What Is a Marketing Workflow?
A marketing workflow is an organizational tool: a simple series of steps you follow in order to develop a marketing campaign or project.
When you design a workflow, you set the order of operations, or steps, and identify the dependencies, rules, and requirements. When you use workflows, you can plot your team’s work and then proceed through the plan. Workflows can be as simple as a checklist of steps, or they can be visual, including charts and diagrams. To find out everything you need to know about workflows in project management, visit this essential guide to workflow management.
Why You Need Marketing Workflows
Marketing teams face unique challenges: communication breakdowns and endless meetings, multiple or missed deadlines, demands from clients and other departments, project calendars and tracking without a central system. To make things worse, teams tend to use scattered workflows, or they can store project details in email, computer laptops, or files.
A solid process can help solve these problems. Here are some ways marketing workflows can contribute:
- Keep Your Team on the Same Page: Workflows help your team know what they need to do and what or who their work depends on. They can see the status of every task and project, and every team member knows their role and responsibilities. You know when to loop in various team members, such as designers and social media managers. Your team can collaborate smoothly when there’s consensus about the project.
- Improve Your Ability to Manage a Project: You can oversee the work at a strategic level and free yourself from monitoring the details. The workflow keeps your team on track, so you can get out of the weeds and see at a glance what the team is working on, enabling you to manage your team’s workflow and more effectively take on new projects.
- Produce High-Quality Work: Workflows build consistency. Every project gets the attention it needs. Your team creates all the assets for a campaign and doesn’t miss a key piece of collateral. Plus, you include the essential files and conversations to make sure you protect and follow any branding guidelines.
- Be More Effective and Meet Deadlines: With workflows in place, you don’t face a barrage of emails asking about deadlines, assignments, publication dates, and payment. Instead, you have a central location for all submitted work, know the status of every deliverable, and avoid duplicating work among several people. You cut down on interruptions and streamline the approval process, which enables you to spend time doing great work rather than meeting about the work.
- Increase Your Profitability and Campaign Success: Because you can do more in less time, your team can take on increased work and clients, which reduces pressure on the bottom line. Workflows help you focus on the near-term opportunities and stay on track with long-term projects. You ensure that the team follows your marketing and sales processes. You can quickly see where projects go wrong and build new processes. Senior management has a clear view of all projects and teams. And you show senior management how well your team works, thereby demonstrating your value to the company.
How to Define Your Marketing Workflow
The process and habits you use to produce work likely become inefficient over time. What worked five years ago doesn’t work the same way in today’s environment, and it won’t help you scale the work.
Christopher Foust, director of marketing at SpecialtyCare, a leader in allied health services, has relied on workflows to build his marketing team and manage a growing list of projects. He offers three keys to success: a solid process for creative requests, a user-friendly task management platform, and a concrete approval process, as he details below.
- Creative Request: “The creative request mechanism is where it all begins. I’ve used everything from basic email and chat to intranet form fills, and our go-to for collecting creative requests from other departments is by far the form fill. Over time, we’ve homed in on the details and necessary information to get started and make the process more efficient.”
- Task Management: “This system needs to be nimble and accessible, and it needs to provide all appropriate details to deliver the project on time.”
- Approval Process: “Lastly and arguably the most important is having a concrete draft review and approval process. This is where most marketing projects hit snags and delay delivery timelines. Our team at SpecialtyCare has been able to implement a two-week delivery time frame, with a 24-hour turnaround time on approvals and requested changes. This keeps our department on our A-game delivering projects on time, and the requesters accountable for their input.”
Old workflows slow your progress and create frustration in your team. “When creating marketing workflows, understand that they will have to be tested and evolve and over time,” Foust says. You should have a process to update older workflows and create new ones. As you go through this process, remember to keep things simple. To be effective, workflows should be easy for your team to follow and allow you to measure and analyze your results.
The following three steps will help you outline your marketing tasks, sequence them, and create the tools to help your team use a workflow.
Step One: Identify the Tasks
Start by listing all the tasks and arranging them in a logical order. Ask your team to help you create the list, and use the terms that your team prefers. Include the tasks for all the types of content you produce, such as the following:
- Blog posts
- Email newsletters
- Website copy
Be sure to list who completes each task and identify any new roles. This will help you see the team members you need, define their responsibilities, and avoid confusion. List one person per task to avoid duplicate efforts. Make sure you consider all types of roles:
- Analysts: Measure campaign performance and draw insights from data.
