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Marketing operations (A-Z guide): insights on elevating workflows and processes

14 min read
Aaron Marquis

Marketing has evolved. Gone are the Mad Men days when martini-powered marketing teams delivered mass media brand awareness campaigns through a few big channels. Marketing has become an intricate operation, delivering creative content across many channels, requiring strategic planning and seamless execution. With this evolution comes the need for a specialized function within the marketing team: marketing operations.

Marketing operations, or 'marketing ops' as they're often called, are the backbone of a high-performing marketing team. They're the oil that keeps the cogs of the marketing machine running smoothly and in sync. From data cleaning to MarTech (marketing technology) stack management and from resource allocation to marketing project management, marketing operations are central to all marketing activity, boosting efficiency and increasing effectiveness.

Get ready to dive into what marketing operations are and how they shape the future of marketing.

What we'll cover

What is marketing operations?

Marketing ops focuses on streamlining processes and technologies within the marketing department to support marketing strategies and campaigns. This includes planning, campaign execution, analyzing performance data, and optimizing marketing efficiency, effectiveness, and alignment with overall business strategy.

Functioning under the greater marketing team umbrella, marketing ops teams work closely with other marketing team members and sub-teams with specializations, like digital or social media marketing.

Creative operations vs. marketing operations: What’s the difference? 

While creative operations and marketing operations have some overlap, they focus on different parts of the marketing process.

Creative operations optimize creative production. These teams are deliverables-driven: Think workflows and resource management — all the things that go into delivering assets on time, within budget, and to stakeholder specifications. 

Marketing operations focus on optimizing processes. These teams manage data and connect marketing strategy to delivery to drive specific outcomes.

Why is marketing operations important?

Why should you care about marketing operations? In a nutshell, they keep your marketing team on track to deliver growth, maximize ROI, and align marketing efforts with overall business goals.

Marketing ops works behind the scenes to ensure efficient processes and high productivity. They’re looking for opportunities to reduce manual tasks throughout the marketing department, freeing team members to focus on high-value work.

Marketing operations utilize data-driven decision-making based on customer behavior, market trends, and campaign performance. This more analytical approach supports and enhances marketing strategies, replacing intuition as the driver for decision-making.

They focus on continuous performance improvement using analytics, testing, and optimization to help identify workflows, technologies, and processes that can be improved. This gives company decision-makers direct insights into the return on investment of marketing efforts and a better understanding of how they affect the bottom line.

Marketing ops keeps marketing activities aligned with overall business objectives, moving the needle forward. With solid processes and data, marketing operations enable marketing efforts to support business goals.

Considering all the activities above, the overall objective is maximizing the return on investment (ROI) for all marketing activities. This ensures that marketing budgets are well spent and deliver tangible results.

What does a marketing operations team do?

Marketing operations people planning out system with use of sticky notes at the glass

The marketing operations team supports the systems and processes that help the marketing team do their best work. Marketing ops teams might include members like the Director of Marketing Operations, Marketing Operations Manager, Marketing Automation Specialist, CRM Administrator, Data Analyst or Marketing Data Scientist, or Marketing Technology Specialist.

Here are some of the common things you’ll find the marketing operations team doing within an organization:

1. Technology management and integration

A marketing operations manager oversees the selection, implementation, and management of the marketing tech stack. This includes customer relationship management systems (CRMs), marketing automation platforms, email marketing tools, content management systems, and analytics tools.

Once the tech stack is selected, the marketing operations team ensures that marketing and sales technologies work well together. They streamline processes and keep data flowing across systems.

2. Data management and analysis

Marketing operations managers monitor data across the marketing lifecycle. They develop and manage a data strategy that includes data collection, storage, analysis, and governance. Their goal is to ensure data quality and compliance with all data protection regulations.

A marketing operations manager also handles analytics and reporting. They analyze marketing data to track performance against key performance indicators (KPIs). They’ll also create reports and dashboards for business stakeholders to inform decision-making and strategy.

3. Process optimization

The marketing operations team strives to reduce sticking points and improve the speed of marketing campaign execution. To do this, they design and implement efficient marketing workflows and processes and establish best practices for lead management, scoring, and nurturing strategies for marketing operations.

4. Budgeting and planning

The marketing ops team is the gatekeeper of the budget. They keep spending aligned with strategic priorities to deliver a positive ROI. Marketing operations teams also assist with strategic planning by sharing insights on operational capabilities, market trends, and historical marketing effectiveness.

5. Campaign management and execution 

For this, marketing operations teams work closely with other marketing teams to launch campaigns across channels. This includes setting up and managing campaigns in marketing campaign platforms. Marketing operations managers also coordinate email marketing efforts and make sure they align with the organization’s marketing goals. Throughout the campaign, they continuously check performance and implement optimizations based on data-driven insights.

6. Collaboration and stakeholder management

Managing stakeholder expectations is one of the trickier parts of planning and executing a marketing campaign. The marketing ops team bridges marketing and other departments, including sales, IT, and finance. They facilitate collaboration and alignment on objectives.

