Marketing teams support a company’s brand end-to-end, owning every task from demand generation to customer engagement on social media. To handle this wide range of responsibilities, the highest-performing marketing departments draw upon diverse and cross-functional expertise across SEO, data science, PR, content marketing and design.
What is a “modern” marketing team, exactly?
A modern marketing team is a high-performing and versatile group of cross-functional members. Marketing strategy and content are continually changing, and successful, modern teams are up to speed with the latest, greatest best practices.
A marketing campaign that worked in 2011 can’t be guaranteed to work in 2021. That’s because the most popular marketing channels, the optimal types of content for them and the particular marketing team roles involved all dramatically changed in the interim.
Instagram Stories (and their many clones)? Featured snippets in search (and content that optimizes for them)? Agile marketing (and how it reshapes notions about leadership roles)? All of these components of digital marketing either didn’t exist or were in their infancy in 2011. So as marketing itself evolves, so must marketing team structure.
Without the proper structure, it’s easy to squander the marketing department’s budget and fail to deliver business value. To avoid these cost overruns as well as operational silos and delays, a marketing team should be built for flexibility and adaptability. It should provide a structure that enables productive collaboration between everyone from the chief marketing officer (CMO) and the marketing managers that report to them, to any data scientists, social media managers and content writers on staff.
Spotlight on Agile marketing teams
This is where Agile marketing pays off. Agile marketing is a methodology inspired by the similarly named software development practice, which emphasizes collaboration between cross-functional teams (i.e., teams with a wide range of skills from across the organization), along with iteration, continuous improvement and flexible planning.
Agile marketing teams:
- Include a core team of SEO leads, art directors, content writers, software developers, marketing campaign strategists and product or campaign owners.
- Work with extended teams across PR, legal, IT and business development.
- Continuously align with company leadership and with other departments to coordinate campaign strategy, set expectations and make decisions with the customer in mind.
- Prioritize data and experience over opinions and conventions, using what they’ve learned to continuously iterate their ideas.
- Test, test, test to ensure that the team, its content and its overall approach are working, and if not, to recalibrate the marketing campaign.
Just as Agile software teams are structured with the realities of modern IT infrastructures and tools in mind, Agile marketing teams are designed for digital marketing practices that require working with multiple types of data, optimizing underlying technical systems and managing the growing overlap of marketing with PR and content marketing.
The Agile Marketing Manifesto, released in 2012 by a group of marketers hosted by MindJet, sums up the practice as follows::
“We welcome and plan for change. We believe that our ability to quickly respond to change is a source of competitive advantage.”
What about sales teams? Do they report to marketing teams?
When you modernize the marketing team by integrating Agile marketing practices, you can start bridging the age-old disconnect (and possibly rivalry) between sales and marketing departments.
In the past, sales and marketing teams have often been at loggerheads due to disparities in their goals and incentives. Whereas a sales rep targets a concrete and immediate goal — closing sales — a marketer usually has more nebulous and long-term priorities, since marketing campaigns take time to evaluate. It’s easy for sales to feel like marketing is not bringing in enough leads, and for marketing to feel like sales is siphoning off too much of its time with rushed projects.
In an Agile marketing team, these types of conflicts can be avoided by having both teams collaborate during marketing meetings on items like agreed-upon sprints. A sprint is a time-boxed period for completing a task. Its structure limits how much work can be done in a period.
Sprints may be configured so that, for instance, a marketing team works on a set number of projects for sales with clear priorities (e.g., we will do these 5 deadline-driven items within the next 10 days). This approach improves the collaborative processes and overall responsiveness of a marketing team as business requirements change.
What key roles are part of a marketing team today?
An Agile marketing department emphasizes well-defined roles and responsibilities over specific job titles. Teams are meant to change, and members may wear multiple hats to ensure that the right content is always created and the proper customers and prospects are reached.
“Full-stack marketers,” who are well-versed in all core disciplines, from email and content marketing to paid traffic and social media, have become more valuable in this context. The title “full-stack marketer” is meant to resemble that of a “full-stack developer” who is adept in all the technologies needed to build an app — i.e., the full stack.
That said, there are still some general role categories that recur across most marketing teams. How these leadership roles and other positions map to an exact digital marketing team structure will vary based on a company’s size. Larger organizations are more likely to have multiple layers of hierarchy that report to the CMO, whereas smaller companies and Agile marketing practitioners will have lighter-weight structures and more autonomous teams.
