Centralization vs. Decentralization: Why You Need A Hybrid Model

BY: Alexandre Pelletier

PUBLISHED: 6/22/2020

Remember planning for the future? Don’t worry– neither do we.

In all seriousness, becoming familiar with frequent shifts has been one of the only constants of late. Almost 50% of marketing teams reported that they changed tactics amidst the pandemic, highlighting the importance of the ability to move quickly. The ability to provide visibility and manage fluid plans was reported as another top challenge.


Additionally, a recent poll of ours showed that 44% of marketing operations staff have struggled to keep up with an unexpected surge in requests.

So, how successful have organizations been in adjusting their tactics on the fly? And how can you ensure that your organization is set up to be a winner amidst sudden shifts in messaging, and in volume of requests? The answer to these questions comes back to the model in which they operate: a centralized or decentralized model.

In the ongoing “centralization v. decentralization” back and forth, there’s no clear answer…and that’s because elements of both are needed. In fact, operations with a hybrid of these models are best equipped to swiftly adjust their sails to changing winds, without capsizing the ship in the process.


The Benefit of a Hybrid Approach Between Centralization and Decentralization


A hybrid model gives your team the best of both worlds– enabling untrained users to stay agile with self-serve marketing, while providing protections to keep your campaigns structured and compliant with brand standards. At a time when the future is more uncertain than usual, this combination is not just a nice to have– it’s a requirement to survive and thrive long-term.

Simply put: you can’t be one or the other. You need both centralized and decentralized elements. Organizations that are sticking to a centralized model are going to be limited in their ability to expand and grow.


Alternately, going completely decentralized is not responsible either, because you need some components of centralized operations to maintain control.

Striking the right balance between centralization and decentralization will differ greatly between organizations, as there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. An organization’s overarching strategy, needs and preferences, combined with staff capabilities will help shape what your hybrid model looks like.


The optimal “balance” can and should shift over time to accommodate new initiatives as well as evolve with the growth of the organization.


Is This the Right Time to Make an Operational Change?


At a time when change (economic, socioeconomic, personal life…) seems to be the only constant, the concept of implementing even more change could cause some raised eyebrows amongst your team. Perhaps the idea of improving processes for better efficiency is understood but difficult to fathom.


Understandable, as marketing teams are already overwhelmed with the spike in campaign and virtual event volume.

Either way, this doesn’t mean that you should shy away from moving toward a hybrid model. It means that you need to clearly map out your change management plan to tackle a successful (and supported) move.

As simple as it may sound, your plan should include a lot of communication. As you seek buy-in and alignment across the organization, communicate how your vision of a hybrid model will better position the company to manage unexpected change, support high-level objectives, and ultimately drive long-term growth.


While the change is in process, be sure to provide proactive updates, recognize and celebrate all wins, both small and large. Finally, be sure to demonstrate your progress with this new model so that you can always tie your efforts back to real business value.


The Role of Decentralization in a Hybrid Model


A hybrid model for many means placing a stronger emphasis on decentralization. Don’t worry: decentralization and increased agility doesn’t mean that your organization’s operating structure becomes fast and loose.


Rather, it’s about removing silos within strategic areas to both empower marketers and cut down on time-sucking bottlenecks in marketing operations.

It’s important to give the right level of freedom to marketers. The truth is, if you fail to give your marketers enough space, they’ll find ways to work around the excessive control, which creates more chaos. It becomes a balance of being flexible enough to empower your marketers, while giving them a sandbox where they can play without going outside of the parameters.

Decentralization also enables self-service marketing, effectively giving marketers the ability to move rapidly and accomplish more in the process. Because self-service marketing streamlines marketing activity, it effectively frees up valuable time for marketing operations, at a time when we’re all feeling the squeeze of limited budgets and increased demand.


This level of efficiency is not only imperative when managing unexpected change, but is also just not possible if your processes are tied up in a system that is too tightly controlled.


What Should Stay Centralized


When you have a marketer in a tool that’s too powerful for their own technical training, this is when problems arise. You could be setting these marketers up for failure if you’re asking them to send campaigns in Marketo when they don’t have the right background.

In reality, giving an inexperienced Marketo user access to building campaigns in the platform is like giving someone a Formula 1 car and asking them to just go get you some milk at the corner store. It’s going to take them more time to figure out how to start the engine than actually walk to the store.

It’s oftentimes the field marketers who know just enough about Marketo to feel comfortable poking around but lack expert knowledge, that lead to bigger mistakes. Because of this, many of the core processes set up within Marketo— like lists, audience selection, and data governance— should be kept more tightly gated and centralized.


Opening this up to anyone can lead to a multitude of mistakes.

centralization vs. decentralization

As Scott Brinker outlined in his five rules of marketing technology and operations leadership “centralize everything you can” and “decentralize everything you can.” While at first glance it may seem like a contradictory remark, it highlights the importance of a hybrid model: approaching your processes in such a way that gives your organization the benefits of both sides.

Planning for the unexpected isn’t the easiest task– but implementing a hybrid model now can help your organization ride the waves of whatever comes your way.


Does your organization need help achieving ROI from Marketo? Learn how the Marketo experts at MERGE can help. Contact us today!