The marketing ops skills set

Frans Riemersma
November 21, 2022

This blog was adapted from BrandMaker’s: “Marketing Ops Now” podcast. Each installment discusses valuable ideas for both management and marketing executives. You can listen to this 20-minute podcast here.

Marketing operations skills

There are now over 12.2 million people on LinkedIn whose job titles specify “marketing operations”. Compared to well-known job titles like “digital marketing” (12,5 million), or “online marketing” (9,8 million), that isn’t a small group.

Marketing ops is concerned with how the marketing function actually operates. Given the marketing activities, how do we produce them and measure the results?

With business becoming increasingly digital, the need for a marketing ops function for supporting digital business and digital marketing increases. The shape that marketing ops takes depends on the size or maturity in an organization. Perhaps we can distinguish roughly three marketing ops functions.

  • A shared marketing ops role

If there is a small marketing team, there is probably no need for a dedicated marketing ops person. It is more of a role that someones takes on when needed. With this in mind there are certainly more marketing ops people out there than those 12,2 million mentioned before. 

  • One dedicated marketing ops job function

Once the team grows there might be no need for a dedicated marketing operations team, but there is probably a need for at least one person on the team. This person is likely to take on the responsibility for structuring and optimizing the processes, related systems and data flow.

  1. A dedicated marketing team

As the company matures, grows and scales there is a need arising for at least a foundation for the interplay of systems, processes and data. This is where a marketing ops function takes shape. Now it starts to become a dedicated function.

How does marketing ops operate best?

In many companies, teams operating as shared services, e.g., internal studios, service bureaus, or centers of excellence, have been very prominent. But it is not the same as a marketing ops function, or the shape it should take. These models create too much distance between the shared service and the actual marketing people. Leveraging the shared services is often not easy.

The idea of having a specialized marketing ops team is great. The reason is because they are small, cross-functional teams that bring a set of people together with different capabilities who are able to collaborate together and produce results very quickly.

Is marketing ops part of IT or marketing?

There is this great IT-marketing dichotomy: where does marketing ops belong?

Over a decade ago most people thought marketing operations is systems and data. And so it was likely marketing ops would live in IT. A lot of martech speaks the same language as IT. Today marketing ops is more than marketing technology. It is not about operations itself, it is about marketing. The operations team can’t be too far removed from the actual marketing experience, the actual marketing delivery. It is safe to say that l marketing ops should be native inside the marketing department so that marketing really is able to leverage its capabilities.

T-shaped marketing ops skills

This is where the T-Shaped model comes in handy. Mapping out the team on the T-shaped map helps both talent acquisition as well as internal talent development.

The first “official” reference to T-shaped skills, or a T-shaped person, was made by David Guest back in 1991. The concept of a T-shaped person comes from the world of hiring, and was easy to understand and visualize. The T-shaped model describes the abilities that someone brings to a job – their depth and breadth of ability.

  1. The horizontal, left-and-right stem of the “T” represents “generalist” skills.
  2. The vertical, up-and-down stem of the “T” represents “specialist” skills.

In essence, the marketing ops person is responsible for the systems and processes around managing data. As a result, some IT analyst skills are required to understand how systems connect together. That requires both data science and data analytics.

At the top level, the horizontal access, we see the likes of statistics, lightweight programming, database querying, CRO, and UX. One could argue that marketing ops covers more of the horizontal axis, whereas the vertical axis is more on the marketing campaigns and channels like mobile, email, and Facebook ads.

Still you need the two breeds, both marketing and marketing ops, in cross-functional agile teams, to understand if a campaign actually underperformed in a segment relative to another cohort and start to optimize the copy and creative.

The one skill every marketing ops individual needs

The one unique skill that every marketing ops person should harness is: systems thinking. Marketing ops is at the crossroads of technology, process, and data. Understanding system dynamics is a constant challenge that can’t be underestimated.

Looking at the marketing ops people who are really successful, all have a way of understanding the effects of interactions. This is a dearly needed skill as marketing ops on a daily basis has to come up with long term solutions while firefighting. Systems thinkers do both and eventually build an infrastructure.

Please join us

BrandMaker’s “Marketing Ops Now” podcast series has officially started. In each podcast industry luminaries and deep thinkers share valuable marketing ops ideas for both management and marketing executives (some worth stealing).

For every podcast in the series we’ll do a blog post to share the highlights with you. You can listen to this 20-minute podcast here.

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