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How to explain marketing operations at different levels: From children to experts

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Adult male and little boy lying on carpet staring at each other


Marketing operations can be a confusing subject. You will probably get blank stares when explaining marketing operations to someone else, especially if that someone is not in marketing or business.

In this article, I’ll try to explain marketing operations to people of different ages, with increasing levels of detail and abstraction. I’ll start with explaining the concept to a child, the I’ll more on to a teenager, a marketing graduate student, a marketing professional, and then an expert in marketing operations.

Tell it to the children

I’m going to tell you about marketing operations. Marketing is something businesses do to get people to want to buy their stuff. Think of commercials and big billboards. Now, pretend you received a flyer in the mail that has a picture of a teddy bear and how much it costs. That is called an ad, short for advertisement. Some marketing people come up with the idea for what the teddy bear ad will look like and what it will say.

Now there are other marketing people, whose job it is to send you the ad in the mail, and also determine if the ad is doing a good job at helping the business sell more toys. These types of marketing people also do that for all types of marketing, like the commercials and big billboards, and advertising across the internet. These types of marketing people work in marketing operations.


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Easy for teens

I’m going to tell you about marketing operations. Marketing is all of the activities businesses do to sell more of their products and services. Many think that marketing is simply making commercials, but today most of marketing is digital – think of ads you see on Google, posts you see from influencers on social media, and also emails from brands in your inbox.

Now, there are a lot of tools that marketers use to create marketing in all of these different places. These tools are typically online services. For example, marketers can use an online service to create marketing emails, and another service to create YouTube videos. Marketers also use these tools to track whether or not their marketing campaigns are helping the business sell more products. The marketers that manage these tools and the data that comes out of these tools work in a specific area of marketing – that area is called marketing operations. 

Harder for the marketing grad student

I’m going to tell you about marketing operations, which is a function within the marketing department. Marketing today is becoming increasingly sophisticated. A single offer can be deployed across a multitude of channels and platforms, and these activities generate an immense amount of data. Businesses use a variety of marketing tools and services to manage these activities. Some of these tools can be quite robust, and require a team of people to manage and operate. These marketing tools need to be connected together to help personalize marketing campaigns, track customer touch points, and unify data for analysis and decision-making.

The marketers that manage these tools tend to be tech savvy, and fluent in online marketing and data science. This function of marketing is known as marketing operations, and they manage the different tools, processes, and data to ensure that all marketing efforts are running in an efficient and profitable way.

Gloves off for the marketing professional

I’m going to tell you about marketing operations. This function manages the Martech stack, which typically includes a marketing automation platform (MAP), a customer relationship management system (CRM), a customer data platform (CDP), advertising tools, data services, reporting systems and more. They ensure these platforms are implemented and adopted correctly and that data is integrated across the entire Martech stack.

In addition, marketing operations ensures the outputs support various stakeholders, such as customer intelligence for a sales team, and revenue reporting for finance and leadership. The marketing operations charter often includes: planning and building campaigns, marketing system administration, data analytics, training and enablement, and building internal products and features to support the marketing organization.

Read next: An in-depth look at marketing ops and marketing ops professionals

What the expert needs to know

Marketing operations today is rapidly evolving. What once was a function that owned campaign execution and the marketing automation platform, is now growing in scope as businesses become more reliant on digital and data. There are two paths emerging. The first path: marketing operations professionals dedicated to ensuring that marketing runs like a business, and is viewed as a profit-center rather than a cost-center. The data and process requirements for this undertaking are staggering, and marketing operations is shifting into a more strategic role to determine which projects are priority and which will yield the highest return-on-investment.

The second path relates to the overwhelming complexity marketing teams face, namely the explosion of platforms and the need to synchronize and unify big data. This path requires technical mastery, especially within the enterprise Martech space. Large technical problems require marketing operations experts to bring innovative solutions, simplify complexity, and often build custom products to operate marketing at scale. Today, the two paths are blurred, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see the bifurcation of two separate functions in the near future.

To sum up, marketing operations is sometimes a confusing topic, but an exciting one, that will truly shape the future of marketing profession, and business as a whole. Which explanation did you like best?


About The Author

Darrell is an award-winning marketer and Martech professional. He was named one of the top Martech Marketers to Follow in 2020, won the Fearless Marketer award in 2018, is a 2X Marketo Champion, and is a certified Salesforce Administrator. He has consulted for several Fortune 500 companies including General Electric and Abbott Laboratories and currently leads marketing operations at Amazon Web Services where he helps empower hundreds of marketers to build world-class customer experiences. Darrell is a frequent speaker at martech events, and regularly posts thought leadership content on Linkedin and Twitter.



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MARKETING

How A Non-Marketing Content Approach Produced Award-Winning Results

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How A Non-Marketing Content Approach Produced Award-Winning Results

Matt Hartley is not a marketer.

