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Anatomy of a Marketing Organization

One of the areas I often advise startups on are questions around how to structure a marketing organization or make their initial marketing hires. I noticed there isn’t a lot of information out there about the different types of marketers, so I wanted to share some of the key functions that make up a marketing organization and thoughts on how to build and structure your team.

Eight Key Marketing Functions and Roles

As with most industries, there are many specialties in the marketing role. Some marketers may be strong at creating a crisp narrative to tell the story of your brand while others may be excellent at devising and executing quantitative online growth strategies. In a larger organization, the marketing department often looks like a group of specialists with distinct skill sets and responsibilities. Below I highlight eight of the key marketing functions that you will often find in a larger organization — with the caveat that this list is by no means comprehensive.

Creative & Content

Members of the Creative team drive the development of high-quality collateral based on the target audience, positioning, and channels where the content appears. Sometimes this looks like creative team members who directly create the content, and other times it can look like defining guidelines and identifying agencies to get this work done at high quality. At scale, a content marketing team can include many roles such as designers, copywriters, technical writers, editors, researchers, web developers, and content strategists. Effective Creative teams are focused on creating marketing materials that intersect high-quality content with high-performing content, and are hungry for data to understand how their output contributed to the organization’s objectives.

Example outputs: ad creatives, blog posts, website, landing pages, videos, e-books, podcasts, list of agency vendors, creative guidelines

Key metrics: team and project hours (estimated vs. actual), unique visits from content, conversions from content, impact from executed campaigns

Demand Generation (B2B specific)

Demand generation marketers are the B2B-specific version of online marketing, focused on driving leads with sales through both online and offline channels. These channels can include paid search & display, list buying, webinars, content marketing, events and more. In addition to this, they are often responsible for lead nurture programs to qualify customers over time as well as working closely with the sales team to improve lead capture and scoring. While their duties may appear very similar to online marketers, I chose to define them as a separate group because their skill sets are not interchangeable. This is due to key differences in common channels and tools, but also a vast divide in working with an online vs. sales conversion funnel. High-functioning demand generation teams are not only focused on getting lead form fills, but follow the lead all the way through to the closed-won sale to gather insights on how they can improve close rate over time.

Example outputs: lead generation forecast, media buying plan, channel test plan, list buying, landing page optimization, lead nurture programs

Key metrics: MQLs (marketing qualified leads), sales bookings influenced by marketing (# and $ deals won)

Field Marketing (B2B specific)

Field marketers drive sales revenue by driving sales pipeline and accelerating sales close rates through marketing programs. Often field marketing organizations are a crucial part of providing localized support for geographically dispersed sales teams through in-market events, webinars and outreach. Strong field marketing organizations are deeply involved with and share accountability with the sales organization on meeting their revenue targets. They should be developing marketing plans that build into how they will drive the sales revenue number, taking into account product mix, account quotas, geographic distributions, average deal size, and sales cycles.

Example outputs: lead generation forecast, events calendar, webinar schedule, collateral plan, case studies

Key metrics: MQLs (marketing qualified leads), sales bookings influenced by marketing (# and $ deals won)

Marketing Communications

Communications marketers drive brand strategy and corporate messaging, playing a key role in ensuring a consistent look, feel and message across all media. Depending on your business’s objectives, this can include social media, conference speakers, employee relations, public relations, publicity, analyst relations, influencers and more. They are tuned in to the industry and trends, helping to define the overall narrative of the company to ensure that your organization’s story is relevant, timely and furthers your goals.

Example outputs: media plans, press mentions, speaking tours, product placements

Key metrics: brand awareness, press mentions, earned media (often measured in traffic, conversions)

Marketing Operations

The marketing operations team provides the critical technical expertise and execution skill to execute on marketing programs and optimize their effectiveness. The advent of robust marketing technologies has enabled deep levels of personalization and targeting to prospects and customers, and there is huge demand for data-driven marketing campaigns. However, the need for personalized marketing has created an explosion in tool complexity. Marketing teams now have to manage everything from database size to building and running clean A/B tests to establishing automated drip email campaigns to customers which change based on their product engagement state. In addition to this, they need to ensure clean processes exist for analyzing and optimizing campaigns for ROI as well as centrally owning CRM systems which multiple teams leverage. This is where an excellent marketing operations team comes in. Having an excellent marketing operations team can make the difference between a campaign’s success or failure based on their ability to effectively execute the campaign strategy. Often roles within marketing operations teams include email marketers, data analysts, and web developers and can also leverage external consultants and vendors.

Example outputs: newsletter, landing pages, email A/B tests, triggered messaging, drip series, winback campaigns, referral campaigns

Key metrics: email volume, email deliverability, impact from executed campaigns

Marketing Research

Marketing researchers provide the key insights to the organization to make smarter, data-informed decisions. They leverage data from primary sources (e.g., user interviews, sales data, surveys) and secondary sources (e.g., industry reports, benchmarks) to provide quantitative and qualitative insight to their partner teams. Marketing research teams can provide a distinct competitive advantage for your company, because they enable you to listen effective to your customers and market and react to make adjustments quickly. The research team can also provide leading indicators through data of market shifts or changes in customer sentiment.