Let’s break down the 8 major marketing team role categories, and what job titles fit under each one. A team may have one or more members in each category.
1. The Strategic Mind
Possible titles: VP of marketing (or of content marketing), marketing team leader, marketing leader, marketing director.
Overview: This role oversees budgets and other resources for the whole marketing team, providing crucial support and guidance. In an Agile marketing team, this person is outside the core cross-functional team and takes a light touch when interacting with its members (checking progress and resources), so as not to slow them down too much with bureaucracy.
- Direct demand generation and overall marketing strategy.
- Set budgets and establish key performance indicators.
- Report progress to the CMO, CEO and other marketing leaders.
- Serve as an evangelist for the company.
- Coach colleagues.
- Hold marketing meetings.
2. The To-Do Guru
Possible titles: Marketing manager, project manager, scrum master, content marketing manager, content marketing strategist.
Overview: The to-do guru keeps the project on track and on budget by coordinating with all members (content writers, designers, social media managers, etc.) on priorities and action items. This marketing leader, who may hold a title like content marketing manager or scrum master (in an Agile context), ensures that marketing efforts and plans are tightly coordinated, and their execution highly synchronized. They also make sure that workloads are properly distributed so that no one gets burnt out.
- Define goals and objectives.
- Track completion statuses.
- Oversee sprints and task scheduling.
- Coordinate with other marketing leaders on resourcing.
3. The Search Strategist
Possible titles: SEO specialist, SEO lead, PPC specialist, SEO writer.
Overview: These specialists help your marketing campaigns and content find their audiences. Their tasks have traditionally included keyword research and its application to landing page design and optimization, paid search campaigns and evaluation of copy against metrics like conversion rate. Multiple people will usually fit into this category in a marketing team. For instance, a PPC specialist and an SEO expert may work side by side.
- Research keywords.
- Perform SEO analysis.
- Identify opportunities for improving a page’s rank.
- Re-optimize existing content.
- Audit site changes for SEO.
- Launch new campaigns.
- Adjust bids (for PPC).
4. The Wordsmith
Possible titles: Content writer, copywriter, marketing team writer.
Overview: The wordsmith owns the creation of written content, whether for display ads, blog posts, eBooks, white papers or any other asset in marketing. Beyond writing itself, they may also edit, communicate with other stakeholders about feedback and contribute to audio/visual media like podcasts and videos.
- Research and write on-brand copy.
- Edit and revise writing as needed.
- Pitch topics.
- Collaborate with designers.
5. The Visual Designer
Possible titles: Designer, graphic designer, video editor, illustrator, photographer, stylist, animator
Overview: Marketing has always had a strong visual component, but the growth of social media has increased the importance of high-quality design. From infographics to videos, the visual team in a marketing department is central to its success.
- Design infographics and illustrations.
- Produce and edit photos and videos.
- Optimize visual content for social media distribution.
- Match visual creative to written assets.
6. The Developer
Possible titles: Front end developer, web developer, marketing developer, full-stack developer
- Write and refactor code for marketing sites.
- Analyze site speed and usability.
- Maintain site hosting and upgrades.
- Fix bugs.
- Add new features.
7. The Data Expert
Possible titles: Data scientist, data analyst.
Responsibilities: Data scientists and analysts review quantitative and qualitative data to extract actionable insights from it. Their work is pivotal because modern marketing functions generate and depend upon large quantities of data related to customer interests and interactions, along with content performance.
- Gather, segment and interpret marketing campaign data.
- Funnel data into marketing automation tools.
- Make recommendations to marketing leaders.
8. The Communicator
Possible titles: Social media manager, PR specialist, public affairs officer, influencer marketer, media lead, product marketer
Overview: Last but not least, this category includes all of the marketing roles that involve building and maintaining relationships with both internal and external audiences. Social media managers who interact with customers, PR specialists who cultivate relationships with the media and product marketers who identify opportunities for alliances all fit in here.
- Evangelize the brand and represent its core values.
- Provide assistance and support to external audiences.
- Build business relationships and alliances.
- Communicate updates and marketing priorities.
How should a marketing team be structured?
As we mentioned earlier, marketing teams come in all shapes and sizes, suited to the types of organizations they support, the content they produce and the marketing efforts they oversee.
