in this way also avoids using agencies since you have in-house channel expertise.

Let’s take SEO for instance – to really grasp the technical knowledge required to set up your website correctly, understand keyword strategy, the tools to use, and even how to work cross-functionally to get SEO built into the product – takes years of experience. Not to mention Google pushes updates to their search algorithm daily, so you also have to monitor that.

In order to add even more structure to this model, we typically like to structure teams around the types of marketing media. We define paid media, earned media, and owned media in depth in this post but for now, this is generally what would fall into each category.

Paid media

  • Paid Search
  • Paid Social
  • Programmatic Display & Video
  • Affiliate Marketing
  • Offline Advertising (TV, Radio, Billboards etc.)
  • Paid Influencers

Earned Media

  • PR
  • Organic Social
  • Organic Search (SEO)
  • Word of mouth / referral
  • Influencers (who post for product instead of cash)

Owned Media

  • Email
  • Push Notifications
  • Direct Mail

Funnel based marketing team structure

The other way to organize your marketing team is around the customer funnel. This method was largely popularized by growth teams at Pinterest and other consumer-facing software startups. It is the methodology recommended by thought-leaders such as Reforge. There are a couple advantages to doing this. The first is around measurement. Since you will likely have KPI’s organized around different stages of the funnel, it’s easier to have someone (or a team) that strictly owns that part of the funnel and the key metric for it. The second advantage is around focus – since this person (or team) will be so focused on that KPI it drives better prioritization to achieve the goal and there is an owner that is accountable for it.

Here’s an example of how a team might be organized using this methodology:

Awareness team

Possible KPI’s:

  • Site/app traffic
  • Total registrations
  • Cost per registration

Activation team

Possible KPI’s:

  • Activation rate (paying customers/registered users)
  • CPA (paying customers/media costs)
  • Total paying customers

Retention team

Possible KPI’s:

  • Churn rate
  • Orders per customer
  • Customer LTV

Now this feels very tight and well-organized, and definitely works when your business is largely software-based and you aren’t using a lot of marketing media to drive growth. It starts to fall apart, however, if you do use several paid marketing channels, SEO, email, etc because you will have to outsource things to agencies to get the correct level of expertise needed, and likely those agencies will be managed by someone that owns “traffic” but isn’t going to know all the nuances of the traffic-generating channels. The result is a mediocre job executed across all these channels, which will likely fall short of the overall awareness goal.

Which one is right for you?

If you are a software-based company that drives most of it’s growth through word of mouth or referrals through the product itself, it may make sense to organize around the funnel. After all, it has surely worked for companies coming out of Silicon Valley like Pinterest.

If however, you know that channels like SEO, paid search, paid social, and email are core channels for you, we recommend organizing around the media types. We do believe that KPI’s should be funnel-based but the owner of the channel should own the full funnel for their channel and not just part of it. After all, each channel ends up influencing all parts of the funnel whether it’s intended or not. For example – the person running your email marketing program should be responsible for acquiring emails from traffic, activating those leads into paying customers, and then driving retention from there however they can via email.

Additionally, by orienting around paid, earned, and owned media you are ensuring a sustainable marketing strategy. If you are able to grow all three in tandem, you will have a healthy financial mix. Read more on how to achieve this here.

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