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A Brief History of the Rise of Marketing Operations…and Why It’s Still Rising

A Brief History of the Rise of Marketing Operations…and Why It’s Still Rising

The early rise of marketing operations

In the year 2000, at the height of the dot-com hysteria, I landed in the nascent world of marketing operations (affectionately known as MOPS) via an internship with Ford Motor Company. Ford was creating the holy grail of marketing: a single view of the customer across all data and self-service capability for marketers to execute and report on their own campaigns. It was very heady stuff at the time. As I toiled away operating the progenitors of Marketo and Tableau, I had no idea the wave of disruptive innovation that would come.

With the advent of the internet, marketing was on a rocket ship, sling-shotting into uncharted digital space with new MOPS teams clinging on while traditional marketing channels faded from view. As the Software as a Service (SaaS) evolution erupted and disrupted every link in the marketing supply chain with powerful new marketing technology, “martech” solutions were released at a mind-boggling pace, as firms purchased champagne-class marketing technology subscriptions at root beer costs. This tech transformed what was coded into what could be configured and empowered a new generation of MOPS practitioners to operate untethered from IT departments. The combination of disruptive digital channels and marketing technologies ignited a marketing renaissance with MOPS key to making the modern CMO’s dreams a reality.

If MOPS was a curiosity in the early 2000s, ibecame a full-blown necessity for marketing departments today  

The pandemic demands more digital and (you guessed it) more MOPS

Fast forward to the present and Covid-19 has sparked another wave of digital evolution with more than a 2x increase in digital usage during buyer research and evaluation phases. What’s more, these new digital models are expected to persist even as the pandemic subsides. Digital marketing has gone from a “have-to-have” to a “have-to-survive,” putting more pressure on MOPS to power new digital motionsPre-pandemic, CMOs pointed to martech as the number one lever to realize their marketing vision, allocating more dollars there than any other budget category. Mid-pandemic, MOPS has only increased in strategic importance. 

With that backdrop, a host of new challenges confront CMOs and their already popular MOPS teams. Here are three challenges that standout:

1. Making good on martech investment

A marketing VP I know lamented, “I have a world-class marketing stack with nothing to show for it.” He’s not alone, as CMOs report they can only realize 58% of the value of their martech investments; yet in a twist of irony, 68% plan on increasing martech spend in 2021. Innovative marketing ideas designed to take advantage of new martech are backing up or being watered down due to MOPS teams who can’t keep up with the pace of innovation.

Idea: CMOs should resist the urge to chase the next shiny piece of tech and focus on unlocking value from their current stack. Many are tempted to push for award-winning campaigns before most basic martech integrations are completed. If MOPS capacity or competency is low, CMOs must consider staffing the next available headcount on that team or supplement with professional services to build foundational capabilities.

2. Data is more siloed than ever 

Looking back at my time at Ford, it’s “déjà vu all over again” as companies are striving again to create a single view of the customer. With more links in the marketing supply chain digitized and more marketing channels in play, it stands to reason that data is fragmented. Many martech capabilities are great for their individual purposes, but not purpose-built to unify data across systems in a tidy package. The result: islands of data that make it hard to effectively target campaigns and gain meaningful insights on performance.

Idea: Customer Data Platforms (CDPs) are designed to ingest, collate, cleanse, and add intelligence to data before propagating to downstream systems for action.  While not a silver bullet, CDPs may tip the balance toward “buy” in the eternal build versus. buy debate as they continue to make centralized data management more accessible. MOPS teams will play a key role in sourcing, deploying, and using such capabilities.

3. Customer privacy is paramount

As customers, we are keener than ever to be in the driver’s seat when it comes to managing our personal data and contact preferences, demanding ways to effectively navigate trade-offs between convenience and security. With third-party cookies making a likely exit by the end of 2021, CMOs’ abilities to retarget and track customer behavior across the web will be diminished, putting more pressure on companies to rely on their own data for targeted communications.

Idea: While workarounds for the loss of third-party cookies may emerge, marketing departments should push for a stronger gathering of first-party data from owned websites and marketing channels. As they do so, they must provide simple, clear options for customers to manage their data and contact preferences. MOPS and CDPs will again play a part in building robust first-party data profiles which enable more customized messaging needed to drive higher conversion. MOPS can also work with other technical teams to ensure that privacy preferences are captured, managed, and synced across systems to maintain compliance.

Setting your MOPS team up for success

Since my time as an intern at Ford, MOPS has grown from infancy to adulthood in a spectacular fashion. With 42% of the value of martech stacks remaining untapped and a need for more digital marketing, savvy CMOs are revamping MOPS to keep pace.

But revamping MOPS and martech can feel like doing open-heart surgery while running a marathon. I’ve been there, having built MOPS teams from the ground up inside two large technology companies amid major marketing initiatives. It was tough, but it can be done.

I found success with smart investments in MOPS professional services as a force multiplier. I knew where I was soft on skills or where I needed to be extra sure-footed and invested accordingly. As my teams stabilized, I was able to beef up internal know-how while using professional services for new, critical initiatives or runtime services. These investments paid huge dividends, allowing my teams to leapfrog ahead in our abilities and successfully perform surgery while simultaneously completing our race. What’s better, with a new heart in place, the next races were our best yet.

Are you in the middle of a marketing marathon and need help with your MOPS? You’re not alone. For many firms, MOPS know-how is needed more than ever, and a trusted professional services partner can bridge the gap. Rest assured that with a few smart investments you can cross the finish line and get a brand-new ticker.

Interested in getting the most out of your martech investment? Contact us to get a free consultation.


Learn how we put a leading ed-tech company on the path to get more from their martech. Read our case study here.

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Spence Darrington

Spence Darrington

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Spence Darrington