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Is Your Digital Marketing Team Poised For Success?

In the last year or so, heads of marketing of several large companies have told me that they are interested in cross channel optimization and want the right media mix recommendation across all their channels, both online and offline. However, as I spoke to many digital marketing teams, I realized that they were not set up for success. In this post, I would like to talk about some best practices for setting up a high performance digital team, in three crucial areas: hiring, team structure and budgeting. As Henry Ford said, “If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.”


Go for wills ahead of skills. I have often heard that it is hard to find people with good domain knowledge when it comes to search, display or social media. While I understand the importance of prior experience, I do not think it needs to be emphasized. Search as an industry is less than ten years old, social advertising less than two. Moreover, both are constantly evolving to the point at which the tactics and strategies that worked 2-3 years ago may not work now.

As the industry continues to grow and evolve you should expect more changes. In the light of these facts, one should focus on hiring people with a good dose of common sense and smarts rather than length of experience. Experience is definitely nice to have, but a hunger to learn quickly and execute is imperative in such a young and rapidly evolving industry. A friend of mine explains this hiring philosophy very succinctly: “Look for people that when given new information are able to absorb it, provide intelligent insights and act on it quickly.”

Hire a generalist. For the daily execution team, skills are important. For instance: The search advertising team will do well having people who have a quantitative bias, whereas the display/TV teams need creative people. But to tie it all together you would do well to have someone with general marketing expertise. Someone who can both see the numbers as well understand the general conceptual marketing strategy—someone who can see both the trees and the forest. For a smaller team, the CMO or VP Marketing would play this role. In a larger team, a strategy person reporting to a VP/CMO would do well to be in this role.

Team Structure

Don’t Silo. In my experience, one of the biggest problems with many team structures is that they are siloed. Siloing creates several problems. For one, it becomes difficult to create an integrated marketing campaign. This often leads to different messages in different marketing channels—not the user experience you want in the purchase funnel. Second, it leads to politics, especially when it comes to budgeting marketing spend. The marketing efforts between the teams should be collaborative and not competitive. Surely, if you want to optimize across channels your teams must think that way. Encourage cross channel thinking by asking members to learn about emerging channels such as social media. This can also be seen as a growth path for members of your organization who will be hungry to learn about new marketing channels. Incentivize this behavior by setting up a bonus structure that is part individual performance, part channel marketing team performance and part the overall marketing team performance.

Assure That Your Analysts Are Independent. One of the strangest, yet funniest things a CMO told me was, “The analysts from every channel are telling me the channel is profitable. But how is it that my overall business is unprofitable?” The problem here was that every channel was claiming attribution for a conversion and as a result were double counting revenue. The motivation is part political as every channel wants to look good. To avoid this, the analyst should be independent of any channel team and directly report to the CMO. This will prevent any politics regarding attribution. This will also set up the team to answer important questions such as “How do my channels interact ?”, “If I do any TV advertising how long will the effect persist in other channels?” and “What is the right media mix to maximize revenue?”

Invest In IT. In many organizations marketing is completely at the mercy of engineering to set up tracking, warehouses etc. This can be frustrating to you and your team as you might not be able to move as you want in your marketing efforts. If you want to be data driven, make sure you have the resources—both people and infrastructure—to get the data you want when you want.


Many organizations, especially larger ones, do their budget planning once a year. The problem with digital media is that the marketplace is very dynamic. Allocate too small a budget and you might miss out on an opportunity that might come up in the future. For instance: If you sell smartphones, there will be a lot of marketing activity at every iPhone launch. The trouble is we don’t know when the next iPhone will be launched until Steve Jobs decides to tell the world. As a marketing team, it’s best to have some planned budgetary allocation but at the same time be as dynamic as possible. In many cases, especially for larger organizations this might not be possible. However, it might still be possible to have a kitty pool of money to take advantage of sudden market changes.

Also, “the use it or lose it” mentality has to change. Too often, I have seen large organizations spending their marketing dollars inefficiently at the end of the fiscal year as they don’t want to “waste” unused marketing money. This money would be better spent over a period of time. The situation can be avoided in many ways. For one, monitor your marketing budgets closely over the year. This will help prevent surprises. Another option, would be to allow for a “grace period” of a few months to spent the residual money. A third option is to actually incentivize the savings; if the marketing team met its targets why not pay out a bonus to the team and use the rest of the savings in other parts of the organization? Of course, this would lead to goal sandbagging during every planning cycle but the CMO can easily keep that in check.

I am sure you have much to agree, disagree and add to what I have to say. Regardless of where you stand, I would love to hear your responses in the comments below.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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