WTF Is Marketing Operations?

Why Nobody Fully Understands Your Job (and Neither Do You)

Every time someone asks me what I do, I silently groan. How do you explain marketing operations? I even have a hard time succinctly explaining my role to people in my own company, let alone friends and family who don’t work in tech. The truth is, it’s really hard to define marketing operations. Not only is it a relatively new function with basically no formal training available, it can be so many different things. If you look at 10 different job postings for “Marketing Operations Manager” you’ll see 10 very different jobs. 

This lack of clarity around the definition of marketing ops doesn’t just make for awkward cocktail party introductions. It’s actually detrimental to marketing ops professionals and the organizations that they support. If you don’t have a clear job description and your team doesn’t have a clear charter, how do you know what your priorities are? How can leaders build their teams if they don’t know what functions they need to support? How can candidates decipher job descriptions and ask the right questions in interviews? 

Finding the Four Pillars of Marketing Operations

In the summer of 2019 I found myself in a tough spot. I was unhappy at my job, but I couldn’t articulate what I disliked and what I was looking for in my career. Then I attended MOPsCON and watched Edward Unthank’s keynote, where he introduced the Four Pillars of Marketing Operations: platform ops, campaign ops, marketing intelligence ops, and development ops. It was a true lightbulb moment. I realized that while my roadmap was full of meaty platform ops projects, I kept getting pulled into complex, rushed campaign ops projects—and I actually hated campaign ops! I polished up my resume and used the Four Pillars framework to navigate job descriptions, ask the right question at interviews, and find an amazing new role.

Let’s go through the Four Pillars of Marketing Operations to understand what they are and what they mean for you and your organization.

Platform Ops

I think of platform ops (POPS) as running the engine of marketing ops, from both a technical and strategic perspective. Your work will likely center around a marketing automation platform (MAP) such as Marketo Engage, Eloqua, Hubspot, or Salesforce Marketing Cloud Account Engagement (which I’m pretty sure we’re always going to call Pardot). POPS includes implementation, architecture and governance of your MAP and the other tools in your tech stack. Campaign taxonomy and naming conventions, lead scoring and lifecycle, users and roles, data management, and integrations all fall under POPS. 

Campaign Ops

Screenshot from Marketo Engage showing a the My Tokens tab of a program template called "TEM DG/Customer Webinar"

Campaign ops (COPS) is the implementation of your marketing programs in your martech tools. Think about executing a webinar: you create a landing page and registration form, set up the webinar in your MAP and webinar tool, build invites and operational emails, create a campaign in your CRM, track registration and attendance, and post the recording for on-demand viewing. All those tasks require operational strategy, clear processes, and technical skills. COPS initiatives include webinars, gated content, email blasts, drip nurtures, contact forms, direct mail, events, and more. 

COPS is probably the most visible part of marketing ops, and if you’re a small team, it’s likely where you spend the majority of your time. It’s also the most scalable, because you can build a center of excellence and develop efficient, repeatable processes.

Campaign ops can be either centralized or decentralized. In a centralized model, marketing managers submit requests to a team of specialists who execute the campaigns in the tech stack. In a decentralized model, marketing managers are trained in using all the tools and execute their own campaigns, with guidance from the marketing ops team. (For a great discussion of the pros and cons of each model, check out this Adobe Summit presentation by Brooke Bartos and Christina Zuniga.)

Marketing Intelligence Ops

Screenshot from Marketo Engage's Email Insights, showing email performance data

Marketing intelligence ops (or MIOPS, which honestly is not my favorite acronym) is also known as marketing analytics or business intelligence, and it’s the reporting that shows the impact of your marketing initiatives. You can report on email performance, account engagement, marketing influence, paid channel performance, and more. You may do reporting natively in your MAP or CRM or you may have a data visualization tool such as Looker, Tableau, or Sisense. Many companies use a multi-touch attribution tool, such as Marketo Measure (formerly Bizible) or Full Circle Insights, to show marketing’s influence on revenue. You may have an account-based marketing tool such as DemandBase One (formerly Engagio) to show the success of your ABM efforts.

MIOPS can also be centralized or decentralized. If you have an analytics team, they may set up the infrastructure for your BI tool and train marketing ops or even marketing managers to build their own reporting. Or they may build reports and dashboards based on stakeholders’ requests. Marketing managers may be responsible for their own reporting or they may rely on marketing ops to build for them. Smaller or less mature orgs usually focus less on reporting than the other pillars, and their analytics are less complex. Whatever your model, it’s important that all stakeholders agree on the rules of engagement as well as which metrics matter.

Development Ops

Development Operations (DevMOPS) is custom coding in your marketing tools. It’s a fun pillar because the possibilities are endless—but it’s also the one that requires the most team maturity and budget. DevMOPS projects include custom web development and scripting, non-native integrations, process automation, and webhooks. For example, you can learn to use Marketo Engage’s API to automate a ton of manual tasks (check out the Chicago MUG’s presentation on “Find Your API Place” for an overview of the Marketo Engage API). 

If your team is small or your budget is constrained, you may not do much DevMOPS at all. If you have some budget but don’t have the need to hire someone full-time, there are lots of agencies and consultants who you can hire to work on projects as needed. (Learn more about this in my chat with Jeff Coveny of Digital Pi on How to Strategically Grow Your MOps Team.)

Final Thoughts

I find myself constantly referencing the Four Pillars of Marketing Operations—whether I’m writing a job description for a new role, talking to marketing ops practitioners who are trying to define their current roles or looking for a new one, or coaching leaders on building out their teams. I’m eternally grateful to Edward Unthank of Etumos for developing this invaluable framework. Whether you’re a current or aspiring practitioner, a hiring manager looking to grow your team, or a recruiter trying to stand out in a sea of InMails, I hope this post helps you better understand the wide world of marketing operations.

P.S. I’ve been on a few podcasts recently talking about the Four Pillars! Check out my conversations on Ops Cast and Must Contain.

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