The marketing operations manager also keeps stakeholders in the loop. They report on marketing performance, gather requirements for new initiatives, and justify investments in marketing technology and resources.

7. Training and support

Finally, the marketing ops team trains and supports marketing and sales teams. They help marketing and sales master marketing technologies and processes. They also lead change management efforts related to marketing operations initiatives. Marketing operations make sure new tools and processes integrate successfully across the organization.

The benefits of marketing operations for creative teams

Creative content review stages visualised with Ziflow - Graphic Design, Marketing Review and Client stage

Many factors can impede the creative process, including manual administrative tasks, poor communication, and opaque content review workflows. Marketing operations teams can help ease the hassles of more operational tasks, allowing creative teams to keep their ideas flowing and focus on knocking campaigns out of the park.

But the benefits don’t stop there. Some of the other benefits of marketing ops include:

Improved efficiency and productivity

The marketing operations team is always looking for operational efficiency. They work to simplify processes, automate repetitive tasks, and make sure resources flow to the right teams.

A marketing operations manager will help organizations use technology to encourage more creative thinking. They will allow creative teams to produce better results with limited time and resources.

Improving creative processes

Growing agencies or teams that have never thought through their processes may tackle each project or campaign differently each time. With the quantity and types of content that need to be created for each marketing campaign, keeping the development and launch of creative assets organized requires standardized operating processes. Marketing Operations Managers document and implement repeatable marketing processes that eliminate chaos and confusion during creative development.

Ensuring the right technology is in place 

Creative teams need various technologies to accomplish their goals—project management platforms, design tools, marketing automation, and document management systems, for example. A Marketing Operations Manager can ensure that all of this technology is compatible with cross-platform integrations that improve efficiency and the flow of marketing assets between systems for approval and deployment.

Marketing Operations Managers can also research emerging tech, such as AI,  that might provide additional benefits, test its use cases, and train the team to use new tools.

More consistent brand management

Marketing operations are key in the creative process, including managing brand compliance.

Since they actively reinforce marketing strategy and standard operating practices, marketing operations managers help protect the company’s brand. If an asset is outdated or doesn’t follow organizational brand standards, marketing operations is among the first to raise a red flag.

Better alignment with business goals

In many organizations, stakeholders can suffer from Shiny Object Syndrome when it comes to marketing. They latch on to campaign ideas that are trendy or unique — even though they might not align with the business objectives.

Marketing operations are the voice of reason. They analyze all marketing activities based on how they contribute to the company’s goals, such as revenue growth and customer satisfaction. This helps marketing teams focus on the initiatives that drive ROI.

Greater scalability

As businesses grow, marketing operations teams provide the framework and processes to scale marketing efforts. Marketing teams within rapidly growing organizations are often stretched to increase workloads, enter new markets, and expand their marketing mix.

These growing pains can sometimes lead to lower-quality deliverables. A marketing operations manager helps organizations manage growth without sacrificing quality.

How to build an effective marketing operations strategy

Charts and sheets on the desk with marketing operations team planning strategy

Think of the marketing operations manager as the captain of a ship. If a captain has no GPS equipment, the ship will likely veer off course. Similarly, marketing operations managers need a strategy to help them guide an organization’s marketing activities and creative teams. Let’s take a look at how to build a strategy that gets results.

1. Understand business objectives, and set measurable goals

First, clearly identify business objectives. Marketing operations should understand and support the organization’s business strategy and objectives. Then, set goals following the Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound (SMART) goal format so you have a clear game plan and can measure progress.  

By lining up marketing goals with company objectives, you can clearly understand how your marketing operations initiatives are performing.

2. Assess current operations and infrastructure

Next, look at your existing marketing tools, processes, and data management practices. Where are there gaps? Is there any overlap between tools? Do you have access to time-saving automation tools?

Take stock of what you’ve got and where, ideally, you’d like to see improvements. You may find that you’re spending more on software that you’re not getting much value from — meaning your money could be better spent elsewhere. 

3. Implement and integrate technology

Many tools and platforms can support and streamline your marketing operations. You’ll need a technology strategy to select and integrate these tools. You can identify the technologies that best fit your needs based on your goals and tech assessment. You should consider CRM, marketing automation, analytics, content management, and collaboration tools.

You’ll also want to create a plan to integrate your marketing technology stack. This helps with data flow and communication between tools. You can identify opportunities for automation to improve efficiency. With fewer manual tasks, teams can focus more on the creative process.

4. Map out your processes and workflows

Your organization needs efficient, scalable processes and workflows to launch campaigns smoothly and optimize marketing efforts.

First, establish a data management and analytics framework. Then, develop a comprehensive data management strategy that covers data collection, quality, storage, privacy, and governance. With data and privacy laws constantly changing, a documented strategy is important.

In addition to data, think about ways to improve your creative processes and workflows. Look for areas of inefficiency and implement automation tools where possible. Try to standardize creative procedures and establish clear guidelines to drive consistency and quality across all creative activities.

