Marketing operations is often considered a back office process that is not glamourous. A lot of attention is paid to great creative content, engaging customer journeys and innovative technology platforms. Although all these things are important, without flawless marketing execution, they all fall down. There are several goals of an effective marketing operations department:
- Quality – drive toward zero defects in customer communications
- On Time – provide on-time communications to customers
- Flexibility – be nimble and adaptable to changing business conditions or events
- Speed – be able to churn out communications as necessary
Below I’ll explore the keys to creating and running an effective marketing operations group.
First, as with most functions, it is important to find the right leadership. Marketing operations leaders need to understand the “what” in addition to the “how”. They also need to have great business acumen, understand how to drive business results and be proficient around technology. Being a “data geek” – really understanding the guts of the company’s data, and a “metrics geek” – knowing how to interpret results – are great to have as well. I’ve spoken to hundreds of associates who run marketing campaigns. I always tell them that it is imperative that they understand the underlying data behind their campaigns and why the campaign is being executed (see documentation above). Without this understanding, the person executing the campaign can’t be effective in their role. They need to be able to ask the right questions when given a specification to deliver a campaign and challenge the campaign designer when the data doesn’t match the spec. Finding people who have good business acumen to understand business results and read data, application skills to write campaigns, and detail skills to do the job correctly can be difficult so take your time as you staff your team. The consequences of not finding the right people can be devastating (see below).
Next, it is imperative to document EVERYTHING. The gamut of documentation ranges from the overall process of the department (campaign calendars, approval processes, process handoffs, etc.) to the execution of individual campaigns (goals, business requirements, measurement criteria, offers, campaign selection / segmentation / suppression / control, etc.). Using whiteboard sessions or designing on the fly may be good for brainstorming, but making sure the details are in writing is essential. Many companies try to document campaign operations through a workflow tool – I have seen this work well in some cases and fail in other cases. Regardless, without the proper documentation around workflow processes, it will flop.
Make sure you have a process in place for testing, approvals and monitoring of on-going campaigns. You should have a training environment with a full data model so that any associates new to the process can get up to speed. You need to have an obfuscated test environment where you can create test campaigns and get basic counts. When you run campaigns in a production environment, have a separate quality assurance function to validate results and a business approval process in place. Lastly, if you have on-going campaigns, make sure you have processes in place to validate campaigns and counts. Very often changes in underlying data affect campaigns. I’ve seen occasions where recurring campaigns are affected for months (under or over communication) without notice because no one is looking at results. Finally, you should have continues process improvement tactics (Six Sigma / LEAN / 4DX) to ensure that you are driving toward faster turn-around times and zero defects.
I would be remiss as a technologist to not mention how automation can solve many of these issues. There are many great campaign orchestration tools on the market today and the use of them is essential for real-time, triggered or batch based campaign execution. Your team needs to be well trained in the overall use and nuances of each tool to be effective. Automation of the QA processes around the tools (and any processes run outside the tools) is also imperative to proactively highlight were there may be issues. All companies that are mature have standard metrics and reporting that are reviewed before campaigns are deployed.
So now that I’ve described the effective functions that are needed, what happens when something goes wrong? There are multiple things that can go wrong – you’ve sent the wrong offer to the wrong people, you rewarded people that shouldn’t have been rewarded, or you’ve missed communicating to someone who should have received something. When this happens, it is imperative to get the business owners (and sometimes legal) involved. Ask yourself how the customer experience is affected by the error and what financial or legal implications exist due to the error. Often times, a fast follow up “whoops” communication or a correction communication can resolve the quickly without much effect and have minimal effect on your brand. Your customer care center will likely be the first ones to notice an error so it’s important to have a feedback mechanism in place to understand when errors occur so a remediation plan can be put in place quickly.