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Why OKRs are Martech’s Must-Have 3-Letter Acronym for 2022

By Rob Brosnan | February 09, 2022 | 0 Comments

MarketingMarketing Technology and Emerging Trends

Sometimes a mess grows so large, even contemplating the task of cleaning it can feel overwhelming. Who hasn’t, in the face of a mountain, suddenly found extremely good reasons to look another direction? For digital marketing leaders, managing a marketing tech stack can feel this way. Portfolios have grown large and the products so interdependent that many have added tech in order to coordinate the tech (Hello CDPs!).

Marketers who’ve yet to prioritize martech maturity are at risk. Feature overlap between commonplace products — marketing’s alphabet soup of MMH, ESP, MCCM, MA, CDP, DAM, and so on — leads to low levels of utilization and eventually to dyspeptic CFOs. At more than a quarter of the CMO’s budget, roughly a third of capabilities go unused. Advanced teams use agile,iterative strategy and product champions to boost adoption, adjust roadmaps, and build cross-functional relationships (see Maturity Model for Managing Marketing Technology, Gartner subscription required).

What if you’re just at the beginning? What if you don’t have a martech strategy, a roadmap, or even executive support? How do you even get started?

A Quick Intro to OKRs

If scaling the mountain feels too Sisyphean, you’ll be pleased to hear of the newest TLA (three letter acronym) out of Silicon Valley: OKRs. Objectives and Key Results are a simple way to help martech teams attain results that matter, not just maintain KPIs. While not specific to marketing per se, OKRs can help you kick off, and even accelerate, your program for martech management.

OKRs emerged from Intel in the Andy Grove era and were used to great effect at Google. Recently popularized by John Doerr’s Measure What Matters, OKRs are a lightweight way to help teams, especially fusion teams —  cross-functional that blend business, tech, and data skills, to deliver innovations — say a new customer journey — tied to revenue, customer experience, or other objectives. OKRs only take a few hours to learn and require little more than a shared file to put in motion.

OKRs Connect Martech to Company Objectives

Let’s put OKRs in familiar terms. Suppose “personalization at scale” is one of your company’s 2022 priorities. You lead a cross-functional team tasked with standing up a CDP. You might connect, or localize, the company objective’s to your team as follows.

Sample Martech Objective and Key Results for Q1, 2022


Supercharge our Martech Stack to Personalize Every Interaction

Key Results

  • Complete data onboarding to the Smarthub CDP by Feb 15.
  • Move 50% of journeys to the CDP by EOQ
  • Integrate churn prediction data from the data warehouse into the customer profile and use in 3 tier 1 campaigns
  • Support data flow to journey analytics to identify new candidate journeys
  • Operationalize the new real-time lookalike model on 15% of the customer file
  • Maintain < 2 day compliance approval time for new campaigns or journeys

Let’s level-set with two quick definitions:

  • Objectives are aspirational and directional, and should help all stakeholders, even tetchy financial types, understand your intention. Os (in the parlance) are assigned to teams, not individuals.
  • Key Results are quantitative and time-specific outcomes, defining what needs to be in place to attain the objective. KRs can be assigned to individual team members or to another team, say an analytics team you depend on, but which sits in another part of the org.

OKRs are clear and compelling, but do they help marketers? By clarifying what results really matter, you help your teams focus on the most important work. Marketing’s full of work that’s constantly shifting in response to crises and opportunities, usually in that order. While you need to respond when a storm hits, you also need a compass to help you return to course when it blows over. OKRs help you do that, they help your team do that, and they help your stakeholders benefit from the results delivered.

How to Kickstart Martech OKRs 

To get started, pull together your team to brainstorm 2-3 aspirational objectives, each with no more than 4-6 quantitative key results. Less is more with OKRs, clarity being critical to a successful use of OKRs. But also aim high: to encourage teams towards bigger results, OKRs avoid penalizing great work that might fall short of breakthrough. When grading OKR performance, ask what fraction of your KRs would score as great, then set the bar there. Google famously sets their “sweet spot” for OKR grades at 60% – 70% of the KRs.

Once you’ve set OKRs for the quarter, use a weekly team meeting to develop an OKR cadence. Celebrate accomplishments and clear blockers so that the team keeps progressing. While you can use a paid tool to manage OKRs, you can also simply keep track of your weekly progress in a shared spreadsheet or deck. At the quarter’s end, review your OKR grades, and reset your OKRs for the one ahead.

Use OKRs to Address Familiar Martech Challenges 

A common roadblock to agile martech management is the traditional, tech-first orientation that companies often take: we need a new TLA in order to deliver marketing’s objective. By framing objectives in terms of the outcomes you want to produce, you help others align with the result, rather than getting lost in the tech selection doldrums. 

OKRs can help with other martech-related objectives, such as improving relationships with IT, legal, sales, and other stakeholders — say by surfacing the dependencies or service level expectations between teams or functions. They can help you increase the usage of critical capabilities, say of journeys or predictive analytics, and they can help you resolve data challenges, such as data access or quality.

Consider kicking off your martech management journey with OKRs. A small time investment can help you tackle inherently complex and cross-functional projects, like roadmap development. Even if you’re already adept at use cases, POCs, or full-blown agile martech management (Gartner subscription required) , consider adding OKRs to your martech management toolkit. A small investment of time can yield worthwhile results.

Are you using OKRs, either at your organization or within your marketing teams? What other practices have you found help drive marketing innovations?Are you a skeptic? Let us know.

The Gartner Blog Network provides an opportunity for Gartner analysts to test ideas and move research forward. Because the content posted by Gartner analysts on this site does not undergo our standard editorial review, all comments or opinions expressed hereunder are those of the individual contributors and do not represent the views of Gartner, Inc. or its management.

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