Power to the Power Users: Effective Folder Structures

I’ve been working with my coworker Kiyana as she gains exposure to more Marketo instances beyond DemandLab’s own setup. And the experience of seeing how others handle their Marketo instances has prompted some interesting conversations internally. 

In the consulting world, we usually talk about either very basic concepts in the lead up to become a Marketo Certified Expert or highly technical, in the weeds concepts that apply to all of five folks. However, there’s a big group of folks in the middle—power users like Kiyana looking for advice or clarity on how to best use Marketo, so I wanted to write a series addressing this pool of people.

Examples of some topics we’ve heard come up in discussions internally, with clients and in the larger martech community that we’d like to tackle in this series are:

  • How do I get a stronger command of triggers and filters with advanced filter logic?

  • What are best practices around Smart Lists and segmentations?

  • How do I best use tokens? What should—and shouldn’t—be tokenized?

  • How do I master the order of operations for lead creation and sorting?

  • How do I handle enriching data in a scalable way?

The answers to these questions come with experience and time, but there’s usually nothing distilling that for everyday power users to empower them to do things right the first time. Our goal here is to make that knowledge transfer happens so everyone can benefit.

So, let’s kick this series off with a deep dive on folder structure:

“Is there an ideal way to set up your folder structure in Marketo? Are there any best practices or examples one should use for reference in developing their Marketo folder structure?”

Great question! I’ve worked in dozens of Marketo instances, and while no two are structured quite the same, there’s a reason behind that—different companies will use different parts of Marketo to differing degrees. As a result, you’ll see different ideas drive how a Marketo instance and structure should be set up. There are common ideas and themes behind the most successful and straightforward-to-navigate folder structures, though.

Here at DemandLab, we’ve been working on a concept called the “Ideal Instance”—basically, if we knew nothing about a company or a use case, what would that Marketo instance look like, and how would we use that as a framework to tailor the structure for them from there? We’ve taken our experience working with hundreds of instances, gathered what’s worked (and what hasn’t) and come up with a basic skeletal folder structure that should work for most Marketo customers.

A brief note to add first: while we have definitely seen workspaces set up as sort of “mega-folders” for different business lines or units, we tend to shy away from recommending that as there can be a lot of unforeseen problems with that method. I’ve spent a lot more time dismantling workspace/partition setups than I have building new ones. If workspaces and partitions make the most sense for your situation, be sure to do a lot of planning and have a deep architectural understanding of the pros and cons to that setup. That said, for this setup, we’ll assume that you have one workspace and one partition.

This image is a high-level overview of how we believe a folder structure works best:

Marketing Activity parent folder

One of Marketo’s biggest weaknesses is the lack of global tokens (more on that later in this series)—something you can set up once and use everywhere as needed. Making a parent folder that contains all of your other folders allows you to use folder-level tokens that all of your subsequent folders can inherit to use throughout your marketing campaigns. For example, some common tokens you may want to store at your highest level would be what year it is, your corporate addresses, any tokens that translate values (such as turning a Salesforce User ID into a person’s details/photo/etc.) or commonly reused strings (like “?utm_source=marketo&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=”).

00-99 folders

While some instances may use “!!” to send a folder to the top or “_” to send a folder to the bottom, we prefer a numbering system. That same numbering system can also cascade down to how you organize items inside your programs (e.g., having your progression smart campaigns within a program numbered 01, 02, 03, or having your emails in a series numbered 01, 02, 03 in the order that they’re being sent). The idea with this structure is that you have core places to keep everything, with nothing that shouldn’t qualify for one of these folders—basically a mutually exclusive, collectively exhaustive structure. In the Ideal Instance, we start with the following structure:

00. Templates

The central place for storing program templates to use for your marketing initiatives. These should be standardized program setups for executing programs such as emails, webinars, nurtures, syndication setups, and so on. I’m personally a strong believer of enforcing templates as the way to handle creating campaigns, and if users aren’t using templates (and instead, cloning from older campaigns), find out why—perhaps there needs to be a special template set up for some email types compared to others. Alternately, you can just get the “You Didn’t Clone From Template” Police–a totally real squad and not just an empty threat I tell clients–to show up and remind them why it’s a good idea to keep things clean and consistent by using templates, a common language, and structure that everyone can understand.

It’s also great to keep this folder at the top of your folder structure, so no one can say they didn’t know where to find their templates. They’re right there when you first log in.

01. Acquisition Programs

There will always be campaigns that don’t necessarily act as campaigns but are things that will passively acquire new records to your system. Most commonly, this will be corporate website forms that aren’t tied to a marketing initiative (such as Contact Us or a blog subscription form) or incoming records from a system that isn’t your CRM. This provides a place to process those records, take steps to get them cleaned up and ready, then on their way.

