The term Marketing Operations has taken on a life of its own over the past half-dozen  years to characterize the work required to bridge efficiency and effectiveness gaps in Marketing organizations. During that time, many different definitions have been advanced.

Some like the one advanced by Marketing Operations Partners in its Journey to Marketing Operations Maturity benchmarking study are highly aspirational but still elusive for most companies to implement. Others, like the current Wikipedia definition, describe the various responsibilities of the MO role but don’t really nail the full potential of the value proposition. Still other definitions like this one from IBM have a features and functions feel to them  (perhaps because they are centered around selling marketing automation solutions?).

Marketing Operations is similar to other professions, such as public relations and marketing itself, where you can ask 10 different professionals to define the discipline and get 10 different answers. There is no one size fits all; every company is different. So it’s probably best to stop obsessing about definitions and focus instead on what we as Marketing Operations professionals are trying to achieve. Or, as Covey puts it, “begin with the end in mind.”

So what are we really trying to achieve? It varies from one organization to the next, but I think we can boil down to four key characteristics what we want from our Marketing organizations:

  1. Be more predictable
  2. Be able to convincingly demonstrate the value of our investments to management
  3. Have an optimal impact on the success of the enterprise
  4. Be able to continuously improve predictability, demonstrate value and deliver impact

Those organizations that can do the above are living what we see as the pinnacle of superior Marketing Operations: Continuous Marketing Effectiveness.

Starting with the Fundamentals
Most companies that have invested in a dedicated Marketing Operations function start by incorporating Operational Discipline into Marketing. Improving and documenting workflow. Injecting measurement discipline (even if what Marketing is initially able to measure is difficult to link to meaningful outcomes). Optimizing resources and reducing waste by focusing on efficiency.

The challenge for companies at this stage in Marketing Operations maturity is getting off the activity treadmill –  that heads-down  mode we’re all too familiar with where tactics trump strategy and firefighting and other reactive behaviors are the norm.

Companies routinely look to marketing automation at this fundamental stage of maturity. Unfortunately, automation is only as effective as the data, processes, activities, milestones and outcomes it is intended to automate. Automated dysfunction is still dysfunction. Thus most early investments in marketing automation fall short of expectations.

Moving Toward Best Practice
As Marketing organizations get off the activity treadmill and start to mature in sophistication, Marketing Operations evolves into a Best Practice Enabler. Marketing strategies, campaigns, tactics, messages and performance become more consistent, repeatable and sustainable. Successful performance is documented and replicated. We actually begin to get good at learning from our experience, rather than blindly repeating what once worked yesterday but no longer delivers the goods.

The Glue for Greater Agility, Alignment, Accountability
It’s hard to get out of the activity treadmill and even more difficult to commit wholeheartedly to becoming a best practice Marketing organization. How do companies break through the resistance? Just like individuals, they allow their vision of a desired future state to propel them toward their aspirations. These Marketing organizations are able to see past the components of their organization (pockets of individual knowledge and functional skills) to operate as a holistic, integrated system.  They recognize that a big picture view is not a “nice-to-have  when we have the time” but the glue that MObilizes every resource behind a common purpose. They see an increased focus on agility, alignment and accountability as powerful magnets that can help pull the organization forward. They invest in the ongoing learning, growth and development of their people by equipping them with the tools and resources they need to be optimally successful. Leaders in these Marketing organizations actively incorporate skill-building, career-pathing, and competency and professional development initiative into their plans. They put a premium on ensuring that their people move from merely understanding a new concept or insight to actually absorbing – or internalizing – it, then applying it immediately to practical need, adopting new ways of thinking and doing, and achieving new levels of effectiveness.

Now that’s what I call a winning recipe for Continuous Marketing Effectiveness!
What do you think? Is Continuous Marketing Effectiveness the pinnacle of success in your Marketing organization? Where is your organization in the maturity curve and how will your Marketing Operations team get it to the next level?

by Gary M. Katz, Chairman & Chief Strategy Officer at Marketing Operations Partners

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