- Designers: Create visual elements, collateral, and logos.
- Marketing Specialists: Develop messaging, host webinars, and ensure brand consistency.
- Project Managers: Monitor campaign components and keep everyone on track.
- Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Specialists: Analyze and review web content to make sure it’s optimized for search engines.
- Strategists: Direct the strategy, conduct research, and analyze data.
- Writers: Craft copy for the website, email, white papers, and social posts.
As you gather this information, you may also find other assets that support both the tasks and the people who complete them. If you have policies, style guides, and branding books, make note of them. These will be related resources for your completed workflow.
Step Two: Identify the Time for the Tasks
Ask the people who do the work how long it takes to complete a task — make sure you get real data and not estimates. You may need to track the time for a current project so you can have actual time frames. One way to gather this data is to put all the tasks into a spreadsheet and let the team fill in the time for each task.
Concrete time frames are essential here. If you’re going to create a realistic workflow, you need realistic time frames. Otherwise, you can’t set deadlines that people can realistically meet. Plus, it helps you schedule projects and gives you the pre-planning you need to evaluate your team’s workload. Be honest about how much time you can devote to a project. Set clear deadlines and expect people to meet them.
Step Three: Define Responsibility to Monitor the Workflow
Workflows help you organize your team, but you still need someone to make sure they run smoothly. Assign a manager to identify who works on which tasks and when they must be done. A few actions can make this process easier:
- Limit the number of people who manage the projects.
- Stay flexible and adapt as you go.
- Try a Gantt chart or Kanban card as a visual guide for your workflow.
To find out everything you need to use project manager tools, visit “Project Management Tools.”
Everyone involved — whether a project manager or a marketing strategist — needs to understand your process and watch for bottlenecks or problems. Because tasks and roles are interrelated, the team members also need to have the authority to resolve conflicts and adjust schedules to ensure the work is completed on time the first time.
Use this checklist to define your marketing workflows, listing the tasks, roles, time frame, and managers for all types of marketing assets.
Use Your Workflow as Your Editorial Calendar
Your workflow is designed to help you plan, schedule, and execute your marketing project. To optimize your workflow, cover the three Ws of content production and approval:
- Who needs to create and review the task
- What they should see
- When they should see it
A well-designed workflow walks you through the process of content production. In essence, it functions as an editorial calendar where you can see the full roadmap, from the time you start a project till the point you measure its results.
Andy Crestodina, co-founder and Chief Marketing Officer of Orbit Media Studios, says a strong workflow jumpstarts the content planning process. “It will force you to think about content promotion as you write,” he says, and “forces you to plan.” It should include sections for keyphrase research, email promotion, social media collaboration, and metadata. “Once the writer is done, it goes to the editor and then to the designer, from template to draft to final version to images.” However, be sure to control your workflow and keep it flexible. Don’t let the process of content production control you.
Step One: Definition and Ideation
Step one starts after a client requests the work, and your company considers, approves, and initiates the project. To meet your client’s expectations, it’s critical to have a clear intake process as part of your workflow. Make sure your requests define the scope of work, including expectations, goals, deliverables, and time frame. A good creative brief helps you define the goals and the audience. Then you’re ready to gather ideas, hear pitches, evaluate the best approaches, and finalize your initial presentation for your client.
Step Two: Plan and Assign
Here’s where you get into the details of the project. Your workflow should address the five Ws — and one H — for the project: who, what, when, where, and how. Here are some tasks to consider, in roughly chronological order:
- Create an outline of the content.
- Prioritize ideas and deliverables.
- Conduct a search analysis.
- Fine-tune your pitch or outline.
- Assign the work, identifying specific about people, teams, workload, and commitments.
- Set deadlines.
- Communicate the plan across departments and teams.
Step Three: Create and Execute
Now it’s time to do the work. Here’s where the writers, designers, social media strategists, videographers, and others on your team create the content for your project. If you’re dealing with multiple kinds of content and publishing platforms, stay organized. Make sure you use tagging to keep all the assets together in your workflow.