Account for your analytics and reporting process. Marketing operations teams should install analytics and reporting tools that provide insights into marketing performance, customer behavior, and ROI. Regular reporting cycles and dashboards allow for real-time decision-making and give business stakeholders and creative teams a behind-the-scenes look at their campaigns.

As your organization grows, you’ll want to plan for scalability and flexibility. Choose technologies and processes that can scale with your business. Make sure you consider future user growth, data volume, and complexity. Your marketing operations strategy should adapt as markets, technologies, and business objectives change.

5. Foster cross-functional collaboration

When creative teams build strong relationships with marketing and other departments, strategies align. Campaigns are well-planned and executed. marketing operations teams have to make collaboration easier in their organizations.

Provide ongoing training and support for your team. They’ll better master new technologies, tools, and processes. A change management plan can also help users get comfortable with these new adjustments.

6. Set KPIs and continuously monitor progress

Finally, you’ll want to establish key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure success and monitor marketing operations closely. These KPIs should align with your marketing goals.

When you measure performance, you’ll want to measure it against these defined KPIs. Performance data should drive any adjustments you make to your marketing operations strategy, processes, and technology.

Key qualifications to look for in a marketing operations manager

Marketing operations manager daily meeting with the team in a glass office

If you’re hiring a marketing operations manager, you’ll want to make sure they have what it takes to do the job well. This includes:

  • Personal skills: They should have a mix of analytical and interpersonal skills. They should also be accurate, systematic, and methodical and be able to organize and prioritize tasks and projects. 
  • Technology expertise: Can this person keep up with the marketing tech stack and all the integrations needed to launch and run campaigns? 
  • Data optimization and governance knowledge: Your marketing operations manager should analyze data like a champ and make recommendations for collecting marketing data with data privacy in mind. The ideal candidate will daydream about data cleansing and new ways to improve the data.
  • Analytics and reporting experience: Your new manager should be great at producing reports and extracting valuable data; a marketing operations manager can measure team-wide efficiency and take those insights back to stakeholders.
  • Process optimization experience: Marketing operations managers should have an eye for improving processes to help the business grow.
  • Project management skills: How well can this person keep up with complex digital projects, manage spend vs. budget, spot compliance risks, and run a marketing strategy with the right KPIs?
  • Leadership and training skills development: A good marketing operations manager helps the marketing organization improve its practices and adopt new solutions while getting the team up to speed.

FAQ about marketing operations

When should a company hire a marketing operations manager?

Companies typically hire a marketing operations manager when they are struggling to scale marketing efforts, when they are experiencing increasing complexity in marketing technology, when they want to improve marketing ROI, when they are struggling to manage data analytics, and when they are struggling to standardize processes and procedures. They might also consider hiring into this role if they expect rapid growth or organizational change, such as a merger or acquisition.

What are the key metrics for measuring the success of marketing operations?

To measure the effectiveness of marketing operations, you’ll want to look at the following metrics:

  • Click-through rate (CTR)
  • Customer acquisition cost (CAC)
  • Return on investment (ROI) by channel or campaign
  • Conversion rate (CVR)
  • Customer lifetime value (CLV)
  • Customer Retention Rate
  • Marketing Attribution

What tools and technologies are essential for effective marketing operations? 

Managing workflows and driving marketing results requires an all-star lineup of tools and technologies. This usually includes:

  • Customer relationship management (CRM) systems
  • Marketing automation platforms
  • Channel-specific tools
    • Email marketing
    • Social media
    • SEO
    • Event marketing
  • Website management tools
    • Content management systems
    • Conversion rate optimization (CRO) tools
    • Personalization and A/B testing tools
  • Data analytics tools
    • Data analytics and business intelligence platforms
    • Customer data platforms (CDPs)
  • Project management tools
  • Digital asset management (DAM) systems 
  • Collaborative proofing platforms

The review and approval process is a perennial challenge for marketing teams. When the process runs smoothly, teams achieve faster turnaround times and deliver higher-quality creative content with streamlined workflows. Ziflow is the industry-leading collaborative proofing platform that helps teams deliver exceptional creative assets that incorporate everyone’s feedback — internal and external. 

Further insights to optimize your marketing operations and creative processes

With marketing operations in place, marketing runs as a well-oiled machine, where every activity is carefully planned, executed, and measured for success. Strategic initiatives are aligned with overarching business goals, and resources are optimized to maximize return on investment. Data-driven decision-making drives continuous improvement, and cross-functional collaboration ensures that marketing efforts are integrated with broader business initiatives. Marketing operations enable efficiency, effectiveness, and alignment within the marketing function and across the organization, ultimately driving growth and profitability.

Looking for more insights on optimizing creative workflow and avoiding production roadblocks? Download our free ebook, “The top 10 best practices for optimizing your review and approval process”.

Looking for more insights on optimizing your creative workflows? 

Download our free ebook, "The top 10 best practices for optimizing your review and approval process".

Looking for more insights on optimizing your creative workflows? 

Download our free ebook, "The top 10 best practices for optimizing your review and approval process".

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