Cracking The COE: A Guide To Brand-Run 'Centers Of Excellence'

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brand-aware"Brand Aware" is a column from the marketer's point-of-view on the data-driven, digital ad ecosystem. It is written by Bob Arnold, Associate Director of Global Digital Strategy at Kellogg Company.

As digital marketing continues its rapid growth, more traditional marketers have created "Digital Centers of Excellence" (COE) to help shepherd digital marketing. Being a proud member of this small group, it's clear to me that too many vendors don't understand who we are, how we operate, or what success looks like for us. The purpose of this column is to give some insights into our club, because leveraged properly the digital COE can be your Sherpa to widespread adoption of your products.

Our objective is relatively uniform: Drive digital adoption by creating a vision and strategy to enable our companies to advance in the digital space. Yet, many COEs do not have significant -- or any -- budget. Therefore, we have to influence our business partners, the marketers, to make investments in digital. We act as influencers by understanding marketers' consumer insights, business objectives and strategies to help them formulate digital strategies and goals. Additionally, we lead digital experimentation, scale tactics, and create and propagate best practices within the marketing organization.

Although these COEs were created to advance the digital channel, we are ultimately judged on business success. Measures can include process improvements, cost efficiencies, increased sales, and return on investment.

Personality types vary greatly in COEs, so it's important to research and understand who you are connecting with to pitch your ideas. Here are a few, generalized archetypes:

  1. Shiny object chasers. Not necessarily a negative label, as some shiny objects (like diamonds) prove to be quite valuable. This person seeks the latest and greatest opportunity and wants to move lightning fast. They have short attention spans so you need to be even quicker.
  2. Left brainers (analytical thinkers). These are engineers who happen to work in marketing. You cannot prepare enough for these folks; ensure you understand their business. They have specific issues and objectives they are looking to solve for. If you have a viable solution and a clear way to measure success from a business perspective (i.e. go beyond "digital action metrics"), you're all set.
  3. Gatekeepers. These folks exercise their influence over digital marketing like dictators. Go around them to their marketing partners directly, and you will make them extremely unhappy. They will exert all of their influence to stop you dead in your tracks. You've been warned.

Once you've done your research ,the next step is to talk to the folks in the COE. Here are a couple of tips:

  1. Cold calls/emails. This rarely works. When we are in the office, chances are we are in meetings, creating presentations, or working on presentations to drive digital forward within our company. My strong recommendation is to find another means of communicating with a COE.
  2. Agency partners. We work very closely with our digital agency partners. We converse almost daily and they understand our objectives and goals intimately. We, in turn, truly value their insights, perspective and recommendations.
  3. Conferences. Since the digital space changes so rapidly, it's important that the COE is also externally focused to understand the latest and greatest in the digital landscape. When we attend conferences, we are very receptive to hearing about new ideas and products, as we are looking to advance our digital knowledge.
  4. Publish. Publishing thought leadership articles and other content is a great way to prove value. I've personally reached out and formed strong partnerships with folks who have created thought provoking content. The watch out here is that advertorials are viewed negatively.
  5. Recommendations from other COEs. Although COEs are a relatively small group, I take pride (and I know others do as well) in the robustness of my network. Don't be shy to ask for a recommendation or additional leads. If I find a partner very valuable, I'm happy to connect them with my network. Of course the opposite is also true, if a partner disappoints, I'm not hesitant let my network know.

Hopefully these insights will help you in your next encounter with someone from a COE. Good luck!

Follow Bob Arnold (@bobbyarnold) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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