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Looking Ahead: Evolution of Marketing Operations From Brand Management to Driving Data Effectiveness

Picture this, a smooth marketing operation that begins and ends with minimal human intervention, aided by brilliant machine learning (ML) powered applications. It offers every advantage – both real and perceived – that a marketer only hoped for so far. But this is hardly wishful thinking at the moment, as you’re looking ahead from the old methods of campaign orchestration using legacy systems and time-consuming manual processes.

Today, the age-old machinery is no longer relevant. Marketing operations have some cool next-generation platforms at work, with a particular emphasis on personalisation that allows marketers to connect better with customers. Such marketing automation platforms have enabled organisations to target customers accurately, and also enabled them to flex their creative muscles on campaigns and other planning processes. The outcome? Greater efficiency, improved flexibility, and a keen insight into operations – a key feature that the previous generation models lacked.

Then and Now: Lure of Cute Pugs vs All-Knowing Robotic Shopping Assistant

The marketing function has evolved significantly over the last few decades. Brands have moved past the use of metaphorical canine stand-ins to indicate performance and value to promising real-time retail insights powered by data analytics.

If the ‘80s and ‘90s were all about brand management, with special focus on creating interest about a product, the early 2000s discovered the wonders of demand generation, luring customers in through creative campaigns (think of Vodafone’s restless pug that represented a core benefit offered by the brand). 2020, on the other hand, is firmly inclined to driving effectiveness through automations and data analytics.

Need of the Hour: Cross-Functional Teams with a Consummate Mix of Data & Tech

Marketing operations management today is no longer a function relegated to a corner, performing the usual tactical operations. It has become a vital cog in the CMO organisation managing a range of strategic capabilities; it oversees digital project management and skill development for effective use of MarTech (marketing technology) applications under the control of a discrete operations function. This rise to prominence, though, has presented its own set of complexities that marketers have to deal with.

Imagine a combination of 15+ different marketing applications to manage content, campaign and data, and a crowded and ever-increasing MarTech landscape with over 8,000 marketing technology tools offered by different organisations. As a consequence, quite a lot of effort is spent on training, implementation, and maintenance of technology. That being said, Annual CMO survey by Gartner has indicated MarTech spending is down by nearly 10 percent and there is a rising trend observed wherein CMOs are reducing MarTech budgets amid concerns regarding their marketers’ understanding of each technology in order to truly maximize its usability in effectively acquiring content and executing campaigns at scale. Add to it their misgivings about efficient use of such technology, lack of resources and skills to integrate and adopt the tools – as corroborated by reports – and we have all the makings of a MarTech soup.

Rising expectations has been the norm for the marketers, from user journey to content generation, social media management, and even customer experience across digital channels to highlight a few. It is quite possible for marketers to feel overwhelmed.

An agile and cross-functional marketing operations teams with a consummate mix of data and tech is the need of the hour for marketers, encompassing everything from managing content in MarTech applications and executing campaigns at scale, to seamlessly acting on data, measured through a combination of volume and value metrics. This enables marketers to focus on their core activity – generating, personalising and distributing the right content to the right audience at the right time.

Role of AI and ML in Shaping the Future of Marketing Operations

The past year hasn’t been easy on global brands and the pandemic impact has further disrupted the launch of several marketing campaigns. Changing regulations, stringent measures from regulatory bodies (GDPR, CCPA) on how to handle customer data, and the emergence of new age technologies powered by artificial intelligence (AI) could lead to significant impact on how marketing operations would evolve.

The CMO mandate to enhance revenue growth coupled with the pressing need to produce a tangible return on investment (ROI) shows no sign of letting up. While marketing teams largely focus on influencing revenue, it has emerged that only 44% of marketing departments actually measure the revenue they are influencing. This only points to the fact that marketing leaders are keener than ever to leverage AI-powered analytics to measure insights for campaign, budget planning & ROI analysis.

Some of the emerging trends observed in the role of AI in shaping digital marketing operations is summarized below:

  • Use of entry-level AI for strategic planning, campaign decision making and audience profiling
  • Natural language processing (NLP) and machine learning (ML) platforms to better predict marketing spend.
  • Predictive algorithms and smart analysis of patterns to generate highly-targeted content and engaging with new customers efficiently through existing customer personas.
  • Customer experience (CX) is all set to be touted the “new marketing battlefront,” as in 36 months, nearly 81% of marketing is expected to be mostly based on CX. Delivering a good brand experience with personalized content is becoming the norm. This is another area where ML can come in handy through intelligent analysis of customers’ behaviour to a particular situation, ad copy, or other customer data touchpoint.
  • Voice and visual search, too, will emerge as a big investment area using IoT devices. Integrating chat bots into campaigns is essential to connect with target audiences and providing human-like assistance with virtual assistants, perhaps even via home devices like Amazon Echo, Google Home, and Apple’s HomePod.
  • Facial recognition and reverse image lookup are the emerging technologies that could drive campaigns of the future.


Insights and analytics with the alignment of data and technology have appeared on the CMO priority list for years in ascertaining the efficiency of a marketing operations function, so much so that the management of such processes is proving to be a niche skill in itself, in addition to mandatory requirements like creativity, speed, and agility.

To a marketer, these trends might sound exciting, radical, and also challenging as they dismantle archaic toolkits of marketing operations. The truth, as always, lies somewhere in between. Future marketing team structures will comprise cross-functional marketing operations teams, empowered to work together and solve problems. They will carry out rewarding customer experience experiments aided by automated, data-driven insights.