Is marketing operations another term for marketing?
Perspectives from Darrell Alfonso, Kelly Jo Horton, Steve Petersen and Justin Sharaf
As part of this week’s launch of MarTech, we are exploring key trends and tactics related to our six main topics. Today we look at a burning question in marketing Operations. Click here to learn more about our mission at MarTech.
As MarTech’s logo says, “martech is marketing.” But would it therefore be right to say, “marketing operations is marketing”?
Sometimes, marketing and the operations through which it is executed seem so hand-in-glove that trying to distinguish them is pointless. At the same time, anyone following marketing ops professionals on LinkedIn is familiar with stories about how they constantly field unreasonable, ill-informed or untimely requests from marketers. From that perspective, it looks like two feuding tribes.
Rather than try to answer the question ourselves, we reached out to four influencers in the marketing ops world and asked them — among other things — whether they were comfortable with being called “marketers.”
Calling ops professionals “marketers”
Justin Sharaf’s title — VP Marketing at Jahia Solutions — telegraphs his answer in advance. “I would personally be comfortable because I have bounced back and forth between marketing and marketing ops in my career,” he told us. “I think most marketing ops professionals do see themselves as part of the larger marketing organization, which makes them marketers. I do see a lot of marketing ops professionals referring to themselves as technologists, though, in more mature organizations where marketing ops takes on more broad responsibilities.”
Kelly Jo Horton makes the similar case that it depends on the individual. She’s Senior Client Partner at Etumos and also the founder of MOPs Talks. “Whether or not someone is comfortable being called a marketer would depend on their background,” she said. “I have personally worked as a social media marketer, copywriter, and in other marketing disciplines, so I consider myself a marketer, and a technology strategist and architect.”
Steve Petersen, Marketing Technology Manager at Western Governors University, and a regular contributor to MarTech, was more hesitant. “Yes and no. Yes, since that’s an easy way of telling someone what I do. No, since I feel more comfortable and competent in regard to the technical side of my job than the marketing and analytical sides.”
“A marketing ops leader should be passionate about marketing, but functional specialists within the team may not be,” said Darrell Alfonso, Global marketing Operations Manager at AWS. “For example, it’s common in enterprise organizations to build internal products that help marketers do their jobs more effectively. Are the product managers and engineers who build those things marketers?”
Marketing ops is integral to marketing
If marketing ops isn’t identical to marketing, it is a necessary component of what marketing organizations do.
“Marketing and marketing operations are in the same organization or department, but not necessarily on the same team,” said Alfonso. “The overall goals of branding and revenue-driving are the same, but the sub-goals are different. I came up with an analogy that describes ops well. Ops is like the pit crew, and sales and marketing are the race car drivers. We’re replacing the wheels, tuning up the engine, refueling, keeping an eye on all the instrumentation, constantly talking to the driver to find out what he or she needs. An effective pit crew enables a driver to focus on winning the race, and not on things like if his or her car will fail during the race. The more planning, guardrails, and smart processes we have in place – the faster marketers can go.”
Sharaf largely agreed. “I believe marketing ops should absolutely be a team within the marketing organization. A great marketing ops group will work side-by-side with the rest of the marketing organization to support common business goals and objectives.” But in some organizations, he pointed out, ops teams have indeed taken over actual marketing responsibilities, like go-to-market and campaign planning and execution.
Horton said, “I do think that marketing operations professionals have to be active partners with both marketing and sales in order to be successful.” But it’s still a relationship in which ops provides a service to marketing. For example, she said, a centralized marketing ops or revenue ops team would be considered an internal “agency” resource for multiple organizations.
Petersen continued to highlight the differences. “The marketers are the ones who come up with the strategy, who then rely upon the technical and data specialists for execution and evaluation. Marketing operations professionals need to understand all three specialties.”
There is no one marketing ops role
One thing we heard repeatedly is that it’s wrong to think of marketing ops as one, unified role. That’s a point of view reflected in part by Scott Brinker’s categorization of professionals within the industry as marketers, maestros, makers and modelers. “Marketing operations is not a single discipline. The perception that it is a single role is the biggest problem,” said Horton.
There are many specialties within the marketing ops ecosystem, she continued. “Someone who is an email marketing operations manager, for example, would work very closely with marketing. Someone who is more on the technology end — doing integrations, writing API integration code — may be more connected to the business systems or IT team.”
The highly technical nature of today’s marketing creates these specializations. Said Petersen, “Marketing is becoming increasingly technical – ranging from use of websites, analytic, paid search, asset creation and distribution, messaging (email, text, message apps, etc.), audience segmentation and targeting.” These all involve a marketing component (strategy), a technical component (execution), and an evaluation component (analytics). The manner in which those components are distributed across teams will vary from organization to organization.
“I think that this depends upon the culture and structure of the given organization,” said Petersen. “I really think that the frameworks — both theoretical and practical — are new enough that there hasn’t been a sufficiently dedicated and broad discussion of how to organize teams and develop talent.”
All pulling together
If there were nuanced differences in describing the relationship between marketing and marketing ops, there was an agreement that the disciplines — whether on the same team or not — needed to function in harmony. “Some organizations are still working in the client/service model between marketing and marketing ops, but the best teams are working together from start to finish,” said Sharaf. “If marketing ops is not involved in the initial planning and strategy, then their ability to support the marketers’ business goals and objectives is severely limited.” He called for an equal partnership.
Alfonso reached for a comparison with sales and sales ops. “It’s been said that you need one sales operations person for every eight to ten sellers. The amount of coordination, planning, training and enablement go up as the seller count goes up.” The same formula, he said, feels right for marketing ops, he said.
But all pulling together doesn’t mean tensions don’t exist. “My team gets a lot of requests from marketers, but that doesn’t mean we work on every single one,” Alfonso admitted. “We have a prioritized road map that we align with leadership and stakeholders, and we think about what will help both our internal and external customers for the long term. That sometimes means doing things marketers aren’t happy about.”
Vital to successful marketing, likely a part of the marketing organization, but with a distinct set of varied skills, and sometimes willing to make marketers unhappy. That’s marketing ops right now — but it’s evolving fast. Watch this space.