Tackle centralization versus decentralization

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The debate about whether to centralize or decentralize marketing strategy and execution seems never to end. There are advantages and disadvantages to both. The decentralized structure puts decisions closer to customers and aligns best with the local business unit priorities. A centralized marketing function delivers consistent brand messaging and efficiencies of shared services. The best structure for a given organization can be highly contextual, based on the state of the economy, the health of the company, corporate politics, global and consumer trends or many other factors.

In fact, CMOs often succumb to the pendulum effect, acquiescing to local geographies’ or business units’ appeal for greater control, only to reign in decision making years later in reaction to inconsistent brand expressions and customer experiences. The hyper-connected nature of the world is a key driver of such change, notes Gap, Inc. CMO Seth Farbman. “Obviously, as the world becomes more connected, whether through travel or through social networks, [the decentralized] approach falls apart pretty quickly,” he says. “You have to create one seamless, connected experience.”

Yet those same ubiquitous connections and technological advances can also be critical tools to help CMOs move beyond this pendular debate toward a globally integrated enterprise (GIE): one that blends both approaches into a more efficient and productive customer engagement engine. Digital technologies make it easier to collaborate despite differences in geography, time zone, language and currency. They allow marketing to assume a dual role both within business units/geographies and across them. And CMOs need to articulate a clear vision for both roles.

The GIE model can help CMOs navigate fluidly and manage operations and resources across geographic boundaries, putting skills to work in the right place at the right time and right cost. For example, a globally integrated marketing operation could design analytic database queries at the local or business unit closer to customers, while the programmers who develop the algorithms to execute them could be shared across the organization.

The GIE offers a more efficient, nimble and customer-focused marketing function that can free CMOs from wrestling with that question any longer.

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