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How to Structure a Marketing Department

by Lee Dussinger

When the marketing machine is firing on all cylinders, the entire organization feels the impact. Your campaigns cut through market noise, growth comes easily, and you show up as one brand everywhere. An effective marketing organization is crucial for any organization to thrive.

However, as a company scales, the more challenging managing that marketing organization becomes. At the mid-market or enterprise level, effectiveness comes from more than just hiring talented people and activating them towards the company goals. The marketing organization structure itself plays a pivotal role in the success of the team

If you set the right marketing department structure, your team will collaborate seamlessly and produce impactful work. On the other hand, having a structure that’s mismatched to your organizational goals can sabotage even the most iron-clad marketing plans. 

We’re exploring different perspectives on how to structure a marketing department to create superior cross-functional collaboration and the maximum impact for a business. Check out our breakdown of the pros and cons of the primary marketing organization structures.

Common Marketing Organization Structures: COE & Matrix 

While external marketing agencies are still a popular partner, most enterprise organizations possess the in-house capabilities to execute marketing initiatives. These are the functions that generally comprise a modern marketing department:  

  • Strategy (briefing, analytics, reporting)
  • Copywriting 
  • Social media management 
  • Design 
  • Paid media/demand generation
  • Digital/web
  • Field marketing
  • Project management 

The organization of the people who do these crucial jobs determines the workflow, their output, and ultimately the success of the company.  

These are the two major methods you can use to organize a marketing department:

One: you can place all of the people with the same job together on a team – and assign them individually to different projects for different pillars of the business. This model is called the Center of Excellence (COE) approach. In the Center of Excellence marketing model, you would have separate teams of writers, designers, etc. – and assign them as projects arose.    

Or two: you can have teams established around company pillars – with one specialist on each team, entirely dedicated to that pillar (called the Matrix model). In this case, you would have a separate, fully-staffed team dedicated to each individual product line or business segment.

Figuring out how to organize a marketing department is difficult – so we’re going to explore both models in far greater detail. 

Marketing Center of Excellence (Traditional)

Marketing center of excellence model

This is the traditional way to organize a marketing department. A Center of Excellence departmental model puts teams of expert technicians together to serve the needs of the entire organization. In this model, cross-functional collaboration occurs on a project-by-project basis – and often needs to be assigned by management roles.

Note: In some organizations, a Center of Excellence is the name of a core team that makes key decisions, establishes standards, and provides tools – all for the purpose of empowering other teams to produce great marketing. However, this blog focuses on a Center of Excellence as an organizational model – rather than a specific, named team. 

Pros

More department-wide communications – By nature of this structure, you’ll be mixing and matching different specialists on a myriad of projects – this creates great intra-department communication. In addition, since work is almost entirely assigned from a top-down standpoint, departmental leadership is always in the loop.  

Specialists share techniques and ideas – Since your teams are organized by job function, your experts are more likely to work closely together and share techniques. The marketing Center of Excellence model is excellent for creating teams that build their technical skills together.    

Cons

General knowledge rather than specialization – Every single member of each team will likely have a chance to work on marketing that supports every sector of the business. While that sounds like a benefit, if you’re not careful, you create jacks-of-all-trades/masters-of-none. In-depth knowledge of a product line or business segment is one of the key factors in truly effective marketing.

Workflows can take longer – In the Center of Excellence marketing model, leadership/project management needs to choose and assign who handles each element of a project – every time.  

Matrix Model

Matrix model to structure a marketing department

An increasingly popular way to structure a marketing department, the Matrix model allows for extremely detailed and technical marketing initiatives to be executed. The Matrix model enables in-depth collaboration from a cross-functional team dedicated to a single topic or business segment

Pros

Each team is fully specialized – The leading benefit of the Matrix organization structure is that every team member is dedicated to their niche. Everyone begins to develop the domain knowledge for their segment that unlocks even stronger marketing work. This exemplifies cross-functional collaboration by pairing specialists together, around a their dedicated topic area. 

