Why marketing operations leaders have become modernizers

MOps leaders now orchestrate business and customer outcomes at the modern intersection of art and science.

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Not long ago, marketing operations was the “clean-up-on-aisle-13” squad. But, as businesses digitized their customer experiences, marketing operations became strategic advisors to not only the CMO but also key cross-functional partners in product, IT, customer service, etc. MOps leaders now orchestrate business and customer outcomes at the modern intersection of art and science.

Over this four-part series, I will dive into each aspect of the framework. This first article elaborates on the framework itself and then dives into how MOps leaders are “modernizers.”


A new MOPS framework

I love new terminology and frameworks that help make sense of the world.

Therefore, I particularly appreciate leaders that create new ‘phraseology.’ At the top of the list in turning phrases into (best) practices has been Scott Brinker. Over 10 years ago, Scott wrote about the rise of the marketing technologist. While it feels obvious now, it was unfamiliar jargon at the time.

Just two years ago, Brinker revisited this by outlining the four key responsibilities of marketing technologists, summarized here. This helped so many of us as it further legitimized the role by proclaiming that you could be both a marketer and a technology leader.

This was particularly impactful because, over those 10 years, the role of marketing technologists had been formalized and typically housed within marketing operations. They were no longer lone wolves without clear organizational ownership between marketing and IT. In larger teams, there are often multiple technologists. We needed this expanded terminology and a framework to describe the varying leadership roles we had taken on as the martech landscape exploded into 8000+ tools.

Marketing Technologist Roles
Source: Chiefmartec.com

I often reference this to explain the rapid evolution of MOps roles and responsibilities. It was the inspiration to pull together this framework for describing how today’s MOps leaders are instrumental in marketing and business success. I’m hoping these two frameworks can operate side-by-side to help characterize the growing shift towards recognizing marketing tech and ops leaders. And yes, this framework is an opportunistic play on the “MOps” acronym that has become the catchphrase (I am a marketer, after all).

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I chose to portray the X-axis as a range of skills from technology to arts orientation. I’m sure it is not a surprise that I decided to depict technology, but my choice of the arts was also deliberate. I want to debunk that Ops leaders are not creative. We are creative, adapting processes and technologies to meet challenging customer and business needs. Much more on that aspect in the Orchestrator role in part two of this series.

For the Y-axis, I wanted to illustrate that MOps leaders have to leverage the complete range of decision-making skills, ranging from emotional to rational processes, to succeed in today’s marketplace. There is a duality to this: MOps leaders have to leverage these skills to succeed in their internal marketing roles. But, because they are also responsible for capturing the customer signals — e.g., how people evaluate products and services, it becomes a rapid combination of emotional and rational skills.

The resulting grid captures four MOps ‘personas’ in the respective quadrants. Note: MOps leaders will likely have an area of strength that they gravitate towards, but they can exhibit characteristics across all parts of this framework and be in multiple quadrants.


We are excited, yes — literally emotional about the rapid changes in marketing tech. We are most likely to be the ‘original’ marketing technologists, and I’ll be expanding on our challenge of constant modernization in the remainder of this article.


This is the closest to Brinker’s Maestros. However, we are not just orchestrating across marketing – but we are the ones to connect marketing’s efforts across other functions.  Because of that unique cross-functional role, we are often helping connect marketing campaigns to the broader customer experience initiatives. We are the first to recommend changing the marketing strategy due to changes in customer behavior or broader market conditions.


Because so much customer engagement is now captured digitally, MOps teams are increasingly responsible for “reading customers’ minds” — interpreting customers’ interest and engagement with the brand. I also recognize that many would consider the mapping of the Psychologists aligns better on the emotional side, considering the role of emotion in decision-making. I did consider this, but I will expand on the unique way that MOps leaders can leverage today’s digital channels to turn emotional data into rational signals of intent in part three of this series.


MOps leaders are constantly testing and evaluating, and we are often the team that houses the new analytics team of modern data scientists. We are also considered the ‘mad scientists’ of martech, pairing multiple tools together through ‘no code or low code’ integrations.

Now that I’ve introduced the framework, let’s dig deeper into the Modernizers. 

