What is marketing ops?

We know it when we see it, but can we define it?

This is the toughest time I’ve had writing a column for Marketing Land and MarTech Today.  As you’ll read below, it’s because I’m confused about the topic.  My hope is that I don’t further muddy the waters.

We need to talk about “marketing operations.”  I, for one, see the term used so broadly and inconsistently that I don’t feel confident defining it.  If asked, I’ll usually tell someone most of the time when I hear people speak about marketing ops, they’re essentially talking about marketing automation — you know, automated email, texts, and other messages.   While better defining this term is a battle for more than one column like this, let’s at least examine its relationship to marketing technology.

I first encountered this problem when I had to draft my own job description and job title, as I’ve originated the Marketing Technology Manager role at Western Governors University.  At the time, all my boss and I knew was that we needed someone to track and manage our tech stack — a maestro/orchestrator role — but weren’t as familiar with the greater martech community as we are now.  When I was searching for comparable job postings to what we were envisioning, whenever I saw a marketing ops position, it typically meant marketing automation.  We already had a team dedicated to that — so that didn’t work.

Looking at how others define marketing ops, it’s clear that the nature of its current definition is nebulous.  Below are two thought leaders who note the term’s relation to marketing automation.

Kayla Carmicheal at HubSpot defines it as (emphasis added): “Generally, marketing operations defines the team in charge of the technology and processes needed to help marketing teams run effectively.”

Michael McNeal at Centric Consulting explains that: “Marketing operations is beyond your marketing automation platform, it involves people, process and technology.”

Granted, marketing automation involves a lot of different facets, from technology to strategy to analytics.  Further, in some small organizations, a marketing automation platform may encompass the vast majority of what’s needed, and would likely serve as much of the martech stack, but that’s not universally the case.  If marketing ops is concerned with the broad expanse of marketing, as some would claim, then using it synonymously with marketing automation is problematic.  Hence, the confusion — at least for me.

There’s something I’m certain of.  Marketing ops, automation, and tech are all related.  Perhaps a Venn diagram with each one as a circle that have some overlap with the others is the best model to consider.

The way that others like Carmicheal and McNeal discuss marketing ops, it’s clear that the practice extends beyond tech and automation.  For instance, they both mention a people component.  This could include Human Resources and Project Management aspects.  Clearly, someone in management needs to cover the staffing needs of a department, but not all marketing ops folk manage other people from an HR perspective. They certainly may advise management about the skills teams need in order to accomplish their mandates, as well as assist with Project Management and Change Management efforts to help projects proceed smoothly with a greater chance of stakeholder adoption. So, if someone works in marketing ops, what kind of people-related duties do we assume they have?

Given all of this, I recommend that the marketing community work on further defining what marketing operations is exactly.  If we use the term so frequently, we should be able to do a better job of defining it.

This story first appeared on MarTech Today.


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.


About The Author

Steve Petersen is a marketing technology manager at Western Governors University in Salt Lake City, Utah. He started on WGU’s marketing website team where he helped create and implement several initiatives including site redesign and maintenance, multivariate testing, user testing and mobile app development. Prior to WGU, he worked as a strategist at the Washington, DC digital agency The Brick Factory where he worked closely with trade associations, non-profits, major brands, and advocacy campaigns. Petersen holds a Master of Information Management from the University of Maryland and a Bachelor of Arts in International Relations from Brigham Young University. He’s also a Certified ScrumMaster.

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