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The Future of Marketing Operations


I'm a fan of marketing technologist Scott Brinker's work in bringing a healthy dose of insight, perspective and understanding to the increasingly complex world of martech. His annual surveys of martech vendors demonstrate brilliantly the sizeable impact of technology on the discipline of marketing (the number of solutions mapped in the survey has risen from around 150 in 2011, to almost 7,000 today).

Scott has also spoken of the rise of marketing operations as both a strategic and even functional requirement and a few weeks ago had a great post detailing what he describes as the ‘four forces of marketing operations and technology’ which I've been mulling over since. These, says Scott, are the key dynamics that marketers need to pay attention to in response to the challenge of rapidly changing environments and the need to achieve the right balance in the organisation to fully capitalise on new technologies and optimise expertise and capabilities.

The two axes that determine these key balances are automation vs humanisation and centralisation vs decentralisation. When considering the latter dynamic we need to recognise the advantages that can come from centralising key processes, data and tools to achieve the benefit of scale across the marketing organisation. This enables us to share common practices and standards, deliver more consistent customer experience through shared data, cut out duplicated effort and tools, and establish repeatable processes that enable efficiency. But the counter-point to this is the need to also optimise workflow for local context, empower teams to experiment and respond at speed, and enable the serving of more personalised customer experiences based on local context.

When it comes to the other axis, we have the opportunity to harness marketing automation at scale through a coherent technology stack evaluated, integrated and maintained at a global level, and orchestrate the flow between decentralised and centralised data and technology. Yet we also need to invest in the people end of this spectrum to capitalise on human judgement and oversight, to encourage continuous learning, experimentation, and knowledge sharing, to tie strategies and activity back to values and culture, to empower individuals to override automation when it’s necessary to protect customer and brand experience, and to enable and inspire empathy and  creativity. We need to avoid what Scott calls ‘Jurassic Park’ (using a quote from the film): “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should”.

What strikes me about this model is that it's a useful way of not only considering the key dynamics in the modern marketing organisation, but also arguably the organisation as a whole. We too often seem to gravitate to extremes when talking about the impact of technology but of-course the truth always lies somewhere in the middle. This is a lovely way of capturing how to shape that balance I think.

N.B. I'll be speaking about the future of marketing operations alongside a number of other key trends in my latest Digital Shift webinars for Econsultancy. If you're a member you can sign up here

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