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Laying the Groundwork: Building Strong Marketing Operations Foundations

Having spent over 15 years on both sides of the marketing technology (MarTech) table – as a marketing user and a Martech supplier – I've witnessed the explosion of MarTech solutions firsthand. It's exhilarating to see the constant innovation, but frankly, it can also be a little overwhelming. Every vendor promises their tool to be the silver bullet, the one solution that revolutionises marketing.

But the surprising truth, highlighted by industry reports, is a disconnect between promise and reality. Many marketing teams still struggle to utilise even a fraction of their existing MarTech stack. They remain tethered to outdated processes, clinging to familiar – but inefficient – spreadsheets and manual workflows. A staggering 77% of marketers spend a significant amount of time (10+ hours/week) wrestling with spreadsheets, according to a 2022 MarTech survey. This reliance isn't uncommon, with another study showing 44% of marketers still use Excel.

The real cost of inefficiency is even more alarming. A 2023 study by the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) revealed a startling fact: 60% of marketers' time is wasted on manual tasks. This inefficiency significantly impacts productivity and, ultimately, the bottom line. Forrester Research estimates that poor project management costs US businesses a staggering $1 trillion annually.

Gartner's 2023 Marketing Technology Survey adds another layer to the challenge: MarTech utilization has plummeted to 33% in 2023, down from 58% in 2020.

The result? We're stuck in a constant state of juggling. We drown in a sea of tools, yet core challenges persist. It's the same story I've seen for over a decade: approval bottlenecks devour precious time (studies show they consume a whopping 69% of marketers' time!), version control chaos reigns supreme, and poor briefs translate to wasted resources and budget drains  with BetterBriefs reporting one-third of marketing budgets are wasted on unclear briefs!

The problem isn't the lack of technology; it's the lack of a solid foundation. Imagine building a skyscraper on shifting sands. No matter how impressive the design or cutting-edge the materials, the whole thing could come crashing down. The same is true for marketing projects. Fancy new MarTech solutions won't work their magic if core project management principles and marketing operations are neglected.Laying the Groundwork: Building Strong Marketing Operations Foundations

 

Marketing Processes and Foundations

 

This is where my experience comes in. Having seen both sides of the coin, I can offer practical solutions to bridge this gap and help you build solid marketing operation foundations that will help you unlock the true potential of MarTech.

 

Building a Strong Foundation: The Essential Building Blocks

Here are some essential building blocks for successful marketing operations and creative project management, based on my experience and industry best practices:

  • Crystal Clear Briefs: Clear communication starts with well-defined marketing project briefs. Knowing the project goals, target audience, and brand guidelines from the beginning avoids rework and wasted time.
  • Solid Planning: Craft a clear roadmap with defined deadlines, team member assignments, open communication channels, and a well-scoped project.
  • Streamlined Execution: Project management software is your friend! It fosters seamless collaboration, efficient task management, and real-time project visibility for everyone involved. Spreadsheets simple can not complete
  • Efficient Approvals: Streamline the marketing approval process to save time and ensure everyone's on board. Compliance shouldn't be a hurdle, it should be part of the process not a secondary consideration.
  • Digital Asset Management (DAM): Centralise and organise your brand assets for easy access, version control, and brand consistency. A DAM system eliminates wasted time searching for assets and ensures everyone uses the latest approved versions.
  • Effective Resource Management: Utilise tools and processes to track and manage marketing resources (people, time, budget) throughout the project lifecycle. This ensures efficient resource allocation and avoids over-commitment.

The Persistent Juggling Act: Common Marketing Project Management Challenges

Despite advancements in MarTech, many teams still grapple with fundamental challenges, because they have not invested in the building blocks detailed above. Here are some common roadblocks I've seen firsthand, along with some eye-opening statistics to highlight their impact:

  • Approval Bottlenecks: Studies show inefficient approval processes can gobble up a whopping 69% of marketers' time! Imagine the creative fire you could ignite if that time was freed up for strategic brainstorming and execution.
  • Version Control Chaos: Too many revisions can derail projects. Without clear process to manage version limits and feedback loops, teams can get lost in a sea of edits.
  • Briefing Blues: A Budget Drain: Poor briefs can have a significant impact on marketing budgets. Unclear briefs lead to wasted time, rework, and ultimately, a drain on your marketing budget (as highlighted by TopLine Global).
  • Quality Control Concerns: Maintaining brand consistency across creative assets can be difficult, especially with distributed teams. A Digital Asset Management solution can help address this challenge.
  • Outdated Processes: Draining the Budget: Siloed workflows and manual processes create a marketing money pit. Streamlining workflows with automation and collaboration tools can free up your team's time and lead to significant cost savings.
  • Resource Overload: Juggling Multiple Projects: Managing multiple projects and resource allocation can be a nightmare. A two-pronged approach is needed: optimising workflows and leveraging the right tools.
  • Spreadsheet Syndrome: Spreadsheets, while familiar, can quickly become a bottleneck for complex projects. Project management software offers features for visibility and collaboration that spreadsheets lack.
  • Brand Asset Blues: Marketers still struggle to manage brand assets effectively. A DAM system can centralise storage and eliminate wasted time searching for assets.

