Why Centers of Excellence are no longer optional in the Digital Era

Marketers often believe that investing in analytics and digital marketing tools fully prepares them to compete in a data-driven world. These tools are built to quickly and simply help marketers translate data into actionable metrics. But in reality, that’s just half the battle.

Keeping pace in the digital age also involves hard decisions about the setup of their marketing organization. But for too many companies, slowed down by old, corporate silos, that’s not going to be an easy transition.

Marketing departments in the pre-internet and early-internet era created individual departments (sometimes in excess), which were based on functional expertise and often dedicated to specific channels, such as print, television, email, web and social. These departments were built in a time when companies believed that marketing controlled the customer in a linear process, pushing them methodically through their marketing ‘funnel’—from awareness to purchase and the various steps along the way.

That approach worked historically, but the explosion of additional digital channels like mobile and social, and higher consumption across them scrambled the equation forever. The buying process nowadays is anything but linear.

Think about the typical consumer’s day. They may start by doing something on one channel. But then later, they may interact with a brand again—this time on a different channel. If the brand is treating each channel as a silo, they won’t be able to have anything but a jumbled, disconnected conversation with their consumer. The new world requires constant company engagement with customers, supplying personalized and relevant information that offers value and informs their decisions wherever they are and whenever they are engaging with you.

Shift To Support The Customer Journey

This evolution to what we, at Marketo, call engagement marketing, is forcing marketers to move as quickly as their markets and their customers. The challenge to CMOs is to take a sledgehammer to their corporate silos and reimagine a new way to structure their marketing departments. We’re seeing successful CMOs transform traditional marketing silos and channel-focused roles into organizational structures that allow for greater focus on the customer journey as a whole. To be fully prepared for the digital age, your organization needs to be organized around your customer, and you need people who can listen and respond to your customers in a coordinated fashion.

In action, this translates into the “hub and spoke” model, that Marketo’s CMO Sanjay Dholakia nicely explains. It’s an approach that features “centers of excellence” (think service bureaus but with a much greater strategic focus) that all of the company’s marketers can turn to when they need help. The shared service model that is at the core of centers of excellence helps teams think about and respond to your customer more collaboratively while also removing inefficiencies.

The Value of Centers of Excellence

The main building block is the creation of a centralized skills-based competency center,which we call the center of excellence (COE). There can be any number of them inside the company, embracing everything from content to marketing operations to design to events.

Replacing the myriad decentralized functional groups that accumulated over the years, these centers of excellence provide a consistent and comprehensive set of services to other parts of the organization.

No longer will different groups make arbitrary decisions about the same things. Now and forever, the left hand will know what the right hand is doing. What’s more, you’ll help light creative sparks. People working side by side can better brainstorm and, hopefully, come up with magic—the idea being that 1 plus 1 will equal 3.

While this value-added has obvious and subtle benefits, it doesn’t change that people are creatures of habit. You’ll find that people inside your organization may take a while to adjust to the change. They may initially feel frustration that they don’t “own” the resources needed to accomplish their objectives. By definition, centralizing expertise in a COE means that expertise won’t live under the multiple silos. Still, that’s a small price for running a leaner, more nimble organization and eliminating potential duplicate efforts. Consider that the benefits outweigh the downsides. For example:

Focus: You get like minds working together, often resulting in a team that pushes each other’s boundaries while focusing on the task at hand.

Economies of scale: Better load balancing means you ultimately need fewer people to get more done.

Collaboration: Your specialists are no longer laboring in isolation. The potential upside from peer-to-peer collaboration is limitless.

Quality: You now can better enforce standards such as brand guidelines and style guides. Consistency across the organization saves time and fosters better quality output.

Single voice: A single point of contact ensures a consistent message throughout the organization.

The benefits gained from COE’s make organizations more flexible. As companies scale in size, this organizational arrangement makes increasing sense not only because it offers organizations the benefit of streamlined, creative, high-quality work, but because this structure best supports the true customer journey—one that’s dictated by the customer, at their own pace.

Siloed teams can flex in their individual units, but without an understanding of the big picture, whereas a customer journey focused organization supported by COE’s can nimbly respond to the customer’s (changing) needs, throughout their journey, and across channels. Today, marketers must understand their customer and communicate with them with the right message at the right time, but it doesn’t end there. To be successful, today’s marketing leaders must not miss the critical step of structuring your organization to adapt quickly.

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