Yours might be an in-house operation with a substantial budget. It could be completely outsourced to a third party with strict caps on monthly spend and only one internal contact. It might be a combination, where a small team oversees the marketing activities of an external agency. There are even one-person operations, where a single person acts as a marketing generalist, content writer and PR promoter.
No matter the case, you have to be realistic about your organization’s – or business unit’s – internal capabilities. This may mean making certain trade-offs to operate within your budget. Always err on the side of quality. One really strong, well-promoted asset will always outperform five pieces of content that are just OK.
On a more concrete level, any marketing team must exhibit certain cultural values if it hopes to excel across core functions, from written content production to graphic design creation.
Shared project ownership
“Build marketing programs around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.”
– The Agile Marketing Manifesto
It’s hard to overstate the importance of caring. From the outset, every stakeholder – from your strategist to your project manager to your graphic designer – needs to be invested in the project. Agile marketing helps in this respect.
Cultivate this shared sense of accountability by:
- Setting clear goal posts.
- Tying visions for execution back to these goals when communicating with creatives.
- Tracking progress at various points in the campaign with the appropriate analytics (e.g., impressions on social, bounce rates on landing pages, etc.).
- Sharing that progress with everyone, so the entire team can see the fruits of its labor.
According to the Content Marketing Institute, 70% of organizations have the ability to illustrate, with metrics, how their marketing efforts and content have improved B2B engagement.
Don’t keep that data under lock and key. The greatest source of success in marketing is enthusiasm and collective understanding of what’s been brought to the table. Share data and use it to inform marketing campaign priorities
“Great marketing requires close alignment with the business people, sales and development.”
– The Agile Marketing Manifesto
This first and foremost means eliminating silos — and not just silos between strategists and execution teams. Start at the top, with sales.
Sales and marketing need to be aligned if you hope to tell a consistent story to your prospects, leads and existing customers. As discussed earlier, an Agile marketing team structure provides a great blueprint for sales-marketing collaboration on shared goals.
Try not to think of your marketing team as a well-oiled machine with no further possible optimizations. You’re creative, responsive marketers whose objectives can change at a moment’s notice, so flexibility and adaptability are paramount.
On a practical level, this means:
- Holding weekly or bi-weekly meetings to update one another on the progress of current initiatives, or to re-calibrate as needed.
- Leveraging project management resources such as Trello, Asana, Podio, Airtable and others to centralize core information and provide updates to the entire team on the fly.
- Being ready and willing to make adjustments in response to shifting circumstances.
What is a marketing team responsible for?
By now, it’s clear that every function on a marketing team is deeply intertwined. Of course, that raises an important question: What are those functions?
But first, bear in mind that scale has a lot to do with how these functions will be divvied up among individual team members. In smaller teams, a single person might wear more hats than they would in a well-funded enterprise marketing department or a content marketing agency.
Ideally, though, all of these core functions will be fulfilled in your marketing team structure:
Your strategists (our “The Strategic Mind” role from earlier) are responsible for creating a marketing strategy that aligns with key business goals. They’ll typically focus on goals related to SEO strategy, brand awareness, content creation, audience research and distribution. They are also responsible for aligning budget and execution.
Ideation is the unsung hero of marketing, partly because it doesn’t necessarily belong to any one, single role on your team. A case could be made that our roles of The Strategic Mind, The To-Do Guru and The Search Strategist are the stewards of ideation. But ideation is the development of a creative execution plan for the strategy at large. Thus, it requires input from the visual designers, developers, communicators, data experts and wordsmiths on your team, too.
Agile marketing pays dividends here. More often than not, ideation is a shared effort that requires signoff from multiple stakeholders, and possibly even ad-hoc input at different phases of content development. If the team thinks of something better during the production phase, it can pivot accordingly.
Execution and creative tracking
That brings us to the doing. Once you have a strategy and high-level creative vision of the assets (eBooks, videos, paid ads) you want to create, you need someone to create schedules and to manage timelines for deliverables, release dates and social posting schedules.
That To-Do Guru also needs to track the progress of those deliverables as the marketing campaign evolves and adjust accordingly.
Your Wordsmiths, Visual Designers, Developers, Data Experts and Communicators help bring your strategic vision to life.
If you’re lucky, your internal marketing team has the budget, time and resources to produce its own content. But you might need to outsource to an external team or agency. If that’s the case, think of these creatives as an extension of your team. The closer they are to the shared vision, the more likely they’ll be able to deliver killer content.
