When I've approached organizations and asked questions about how they prepare their marketing strategy, I'm typically met with an abundance of spreadsheets, PDFs and "playbooks" for how their teams strategize and implement marketing efforts. Or, on the other side of things, many have the "wing-it" mentality and make gut decisions with little to no strategy - or what I call the "slinging spaghetti approach" - if it sticks, it works, or it's supposed to.
Now these documents are typically never updated, if you're in the playbook crowd, and usually represent data and research from months ago when your original ideation began. Many team members that you work with have drifted into their own procedures, as the primary marketing lead doesn't really have the time to "babysit" marketing process and is usually more interested in campaign results than how results were actually attained. As long as the magic is happening, why interrupt the show? Or, if you find yourself to be more aligned with the spaghetti crowd, you most likely can't attribute your success to a key measurement because you're not a fan of process or don't really stick to one.
Marketing process is a tricky thing. In fact, it's the most common oversight I evaluate as a consultant. More often than not, companies have little strategic initiative that can be measured as they begin their campaigns. And what ends up happening, with the best of intentions, is all of the strategic initiative that is crafted ends up turning into a giant monster of intensity resulting in a team that's exhausted by trying to adhere to their over-processed...process.
So, what all of this tells us is that marketing processes can be and are a challenge. Whether you use them regularly to the best of your ability or find them too taxing to adhere to, in order to make marketing processes really work you have to learn how to find a balance between the types of marketing processes and make them work for your organization.
How to start thinking about marketing process
Before getting into how to find balance in marketing processes, first we need to review what a process is. A process is a system of tasks that are placed in sequential order and created to achieve a specific end result. Processes could be as simple as which leg you put into a pair of jeans first while dressing each morning, or as complicated as how iPhones are created from ideation to end-user purchase.
In the same way, marketing processes can be just as simple or complex as you need them to be and are created to help you achieve the end-result you're looking for. Many feel turned off by the idea of adhering to process because they feel like it limits creativity and prevents teams from thinking outside the box when opportunities present themselves.
When I approach someone about developing marketing process, the first response I typically get is, "Ok, that's a great idea, but it can't hurt productivity." Not only do I always find myself chuckling at this response, but also clearly see how obvious it is that process has a really bad rap - and mostly due to a previous experience with it being poorly implemented or monitored. If a process inhibits creativity and productivity then it's pointless! Processes are created to support initiatives, not suppress them.
In order to leverage marketing processes correctly you have to make them, first, work for you - not against you. This means that you need to understand the two primary types of marketing processes and which works best for you and how to utilize both in their appropriate settings - so lets take a look.
Marketing processes defined: optimal v. functional
There are two types of marketing processes - optimal and functional. An optimal marketing process is the ideal, or near-perfect, approach to a marketing method. This would require that goals are set for each facet of your campaign with an outlined measurement for success in each area, along with a dedicated individual who will follow along with your KPIs as your campaign progresses.
Many companies don't have the luxury of having a part-time or full-time marketing ops manager or marketing project manager on staff. That person or team would be responsible for managing the performance of implemented optimal processes. This doesn't mean, however, that the ability to have software-enabled systems to support your optimal processes in order to substitute for the lack of a MarOps at your organization is unrealistic. In fact many programs, like Asana and Wrike, can be structured in a way that makes your campaigns as easy to 1, 2, clone and boom - you're ready to go.
An optimal marketing process is the pie-in-the-sky, if-everything-happened-perfectly process for individual facets of your overall marketing campaign. Now, here's where things expand. Out of an optimal marketing process comes the creation of a functional marketing process. A functional marketing process is simply a process that prioritizes functionality and practicality over optimal or near-perfect structure. A validation question that I typically ask is, "What is the point of an ideal or optimal process if the potential for it to be implemented is impractical?"
As an example, if you're a small organization with a marketing team of fresh, young marketing professionals and your optimal process involves advanced marketing techniques, you've not considered the function or practicality of your ability to operate that process efficiently and may need to hire support to help implement.
Optimal or Functional: which is better and how can they be applied?
Common marketing processes that can be structured in either optimal or functional ways are as follows:
- Content Development - Usually starting with an ideation strategy, content is the center of any well-oiled campaign machine. There are several types of content, such as blogs, web page copy, white papers, course development, social media, etc... - all of which require process to ensure that they're completed correctly and published on time.
- Website Development - One of the larger projects in marketing that requires many processes, website development can consist of small processes to large, complex, back-end systems creation processes.
- Project Management - Gah! It's all a process here. A marketing project manager is responsible for driving projects to the finish line and in order to do so must hold team members accountable to processes and deadlines.
- Creative Briefs and Ideation - If you're trying to figure out how to redesign your brand or create a new voice for your blog and site copy, the process of creating a brief that contains your vision is necessary - often called an ideation or meeting of the minds to go through a creative process of evaluation and brainstorming.
- ...and the list continues because, lets face it - everything in life is a process.
So, if that's the case, which is better - optimal or functional?
My response to this question is always: neither. Marketers should use both and always begin with optimal for two reasons. To begin, creating an optimal process allows you to envision what you want to become as a company. Are there gaps in your team? Would it be nice to have that graphic designer to help you create X, Y and Z? Or maybe that Video Editor to take your content to the next level. Allowing yourself to craft your optimal, or dream, process is OK however unrealistic at the point of inception.
Secondly, starting with an optimal process allows you to properly lay out your KPIs as many of those will still be relevant no matter how your processes shift. Just because your process changes from optimal to functional or a hybrid, doesn't mean that KPIs need to or should change. Stay true to your goals and how you measure them - not matter how the work that will be measured to help you meet them is created.
So, the bottom line here is that no matter how organized or unorganized, efficient or inefficient, optimal or functional, marketing processes are important and should structure every facet of a marketing campaign. Finding your balance with how to implement process should be done as a team with all voices heard - not one person leading the charge. Let your goals dictate your process and enjoy the journey as you're able to clearly adhere to essential instructions for how to implement marketing assets that will help you engage with your audiences in a way that yields the return you're looking for.
And stop thinking that process is the Devil. It's not. When process is poorly constructed or not used consistently, that's when it becomes the bane of your existence - and that, my friend, is entirely up to you to control and make sure that you have the right knowledge experts to work with in order to properly create.
If you're unsure of where to even begin when creating your marketing processes, we can help give you the framework you need to be successful - no matter how mature or large your organization is. Reach out to us today and get in touch with our process optimization team to get started.
Thanks to Campaign Creators on Unsplash for our featured blog image