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How to run marketing like a profit center

How to run marketing like a profit center David Hutchinson

There's nothing like some good old economic pain to help marketers revisit words like process, metrics, accountability and -- the mother of all business terms -- organizational alignment.   

But unlike the recessionary battle cries of the past, organizational alignment actually addresses the elephant-in-the-room space between strategy and execution: a space that is, at long last, being filled by the emergence of marketing operations.

Coming to Chicago Next Week: the Mark-Ops Forum! Featuring Gary Katz of Marketing Operations Partners, Kelley Troia of Wal-Mart and Adam Bloom of Unica. $295. Register today!

Defined as an end-to-end operational discipline, marketing operations leverages processes, technology and metrics to run the marketing function as a fully accountable profit center. It reinforces marketing strategy and tactics with a scalable infrastructure, as well as a collaborative ecosystem -- both within and outside the marketing department -- to drive the achievement of enterprise objectives.

But how does a company achieve such idyllic, organizational heights? How do you even know if your company is ready or able to embrace marketing operations and reap its potential benefits?

The condition
Like all things in life, and especially in business, nothing changes until there's enough pain. Chances are, if you're in a mid- to large-sized organization you're probably already feeling some marketing pain. But to arrive at the proper diagnosis, first ask yourself the following questions:

In your organization, is marketing:

  1. more focused on firefighting than strategy and tactics?

  2. experiencing difficulty measuring ROI and demonstrating value (to C-level execs and investors)?

  3. a "corporate" environment that fails to support collaboration, causing it to miss opportunities?

  4. hamstrung by processes that constrain internal efficiencies instead of enabling them?

  5. suffering from poor coordination of shared processes across functions?

  6. experiencing employee defections that jeopardize continuity and institutional memory, leading to customer churn?

  7. having difficulty assimilating and integrating programs, systems and resources obtained from corporate mergers or acquisitions leading to duplication, momentum loss, lack of focus and resistance to change?

Does any of this sound familiar? 

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The cure
In a perfect world, marketing operates as a very creative, fast-paced, results-driven and accountable function that serves as the "voice of the customer" while working in lock-step with stakeholders. It is not only aligned with the enterprise's strategic agenda, but helps define it. It's well integrated with other corporate functions and takes full advantage of the power and discipline of a strategically designed marketing operations infrastructure.   

In turn, a good mark-ops infrastructure adds processes, technology, governance and metrics to the marketing structure that deliver outstanding value, predictably and reliably. When in place, such an infrastructure also enables informed decision making, accountability, sustainability, visibility, teamwork, strategic thinking and best practices execution. 

In this perfect world, marketing is:

  1. a collaborate environment where the CEO considers the CMO/marketing VP a valued partner

  2. fully aligned with other company functions and stakeholders

  3. aligning metrics with corporate goals to drive marketing expenditures

  4. recognized, company-wide, for high returns on its investments

  5. leveraging metrics and dashboards to measure and track results (and continually improving them)

  6. a high-energy, high-effectiveness environment with high levels of customer and employee retention

  7. accelerating the adoption of new products, strengthening customer relationships and increasing market penetration rates

If you're not experiencing four or more of these marketing states, you've got a pretty big gap between where you are and where you want to be. In short, a marketing organization is ready to embrace mark-ops chiefly because it hasn't been delivering on its vision and is consistently failing to achieve its operational goals. Yes, your tried-and-true methods have become unwell, and eventually you are finding that internal and external pressures are calling for systemic change. 

The prescription
Like going to the doctor, introducing marketing operations to your organization can be scary. But it's also a great opportunity to incorporate the changes your whole company will need to make in order to move forward in the competitive digital landscape.

The key to incorporating marketing operations procedures is that key stakeholders across the entire organization, including sales and product development, must be brought together in a collaborative and cross-functional environment of mutual interest and buy-in -- a difficult task on any project. But fortunately, the tools of applied project management, and the project team structure itself, provide a valuable guide for starting these kinds of cross-functional efforts.  

Cross-functional teams

Introducing change to an organization impacts processes, systems, organizational structure and job roles. So, marketing operations allows for "change challenges" to occur as part of its de facto role as enterprise integrator. And while project management principles help to incorporate change in the organizational processes, a subset of integration management -- known as change management  -- helps facilitate the necessary personal transitions to allow real change to take place.

Managing both the technical and the people side of change, project and change management processes have evolved as symbiotic disciplines that marketing operations uses to provide both the structure and the tools for successful change.

The program
Armed with a common operating theater, and the tools for cross-functional integration and change management, marketing operations has the power and credibility to re-position and re-energize a company's marketing function -- moving it past stubborn barriers to reach unprecedented levels of performance, success and organizational health.

Reprinted with permission of Marketing Operations Partners, Inc. 2008 

Given the need to cure so many of marketing's maladies, it's clear that marketing operations is, and must be, "bigger" than just another marketing initiative if it is to treat the strategy-execution gap that still exists for so many companies. Fortunately, by embracing best practices, the principles of applied project management and the wisdom of cross-functional teams, it finally can be.

David Hutchinson is SVP, program operations and new media at Program Partners, Inc.

A 20 year veteran of TV and interactive entertainment, Dave is responsible for program distribution and corporate operations for Program Partners, Inc., a developer-distributor of high quality television entertainment, based in Venice, CA. His...

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