Thoughts on branding, design, writing and life by Kevin Potts. Established 2003.

Web Teams Should Be In Marketing

The idea of companies building web teams is not new, but the debate over what department they should sit in remains a hot one. From my experience and perspective, housing them anywhere but marketing makes no sense, since a website is simply another wheel on the marketing vehicle.

I’ve had an interesting run at my company, where my responsibilities around the Web have shifted more often than the Republican party’s definition of “fiscal responsibility”. I have served as a designer, frontend and backend developer, usability guy, SEO expert, yada yada. Then I got to hire one person to do all that, then watched as a new team came together to do all that. Now I mostly sit back and just tell people my opinion, whether they want to hear it or not.

Laately, I’ve been thinking about the concept of a team focused on a company’s corporate website. Zeldman wrote a good article about web teams awhile ago, and while it contains solid points, I categorically disagree with his conclusion that the web team has to be its own independent entity. I believe in its existence, but based on my personal experience, marketing is where it should live.

Monologues and Conversations

Mr. Zeldman asserts that marketing in a monologue, and the Web is a conversation. But in reality, marketing is not always a monologue, and the Web is not always conversation.

Most marketing professionals are more interested than ever in creating a conversation with customers, prospects and partners. Witness the rise of organizations using blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and more, and the constant movement toward creating communities, poring over visitor analytics, and the use of complex ecosystem tools like VML’s Seer. (For further evidence in the media, open up an issue of BtoB at any given moment to see this movement in full swing.) Marketing teams may not be fluent in conversation yet, but they are trying their dandiest to get it right.

By contrast, and almost by irony, most corporate websites are, quite frankly, monologues. Simply look at the labels in most top navigations — “About Us”, “Our Services”, “Contact Us”. The tone is constantly “how we can help you” instead of “how we can work together”. These are vehicles of old push marketing, digital brochures that inform without engaging, and are anything but a conversation. But they are marketing, by definition.

Aligning Corporate Interests

The dedicated web team, when it sits in marketing, allows these two ships to actually stop at the same port and have dinner together instead of passing each other silently in the night. It gives account planners and advertising specialists in marketing a dedicated resource with which to execute plans without bureaucratic red tape. It gives the whole of marketing an internal think tank that can provide training, best practices, technical prowess and a laser-like focus on emerging trends and technologies. And the web team itself has access to strategy, budget and veteran insight that would otherwise exist outside their domain. And because everyone is housed under the same division, there is a sense of common purpose and “we’re in it together”.

Creating islands of specialists — one for marketing, one for IT, one for the Web, one for sales, etc — simply results in more conflicting interests, more miscommunication, more mistrust, more wasted parallel initiatives, and most importantly, less collaboration and teamwork. It’s the same for other niche talents — graphic design, media planning, server administration, sales operations, and others all require specialized talents, but are grouped into broader departments to help align corporate interests.

Traditional marketing teams are not smart about the Web. And inexperienced, untempered web teams (like those found in the recent rash of agency “social media” divisions) are idiots when it comes to marketing. Mashing the two together gives companies the best of both worlds. So while some argue that a web team should not be inside marketing, I argue that marketing needs to learn how to have a web team.

In Part 2: The Anatomy of a Prototypical Web Team. Coming soon.

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commentary + criticism


wrote the following on Friday March 20, 2009

“Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet.” – Rudyard Kipling

My small experience has shown that web teams must become chimeras of skill to perform their job well. Web teams shacking up with Marketing is a necessity for survival (figuratively speaking).

If ‘ol Rudyard could see us now.


wrote the following on Monday May 18, 2009

I agree with your premise and while this all sounds good, in the case of my micro-climate if the web team (me) were to live in marketing instead of IT I’d be at the mercy of a creative director who is more creative than rational and not good at weighing priorities. My IT director keeps me sane, and since I’m the only one with web marketing experience, remaining on my own island gives me some autonomy and ‘outside expertise’ that would diminish if the marketing director started to think of me as another of his tools/outlets with no limit….


wrote the following on Sunday August 9, 2009

I feel that I have to point out some specifics not touched on here…

A. Most ‘marketing’ groups are ‘ad’ and graphics gurus who do not identify semantic correctness, web color pallets, or font selections as being nearly as important as the way it ‘looks’. They can serve a role within the web ‘aesthetics’ function – but they only contribute to about 10% of the process.
Since the primary objective is to serve the customer’s needs and marketing folks are not suited well for the real ‘grime’ of the web work. Honestly – the Marketing department is rarely likened to a ‘customer service operation’ – with good reason; they do not even speak the same language!

