Marketing operations are certainly not the most attractive part of marketing, but they are becoming the most important. Companies are unable to keep up with changing consumer behavior and marketing environments. The pressure is being put upon them to enable companies to connect to customers and shape their interactions with competent individuals, efficient processes, and supporting technologies.
We saw marketing operations improving marketing efficiency by 15 to 25 percent as measured through investment returns and customer engagement metrics when done well. However, many find it challenging to achieve this degree of improvement. While marketers embark on a wide range of “digital transformations” to reshape their business models and activities, many of these efforts are hampered with business challenges and marketing problems.
For instance, a recent survey found that 84% of marketers do not have a working content strategy or distribution process to satisfy their growing marketing channels. Also, they do not have any formally managed supply chain of content.
This situation occurred in one global consumer products company. Its efforts to become more customer-centric saw year-over-year content spending increase by more than 25 percent. However, there was no unifying policy. The governance or structure to set connection, reuse properties, or measure the company’s dynamic supply chain’s effectiveness consisted of hundreds of departments, production firms, and media partners. They created content for websites, blogs, YouTube, social media, smartphones, and customer-relationship management.
Transparency, new governance, and improved processes led to establishing a center-of-excellence function to develop and manage a consistent content operating model across divisions. This reduced the time required to generate content, stopped cost growth, and introduced new disciplines to address the impact of content. As a result, the return on investment in marketing has increased by more than 20%.
Five steps towards bringing marketing operations into the digital age
Digital marketing operations involve the use of capabilities, procedures, structures, and technologies to exploit and scale digital channel interactivity: targeting, personalization, and optimization cost-effectively. Marketing operations always have a critical role in driving bottom-line growth as an example of the consumer products business shows. This capability allows speed, agility, iterative development, experimentation, and responsiveness. Successful businesses need to respond directly to it and shape the marketplace.
Marketers are aware of what to do, and action is being taken by many. But that often comes down to new technology platforms being implemented, the headcount being added, or digital allocations being increased within the marketing-spending mix. While these are essential steps, the challenge will not be solved. Modern marketing operations fundamentally call for the thoughtful, intentional development of new processes, coordination, and governance. We have identified five characteristics of successful marketing activities (exhibit).
1. Understanding customers truly and honestly
Like any meaningful relationship, it is a commitment to get to know your clients well. Tracking, analyzing and interpreting customer behavior and views should be an open-ended, often moment-to-moment job. And that is important not only for targeting and shaping relevant content and experiences but also for optimizing how they are delivered. Customers add an average of 1.7 brands to those they are considering during the purchasing process. For their most valuable segments, companies should map detailed customer decision journeys, using technologies such as ClickFox, three that track customers across channels to determine their cross-channel behavior and isolate those moments in which businesses can influence the journey.
Feeding these insights into marketing activities requires processes and teams focusing on collecting and making sense of the data and delivering the analysis quickly to the right decision-makers in a digestible form, often continuously. Scaling this capability means that organizations need to automate processes that do not require human intervention, such as customizing web pages, providing email, or generating dashboards to track managers’ customer behavior.
Many businesses are only at the initial stage of developing comprehensive client-insight programs. While setting up “war rooms” to monitor and respond to social media discussions is an excellent example of how businesses move in that direction. Organizations that culminate and make sense of all sources of customer insights are needed. For instance, to better understand its customers, one global hotel chain has combined its customer research group and marketing analytics group, specifically those who engage in their marketing, stay in their various hotels and use their resources. These two groups can be combined into one team of insights that directly reports to the chief marketing officer.
2. Providing an outstanding experience
When customers have a terrible experience, what happens? With a corporation, they stop doing business. And at any point, a souring of the customer experience can occur, which is why getting the right consumer trip requires getting everything right. Meeting customer expectations calls for each step that defines the entire customer experience to be mapped, highlighting the technologies and processes needed to allow a smooth journey and the different functions that must be coordinated across the organization to deliver it.