02. In-Market (active) Campaigns

This folder is the bread and butter of most Marketo instances–the active, one-off campaigns that you’ll be executing. There are a lot of ways to approach the structure inside this folder, and a lot of it will depend on the type of marketing activities you do. Generally, there are three ways that work best:

    • The first structure, Business Unit/Region -> Year -> Type of Campaign, works best when you have very distinct business lines or regions with unique content that may not interact with each other that often or have similar audiences. So it makes sense to first split by business objective or geolocation. From there, you would drill down into types of initiatives over the course of the year

    • The second structure, Year -> Type of Campaign -> Year-Month, works well when you have high-volume or overlapping competition for audiences. In my first Marketo instance, there were often competing campaigns with similar audiences amongst business units (Unit A and Unit B wanted to email List C within days of each other). Having a breakdown of all messaging that was going out in a given month by channel helped corral groups and figure out scheduling to ensure wires aren’t crossed.

    • The third structure, Year -> Type of Campaign, works best when you either have business units that aren’t in competition for audiences or just one business unit. Alternately, if you don’t produce a lot of campaigns and another folder level makes little sense for you, this would be the way to go. This is the default structure we provide in the Ideal Instance.

You’ll notice that a folder with year (or year-month) is in every structure; this is to provide you with the historical context of when the campaign was planned and executed. But, more importantly, it gives you a place to cleanly archive older campaigns after a certain amount of time.

Also, it’s not uncommon to have a folder at the same level of Year named something like “Recurring Marketing Campaigns”. This typically holds things that are still marketing initiatives, but are not time-based and may turn on or off depending on age. Examples of this would be your landing pages or measurement campaigns for a resource center, or recurring webinars offered as customer onboarding.

03. Customer (Buyer) Journey

Also known as a Lead Lifecycle, this folder should contain the core measurement framework that you use for measuring and monitoring a record from Prospect to Customer to Repeat Customer. This setup houses the campaigns, reports, and QA checks to ensure that your flow and measurement are working as expected. This is also a great place to put other customer-centric, centralized campaigns such as scoring, CRM sync (if not part of your Lead Lifecycle), or any alerts that are sent to your team for customer behavior. Think of this as your headquarters for prospect and customer health.

04. Engagement (Nurture)

In contrast to the Recurring Marketing Campaigns folder, we typically recommend approaching nurture programs separately from standard marketing campaigns. This is because nurture campaigns are often set up to handle prospects and customers in a more holistic manner than just sending a message. The three most common nurture styles I’ve done over the years is:

    • Move a person from being known to being a marketing qualified lead,

    • Send targeted messaging to help accelerate opportunity stages, or

    • Keep a record rejected from sales aware and warmed up to us until they meet sales criteria.

None of those are tied to a given campaign, often feature evergreen content, and are treated separately than standalone campaigns.

Some companies may do small, 2-3 message nurture campaigns and not consider them nurtures in the traditional sense. I would still recommend placing those in this folder and not in the 02. In-Market Campaigns folder for clarity’s sake; perhaps creating a standalone folder for these mini-nurtures makes more sense.

05. Data Management

The data management folder handles everything to keep your records in tip-top shape and, if necessary, meeting the requirements for records to be synced to CRM. Typical programs would be things like geo-standardization, webhooks for appending or cleaning data, patching or standardizing values such as Lead Source/Lead Source Detail, or catching typos in data. If “Customer Journey” is your folder for customer health, this is your folder for data health.

06. Operational

Operational programs finish out the trinity of health areas—this folder holds the items that deal with your system and process health. These are the gears that need to move regardless of data or individual record perspective. Items like your unsubscribe page or subscription preference center, managing email delivery status, recording consent, or handling records deleted from your CRM are common examples of things that would go here.

07. Reporting

This one is a bit controversial, and may or may not make sense for your organization. When it comes to reporting in Marketo, there are three schools of thought:

    • Make reports inside programs to report on program-level performance only

    • Make reports inside the Analytics section because That’s Where Reports Are

    • Make reports in a dedicated reporting area for Marketo reports

If you’re setting up dedicated Marketo reports that are mailed to external stakeholders and are formalized in some way, having a 07. Reporting folder makes sense as a central place to house them. That said, remember to trust no Email Performance Report and look at other types of reports (such as People Performance, Program Performance, or Sales Insight Email Performance to see usage only).