Step Four: Review and Approve
Once your team completes the drafts, circulate them for approval. Your workflow should include the approval process, with designated editors and your client to review and offer feedback, a commenting system for edits, and a way to indicate the status for approval. The workflow should also trigger deadlines for the content as it goes through the process and a system for indicating when invoices should be sent.
Step Five: Publish and Promote
Now that you’re armed with your final marketing content and collateral, it’s time to share it with the world. Put the content on your website or have it ready for your client’s distribution platform. Assign a team member to monitor social platforms for comments from your audience. If you are working with channel owners, your workflow should alert them that the content is ready to publish and needs quality assurance. You should also notify your writer(s) and the rest of your team that the project has launched.
Step Six: Measure and Archive
Your clients come to you because they want value and results. Your workflow should establish what dependable data, metrics, and reports you will provide to show how your efforts contribute to business growth. Make sure your workflow sets deadlines for pulling these reports. Monitor your project’s performance and refine the work as needed. Don’t forget to recognize and reward the great work of your team. Finally, your workflow should include a specific system to archive, manage, and track your assets.
Examples of Marketing Workflows
There is no magic bullet or one-size-fits-all approach for marketing workflows. Campaigns typically follow complex workflows for specialized teams and tasks. Different projects, such as marketing communications, digital marketing, or Agile marketing, include different assets and team members.
Marketing Communications Workflows
Marketing communications can include advertising, public relations, product launches, promotions, and events, plus a range of ways to engage customers, from customer service to customer advocacy and customer experience. A typical marketing communications workflow addresses the following tasks, roughly in order:
- Identify target audience.
- Analyze current customers’ demographics, buying habits.
- Research prospective customers.
- Conduct situational or SWOT analysis.
- Define your unique selling proposition (USP).
- Determine campaign objectives.
- Establish your budget.
- Use SMART goals.
- Align with brand look and feel.
- Design the campaign message.
- Choose marketing mix that reaches your audience.
- Set deadlines.
- Create deliverables.
- Ensure messaging is consistent.
- Publish content.
- Evaluate effectiveness, such as email open rates, direct mail response rates, and sales data.
- Manage leads and customer data.
Use this template to create a workflow for marketing at an event or conference. You can also adapt it for other kinds of marketing communication efforts.
Download Event and Conference Workflow Template
Digital Marketing Workflows
You can deploy digital marketing across any digital channel, such as a website, search engine, social media, email, mobile phone, web application, or any new digital platform. This graphic shows you the workflows for several digital channels.
Agile Marketing Workflows
With Agile marketing, teams identify high-value projects they will focus on from their marketing backlog. As with the Agile approach to project management, teams use sprints (usually lasting two weeks) to quickly complete the first iteration of the project. The team uses data to continuously identify opportunities or to find solutions in real time. With an Agile approach, teams can deploy tests quickly, evaluate results, and continually improve their campaigns.
For example, if you’re working on a white paper, you might be assigned one section to complete in the sprint. You could identify how you will use the content at the end of the sprint, such as a blog post or social media campaign, and work with this to measure audience feedback and make adjustments for the white paper.
Workflow for Collaborating with an Agency
Working with an external agency means you have to make the most of internal workflows while you coordinate with external stakeholders, all while managing everything from plans and designs to budgets, invoices, and deliverables. Here’s a workflow to help you manage:
- Document Your Onboarding Process: Be clear on expectations, finances, and contracts.
- Sign a Project Proposal: Formally agree to all the priorities, deadlines, and deliverables with a project scope agreement.
- Develop a Creative Brief: Work together to develop this essential roadmap for your project. Use this guide to creative briefs for tips on how to get started.
- Set the Project Timeline: Here’s where you spell out when the deliverables will be completed.
- Start the Work: Now your team can do what they do best. Your role is to keep the lines of communication open and respond quickly to any issues or roadblocks.
- Follow a Process for Reviews and Approvals: Establish a clear way to receive feedback and track updates and approvals.
- Formally Sign Off on Final Deliverables: Get everyone to agree to the finished product.
- Wrap Up Loose Ends: Make sure you archive all your assets, provide any final reports, handle any invoices, and track the progress of the project as needed.