I’ll start with a playful quiz. You’re likely a “modernizer” if you have waited anxiously for Brinker to release his annual Martech Landscape (last released in 2020; he recently announced the latest would be released next month).

That’s one reason why I mapped the emotional axis of the framework. We’re kids waiting for presents under the holiday tree, even though we know some of the new toys will be short-lived and discarded by the new year. This is not rational. We get a marketing high by learning about new technologies pushing the envelope of marketing’s capabilities. But this emotional high is more than just technology for technology’s sake. It’s about applying technology to improve customer experiences or marketing efficiencies. Even if we are not formally rolling out the agile manifesto, we embrace multiple underlying agile principles to drive value through technology.

Let’s take a further step back and go deeper into what it means to be a modernizer.  

It’s now a mindset — a constant process of adapting to new needs and customer habits. McKinsey’s research group summarized this well, To drive growth in the digital age, marketing needs to modernize a specific set of capabilities and mindsets. Marketing departments need to be rewired for speed, collaboration, and customer focus. It’s less about changing what marketing does and more about transforming how the work is done.”

That last part struck a chord with me. “Transforming how the work is done.” To illustrate this point, let’s look at some examples of established tactics that have been modernized, often with  MOps teams leading the modern RENOVATION of channels with new technology.

Established tacticHow MOps teams are modernizing
Direct mailQR codes
CallSMS / Text engagement
Email Triggers and journeys
WebWeb – with integrated live chat

Modern MOps leaders are constantly modernizing — e.g., adapting with lessons learned and quickly applying changes to the process. In most cases, these fast adaptations respond to a change in the business process. They can also be driven by active observation of customer preferences as those change; we only have to look at the past two years of how marketing responded to the COVID pandemic for actual examples.

However, this constant adaptation is tough and tests MOps leaders’ fortitude. 

One of my favorite marketing books is Geoffrey Moore’s Crossing the Chasm. Moore describes how new technology must depend on an influx of early adopters to help cross a chasm before the technology enters the mainstream.

Here’s the catch, though, modernizers. We have to cross the chasm repeatedly. Because MOps leaders are the department’s marketing technologists, they are early adopters of new technology. But because we’re adopting these new technologies to integrate with previously “new” technologies, we are also connecting to the established system and responsible for helping others cross the chasm. We are, in fact, on both sides of the chasm at the same time. I’ve depicted this challenge in the graphic below.

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In the live chat example, we had just crossed the chasm to integrate monitored live chat (B) into the website experience (A). Soon after that, multiple vendors had released AI-driven upgrades (C) that provide bot-enabled responses to customer inquiries. Indeed, the work of a MOps “modernizer” is never done.

Can’t wait for the rest of the journey? Here’s part two (orchestrators), part three (psychologists), and part four (scientists).

Contributing authors are invited to create content for MarTech and are chosen for their expertise and contribution to the martech community. Our contributors work under the oversight of the editorial staff and contributions are checked for quality and relevance to our readers. The opinions they express are their own.

About the author

Milton Hwang
Milton Hwang is currently a strategic consultant (Mission MarTech LLC) and supports clients through a unique combination of strategy, operations, and technology experiences. He enjoys being a cross-functional translator and can provide advisory services in parallel with hands-on implementation and support. 

In addition to consulting, Milt is also a passionate higher education instructor. He is currently a Program Leader for Kellogg's Graduate School of Management Executive Education, and is teaching Digital Marketing at UW-Madison.

With 30 years of leadership experience, Milt has focused on aligning service, marketing, sales, and IT processes around the customer journey. Milt started his career with GE, and led cross-functional initiatives in field service, software deployment, marketing, and digital transformation. Following his time at GE, Milt led marketing operations and customer experience teams at Connecture, HSA Bank and MSI Data, and he has always enjoyed being labeled one of the early digital marketing technologists. He has a BS in Electrical Engineering from UW Madison, and an MBA from Kellogg School of Management.

In addition to his corporate leadership roles, Milt has been focused on contributing back to the marketing and regional community where he lives, and he supports multiple non-profit boards. 

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