95. Maintenance

Everyone makes mistakes. Things need to be cleaned up. One-off correction campaigns need to be run. For sanity’s sake, keep these sorts of corrections in a centralized place both so you can find them and monitor recurring mistakes (then you can correct the process and procedure around them). Try not to delete things in this folder and instead aggressively archive.

96. Imported Templates/Programs

This is another controversial folder, as I believe nothing should be imported unless it’s coming from another Marketo instance that you own. But, there should be a place to store items that have come in from other instances. Ideally, you should be taking the concepts and ideas that are received from imported templates or programs, integrating them into your own templates and programs, and removing these legacy items as soon as possible. However, if it makes sense to retain for reference purposes, they should be in a standalone folder like this.

97. Training

Everyone has to start somewhere, whether that’s the old-school Marketo users who did the Big Launch Webinar or Marketo training that’s been tailored to your company. Having a dedicated space to learn how to best use Marketo within your organization and for new users to look back at earlier training items is needed. We recommend keeping old training programs—but making sure they’re archived as to not cause clutter. That said, if you have a dedicated Marketo sandbox, it may make more sense to place your training programs in it instead of using your production instance.

98. Testing/Sandbox

If you do not have a dedicated Marketo sandbox, create a folder to test new concepts, campaign setups, email or landing page tweaks and small-scale data changes that won’t get mixed into day-to-day activities. Segregating those efforts out makes sure there isn’t any confusion and gives you a place to trace back what worked (and what didn’t) as you iterate on what to do next.

On a side note, I also strongly recommend creating “Testing/Sandbox” folders inside your Templates area in Design Studio for segregating out email and landing page templates that you’re revising. This is the closest you can get to staging or QA versions for Marketo templates at this time (and will make it explicitly clear to users that they shouldn’t be used).

99. _Archive

Sometimes, there are just old items you need to clean up. Early marketing efforts. Prior attempts to organize that went awry. They should be placed here for posterity, but most likely do not need to be referenced on an ongoing basis.

Everything you do in Marketo should broadly fall into one of these folders. How you structure those folders underneath is largely a company-by-company decision. Having a place for everything and keeping everything in its place is critical. Naming conventions may not always have been kept. People may name things other than what you expected. One day, you may win the lottery and someone else will have to manage your Marketo instance without you. Having a properly structured place for programs ensures that even when names fail, you should be able to find what you’re looking for—and others can onboard and off-board from your instance knowing where to find items.

On a more granular level, how should folder structure work inside a campaign?

There are a few different ways to approach this. At a minimum, I recommend keeping the components of your campaign in three folders: Assets, Campaigns and Reporting.

The Assets folder holds key items that make up your campaign. In this example, you see that the Assets folder is broken down into Email, Lists, and LPs. The program was a live event with multiple emails and landing pages, so it made sense to break them into another level for organizing. If this was just an email program, you’d probably fine with just the Asset folder.

Campaigns folders hold the Smart Campaigns that power your marketing initiative. The idea is to break up the types of campaigns that are inside a program:

  • Maintenance campaigns typically are test or adjustment campaigns that run to check if an email sends as expected or add backfill records as needed.

  • Measurement campaigns are responsible for a record’s progress in a campaign (such as seeing who went from being invited to being registered for an event or flagging those who unsubscribed from emails) that correspond to a program’s progression statuses. These can (and often do) include flow steps for secondary functions, such as assigning lead source to a record with no lead source recorded if they enter the campaign.

  • Operation campaigns handle the nuts and bolts of the campaign itself–sending emails and reminders, handling autoresponders, triggering SMS messages, and so on.

Once again, it’s more common for most setups to just use “Campaigns” as a parent folder since there’s usually not that level of detail.

Reporting takes an aggregate look at program performance—what new names were generated? How does the campaign compare to similar programs? Did any anonymous visitors look at the corresponding LPs? Because this is usually 2 to 3 reports maximum, there is no second-level of folders.

We hope this in-depth review of folder structure helps you look at your own marketing operations setup and structure—whether that’s getting off the ground with a new platform or adjusting your existing organization to keep things streamlined. Have any best practice questions you’d like us to tackle? I promise if I can write this much on just making folders, we can give you definitive answers to the questions you’ve got on day-to-day work. Just shoot us an email at info@demandlab.com or contact us here and keep an eye out—you may just find the answers here!


About the Author

Courtney Grimes

Courtney is Innovation Manager at DemandLab, using creative problem-solving and technical capabilities to make marketing and sales technology work for B2B and B2C clients. She has helped organizations solve their most perplexed technical issues and restructure their processes to optimize the return on marketing automation and CRM.

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