You can use this template to manage your contracts with an outside agency. It includes the steps in the process with space for you to identify your specific workflow tasks.
Download Agency Workflow Template
Marketing campaigns rely heavily on the written word, including blog posts. You’ve probably already created an editorial calendar to map out all the blog posts you’ll need in the coming weeks or months, but don’t forget to create a workflow that ensures you get quality copy quickly.
You can use this template to develop a workflow for each blog and track the process from idea to promotion and social sharing.
Download Blog Workflow Template
Marketing Automation Workflow to Score Your Leads
Marketing is filled with complex, time-consuming activities and tasks. Save time by creating an automated workflow to score your leads. The score contains two ratings: one to assess your lead’s engagement with your marketing efforts and one that compares your lead with target demographics or markets.
You can use this template to develop a system for scoring your leads.
Download Lead Scoring Workflow Template
Online Public Relations Workflow
Public relations uses strategic communication to maintain an organization’s public image. Traditional PR efforts rely on news releases and pitches to media outlets, journalists, and influencers. In a digital world, potential customers or markets may see your efforts without ever going to a news source. Include other platforms, networks, social engagement, and search engines in your workflow.
Use this template as your guide to identifying your audience, setting your goals, developing your messaging, and measuring your results.
Download Online Public Relations Workflow Template
Other Uses for Marketing Workflows
Marketing professionals work in an ever-evolving world of shifting priorities, endless revisions, new competitors and tools, and key performance indicators (KPIs). In addition to campaign workflows, you can create a consistent process for other aspects of marketing that drive audience and revenue.
- Email Marketing Workflows: This is the process of sending a series of emails to customers or prospective customers based on the actions they take. Each action is a trigger that sets in motion the next email a potential customer receives. Get the best practices, examples of automated email workflows, and templates you can use by reading “Automated Email Workflows: Examples, Best Practices, and Templates.”
- Content Marketing Workflows: Content marketing uses web content, videos, e-books, and other digital assets to connect directly with consumers.
- Market Research Workflows: This is the process of learning about your audience. A workflow should include how you define your buyer personas, identify and interview people in each of those personas, write research questions, and report on the results.
- Branding Workflows: Identify and define how you present your company, culture, and market position to customers, clients, and potential customers. The workflow for your branding includes defining your company’s unique selling proposition (USP), creating brand assets that reflect your USP, rolling out your brand guidelines internally and externally, and ensuring those assets are used consistently across all your communication channels.
- Advertising Workflows: Agency workflows can help you streamline your time and resources so you know which clients are profitable. Workflows should consider how you evaluate clients, develop the scope of the contract, manage the creative process, and perform quality assurance.
- Marketing Campaign and Content Creation Workflows: A marketing campaign promotes your service or product to customers. This guide to marketing campaign management gives you a complete, step-by-step process for creating plans that meet your goals.
- Campaign Reporting Workflows: The bottom-line question for any campaign is “Did it work?” You want to be able to measure your success and tell others of your effectiveness. KPI dashboards let you know what’s working, what needs tweaking, and where you have new opportunities. Your workflow starts with taking all the data points and identifying the metrics that matter to your campaign. Then you can track them during the campaign and pull them into dashboards that give all stakeholders a clear picture of your campaign’s success. Learn more about this in “All About KPI Dashboards.”
- Vendor Alliance and Management Workflows: Managing your marketing includes working with the right vendors and controlling your costs. Vendor workflows help you weed out the poor performers and ensure an efficient process. They can include forms to collect and verify vendor data, onboard your vendors, assign and monitor deliverables, and manage invoices and payment. This vendor management guide can help you define the workflows you need to succeed.
- Request for Proposal (RFP) Workflows: RFPs help you identify potential vendors and uncover their strengths and weaknesses before you start any marketing project. The workflow includes writing and issuing the RFP (using past documents or templates as a guide), reviewing the proposal, issuing the contract, and monitoring the work. Get more resources and tips about the RFP process in this article.
How to Implement a Marketing Workflow Management Process
Better workflows improve your revenue, increase productivity, and boost team morale. Now that you’ve mapped out your workflows, make sure your staff can use them efficiently and effectively. Onboarding your team is critical to the success of the workflow and the growth of your business. Here are some ways you can help your team learn how to use your workflow.