 

The Path to Marketing Project Management Nirvana 

The frustrating part is that these challenges have plagued marketing teams for over a decade, despite readily available solutions. Powerful project management tools and methodologies have existed for years, yet many organisations remain fixated on the ever-growing MarTech stack, neglecting to build the essential marketing operations (MOps) foundations for their teams to thrive. MOps creates a well-oiled engine that fuels your marketing efforts, ensuring efficient processes, streamlined workflows, and clear communication across all channels.

By prioritising core project management principles and building a strong MOps foundation, you unlock the true potential of MarTech. Here's a two-step approach, based on my experience, to achieve a well-oiled marketing machine:

Step 1: Streamline Your Foundation (Focus on Core Principles and MOps)

  • Review current workflows: Identify areas of inefficiency by analysing your existing marketing workflows and processes. Are there bottlenecks in communication or approvals? Are handoffs between teams cumbersome?
  • Establish clear roles and responsibilities: Define the ownership and accountability for various marketing activities within your team.
  • Standardise processes: Document and implement best practices for key marketing activities, such as campaign creation, project review and approvals, and task and resource management.
  • Appoint a project management champion: This dedicated individual will oversee the implementation of new processes and tools, ensuring smooth adoption by the team.
  • Invest in training: Equip your team with the skills and knowledge to thrive in a tech-driven environment. This includes project management methodologies, software training for chosen tools, and best practices for collaboration and communication.

Step 2: Empower Your Team with the Right Tools

  • Project management software: Ditch the spreadsheet chaos and embrace a centralised platform for task management, real-time project visibility, and seamless collaboration across teams.
  • Digital asset management (DAM) system: Implement a DAM system to create a single source of truth for brand assets. This eliminates wasted time searching for assets and ensures brand consistency across all marketing materials.
  • Marketing automation platform: Explore marketing automation tools to streamline repetitive tasks, personalize campaigns, and nurture leads more effectively.

 

The Future of Marketing: A Symphony, Not a Juggling Act

The good news is, a future free from marketing management woes is within reach. Imagine a world where:

  • Clear communication: Efficient workflows and readily available brand assets empower your team to reach their full creative potential.
  • Streamlined processes: Gone are the days of approval bottlenecks, version control chaos, and resource overload.

This future starts with getting the fundamentals right. By mastering core project management principles and building a solid Marketing Ops foundation, you can unlock the true power of MarTech and propel your marketing efforts to new heights.

 

The Role of Marketing Leadership (Revised)

As marketing leaders, it's our responsibility to champion strong project management practices and shift focus from an ever-expanding MarTech stack to a solid organisational foundation built on strong MOps principles. Here's how we can make a difference:

Optimising Your MarTech Stack:

  • Review and Audit Existing Tools: Don't get caught in the trap of chasing the latest shiny object. Regularly review your current MarTech stack to ensure each tool is still relevant and delivering value. Analyze usage data and user feedback to identify areas for improvement or tools that may be underutilized.
  • Maximise Utilisation: Before considering new tools, explore how you can better leverage your existing MarTech stack. Invest in training and workshops to ensure all team members understand the full capabilities of each tool.
  • Foster Collaboration: Break down departmental silos and encourage cross-functional collaboration to ensure optimal utilization of your MarTech stack. Create a culture of information sharing and knowledge transfer throughout the organization.
  • Focus on Business Needs: Focus on the business goals you're trying to achieve, not just the latest trends. Evaluate new technologies based on their ability to address specific pain points and enhance your existing marketing efforts.

In addition to the points above:

  • Investing in Training: Equip your team with the skills and knowledge needed to thrive in a tech-driven environment. This includes project management methodologies, software training for your chosen tools, and best practices for collaboration and communication.
  • Embracing Continuous Improvement: The marketing landscape is constantly evolving. Be open to new technologies and adapt your approach based on data and results.
  • Championing MOps: Advocate for the importance of marketing operations and dedicate resources to build and maintain a strong MOps foundation.

By prioritising these strategies, you can ensure your MarTech stack is a powerful tool that supports your marketing goals, builds strong foundations, empowers your team and is not a burden of underutilised and siloed technology.