I’m not usually one for quotations, but there’s a saying attributed to Albert Einstein that I’ve always appreciated: The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results. Since marketers always care about getting better results, it’s about time they listened to Einstein’s advice.
Over the past decade, marketing has undergone an incredible amount of change. New products and platforms constantly spring up and fade away. Marketers have access to more data and better analytics. Revenue models are always evolving. There are disruptive technological trends like artificial intelligence, virtual reality, big data, and hypertargeting.
Yet while a lot of the technology and tactics have transformed, the way most companies structure their marketing teams has not.
In many organizations, marketing roles are defined by function. One person works on product marketing, another handles social media, someone else writes copy, and so on. Everyone is a specialized piece that (hopefully) combines to form a larger whole. That model has existed for a reason, but it hasn’t matured at a pace that matches the rest of the marketing landscape.
That status quo may be about to change. According to Salesforce’s 2017 “State of Marketing” report, “Over the past 12–18 months, 61 percent of marketers say they’ve become more focused on evolving from a traditional marketing structure to roles aligned with a customer journey strategy.”
In other words, brands are looking for employees who can solve specific customer problems, rather than people who can perform a particular skill. Whether you’re hiring or looking to get hired, that’s big news.
In his recent article about the importance of paid distribution, Contently editor-in-chief Joe Lazauskas brought up a crucial point about why certain brands struggle with content marketing:
Content marketing programs are often silo’d within an organization, cut off from paid marketing programs and advertising budgets. In many instances, these programs are even disconnected from organic social distribution and email marketing efforts. The content is supposed to just work.
That lack of collaboration and communication comes back to structure. While traditional marketing roles may help employees know exactly what they have to do, that setup also makes it more likely for projects to suffer as they get passed from person to person. If you’re the editor publishing a blog post, you focus on getting the best possible article onto the site. However, if the person in charge of paid media doesn’t promote it effectively, then potential customers will never be able to see it, which hurts everyone at the company.
So what if you adjust that longstanding process? For example, think about what would happen if you built teams corresponding to the marketing funnel instead of skill. Instead of having people write, edit, and promote general content, you’d split off roles for the top, middle, and bottom of the funnel (and ideally post-funnel to help customers after they make the purchase).
Doing this would potentially require more people (and more budget to pay their salaries), but by mapping roles to the customer journey, each team could focus on providing the best experience possible at each stage of the funnel.
Marketing teams of the future will look very different than they do today.
We experimented with this ourselves starting near the end of 2015, when Erin Nelson joined Contently as the marketing editor. Her role was dedicated to mid-funnel content, meaning she was responsible for creating case stories and case studies that showed leads how existing clients were getting value out of our software and services.
It turned out that the unorthodox role allowed Erin to have some unexpected advantages. From the very beginning, Erin rejected the idea there had to be a silo. She joined forces with other teams and departments: working closely with the accounts team to identify the best clients for case studies, and talking constantly with salespeople to make sure they were getting the assets that could help them close deals.
Since Erin frequently interviewed clients for the stories, she also came to brainstorming sessions armed with helpful insights about how brands were thinking about content marketing. After a while, she even created a formal process in our platform to make it easier for salespeople to pitch story ideas and collaborate with the marketing department.
She wasn’t just a writer or just an editor—she owned the middle of our marketing funnel. She could focus on improving every part of it, rather than just a specific job like copywriting.
It wouldn’t be too difficult to apply that funnel-centric system to the entire marketing team. Product marketers already fill a role that deals with the lower third of the funnel. For the top of the funnel, brands could look for junior hires who have sound technical skills, and help them develop better marketing fluency as they grow in the role.
That may sound a little unconventional for now, but it could be where companies are headed. In the Salesforce report, 59 percent of respondents claimed that traditional marketing roles limited their ability to engage customers. And among high-performing marketing teams “extremely satisfied” with their investments and results, 89 percent of top teams are already “aligning marketing roles to a customer journey strategy.”
Out of the comfort zone
Aside from restructuring across the funnel, another possibility is to map roles to industries or audience segments. This approach is similar to how some companies organize sales teams, but it would be pretty radical in marketing departments. A B2B company like Contently, for example, could have an individual—or a small squad—dedicated to marketing to finance, insurance, tech, and so on.
The key advantage here is specificity. Right now, marketers in traditional organizations tend to create programs that have wide appeal. They play it safe, hoping to engage as much as their audience as possible in every asset. But as the rise of account-based marketing has shown, niche assets created for specific kinds of customers at specific stages in the sales cycle are often more effective. (That’s why we published a flipbook of case studies that only focus on the finance industry. ) This type of structure lends itself to having more personalized conversations, deepening relationships with prospects and clients, and helping your brand stick out from the crush of generalized messaging overwhelming customers.
That doesn’t mean it’s easy to pull this off. Depending on how many industries or audience segments you want to reach, this structure would require more people and budget, so smaller companies would struggle to make it work. And for those that do have the budget to set it up, it could still lead to confusion if overlap exists between two segments. For instance, finance and insurance verticals often deal with similar goals and concerns, so marketers tasked with speaking to them may step on each other’s toes until they get used to the new process.
For now, those downsides are preventing a lot of teams from restructuring. A marketing reorganization tailored to the customer journey sounds good in theory, but until companies start taking the necessary risks to switch over, change will happen slowly.
However, regardless of which arrangement is right for your company, it makes sense that marketing teams of the future will look very different than they do today. That evolution can be intimidating since the status quo has held steady for quite a while. But judging by the Salesforce report, the change is already underway. And in an industry that usually cares so much about maximizing efficiency and ROI, ignoring it would just be insane.