- Educate senior leadership and get their support.
- Schedule a meeting that everyone can attend.
- In advance of the meeting, tell everyone what the workflow will help them do.
- Make sure everyone knows the goal of the workflow.
- Create a presentation that outlines how the workflow runs.
- Set up training sessions for hands-on learning.
- Create clear documentation for people to use the workflow.
- Be available for questions.
- Include training resources in your company’s knowledge base or intranet.
- Explain the workflow when you onboard new staffers.
- Monitor workflow use to ensure it’s integrated with your team’s work and your company’s culture.
- Share updates in a consistent channel.
- Recognize and reward staff for using, and even improving, the workflow.
Get the Most Out of Your Marketing Workflows
Marketing workflows can help your team achieve more by giving them the information they need to work efficiently and to collaborate on the creative work that’s essential to successful marketing campaigns, all while experiencing less frustration and fewer bottlenecks. In the following sections, you’ll find tips on how to get the most out of your marketing workflows.
Know Your Strategy
Lindsay Kirsch, an expert in workflow management and digital marketing strategy, says one mistake people make is developing workflows without a clear strategy. “When creating marketing workflows, it's important first to have a clearly defined strategy and then develop the workflows that allow you to implement the strategy.”
Use Workflows to Create Your Marketing Calendar
You can use workflows to put all your calendars in one place. You can include each team or project so everyone can see what work is in progress, what’s ahead, and what tasks other team members are working on. This also helps you set and manage deadlines and prioritize the work.
Integrate Creative Requests in Your Workflows
In marketing, you get a steady stream of requests for new creative work. Workflows will let people submit these requests with a standard form and a creative brief. This will help you organize and triage the requests, as well as keep them in a central place. You can also use workflows to respond to the person requesting new creative, ask for meetings when you need clarity on a request, make changes to the brief, send drafts and revisions, provide status updates, or submit a final version of the creative request.
Use Workflows to Plan Your Collaboration
Workflows can help you assign team members to projects, schedule brainstorming and other meetings, and route creative work through ad review and approval process. Your team benefits because they can collaborate in one place and execute marketing projects smoothly and efficiently.
Measure Your Team’s Performance with Workflows
Workflows give you a 30,000-foot view of all the projects in your pipeline, as well as the status of every task for every project or team member. They help you identify bottlenecks, prioritize resources, and guide your team. To make sure workflows function correctly, however, you need to continually review them and know when it’s time to make an update. Here are some factors to consider:
- Identify the status of all the projects in your pipeline, and see whether you are starting too many projects at the same time or have a steady flow throughout the project lifecycle.
- Compare the actual time it takes to complete a project with the workflow estimates.
- Track how long each task is in the hands of each team member in the workflow.
- Get feedback from your team about pain points in your workflows.
Start Strong to Finish Strong
The beginning of your workflow is the foundation for everything that follows. Make sure you nail it down at the start to avoid surprises later. Does your workflow cover every task and deliverable? Have you included all the background documents and creative briefs? How will you notify everyone on the team that a project has started? Are the tasks in the right order to get the work completed?
Consider Workflow Automation
Create automated workflows to handle the mundane tasks in a project, such as sending email alerts, creating status updates, monitoring budgets, and organizing files. Automation allows you to have a standard process so your marketing team can focus on their specialty and not on administrative tasks. Here are additional functionality benefits of automated workflows:
- A central repository, or digital asset management (DAM), for all the information you create and use
- Accurate tracking of time and resources by task and by project
- Customized task lists for each team member’s role in a project
- Integration of budget and actual costs that’s up to date and easily accessible
- Notifications of past due, current, and upcoming tasks
- Templates for your organization’s processes
Erez Kanaan, founder and CEO of Kanaan & Co., recommends taking automation a step further by making sure your team and your tools work together effectively. “Nowadays, there are so many different tools and platforms we have to utilize for robust marketing campaigns, and often there are different people responsible for different parts of campaigns, and that makes project management platforms a necessity to keep everything in order. Most professionals are doing that, but few are taking it to the next level of collaborating software through APIs (application programming interface) or tools to automate their workflows even more and save lots of time.