Team autonomy – In the Matrix model, each team has far more control over what they do to advance their specific business segment. They live their speciality every day – and they know what to do to succeed. Since ideas are free to come from the bottom up, this allows for more creative initiatives and often more authentic marketing efforts. 

Cons

Brand alignment is harder – Since the structure is decentralized, teams can start to develop their own distinct voice. As a result, the brand can unintentionally begin to drift apart. 

Less communication & oversight – The downside of team autonomy, departmental leadership can have a harder time seeing what everyone is doing.    

One other key point to mention about these contrasting organizational models is that they don’t need to be mutually exclusive. Some departments effectively blend both styles as you’ll see…

Hybrid Model 

Hybrid model of structuring a marketing organization

While the Matrix and traditional marketing organizations are common and clearly defined, there are further styles as well. Hybrid marketing models are composed of elements of each and can offer the most flexible options tailored to the needs of select organizations. 

Some organizations employ a unique department structure that combines elements of each style. In a hybrid structure, you’ll most likely have some teams that are subject matter experts – however, there will also be Center of Excellence teams, as well, that the Matrix teams can call on for backup. 

So, for example, let’s imagine a product marketing Matrix team that would have a copywriter, designer, and developer. However, for some projects, the product marketing Matrix team might need to call on the development Center of Excellence to augment the skills of their in-team developer. This would inject fresh ideas and extra capabilities into the subject matter experts. For many organizations, blending the Matrix and Center of Excellence models represents the best of both worlds.   

Pros

Offer the Best of Both Worlds – In some cases the hybrid structure can offer the best of both worlds by allowing subject matter experts to delve into a specific topic – while still having experts in a technical discipline on hand. This model enables the same high-levels of independent work that is a hallmark of the matrix marketing organization model. 

Ability to Call for Backup – For extremely important projects, matrix teams are able to call on other talented team members to help expand the scope of work they can accomplish. This has the benefit of allowing small teams (with limited resources) to have a huge organization impact. 

Cons 

Complexity – The main appreciable downside of the hybrid model is that it can be complex. Roles can be unclear and workflows can be difficult to discern. When you have multiple teams that can perform similar functions, understanding who is doing what, as well as the status of the project, proves difficult.  

Helpful Capabilities When Structuring Your Marketing Organization 

However you structure your marketing enterprise organization, there are several capabilities that are essential to have.   

Compare & align messaging – Mismatched messaging is one of the biggest challenges of independent teams in a Matrix model. Since the teams have the ability to work independently, they need to compare messaging or else they may end up going to market misaligned. By having all Matrix teams plan, preview, and collaborate on their content in a shared space, it makes aligning messaging easier.

Repurpose content – While all the Matrix teams have the ability to produce their own content, repurposing standout content produced by other teams can be effective for saving time. By having a record of work in a content platform, the teams who use the platform are better able to reuse content.   

Share plans outside the department – For Matrix or hybrid organizations, many different teams perform independently. This proves effective for shipping work, but keeping leadership connected can be more challenging. Being able to share decks of marketing work with stakeholders outside of their department is essential. 

The Opal platform is used by numerous COE and Matrix organizations to deliver all of these benefits and more. 

Discover the Opal Platform 

Keeping aligned and managing workflows is difficult for any marketing organization. The higher the head count, the more teams, and the more complex your structure, the harder staying aligned becomes. Opal brings clarity to the marketing process by bringing teams together to plan, create, and calendar their content. 

If you employ a Matrix or a Center of Excellence model – or even if you’ve never thought about it before – Opal can enhance how you and your team works. We’re the content operations platform that’s trusted by Target, Starbucks, and countless other enterprise brands. 

If you’d like to experience the platform, you can request a custom demo from a product expert any time! 

About the Author

Lee Dussinger

Senior Content & Product Marketer

Writing about campaign briefing, brand alignment, omnichannel marketing, content operations and more

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