The television series Mad Men portrays the bustling world of advertising in the 1960’s when it first rose to prominence as its own driving force. Over the last ten years, a similar seismic shift in marketing has taken place. For decades, many corporations had their own marketing departments, often relegated to the end of the supply chain and then responsible for moving products designed by engineers and executives who were often out of touch with the market.

Marketing Operations (MO) is a next-level concept engaged in the actual process of creating, manufacturing and promoting products. A marketing operations department is likely to be a wild blend of creative left-brain thinkers and buttoned up right-brain statistic ninjas, all working in harmony towards a common goal.

1. Various Roles of Marketing Operations

As a department, Marketing Operations is involved with much more than just ‘marketing’. At Estée Lauder, for example, marketing operations start with creative teams conceptualizing new beauty products in anticipation of both demands and trends. From the initial concept, Estée Lauder’s MO team then oversees materials sourcing—such as finding fair trade ingredients or new non-allergenic materials—as well as product testing, brand naming, and design. The team also gauges demand by polling retailers and sets projected inventory and delivery dates. From there, each project is handed off to manufacturing, accounting, and various other departments until it arrives in warehouses for shipping. Meanwhile, the MO plans product launches and brand promotions.

At some companies, MO plays a bigger role at the end of the production process—but nearly every department is involved at some stage of the company’s brand process. Other roles include strategic planning, lead management, process improvement, budget management, stakeholder analysis, quality testing, and data management. MO thus has a much broader sweep, taking care of the ‘business of marketing’ and not just the creative aspects.

2. Factors Driving the Creation of Marketing Ops

The term ‘marketing operations’ was originally coined by analyst firm IDC in early 2005 but only entered the mainstream corporate lexicon around 2011. Several factors contributed to the rise of MO as an integrated unit in company culture. Savvy corporations began consulting the marketing department before introducing new ideas to get important insights on demographic trends, competitive pressures, and customer feedback.

What was once considered a revolutionary idea—including the marketing team from the beginning—created a loop that improves and informs company branding from concept to delivery. Now, with ever-increasing pressure on companies to provide transparency and guarantees, MO departments have also moved into designing company workflows, providing training, and establishing company standards.

At Thomson Reuters, the most widely used news distribution network in the world, the Marketing Ops team was intensely involved in crafting the company’s branding mission. The marketing team at Thomson Reuters is responsible for clarifying its values to clients and employees in the realms of journalism and intellectual property rights, as well as the finance and legal industries to which it provides proprietary software.

3. The Real Purpose of Marketing Operations

The word ‘operations’ in the title is just as important as ‘marketing’. Marketing Operations evolved as a way to help companies be more transparent, efficient, competitive, profitable, and accountable. Early adopters of this over-arching role include Cisco Systems, Symantec, and Adobe. Today, hundreds of companies across multiple industries draw their employees and recruits from backgrounds in branding, finance, technology, accounting, and sales.

The defining purpose of Marketing Ops is to create alignment and order within a company. MO teams are often responsible for creating work systems and workflows through every business unit, as well as overseeing deadlines and cooperation. In essence, although the MO team is often involved in tactical analysis and deployment, its main mission is that of strategy. A strong Marketing Operations department becomes the hub of the company, where people, processes, metrics and goals are brought into alignment.

4. Oversight of Long-Term Goals

One of the key roles of Marketing Operations is to help define the company’s long-term goals and then provide the oversight necessary to keep a company on course. This involves everything from making sure the company is following through on marketing strategy, to ensuring a strong return on investments. As with traditional marketing teams, this means a continual focus on key performance indicators (KPI’s). MO may also be in charge of those KPI’s related to budgets, distribution, data flow, and procurement. Another key role is ensuring that the company stays ‘on brand’ at all times.

The word ‘branding’ used to mean what colors represent the company’s product, and what values are included in a (frequently vague) mission statement. Today, branding is a complicated and powerful field that affects the very essence of a company’s identity. Some MO departments will review everything from the company’s mission statement to its year-end investor portfolios to ensure that a company’s overall brand remains intact.

5. Planning for Market Penetration

Of course, despite its many responsibilities, Marketing Operations is still about marketing. While overseeing a multitude of tasks, MO will also have a flourishing creative department working on print collateral, media campaigns and event planning. The integrated nature of Marketing Operations allows it to assimilate information and feedback from multiple company modules that were once in their own silos. MO can see which products sell faster than others or have seasonal fluctuations, enabling the team to anticipate demand for inventory. Coordination with accounting helps MO analyze which products are most profitable, and why. Data from warehousing and distribution can identify bottlenecks. MO can then work backward from an anticipated launch date to include more time for possible delivery glitches.

Marketing Operations is also the catcher for the company’s tech awareness team. MO keeps abreast of improvements and competition in CRM, data analysis, and marketing and then translates that knowledge into actionable improvements.

Agility is key when it comes to staying ahead of the competition in 21st-century marketing. Online commerce means most companies are selling globally 24/7, which requires highly responsive customer service teams, real-time traffic and revenue reporting, an understanding of advertising exchange algorithms, and the ability to spot fresh opportunities.

As an example, Estée Lauder’s trend-setting MO Department gave one of its more mature brands, Bobby Brown, a digital makeover in 2013 by launching a YouTube channel called ‘I Love Makeup’ targeted at millennials. As Forbes reported at the time: “As the first brand to take such a step, it will be watched closely by everyone.”

7. Identifying New Markets

The marriage of data and strategic planning make it easier for a company to identify and evaluate a variety of new opportunities like exports, franchising, additional product lines, and mobile advertising. However, the growing impact of digital marketing also has complications: every country has different legal and political concerns regarding data privacy, and it’s MO’s job to sort that out.

8. Optimizing Marketing Channels

MO allows a company to exercise both versatility and specificity in its choice of marketing channels. A department can put different people or teams in charge of direct selling, wholesaling, digital marketing, print media, mobile advertising and so on. This allows each team to drill down into what works (or doesn’t) in each channel, while still functioning as part of a cohesive department that collates and analyzes data from all channels.

9. A Typical Month in Marketing Operations

While the scope of the department’s role can be quite involved, individual responsibilities are generally clearly defined. The ultimate responsibility is supporting other teams or individuals. A data analyst would likely lend support to the sales team and working the CRM, then move on to A/B testing and analysis of email campaigns and finally, refine data and feed it into current ROI reporting.

At least twice a week, data teams might meet with their creative counterparts to get their input and answer questions. Data teams can share which types of franchise leads respond most favorably, and ask creative teams for tailored messaging to those demographics — or Creative may ask Data to assess various mobile advertising exchanges and pick the best ones for geo-targeting and fill speed.

Twice a month, both teams might meet with a larger strategic planning group that reports directly to decision makers. These meetings may focus on preparing year-end reports, assessing new markets, or creating workflow templates and training materials across the company.

10. The Future of Marketing Operations

According to a 2009 Lenskold Group study, companies with a marketing operations department are twice as likely (11% vs. 5%) to enjoy more “effective and efficient” marketing and are more likely to outgrow their competitors. In a survey conducted by the CMO Council and software company Alterian, 60% of respondents said the transformation of marketing operations is an essential area of focus, regardless of company size. In the Lenskold study, 59% of respondents reported having a dedicated Marketing Operations person or team.

For those seeking a career in marketing, MO may be a very smart choice—new hires are likely to get intensive experience in the discipline of their choice, while still being exposed to, and working with, teammates in other disciplines.

For companies small and large, Marketing Operations provides the integration and insight necessary to compete in a world of rapidly accelerating data and intelligence.