“Most SaaS companies today offer a connection to these automation platforms, and you could set up rules to happen automatically instead of someone having to do that manually. For instance, if organic traffic is up 20 percent, send an email to the client presenting the win, or send a weekly newsletter via Mailchimp with the latest posts from the client's blog, and many more,” says Kanaan.
Learn more about the benefits of automation by reading “How Workflow Automation Can Make Your Organization More Efficient.”
Best Practices to Simplify Your Workflow
Complicated, cumbersome workflows don’t help your team. They need simple, clear, logical, and reliable workflows so they can focus on being creative. Workflows also help you manage your resources better. Below are some best practices to make the most of your workflow:
- Focus on Project Management: Brian Koenig, senior digital marketing specialist at Smile Marketing, says project management is critical to your marketing success. “If there is even one weak link in the process, the whole system is impacted. This leads to inefficiencies and the failure to meet deadlines.”
- Consider Project Management Software: Stuart Leung, vice president of marketing at Breazy, says, “A project management software will help you create and keep track of projects, campaigns, and tasks. It keeps all marketing assignments housed in one location for your entire team to access. This keeps all marketing workflow organized and ensures everyone is in the loop.”
Koenig says there’s another benefit to project management software: It organizes all communication related to a particular project.
“For example, say you have two marketing specialists coordinating with a designer to complete a new project,” says Koenig. “It’s important to have the right features, like the ability to easily submit comments back and forth, create tasks and subtasks to keep project organized, set start and end dates, and tag the project with status updates.”
- Be Predictable: When you’re creating workflows, get consensus from your team about what information they need to work efficiently, then build that into your process. Take the guesswork out of what they will get and when they will get it.
- Be Consistent with Communication: Share project or task updates in a consistent channel with a consistent style. When you’re choosing workflow tools, identify the best way for your team to communicate and for each team member to know when a task has been assigned. Consider drag-and-drop tasks to effectively delegate, so you avoid needless meetings.
- Keep the Big Picture in Mind: David LaVine, founder of RocLogic Marketing, offers this advice: “The biggest mistake I see marketers make is focusing too much on the activity (creating an article or a webinar, or exhibiting at a tradeshow), and not enough on how the activity fits into the bigger picture [or on] measuring the performance of the activity. If you want your leadership to respect what you do, you need to pay attention to these two things.”
He recommends this process flow for creating text-based content (e.g., articles, case studies, white papers):
- Create your draft in word processing software. Add comments and basic formatting.
- Iterate and review until you’re happy with it. If you’re working with others who may not have access to or be comfortable with working in your CMS, tools like Google Docs or Microsoft Word can be much more user-friendly for them.
- Copy and paste into your CMS (WordPress or otherwise).
- Use Google Search Console to request indexing of the page.
- Track performance of the content over the coming months and year.
- Use a Team Management Dashboard: You need a clear picture of how the work is progressing and the workload of every team member. A dashboard gives everyone a real-time visual of the work underway.
- Make Your Workflows Visible: Give everyone access to workflows so they know where they can find them and how they can use them. Then, every team member gets a visual breakdown of all the tasks and knows who is working on which. The team can see the project’s status and what action is required.
- Adjust Your Workflows as Needed: Build a review process into your workflow management. Just as your workflows should be logical and reliable, you should have a consistent process for reviewing your workflow performance. Consider a flexible, iterative approach to refining your workflow.
- Set Realistic Deadlines: Be flexible but realistic about deadlines. Without deadlines, you create chaos. However, deadlines that are too rigid mean your team may not be able to do their best work. Your workflow tools should be able to adjust deadlines as needed, but also keep the work on track. Be clear and specific about the deadlines for each task.
- Focus on Quality: Choose content management tools that deliver high-quality content that needs minimal revision. Your workflow needs a robust review, edit, and approval process that tracks revisions, sends feedback to the right person, and ensures the best work gets in front of your audience.
Keep Current on Industry Trends: Stay ahead of the curve so that you have the most successful marketing campaigns. Keep your news and social feeds fresh, and subscribe to relevant newsletters, magazines, and trade publications. Make it a priority for your team to attend conferences and keep their ear to the ground. Then, create a central place to share what you’ve learned and focus on continuous improvement.
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