Promotion and distribution
Even the best-designed content isn’t useful unless it can reliably reach its target audiences. Connecting with audiences requires expertise across areas like social media outreach and email marketing, to build a base of followers and grab their attention with compelling headlines that will lead them to your content and deeper into the sales funnel.
Whether these functions are fulfilled internally by your own marketers or externally by contracted marketers isn’t as important as ensuring that you’re seeing sufficient engagement with your content across your different marketing channels, from email to social media. Otherwise, your assets and your brand will collect dust.
Dev and IT
You need people who can help on the technical side of things — to make sure that different content types are loading correctly on your website, and that your integrations aren’t disrupting the user experience.
This is marketing, after all, and that means you’ll need access to web development experts and site admins to answer the tough questions: Is my site performance optimized for mobile? Are there any hiccups in UX? If you’re working with an agency that has its own CMS, is it exporting multimedia content properly? These are all questions that someone on your marketing team needs to be able to reliably answer.
How can you ensure a marketing team executes?
By now, you know who makes up a marketing team and you’re familiar with the core functions that need to be covered.That brings us to the nuances of execution.
Let results show you the way
As we’ve already mentioned, adaptability is hugely important in a marketing team. You can certainly establish an operating rhythm, but don’t get hung up on trying to create a rigid routine. Instead, let your results determine your next actions. Marketing follows a cycle, in that directives are continuously shared and passed between roles.
For example, analytics-based insights provided by your strategists will influence the types of assets (videos, blogs, etc.) that need to be created, and the channels on which they should be promoted and distributed (social, email, etc.).
Subsequent SEO research might reveal more nuanced keywords that will improve the performance of these assets, which will then impact topic research and ideation. At this point, additional research from your strategist might identify optimal content length, and more specific talking points that will help those particular topics cut through the noise.
Once your creative teams produce a piece, project managers — our “To-Do Gurus” of the marketing world — might identify areas where the content could be improved or better optimized to align with the strategists’ findings.
Finally, the piece gets posted, distributed and promoted. Subsequent analytics might determine that engagement for the piece is high, but clickthrough rates are low, which could be indicative of a shortcoming in how the content is being promoted. Or, maybe the piece appears to be performing well on search, but doesn’t seem to be generating qualified leads, which could indicate a fault in your site’s UX design.
Whatever the case, the team will need to take action to respond to the newest findings. Consequently, the many roles of a content marketing team will play off each other in unique, and sometimes unpredictable, ways.
How can you build and scale a winning marketing team?
We’ve talked a lot about Agile marketing and the overall importance of flexibility and adaptability in marketing. Along similar lines, it’s imperative to be able to quickly build and scale your marketing team, so that your marketing team structure is always aligning with your current business objectives.
The build/scale process will look very different for a startup than it will for an established enterprise. However, some general best practices apply:
1. Make sure your processes are actually scalable
“Too big to scale” — it’s an odd phrase, but one with an important truth in it: You can’t scale something that’s unwieldy. You also don’t want to scale a process or team structure that isn’t working to begin with. Focusing on highly collaborative processes with an Agile marketing paradigm can set you up for success.
2. Prioritize cultural fit over skills in new hires
Missing marketing skills are learnable, but culture clashes are much harder to resolve. As you build out your marketing team, be sure to get a good sense of how a potential hire would interact with existing team members. If they’re highly skilled but have a potentially disruptive presence, look for someone more on your organization’s wavelength.
3. Don’t let teams get too big
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos famously said that the ideal team size was whatever number of members could be easily fed with just two pizzas (i.e., pretty small). By keeping teams small, you avoid process-related overhead like protracted meetings. Small teams can also delegate work more efficiently, sparing people in leadership roles from being overwhelmed and trapped in long back-and-forths.
4. Scale faster with marketing automation
Marketing automation lets you reach lots of customers with relatively little effort. The technical personnel on your marketing team can optimize your automation tools, so that the content and messages you create connects with as many people as possible. Ideally, automation will help you shorten your marketing cycle and make life easier for your team.
5. Create a virtuous cycle
Always look for areas of improvement, whether in how team members communicate, the tools they use, the channels you’re targeting or what you’re spending on various campaigns. Marketing success is a journey, not a destination.
Another way to look at it: Marketing is a marathon made up of many sprints.
Ready? Set. Go!
Editor’s note: Updated April 2021.