Which football team would you bet on in the World Cup: a team that trains every day, in which each player is a specialist and knows exactly what to do to score for the team? Or the team that meets only twice a week, made up of generalists who know just enough rules to be able to play the game?
A no-brainer perhaps, but in practice, I regularly see multinationals set up that second team. I am talking about the way operational digital marketing activities in international organisations are set up. A marketing department commonly uses different software tools for content management and campaign management, among other things. These are sometimes even offered in a suite. Those systems are becoming more and more intuitive. According to providers, the great advantage is that practically anyone can work with them. And that is true. But is that something you should want? Is your organisation really smarter if, as a multinational, you let your marketing employees in decentralised markets use all these tools themselves?
Look at it like a football team; if you don’t train often enough, you will never become adept at the game, the members of the team will not become attuned to one another, and you will not know the exact smart moves that might lead to a goal. In other words; if you do not use them daily, you will never really make these systems your own. Perhaps even more importantly: as a marketing employee, you are often more concerned with the ‘how’ (how do I get that newsletter sent out, how do I get that new product live on the right page etc.) than the ‘what’: which actions will we promote locally, which assets are a part of that and generate the best output? In other words, the decentralised team doesn’t have enough time for the most important strategic matters.
One of the greatest challenges of placing out operational digital marketing activities decentrally, is the initial training of employees and the subsequent maintenance of their knowledge of the tools. Everyone must be trained individually. In any event, this will lead to suboptimal results. One hopes that the knowledge will last, but the employees are not using the tools on a daily basis. Working with the tools will therefore never become routine. It also endangers the continuity of your digital operation. What if your decentral employee is ill or on holiday? No backup is arranged locally. In other words, there are no substitutes, leading immediately to holes in the operation.
Why not create a team with star players? If you have a centralised digital marketing team performing the operational activities for the region, there is more focus on the work. They become better and faster, because the team shares the issues and ‘work arounds’ with each other. This also shortens the time to market. Moreover, the organisational separation of the ‘how’ and the ‘what’ provides transparency in the cost structure of the operational and strategic sides of the business.
As mentioned, it seems like a no-brainer to decide which team to set up, but in practice this is not the case. It is often a matter of progressive insight. Multinationals must go through a learning curve, and must often first feel the pain before paying attention to the organisational side of the digital marketing operation. They purchase the tools, and only then think about the smartest way to put them to use. Large amounts of money and effort are spent in setting up decentralised systems and training employees. This is a waste of time, which could have been spent on other, more strategic matters.
Luckily, there is not only the away game, but also a home game. This provides an opportunity to review the organisation of the team and to allocate more attention to how to win the game, instead of just training for a penalty that is rarely taken. A clear shoo-in...