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Marketing Operations Take on Mission Critical Priority

By Jennifer Polk | April 13, 2017 | 2 Comments

Marketing operations are becoming essential to managing the many moving parts of the modern marketing organization and it’s campaigns, programs and initiatives. Yet, the role is ill-defined and oft-forgotten when marketing leaders build and staff their teams. Operational management is the thing that keeps the trains running on time and ensures smooth sailing through foresight and careful navigation. But you can’t assume marketing operational management will occur by happenstance. It requires leadership.

What do I mean?

I am the operational leader for my family, the Multitasking Operational Manager (MOM). Here’s how I know.  We just returned from spring vacation,  which involved a family of five, some traveling out of state, others traveling out of the country. One thing we all had in common was being busy right up until the day we departed with the day-to-day activities of work, school, sports, extracurricular activities, etc.

What does that have to do with operations?

You might think coordinating this type of activity takes a travel agent or vacation planner. You would be right. It’s helpful to have someone who architects the plan, helps you decide where to go, how to get there, what  to see and do once you arrive and how to do it all on your budget.  You might liken them to a marketing agency or a multichannel marketing leader. They are useful for planning and execution. Nevertheless, gaps remain in day to day operational management before, during and after the big event.

You might suggest an app or a shared calendar.  You’re correct. Those are useful tools for planning, communicating, tracking budget or activities, just as multichannel campaign management platforms and other marketing technology can help with marketing program execution. But the tool alone won’t meet your needs. Someone has to identify the need for a tool; find a tool to fill that need; learn how to use the tool and get other family or team members to adopt it in order for the tool to be effective.

No matter how effective the tool, in the hands of just one power user, it does nothing to help the greater good of my family or your marketing team. It wouldn’t have helped us plan, execute and enjoy our spring vacation anymore than it has helped you organize, orchestrate and operationalize your marketing.

So what’s the missing component?

Marketing operations is the answer

It combines elements of planning and orchestration with awareness and adoption of techniques and technology. It brings the ability to look out over the landscape of channels, tactic and touch points–the many moving parts that make up today’s marketing organization–seeing their individuality and interdependency and identifying potential for synergy. It also involves identifying potential for systemic failure, where things can quickly and easily go off the rails if two parts aren’t working in concert.

For example my oldest daughter left for spring vacation a day before the rest of the family. This took additional planning and communication, making adjustments for what needed to happen and when to support her specific needs differently than the rest of the family. The same is true for marketing.  You have a brand campaign kicking-off May 1, but a product launch slated for April 15. It takes broad visibility and detailed insight, access to teams, timelines, tools and budgets to adjust and capitalize on this opportunity.

It’s the marketing operational leader who has the visibility to be aware of both the brand and product campaigns; access the timeline for both campaigns; and propose accelerating the brand campaign in order to support the new product launch or otherwise ensure the campaigns are coordinated so they’re supportive of both brand and product-level goals.

Just putting this on the shared calendar is good, but actually having or facilitating conversations with the players involved in modifying and  executing those modified plan is better. Similarly, the marketing operations leader doesn’t inherently know both campaigns are taking place. They take the time to look at the details. They operate at both 30,000 feet and ground level. And it’s in the details that they find opportunities to synchronize many moving parts so that marketing sings.

They may look across brands, product categories, and even business units, bringing much needed visibility to the CMO or senior marketing executive of each business unit, but also engaging teams that are often operating in silos. They foster meaningful dialogue, better collaboration and more seamless and harmonious execution. And they don’t just talk. They do. They also empower others to do, recommending technology and extending access to help others gain better visibility and be more effective in their roles.

But why can’t people do this themselves? Why can’t my family figure this out by themselves? Why can’t brand and product marketing teams work this out among themselves?

They can, and they likely would, but not without missteps.  The marketing operations leader isn’t recreating the wheel or reinventing fire. Often times the value they bring is seeing the big picture, helping others see it too, taking action that or enabling others to take action by raising awareness of people, processes and technology. They know the right person to talk to, which system to use–and how to use it, the defined process for getting stuff done, as well as the hacks and workarounds.

And, most importantly, they build and share this knowledge in service of the greater good.

Do you have a marketing operations leader? Or, better yet, are you a marketing operations leader? Sometimes you inherit this role by default without an official title or pomp and circumstance simply because you are quintessential connector of people and ideas and someone who knows how to get stuff done.  Embrace your role, whether or not it’s official. You’re adding tremendous value and we’re likely to see more marketers move into this role in the future.

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  • Dan Fogarty says:

    Great article, I agree marketing operations is often overlooked and critical to marketing success.

    Noticed a small typo – “Do you have a marketing operations later? Or, better yet, are you a marketing operations leader? “