In recent years an increasing number of marketing organizations have established “Digital Center of Excellence” teams. They are often called the DCOE or COE, and are either already running across the Fortune 500s or in the process of being incepted.
It initially appears to be a great model, especially in a disruptive digital world that is transforming faster than organizations can respond to. The COE provides an easy way to incubate digital marketing into an organization, taking an agile and incremental approach to globalizing new digital trends and innovation by establishing a core group right at the center, pushing models and best practices to all markets and regions.
However, the COE is too often treated as the end and not as the means to something bigger. The COE has many flaws and shortcomings, especially in managing disparities and differences across the digital marketing landscape, infrastructure and most importantly consumer expectations and behavior.
While the COE is a great model for incubation and gaining momentum by piloting a new way of thinking and operating, I often see organizations struggle with an inability to mature beyond it into something that provides a lot more flexibility to local markets.
My solution is something I like to call “freedom within a framework.” It aspires for the globe to become the center. But before I get to it, here’s a rundown of some of the specific challenges and solutions faced by the COE model.
Managing the global marketing landscape: While the broader opportunities around marketing and innovation may be universal, the actual strategies and operational needs are highly different as you move from one part of the world to another. This variability exists at all levels:
- Consumer landscape and behavior
- Market maturity and readiness
- Infrastructure and operations
- Local market investment in innovation and expansion
- Market’s financial and economic policies
Managing this from a center that usually underestimates the impact of these differences turns out to be this model’s biggest downfall.
A one-size-fits-all mindset: This is a typical dilemma when dealing with business problems or opportunities, which are more global than local. There is a natural desire to solve world hunger, but that leads to teams biting more than they can chew, losing cost, quality and effort almost instantly. A central approach often struggles with a strong desire and remit to “standardize” everything from consumer experiences to technology platforms, strangling both creativity and agility at the local market level.
Managing distributed organizational and funding models: This is by far the most influential factor in how an organization operates globally and locally. In many Fortune 500 companies, the business and strategic decision-making is done at the local market level. Having the COE trying to lead that process often strangles the decision-making process. On top of that, these organizations have a distributed financial model where local market leaders own the P&L, which further weakens the COE’s remit.
The “West” is the usual “center”: Unless you are a Japanese, Korean or Chinese company that is now operating globally, the COE will more often than not come out of the United States, making it the de facto choice for all marketing pilots, best practices and standards. A one-directional approach in sharing best practices and standards creates barriers for COEs to drive a global influence, especially as they move from the West to the East.
Global vs. local drivers and priorities: While a global marketing initiative usually focuses on efficiency, cost effectiveness and reuse across markets and regions, local needs are usually more focused on speed, agility and very specific business results. Unless these goals can be merged and balanced through a hybrid initiative, conflicts in priorities are a natural outcome.
Solution: Freedom Within The Framework
While easier said than done, it’s critical to create “freedom within the framework.” Ultimately, it should be about striking a balance between governance, reuse and standardization, along with flexibility, adaptability and agility at the local market level.
Here are some thoughts on how organizations can accomplish this:
Swap change agents or subject matter experts for the COE: As a first step, drop the word “center” or “Center of Excellence” from the organizational map. The model assumes certain skills and responsibilities to be in a small part of the organization when you actually need them to be spread across the globe. It also creates psychological barriers.
Instead, the globe should be your center. In this model, the thought leaders and SMEs are responsible to guide and support local markets, enabling them to “win locally.”
Bidirectional adopt and adapt: Make a conscious effort to adopt best practices and pilot models from all parts of the globe to ensure participation and access to innovation and new ideas from different markets. This is a radical shift from the model that tends to take all new ideas from the West to the East, causing friction.
Redefine standardization and ditch “one-size-fits-all”: This is a more flexible yet governed approach to standardization. Instead of a “boxed” and centrally controlled set of solutions, provide best practices, guides and playbooks that can easily be adapted based on market needs. It is an approach that avoids either extremes – completely global or completely local – and relies on building frameworks and processes that provide reuse at a global level while giving local markets flexibility to “adopt and adapt,” leveraging standards wherever needed but with control to customize and operate locally.
Investment in globalization: Think about globalization not just as an operational and mechanical step but a strategic business opportunity that requires investment and effort in establishing global teams and talent. Hire leaders both at the local and global level to drive the business objectives.
Globalization isn’t the easiest puzzle to solve. There is no standard solution that will work for all organizations and it is extremely dependent on the way an organization is set up, controlled and managed. For this very reason, solving your global needs from a center that sits in an isolated part of the world isn’t the best option, at least not in the long run.
As the globe becomes smaller with all the innovations taking place in technology, the center that solves these challenges needs to become bigger.