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What Is a Marketing Center of Excellence, Who Needs One, and How to Build Yours

Vivien Leung January 11, 2021

Without proper processes in place, trying to improve marketing results and efficiency can feel like you’re taking one step forward and two steps back. Luckily, there is an enterprise-standard solution to this common problem: standardize and operationalize marketing best practices in a “Center of Excellence” or CoE.

There’s no denying that creating a CoE can be a resource-intensive task. But when done correctly, the payoffs are well worth it. Collaboration between marketers and automation experts becomes seamless. You stop missing deadlines and making campaign mistakes. And best of all, you have more time to focus on opportunities to improve marketing performance rather than the minutiae of execution.

If that sounds like an objective you want to achieve, this article has got you covered. We’ll go over the different forms (digital and organizational) a marketing CoE can take. Then we’ll show you an easy 5-step framework to ensure that your CoE strikes the right balance between centralizing and decentralizing, process, and flexibility.

What is a Marketing Center of Excellence

According to Gartner, a CoE is a physical and/or virtual structure that centralizes expertise, knowledge, and resources to achieve and sustain performance and efficiency. For a marketing CoE, the focus is generally on improving campaign execution & tracking through the proper use of marketing automation technologies.

Marketo users are likely more familiar with the virtual aspects of a marketing CoE. The platform enables you to templatize processes and standards to maintain consistency while speeding up execution. For enterprises, a virtual CoE built into Marketo is an unavoidable part of digital transformation. And for startups, it’s generally built-in from day one. There’s just no other way to remain competitive in a rapidly automated and data-driven marketing industry.

But a broader and more useful definition of a CoE encompasses more than the virtual components. It includes the team of experts, internal procedures for approval and launch, and best practices required to implement the virtual CoE.

Components of Marketing Center of Excellence


The concept of a CoE isn’t new; rather, it’s been around for decades. The CoE emerged from the rise of marketing automation technologies that revolutionized trackability and scalability. Initially, these technologies required specialized knowledge to be appropriately leveraged. Because technical marketing expertise was often split across teams, centralization was the most efficient organizational structure for the CoE.

Today, martech is becoming increasingly accessible and user-friendly in an evolution that Scott Brinker terms the democratization of martech. What used to require granular, technical setups is now increasingly automated. And non-technical marketers are accustomed to increasing autonomy when it comes to leveraging martech.

As that trend accelerates, the balance of centralization vs. decentralization in the marketing CoE will shift. We’ll talk more about this exciting trend in our final section.

Who Needs a Marketing Center of Excellence

A marketing center of excellence is recommended if a centralized team of experts supports technical campaign execution for multiple marketing teams. The need is heightened in high-volume, recurring campaign situations, especially common to a multi-brand/multi-region enterprise or a fast-growing startup. MLMs, franchises, or automotive dealerships fall into this bucket, too.

A CoE is recommended for organizations that are undergoing a digital transformation and are struggling with change management. Things can quickly get out of hand as different teams add new software to solve local issues, or new strategies are tested without centralizing knowledge. Not to mention, it becomes increasingly challenging to ensure marketing accountability and ROI. Building a marketing CoE ensures brand consistency while meeting deadlines, growing talent, and avoiding complacent, siloed teams.

When don’t you need a CoE? A CoE is unnecessary when individual teams manage marketing end-to-end or at smaller organizations where decentralized marketers are not key to your objectives.

How to Build Your Center of Excellence in 5 Steps

It can be daunting to figure out where to start building something as influential as a marketing center of excellence. With this 5-step framework, you can make sure all bases are covered.

How to Build a Marketing Center of Excellence

Step 1: Establish CoE Success Metrics

Clarifying what your CoE aims to achieve is essential to aligning stakeholders and framing the deliverables.

Look back at the triggering incident that caused you to embark on researching CoEs. What was the marketing pain point that prompted you to seek a process improvement?

Common CoE success measures include reducing campaign execution SLAs, increasing campaign output, and supporting more teams.

At the end of this exercise, you should have the following things documented:

  • The success measures you want your CoE to achieve
  • The baseline (current state) of your success measures

Step 2: Identify Recurring Campaigns

Document your recurring campaign types along with their format, flow, sequences, integrations, and elements. To improve your efficiency, create reusable templates.

Every marketing team has recurring campaigns. Commonly, these campaign types are webinars, newsletters, or product launches. We call these campaigns “recurring” because even though themes and audiences change, the basic elements remain the same.