In many customer journeys, marketing, sales, support, service, and operations play vital roles, of course. But there are other functions, such as order management and fulfillment, that are also critical. For marketers, these are not typically top of mind. However, in the way a consumer perceives a brand’s ability to meet expectations, the interactions allowed by these back-end systems are integral. It also will enable decision-makers to adjust campaign spending based on trends and opportunities, such as direct salespeople to shops where an inventory of products is low. We have found that during a campaign, best-in-class businesses reallocate up to 80% of digital-campaign budgets.
3. Picking the best technology for marketing
A marketing technology that can process automation, personalize interactions and coordinate actions must deliver omnichannel customer experiences. In general, marketing technologists play a vital role in maneuvering the ecosystem of more than 2,000 providers of marketing technology to create quick fixes that have the most effective customer experience. 5 They act effectively as a bridge between customer experience and marketing operations.
Constructing a system with the flexibility to work with large platforms that are becoming more dominant, such as Adobe or Oracle, and point solutions frequently introducing innovations is an essential element of managing a capable marketing operations function. To ensure that your system has sufficient flexibility to hook into both current and emerging technologies, this requires developing a thoughtful application-programming-interface strategy, which will only become more significant as the Internet of Things moves mainstream.
Yet what is best for an organization is not necessarily the “best” marketing technology. For example, one global technology manufacturer of original equipment set out to create a personalized content-delivery plan across all touchpoints. It defined key performance indicators, outputs, and personalization levels, starting with a clear vision of its ideal customer-delivery needs, and then set out to compile the technology that could do it. But it also lacked a solution that could play nicely with the company’s many legacy systems and would also be simple for day-to-day implementation and management by a large group of global marketers. The business ended up combining off-the-shelf information, content, and analytics platforms with a customization engine.
4. Implementing processes and governance
Technology enables customer experience, but it requires people, processes, and governance to ensure that technology does what it is supposed to do. Failing to set guidelines for how business units can pilot new technologies, how the information will be shared across the organization will affect the entire system. How capabilities will be managed in-house versus external agencies and partners could result in a patchwork of enterprise-wide efforts, sow confusion, and hamper scale attempts.
Once a global consumer-packaged-goods company rethought its entire approach to marketing a new product to address this challenge, starting with a full revision of the marketing brief. There was no standardization of the current briefing process, which resulted in varying levels of input, lack of clarity around the insights driving the campaign, loose definitions of the campaign objectives, and inconsistencies with each agency’s specific role, as well as that of the internal team. As would be expected, much time was wasted as both the briefs and the campaign’s development underwent several iterations.
Every agency involved in the product launch required the new approach to participate in creating the briefs. The formalization of responsibilities by everyone at the table, while aligning roles and resources ahead of time, helped mitigate the “land grabs” that may occur among competing agencies. Besides, bringing everyone together made for more vital briefs initially, as it generated a healthy debate on critical issues, such as which agencies would leap the launch, which key performance indicators should be measured, and how and where feedback loops should be incorporated to allow teams to tweak and iterate after launch. The new approach paid off: from four months to just one.
It takes the client to be a powerful orchestrator and the agencies to stick to their defined roles to establish such clarity upfront. This level of governance can enhance creativity instead of being restrictive. It frees people to concentrate on their responsibilities instead of wasting time and energy jockeying for other agencies’ position.
5. Employing the best metrics to accelerate business-success
Technology is now getting up to the holy marketing grail: the ability to monitor, track and manage marketing investment effectiveness. Marketing effectiveness measures need to move beyond what a narrow set of metrics has often been limited to. For example, as businesses become more customer-centric, metrics should focus, as is often the case, on customer activity rather than merely a product or regional activity. New behaviors and processes, such as how quickly a product is launched or how quickly lessons from the field can be successfully integrated into the next marketing offer, should also be strengthened by metrics.
However, metrics need to provide insights quickly, often in real-time, to be most effective and perform. They need to be presented in a way that is easy to understand for decision-makers. They need to look forward to identifying opportunities for the future rather than reporting what has already happened.
It is sad but true: traditionally, marketing operations have been overshadowed by sexier marketing tactics. However, as customers are increasingly empowered and sophisticated in making purchasing decisions, using data to map customers’ DNA, understanding what they want, and then taking those insights to develop and deliver a superior (and flawless) customer experience has never been more critical. As the results go, we think it is pretty sexy.