Example outputs: customer satisfaction and driver analysis, competitive intelligence, usability tests, vertical-specific research

Key metrics: project throughput, impact of research

Online Marketing

Online marketers drive customer acquisition through online channels such as SEO, social media, paid search & display. Often, they are highly quantitative and technical, working to maximize the number of customers acquired at the lowest cost through campaigns and continuous optimization. Sometimes this looks like marketers leveraging an external agency, or hands-on work done by an individual within the organization. Excellent online marketers keep a close eye on changing market dynamics, such as competitive environment, search algorithm updates, or new ad products. While their duties may appear very similar to demand generation marketers, I chose to define them as a separate group because their skill sets are not interchangeable. This is due to key differences in common channels and tools, but also a vast divide in working with an online vs. sales conversion funnel.

Example outputs: media buying plan, channel test plan, landing page optimization, SEO content plan

Key metrics: conversions, CPA (cost per acquisition), CPA/LTV (cost per acquisition relative to customer lifetime value)

Product Marketing

Product marketers accelerate product growth by championing the customer, communicating product value, and driving distribution. Often they are working closely with product and other cross-functional teams to launch products as well as drive product engagement initiatives across multiple channels. Excellent product marketers are successful at driving results through close partnership and communication with other team members who provide the expertise and execution. Often this role looks similar to that of a product manager, where they need to deliver results through influence without authority. For more detail, check out my earlier post ‘What is Product Marketing?’.

Example outputs: go-to-market plan, pricing, product messaging & positioning, customer segmentation, customer satisfaction dashboard

Key metrics: product adoption metrics, product engagement metrics, customer net promoter score

Growing your marketing organization

If you’re an early technology company thinking through initial marketing organization, this may seem like a formidable list. However, keep in mind that not all organizations require all functions. Depending on the needs of your business, you may choose not to have anyone fulfilling some of these marketing functions until you need them or have a single individual who is fulfilling multiple roles at one time. For example a startup will often choose to hire one generalist marketer who has experience in one or two functional areas but is versatile enough to cover additional areas as well.

As your business grows, it’s natural that the marketing organization should evolve to reflect its current needs. As organizations grow and mature, they should be continuously adapting their structure to whatever needs come about. One resource I have found helpful is HubSpot’s CMO’s Guide to Marketing Organization Structure which shows great examples of how companies have chosen to structure their teams and why.

Marketing organization structure

One of the key factors worth considering early is how to align your organizational structure. Often this looks like a decision on whether to create a single centralized marketing organization or a decentralized marketing organization where marketers are dedicated in multiple parts of the organization. Centralized marketing organizations are structured as a marketing leader with senior marketing leaders reporting to them who execute across all audiences and product lines. Decentralized marketing organizations are structured as multiple marketing teams aligned to execute against dedicated product lines or business units.

There are benefits to both structures. Centralized marketing organizations can build functional marketing teams that drive consistency and shared learnings across the entire company. If the online marketer of a product is seeing strong results from a new online media channel being tested, it’s far more likely that those learnings will get expanded and leveraged to other product lines in the business. Customers are more likely to see a consistent message in the market with a central marketing organization because all creatives and messages are more tightly coordinated.

However, marketers in centralized organizations have to balance competing priorities across the organization, and this can create inefficiency and slow execution. In particular these conflicting priorities can make it very challenging for upstart products within a mature organization to get the marketing support they need. Centralized organizations are also incentivized to drive up gains for the overall organization, so they tend to be more inflexible to the needs of individual product lines. For example customizing emails for a specific product line may seem like a no-brainer for the business, but fall to the bottom of the priority list because the marketing organization is focused on larger optimizations that impact everyone.

Decentralized marketing organizations can enable organizations to make decisions and act more quickly. They can hire marketers with deep expertise in a product or audience, and commit dedicated resources to ensuring a product or business unit is successful. The success of the marketing organization is more tightly coupled with the success of the product, with clear priorities and alignment on what it means to create success for the product line they support.

There are downsides to decentralized organization structure as well. If each product or business unit has to hire their own marketers, it can often be inefficient for managing cost or leveraging senior expertise. An example of this I’ve seen is a team trying to improve its efficiency in leveraging customer data to target sales outreach. Despite the fact there were senior leaders within the company with deep expertise in this area, this smaller team struggled both to make substantial gains in this area and also sent duplicate messages to the same customer. Decentralized teams often lack close coordination and communication between product lines, and this can result in inconsistent marketing messages.

Neither structure is inherently better or worse, rather which you should choose depends on where you are as an organization. Choose to have a centralized marketing organization that does a better job at coordinating across units and get the benefit of shared services? Or one that decentralizes marketing activities to business units where marketers are far more aligned to customers and the business unit priorities they support?

The key here is to progressively build out your marketing organization based on key functional expertise you need, and find versatile talent along the way. As you prove out repeatable channels that drive growth, this enables deeper investment with specialized roles. It’s not uncommon (and completely fine) to find very asymmetrical marketing organizations, such as performance-driven companies that have virtually no marketers other than online marketers.

I hope this gives you a look into some of the common functions and roles within a marketing organization. While this is certainly not the comprehensive list, thinking through and articulating where your business can benefit from marketing can improve your hiring effectiveness. And hopefully help you build and scale a high-functioning marketing organization!

Ada Chen Rekhi is co-founder & COO of Notejoy, a collaborative notes app for individuals and teams. She’s also an executive coach who works with founders and executives looking to scale themselves as they scale their teams. If you enjoyed this essay, subscribe to her newsletter or follow her on @adachen.