Your goal in this step is to clarify what those campaign types are and define the campaign elements. For example, every webinar will include three promotional emails; each email will contain details like title, time, registration link, and speaker bios. Plus, every webinar will require similarly structured landing pages and form fill integrations.

With this information documented, create your program templates. Creating program templates is worthwhile but time-consuming. Even the best marketing operations teams can struggle to set aside resources to templatize properly. In Marketo, build these out as Program Templates in your instance. Tokenizing your programs will help you achieve exponential time savings in the long run.

At the end of this step, you should have the following things documented for each recurring campaign type:

  • Flow (triggers, sequences)
  • Assets (emails, landing pages, copy elements, etc.)
  • Integrations

Step 3: Templatize Assets

Now that you’ve documented & templatized your recurring campaigns, next, you’ll want to templatize each asset listed under your program templates.

To do so, align with stakeholders on the elements that should be included in each asset template. Clarify which elements of the asset can be fixed and which need to be adaptable. Then, build out your asset templates. Use modules if possible, as this will maximize flexibility for the end-user. Pay special attention to locking down brand standards!

At the end of this step, you should have:

  • Templates for each asset listed under each campaign type in Step 2.
  • Optional: A media bank for users to choose from when adapting templates

Step 4: Determine CoE Roles & Permissions

Your program and asset templates are ready, but you need to clarify roles to ensure each team member understands what they are accountable for.

In this step, you need to clarify who does what in your CoE. Depending on your organizational structure and the distribution of expertise, CoE core members and external users will have different permissions and accountabilities.

In most cases, the primary CoE roles are:

  • Marketer (User)
  • Marketing Operations Expert (Martech Admin)

The marketer is typically the one that initiates a new campaign request. If they are familiar with your marketing automation software, they may be accountable for modifying their campaign templates. They can generally make edits to only some components of the template.

The marketing operations expert is typically in charge of ensuring automation is functioning correctly and none of the templates are broken. They have access to modify any aspect of the template and generally owns brand consistency across the organization. They often handle more technical requests from the marketer.

You may find roles are slightly different in your case. But what’s essential here is to delineate and document the functions. Each person with access to program templates needs to fully understand how they should be using them in their role.

At the end of this step, you should have the following information documented:

  • Roles & permissions of those who will manage and utilize the CoE
  • Documentation to train CoE users on how to use templates and procedures. We also highly recommend you have an effective training process in place to ensure CoE adoption.

Step 5: Establish Processes for Requests, Revisions, Approvals, and Launch

The last step is to document processes around revisions, approvals, and launchers. The last thing you want is someone wondering, “what’s next?” when your CoE is operational.

Align with stakeholders on how campaigns should be initiated. Discuss specifics, like using a standardized intake process and a list of campaign information that must accompany the request.
Align on how campaign revisions should happen. You’ll want to specify a communication channel to ensure that all relevant members are notified, as well as designate a system to track what change requests have been implemented and which haven’t.
Align on the approvals and launch process. Who is in charge of QA-ing? Who has the authority to push the big red launch button?

As you achieve alignment, don’t forget to document your decisions! If you have a marketing work management tool, you’ll want to build your CoE processes into it.

At the end of this step you should have documented:

  • Your processes for requesting campaigns, revisions, and approvals & launch.
  • Optional: build process into your marketing work management tool.

The Future of the Marketing Center of Excellence

A marketing center of excellence presupposes that centralization is the ideal marketing model. But as we mentioned in our introduction, the “democratization of martech” trend is causing a shift in thinking.

Marketing automation has crossed an accessibility tipping point where it has become a standard part of any marketing team’s tech stack. The C-suite recognizes martech as something to be leveraged across the board, not only by a centralized team of experts. Plus, as martech grows more user-friendly, marketers increasingly expect to have the autonomy to use it directly.


The Future of Marketing Center of Excellence


That said, the CoE remains the industry standard. Creating a CoE is the best way to manage your digital transformation and scale your marketing execution. All the same, as the industry changes, the CoE risks starting to feel more like a bottleneck to getting campaigns out the door rather than the efficiency powerhouse it’s meant to be. Luckily, a solution exists.

The key to future-proofing your CoE is to adopt a hybrid approach, combining centralization and decentralization elements. It’s no longer an “either/or” discussion, it’s an “and” solution: empowering marketers without jeopardizing your brand. Increased capacity combined with time savings. If this hybrid approach sounds interesting to you, you can read more about it in Decentralize or Die: Why Smart Marketers are Scrambling to Scale Now.


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Image Credits
Vector files by Vecteezy
All images by Jeto.


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