Why marketing operations is the foundation of a successful modern marketing team

Rock stars, superheroes, pioneers — whatever we call them, marketing technologists are far from the rare ‘unicorns’ they once were. More and more these experts can be found entrenched in marketing teams, enabling them to take tighter control of exponentially multiplying tools and data. 

Probably the best known is the data scientist, or what Scott Brinker defines as the ‘Analytics Architect’ in his chart of tech-savvy marketers. Over the last decade, these modellers have become industry celebrities; hailed for their ability to shape marketing data into insights that drive smart decisions, and consequently, they are highly sought after. But even the brightest data rock star needs a manager to help ensure outputs are plugged into wider company objectives, working strategically with clear goals and a structured approach. 

Operations managers — or to use Brinker’s catchier term, ‘maestros’ — are gaining recognition as vital for keeping the marketing show going. Our research shows that 44% of CMOs have one in post, with 28% currently hiring or looking to do so. 

While it’s encouraging to see numbers growing, ops experts still aren’t nearly prevalent enough. From smashing departmental silos to embedding data-centric culture, this role offers many benefits for any business striving to maintain agility, especially in today’s volatile B2B space. And that means every team should embed this function firmly into their foundations.

Removing data division

Marketing commentators who thought tech complexity was getting harder to handle in the early 2010s hadn’t seen anything yet. The constant tide of martech solutions has kept rising, along with new digital platforms and channels. As well as leaving marketers overwhelmed by the volume and variety of data sources, such complexity makes it more likely for efficiency-hampering silos to pop up: whether between data scientists and CMOs, or task forces focusing on specific campaigns, channel verticals, and global markets. 

Appointing a dedicated ops expert to manage the marketing stack bridges divides on multiple fronts. From the tech side, their remit includes ensuring every component is connected and functioning at maximum capacity, as well as plugging capability gaps. As part of that, they’re also responsible for establishing smooth data flow across pipelines and providing easy insight access. Instead of veering off in different directions, teams can use shared understanding of cross-channel performance to guide activities and curb ineffective or doubled up efforts.

What’s needed? 

Currently, just 51% of marketing teams are able to pull data from a centralised lake, while 43% of CMOs admit teams spend more time getting data into one place than actually using it. This indicates many teams — and marketing ops specialists — lack the setup required for running a well-oiled machine and making unified insight easily available. Covering fundamentals such as adopting automated data integration is essential to establish a holistic base of data collation, syncing, storage and distribution for ops leaders to work with. That’s not to mention avoiding wasting their energy and skills on trawling through chaotic data stores. 

Accelerating insight activation 

Staying steady in a shifting business climate is no less challenging than keeping pace with unpredictable consumer behaviour, especially following Covid-19. On top of creating smart strategies, teams must be ready to adjust when conditions change for their organisation and target sectors. In short, that means they need far-reaching and fast insight. 

Marketing ops isn’t just about tweaking mechanical nuts and bolts; as a satellite position, it also extends to monitoring data quality and leading on analytics. With complete oversight of marketing data, the ideal aim is to power rapid delivery of usable and accurate intelligence; allowing teams to pinpoint where activities are hitting the mark and whether adaptation is necessary, rather than waiting weeks for outdated insight and missing opportunities. In effect, marketing ops can enhance flexibility and the ability to retain a sharp competitive edge.

What’s needed?

All of these advantages depend on minimising time-to-insight. Combined data pools will take teams some of the way towards achieving this, especially since 19% cite the inability to compare cross-channel and platform performance as a delaying factor for decision making. Much greater impacts on dexterity, however, tend to come from reliance on legacy processes. 

According to the 2022 MarTech Salary and Career study, spreadsheets remain the number one application for marketing maestros, while our research has found 58% of teams still typically build reports in spreadsheets. Moving away from labour-intensive data practices and reporting tools that were cutting edge in the 1980s is critical to accelerating data activation and supplying teams with fresh insights they can use to nimbly adjust higher-level strategy and tactical levers for better ROI; be that re-directing ad spend or fine-tuning campaign creatives for stronger engagement.

Cultivating data-fuelled culture 

An absence of critical infrastructure is obviously problematic for maximising data value, but it’s not the only barrier. For 43% of CMOs in our latest research, instilling data-driven culture is the main challenge; with 17% pointing to difficulties getting the rest of the c-suite on board. Clearly, the struggle to illustrate tangible results using data is not only making it tough for CMOs to quantify their impact, but also win buy-in for the insight-based approach. 

Introducing a marketing ops role can significantly alleviate this burden. Improving access to amalgamated and granular performance insight will equip CMOs with hard numbers they can use to demonstrate their worth to the CEO, CFO, and beyond. The rewards that data-assisted activity yields can also start changing company attitudes; with data seen as an asset for aiding decisions not just in marketing, but across the business.

What’s needed? 

No matter how skilled they are, no technologist is a magician. Without teams who are on board and well-versed in how to leverage data, the capacity to elevate broader data maturity is severely limited. And as the MarTech report also underscores, that’s posing sizable issues: 58% name securing sufficient time, talent, and budget among their biggest problems, and another 19% cite supporting other people who need assistance using marketing tech. 

Ensuring each member of marketing teams has the knowledge and capabilities to get the most from available data is going to call for investment and top-down dedication. Training will, of course, be a key aspect for increasing confidence and enthusiasm around data-fuelled marketing. Arguably more vital is empowering individuals to use data for testing, learning, and firing their creativity; with organisational leaders cultivating an environment that enables employees to explore new avenues and see incremental gains from ongoing data use. 

As the importance of data continues to grow, technologists will only become more vital in guiding teams through the convoluted marketing landscape. But while CDOs steal most of the limelight, we must remember they need the backing of solid infrastructure; and that is where marketing ops shines. Companies that appreciate the foundational value of a marketing ops specialist will put their teams on track for insight-driven success, now and in the long run.

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