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Managing the Always-On Marketing Machine

By Michael McCune | January 05, 2021 | 0 Comments

MarketingMarketing Leadership and ManagementMarketing Leadership and StrategyMarketing OperationsMarketing Organization and Talent

The always-on marketing machine is a high fixed-cost operation that is more akin to a manufacturing facility then a campaign creation department. This changes how marketing pursues operational excellence.

The Rise of Functional Alignment

It isn’t the only way to structure your marketing organization, but more marketing leaders are (or would prefer to be) functionally aligned then by any other principle.

Shows more organizations are functional aligned than by vertical or brand or geography.

This makes particular sense when leaders leverage data and technology to automate more aspects of the marketing function. But though commonly envisioned as a data-driven process, automation is a human-guided system:

  • someone needs to oversee the data management
  • someone has to watch for degradation in propensity models
  • the event-triggered engine has to be monitored
  • content rendering protocols need to be updated
  • the utilization of channels has to be directed

This human-guided need drives a desire for functional alignment. It also shifts the workflow from shepherding a campaign through to launch, and brings to the fore the need to coordinate inputs and outputs in a marketing manufacturing system.

It isn’t that geographic differences are ignored, or that industries aren’t strategically addressed, or that brand is neglected.  Rather, those characteristics and insights are inputs that change the outputs as more marketing is manufactured for mass or niche audiences.

The Fall of Variable Costs

What sneaks up on marketing leaders is this functional (always-on) alignment shifts cost structure. CFOs are accustomed to coming to marketing and simply saying “do less” in order to cut costs. Marketing then dials down paid media, and the number of campaigns. Business units tighten their belts and better prioritize where money goes in support of their products.

Painful? sure. Hard? Not too hard.

But the always-on marketing machine has data flow, technology licenses, full-time functional managers. The inputs are always coming in, and the machine is on. You can adjust the distribution of output a bit (paid media), but owned channels don’t have a high cost for one-way distribution.

No one wants to mothball the always-on marketing machine because shut-down and re-start costs would likely be prohibitive. You can likely save on the cost of creating new input, but that will risk stagnation of output – which may be tolerable for a time.

What are your options?

In this context, the tenor of the cost conversation changes to one of continuous improvement. A need arises for a dedicated function among the other marketing functions – one that facilitates improvement in efficiency and efficacy: Marketing Operations.

The Nascency of Marketing Operations

To be clear, our own data shows that Marketing Operations functions may not all be used for continuous improvement. The chart below shows the variety or remits assigned or taken up by dedicated marketing operations functions.

Showing the variety of remits assigned to the marketing operations function.

There are signs that more marketing operations teams are planning to lean in on data management, marketing technology, and other areas like performance benchmarking.

This aligns to the always-on marketing machine’s functional orientation. It also recognizes that colleagues managing functional components need help in their own pursuit of operational excellence and continuous improvement.

If that starts to sound like quality management, production efficiency, capacity planning, and capital investment projects, you are not alone.

Future Direction

If the always-on marketing machine can’t be easily turned off, then the presence of Marketing Operations can fulfill the need to demonstrate an always-on effort to improve efficiency and efficacy.

It also brings marketing on par with other parts of the enterprise like sales, customer service, and HR that have operational functions because they are also always-on.

Even if you don’t have a formal marketing operations function, that doesn’t prevent your teams from asking the 7 Questions to Optimize Marketing Operations and finding immediate, near term, and long term opportunities to improve their areas of functional responsibility.

That would be a good head-start in preparing to manage an always-on system.

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