B. IT groups can provide hardware and technical skills and can serve a role within the web function, maybe 10% or so of the real ‘whole’ product – at best. IT is amazing and can build amazing things; but are not frequently well suited to decide if those amazing things were needed, wanted, or at all useful to anyone. Programmers do what they are capable of doing, and want to try to do – but often are not clear on WHY or even IF they should…

C. Communications groups can write copy for press release, etc… but they require specialized skills to write decent copy for the WEB media or you end up with unread informational overload and dissatisfied customers who call the 800 help line because the information was too hard to locate out on the website in the mass amounts of copy. This is about 20% of the entire function of the web, but it has to be specialized copy edit skills.

D. A video group can produce media – but cannot necessarily organize and manage it on the web… 5%…

E. The other players are stakeholders at all levels (department staff, executives, management, trustees, compliance people) and the most important of all – our visitors [customers] …

Bottom line – The Director of a WEB team is a project and portfolio manager who has the front facing technological communication medium in their hands for your whole organization.

This individual needs to know enough about all aspects of every link in the value chain to plan out options and champion what is needed to create a great web presence from all the disparate competing silo-level goals. The success of the web team rests in successfully blending of the best of all worlds, yet avoiding myopic adherence to any one of them.

The work done in the Web is not just technical or marketing or copy or media … it is a synthesis of all of them – the larger holistic view of how they all fit together… intertwined with best practices for hundreds of external tools, products and industry knowledge that no one confined to a marketing group will ever embrace or have time to comprehend… They must also be a master of the business strategies and performance metrics that tech people only scoff at. Then their is web security, web traffic management, analytics, validation, 508 and WAIC compliance, ALL the human factors, SEO, SEM, SERP, CSS, six browsers to test in, new hand-held and smart phones to interface with, actionscript, vb script, OWL, JSON, AJAX, 20 different frameworks…

They must wrangle the folks who do this (or do much of it themselves) while managing their employees and consulting with their clients… (and in organizations that are fixated on the old model of forcing an IT or Marketing owned Web group, all web staff, especially the Web Director, are also forced to shoulder the bitterness, aggression, incoherence, competition, and undermining efforts of each of the silos as they attempt to usurp or hold onto the Web as ‘territory’ but cannot provide much real support or understanding for what the Web group actually does. As part of one silo, the Web Team becomes a ‘red headed stepchild’; not understood by anyone up the chain, but not empowered sufficiently to act without somehow getting that upper leel support and making people understand – which is the same as being set up for failure…

I could go on, but my view should be clear now – the Web product is an ‘umbrella’ that spans many diverse functional divisions and working groups and it cannot operate within any one of them without hobbling the organization’s potential.

The Web is a synthesizing and integrative force; a strategic force that needs strategic positioning and support from the organization.


wrote the following on Saturday September 12, 2009

I don’t know much about concepts of Monologues and Conversations but it is important that web team and marketing team must have better understanding to express content that is important for corporate websites. I totally agree with your concept about that.

Phil R

wrote the following on Monday November 16, 2009

I believe the groups should work together. However, ecommerce is a profits centre (sometimes to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars) Marketing is about communciating a message. I have headed up both divisions and I am also a pure marketer turned online specialist – noone I have worked with in marketing truly gets the web and its subtle nuances.


wrote the following on Wednesday December 2, 2009

I agree with my2cents when he describes typical roles and scenarios, but it doesn’t have to be like that.

Smart companies are the ones that have strategies and policies in place so that best practice is second nature to each group. It’s not easy to achieve but possible (and an important responsibility of the person responsible for the web).

Web production work, for example, is a major waste of resources. Ideally systems and governance would allow Web Producers to spend less time marking up HTML from Word docs and more time being marketers and analysts.


wrote the following on Tuesday December 15, 2009

Corporations operate differently based on their business, and I think it would be presumptuous to say that all marketing organizations should have a web team as part of their department. In some instances, that might not make sense.

Corporations have always had their own departments and objectives within those departments, and yet the concept of the corporation has survived. In fact, one could argue that even if a web team was housed in marketing, there still could be plenty of red tape and conflicting priorities between them.

Additionally, web talent, marketing, sales, etc each have their own unique set of skills and interests that they bring to the table to make a corporation function as an enterprise. Muddying the skillsets of each of these skills by merging them into one department could pose a potentially detrimental situation for the overall health of an organization.

Chris George

wrote the following on Wednesday July 13, 2011

Hey – no follow-up??
“In Part 2: The Anatomy of a Prototypical Web Team. Coming soon.”

Great post, BTW!