by Jay Khan, with contributions from Bryan Kreher

Change. It’s a function of time. Just like you can’t stop time, you also can’t stop change. Often times change is for the better. The world of marketing operations has certainly seen its fair share of change over the years. Or has it?

During my first internship, in the dark ages, at the Hearst Newspaper in Houston, my boss gave me an assignment for the summer. He said, we are thinking of increasing our monthly price and could use a new perspective: 1) come up with the new price that would provide optimum return; 2) determine the price impact on certain segments of subscribers; 3) how to retain customers and generate new sales; 4) how to reward “best” customers; 5) encourage more customers to follow the path of “best” customers.   More on why this is relevant in a minute.

If you have been involved in marketing for the past 20 years, your title and department names have probably evolved; mine sure have: Circulation Marketing, Marketing & Promotions, Direct Mail, Direct Marketing, Database Management, CRM, Measured Marketing, Multi-channel Marketing and finally the latest incarnation, Marketing Automation. Aside from your evolving business card, what else has changed?

Here at Encima, we tend to think the fundamentals of marketing operations have remained consistent over time. These five principles have stood the test of time and form the bedrock of a great marketing operations capability:

Strategy – This first fundamental element has not changed. You can’t survive for long if you don’t have a strategy. We have all seen businesses, teams and political candidates do well for a short period of time and then they fall apart and disappear and we all say that they didn’t have a strategy – or they were riding the wave. In short, they did not have a goal, they did not plan on what they wanted to do and how they wanted to do it.

Tools – This is where technology comes in to play. Yes, technology has been changing at the speed of light, but the need for it at any given time is constant; we need technology. For example, a strong marketing database and campaign management system is critical for executing today’s complex omni-channel campaigns. Firms need to be very careful when selecting tools and ensure they are getting everything they are paying for and also, that they are paying for what they actually need. Gone are the days where you bought a $6 million dollar CRM implementation with all the bells and whistles. Today, your infrastructure should be flexible enough to accommodate large or small data sets as well as different data integration techniques.

People – Having good tools is great, but if you don’t have the right people using the tools, chaos will ensue. Although it may be considered “shadow IT” by some, it is very important for a marketing organization to retain control of the infrastructure. IT often thinks they can work these tools, but you need someone well versed in marketing to effectively manage both process and technology. Find the best partner to help you through this. You will need people who know how to translate business needs into IT language to get the SaaS configured, data and campaigns working for you.

Data – Everyone is talking about Big Data these days. While the possibilities of Big Data are intriguing, companies need to first focus on the data they already have. Numerous companies have vast treasure troves of information spread to the wind. Successfully integrating that data into one database will greatly improve every marketer and every decision they make and every campaign they launch.

Insights – Once you have the right tools and reliable data, insights can easily flow. It’s important to make sure your insights are addressing the “so what” factor instead of just simply dumping data. Insights need to come with actionable recommendations that can improve campaign performance and ultimately increase ROI. But you need good people for that – machines rarely understand your strategies, so surround yourself with smart people.

A lot changes over time, but some things stay the same. Building a strong marketing operations capability is critical to the success of any large marketing organization. The five pillars highlighted above have stood the test of time. By concentrating and improving these five elements, any organization will immediately be head and shoulders above their competitors. And about that summer internship assignment, those business questions are still relevant; how we go about answering them has changed.

Jay is a strategic marketing leader in Pharmaceutical and Retail with deep expertise in multi-channel consumer and business/professional marketing. His areas of expertise include customer acquisition, retention, loyalty, call center operations, segmentation, relationship marketing, communication, analytics, and database operations.

Jay can be reached at jkhan@encimagroup.com