Fourteen Marketing Technology Organizational Models

The good news is that, at last, everyone agrees:

1. Marketing technology is now a major dimension of marketing.
2. The marketing department and the IT department must collaborate.

The challenge, however, is that beyond those two principles, there is a stunning diversity of opinions for how marketing technology should be managed and exactly what the new collaboration between marketing and IT should look like. I’ve heard from many different companies that are addressing this in very different ways.

At this stage, I actually think that’s fine. Different organizational structures should reflect different strategies and cultures — and often the individual leaders at the helm. What works great for one company might be a train wreck in another. What’s important, however, is that there is clear governance driving the choices in each particular company.

Are you consciously making your marketing-IT organizational decisions? Or do they just happen by ‘accident?’ Of course, it helps to know what your choices are. With that in mind, I thought I’d try to assemble a list of the different marketing technology organizational models that I’ve encountered (large version here):

Here are brief descriptions of these models:

  1. Traditional – Marketing makes requests to IT, IT implements and manages overall technology strategy; funded via chargebacks to marketing and primary IT budget. Overall cycle speed usually slowed with overhead, differing priorities. Marketing unlikely to develop much technical savvy in this structure.
  2. Committee – IT and marketing leaders, often including the CIO and CMO, participate in a committee to make joint decisions about marketing technology investments and governance. Usually IT handles implementation. Committees are rarely ‘agile’, but may provide good guidance. Committee members may become fluent in marketing-technology synergy.
  3. Co-located – An IT team is dedicated to marketing technology and is physically co-located with the marketing team. Day-to-day execution is done collaboratively with marketing staff, but IT group still reports primarily to IT management (maybe dotted line to CMO). Helps exchange marketing and tech savvy across both departments.
  4. Liaison – Similar to Committee structure, but an individual person provides coordination between IT and marketing, reporting jointly to CMO and CIO. Can be more agile. Role may be ‘Chief Marketing Technologist’. IT still handles most implementation, although outside vendors may be arranged by the liaison.
  5. Embedded – A dedicated marketing technology team based in the marketing department — but unlikeCo-located, reports to (and funded by) the CMO, not the CIO. Led by a Chief Marketing Technologist. Should still adhere to IT governance, may have dotted line accountability to CIO. May wear ‘marketing operations’ label. Marketing becomes very tech savvy.
  6. Direct Report – The IT department directly reports to the CMO. I’ve heard of a case of this with a major retailer. May work if marketing charter is broad enough to address the total customer experience. Seems tricky for non-marketing IT responsibilities.
  7. Independent – An independent marketing technology team is assembled that lives outside of the traditional marketing and IT departments, although its chief reports to both the CIO and the CMO. Independence may enable agility, but possibly at the expense of alignment with the core departments from which it came.
  8. Outsourced (Mktg) – The majority of marketing technology strategy and implementation is outsourced to one or more third-party vendors, but primarily under the direction of the CMO. Sidesteps as much IT implementation as possible with software-as-a-service (SaaS) and standardized APIs and data formats. Alignment concerns if third-parties are too strong relative to marketing’s own technical savvy.
  9. Joint Venture – IT and marketing both contribute staff and resources to a joint ‘marketing technology’ team, but the participants remain rooted in their origin department (unlike Independent). Can be quite agile and can cross-pollinate tech and marketing savvy across both departments. Requires good CIO-CMO synergy to work well.
  10. Outsourced (IT) – Again, the majority of marketing technology strategy and implementation is outsourced to a third-party — but in this model, that’s done primarily under the leadership of the CIO. May be a different set of vendors than when outsourced from the marketing department. Runs the risk of diverging from core marketing vision.
  11. Practice Center – IT creates a marketing technology ‘practice center’ within its department to specialize in the growing tech needs of the marketing department. Possibly a dotted line report to the CMO. Can be quite agile. With the right dedicated hires and good communication with marketing can be a very marketing-savvy IT team.
  12. Outsourced Triangle – Significant portions of marketing technology strategy and implementation are outsourced, but the outsourcing is jointly led by the CIO and the CMO. Requires good synergy between CIO and CMO to work. Growing number of agencies adept at this structure. Runs risk of not having marketing technology as an in-house core competency.
  13. Hostile – The IT department and the marketing department are at best not speaking, at worst engaged in intracompany warfare. This is not a model anyone would want to adopt, but unfortunately it does accurately describe the state of some organizations. This is a terminal disease if it isn’t cured.
  14. Merged – Some visionaries have suggested that IT and marketing should fully merge, more integrated than a Joint Venture or a Direct Report relationship. Loses independent IT governance. Mini-mergers with other departments, an IT diaspora? Viability depends on post-merger internal structure.

Which organizational structure is right for your company? It depends.

Generally, I think that most companies should develop marketing technology competency internally — even if they choose to outsource certain pieces — and that marketing needs to become more technically savvy in order to properly lead the vision of customer experience and brand development in a digital world.

Many of the above models can accomplish those goals, although I think EmbeddedJoint Venture, and Co-located (or Merged, if you believe that’s feasible) address those objectives better than the other configurations.

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Author:Scott Brinker

Scott Brinker is a marketing technologist with [ n > 15 ] years experience at the intersection of marketing, IT, software product development, and online networks. President & CTO of ion interactive, a company that delivers post-click marketing software and services.

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