Why Citibank Eliminated Its Digital Marketing Department

In a crowded conference hall filled with digital ad marketers, Citibank North American head of consumer marketing Vanessa Colella explained why it made perfect sense that one of her first orders of business was, in fact, “eliminating the digital marketing department.”
While having a group of digital specialists who “all come with incredible backgrounds, they speak in jargon, and wear blue jeans” could be comforting, Colella explained at Ad Age’s Digital Conference, that it is often a crutch.
Why? Because everyone in a company’s marketing department needs to be fluent in digital strategy. “There’s no path for you if you don’t,” she said.
So Citibank trained everyone, from those who specialized in bus shelters to TV marketing, to be digitally savvy. 
“That, as you might imagine, was not an overnight thing,” Colella said. “We did a lot of internal training, and we hired strategically,” taking on people from Yahoo, Microsoft, and Google.
Colella believes in streamlining the marketing process, keeping things quick and simple.
When Citi had a Facebook campaign that helped people pool their credit card points to take a group vacation or buy their friend a big gift, Colella said she told her new team, “Welcome to Citi, here is where the bathroom is, you have eight weeks [to develop the campaign]. You are forcing people to strip it down and keep it simple.”
But campaigns don’t just stay in the digital realm — thus why marketing employees have to be able to float between different mediums.
One of Citibank’s greatest successes is Connect, a women’s professional network on LinkedIn.
“It became not just a digital program because women on the network decided they wanted to get together, and we started going to those,” Colella said, admitting, “They didn’t ask us in the beginning.”
But now Citi throws events for participants of what has become one of LinkedIn’s most successful groups.
On the flipside, the physical bike sharing initiative, called Citibike, is getting turned into an app.
“It started in the physical space and grew up into the digital,” Colella said.
Evolution is key, she said, noting that a campaign doesn’t have to live in a single publisher or ad network.
“Digital is not a department,” Colella said. “It’s not a department at Citi, not at our agency … I don’t want it to be at our partners.”
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