Beneath the surface: Unmasking the operations that power marketing maturity

by John Newall

March 25, 2024

Marketing organizations exist in all shapes and sizes. I’ve been a part of scrappy agency teams, and I now lead an organization of marketers and creatives tasked with evolving a global tech brand. Regardless of organization size, marketers and creatives are used to being asked to move and scale quickly. We’re a resourceful bunch, dedicated to getting results and going the extra mile.

Across team sizes and scopes, marketers and creatives face common pain points – poor team alignment, organizational inefficiency, and lack of visibility. How your team solves these pain points demonstrates your marketing organization's maturity – how effectively you’re able to manage your work, content, and people.

It’s useful to know where your brand sits within a maturity framework to know how to level up. Leveling up in maturity will have a huge impact on your organization as a whole – more mature brands have bigger increases in sales, are more cost efficient, and outperform on market share when compared to their less mature peers, according to research by Boston Consulting Group.

In my role as SVP of Brand at Smartsheet, I’m always learning from our customers who use Smartsheet to manage their marketing and creative work. These organizations have seen awesome results from using one platform to align their people, work, and content. I’ll share a few things I’ve learned from them as we take a look at each stage of maturity:


Foundational stage

In the foundational stage of maturity, teams are likely feeling siloed. Reviews are inconsistent, visibility is murky, and priorities are unclear. There’s no alignment on planning, strategy, and resources, leading to overloaded teams and delayed projects.

A great place to start is to take a look at how your marketing projects can better support company goals. This can also help drive your team – employees are 10x more likely to feel motivated at work if they know how their goals connect to the bigger picture.

Another important step in leveling up is to standardize how work comes in, where it gets done, and how it gets reviewed. Setting up processes like intake forms, shared project spaces, and review workflows will improve visibility, collaboration, and consistency across your organization.

With my team at Smartsheet, we use our own platform to do this. Our creative team, for example, has grown to include about 40 people across creative project management, video, design, and content. In the early days of our company, we operated in a more ad-hoc manner. But with a team of this size, we needed a system to plan, scale, and do our work. Now, we have an intake form for the creative team. The form kicks off a process to launch, resource, and report on a project. It’s a real point of pride for me to see my team as product experts – they’ve since presented our process to an audience at our annual customer conference, ENGAGE!


Growth stage

The growth stage of maturity is characterized by tension. A marketing organization in this stage likely has a creative review process – but, creative requests are often redundant, leading to unused content. There’s visibility into the progress of one project, but no clear visibility across all projects. Teams may not be able to handle growing workloads without knowing how resources are being used (and misused).

The challenges facing marketing organizations in the growth stage can prevent teams from scaling their work. Automation can be a game changer here. Take educational publisher McGraw Hill as one example. Their team creates thousands of digital and print learning assets every year. They work with many contractors and vendors to get all of the work done.

Initially, the team used very manual – and in their own words, very painful – systems that relied on email and spreadsheets every time they needed to get usage rights on something, or whenever they needed to review a vendor invoice. Now, the team has improved their efficiency by 50% by using the automation in a work management tool to automatically assign reviews to members of the team, and to process vendor payments. They’re able to deliver on more work, despite tighter schedules – a demand that probably sounds familiar to all marketers right now!


Optimization stage 

A marketing organization in the optimization stage is fine-tuning smaller inefficiencies, but has dealt with the big challenges that characterize the other maturity stages. Teams are likely using a mix of disconnected systems that could be better integrated. Company and marketing goals are aligned, but the business could be more agile if teams had better decision-making resources in place.

Switching between tools to get work done costs time and money. Connecting your martech systems to streamline work helps you work smarter and scale more effectively. I’m a huge fan of the McLaren Formula 1 team, and I’ve learned a lot about the impact of streamlining systems from our partnership with McLaren Racing.

It’s no surprise that speed is very important to McLaren operations – including their marketing team. Take race day, for example: There were 23 Formula 1 races scheduled in the 2023 season. McLaren fans, partners, and the media rely on the McLaren digital content team to keep up with all of the action happening in a race weekend. Before McLaren Racing started using Smartsheet as their work management platform and digital asset management (DAM) tool, all of the thousands of photos from the track were managed manually. McLaren’s brand team would need to first review photos, then upload and sort them depending on the audience. The photos usually made their way to a partner days after the excitement of the race weekend had passed.

Now, throughout a race weekend, images are uploaded to their Smartsheet DAM and automatically tagged using AI and machine learning built into the platform. For any given grand prix, this could mean that thousands of photos are being uploaded, sorted, and shared instantaneously. McLaren teams can distribute race day footage seven times faster to their partners, the media, and the millions of McLaren fans around the world.

Marketing maturity is a journey, and leveling up takes time and effort. I find it’s helpful to take a beat, and evaluate where your team is at to figure out where you need to go. Our Marketing and Creative Management Maturity Assessment tool can help you learn more about how your marketing organization can unlock potential not just for your team, but for your entire business.

Take the assessment