And yet, he is a 2022 B2C Content Marketer of the Year finalist.

Though seemingly incongruous, it’s not. Companies don’t all approach content (or marketing) with the same organizational structure.

Matt leads editorial strategy for TD Bank Group as a senior manager in the corporate and public affairs department. Under his leadership, TD Stories took home top honors for Best Content Marketing Program in Financial Services and earned finalist mentions for Best Content Marketing Launch and Financial Services Publication in the 2022 Content Marketing Awards.

Those results prove that department, title, and reporting structure don’t matter if the content works.

“We tell stories aligned with (the company’s) communication goals. We’re not necessarily looking to sell something. It is about brand building, thought leadership, financial literacy,” Matt explains.

Here’s how a non-marketer finalist for Content Marketer of the Year built an award-winning program.

If the #Content works, details like reporting structure, title, and department don’t matter, says @AnnGynn via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Launching the newsroom

In 2018, Matt joined TD as a content strategist. He was hired partly because of his background in reporting and creating new content products. Matt had worked as a technology reporter at The Globe and Mail and the National Post. He also created the Financial Post Tech Desk, a home for Canadian and international tech news, and was the founding editor of the Post’s arcade video-game news site.

TD leadership had recognized the shifting media landscape. They saw fewer earned media opportunities and turned to Matt to help scale a TD-owned channel called TD Newsroom.

While TD Newsroom aligned with the external communications goals, it ended up with an internal audience – less than 10% of visitors came to the site from outside the bank.

Turning the content program inside out

TD Newsroom’s importance grew when the pandemic hit in 2020, making some forms of traditional customer outreach impossible. No longer just another tool in the communication toolbox, TD Newsroom became pivotal.

“Creating our own content and being able to distribute it became crucially important to us,” Matt says.

The TD Newsroom team focused on creating branded service journalism (content intended to help customers), and traffic to the site increased substantially. Topics such as banking tasks you can carry out online, budgeting for income impacted by COVID, and planning an emergency fund took center stage.

That was the beginning of the TD Newsroom evolution.

“We were rethinking how we did content and where the customer was in their journey,” Matt says. The team also doubled down on data-driven content and refined its content strategy.

In 2021, TD Stories debuted. “It places the customer at the center of the story. It tells stories that resonate with customers and colleagues,” Matt says.

The site’s tagline – “Enriching lives one story at a time” – reflects this mission.

TD Stories organizes content around five pillars (as shown in the site navigation in the screenshot above):

  • Your Money features financial tips and advice.
  • Innovation highlights new technologies to create more personalized banking experiences.
  • Community features stories about TD’s involvement in the communities where it operates and where its employees live.
  • Colleagues tells the stories of employees.
  • Insights features thought leadership from the bank’s executives.

TD Stories places the customer at the center of the story, says @thehartleyTO of @TDnews_Canada, via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Making everything count

“We’re a small but mighty team within corporate affairs. It’s a flat team – everyone brings ideas to the table. It really wouldn’t work if it wasn’t as cohesive as it is,” Matt says.

The digital content team also functions a little like an agency. In corporate affairs, they work with relationship managers for categories such as personal banking, insurance, US banking, etc., as well as product, partnership, and philanthropic managers.

“We work with them to create the stories. We may pitch to them, asking for a subject matter expert to help us tell a story, etc.,” Matt explains. “We could not exist in a vacuum.”

He oversees a digital content team that includes a data-driven strategy role that has been critical in the TD Stories evolution. That added focus has helped the team in its content development.

For example, the bank’s editorial calendar revolves around repeating deadlines and patterns. Deadlines for retirement plan contributions and income tax returns occur during the same period every year. And each spring, more people begin house hunting.

With TD’s digital content team amping up the content measurement strategy, Matt and team can analyze how well those yearly content pieces perform. They also can better understand what people are searching for, so they can refine and improve the next content iterations.

“We can take those moments and make those moments fresh,” Matt explains. “We can ensure the customer gets the best and most accurate information possible.”

The metrics reflect the team’s dedication to excellence. In 2021, traffic to TD Stories grew more than 125% year-over-year. Almost all the traffic (98%) comes from external sources, including 25% from organic Google searches.

Knowing the real goal

“At the end of the day, the content is not the end goal. The goal is to help educate the customer and help them feel more informed and financially confident. When you keep that in mind, the actual structure of a story or every sentence is a means to an end,” Matt says.

Educating the customer is the goal – story and sentence structure are the means to that end, says @thehartleyTO of @TDnews_Canada via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

That’s part of the secret science of brand journalism. As Matt explains: “Take the objectives of the business and marry them with stories that the customers find engaging and useful.”

And that’s an award-winning formula regardless of department name, title, or organizational structure.

Want more content marketing tips, insights, and examples? Subscribe to workday or weekly emails from CMI.

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

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