Marketing teams that want to lead need to bring back marketing campaign management roles
If you run a web-search for “what does a campaign manager do?” most of the results are about political campaign managers rather than marketing campaign managers. It’s true that in many respects, a presidential campaign is the ultimate marketing campaign, but the fact is you need to go digging for real examples of marketing campaign management. So let’s begin with the political campaign, and see how closely it mirrors a marketing campaign:
- An offer - the candidate.
- A clear goal - win the election.
- A clear metric - votes.
- A budget that can be spent in an endlessly diverse set of ways.
- Core campaign messages intended to elicit a specific response.
- An integrated, multichannel marketing campaign, employing TV, print, digital, in-person events, billboards, social, radio, and so on.
- Measurement and optimization to continuously tune and refine the campaign message and audience segmentation.
- Channel optimization.
In both politics and marketing, a campaign manager is responsible for orchestrating the entire campaign to promote the offer (in politics, a candidate; in marketing, it could be a product, a service; in public health, it could be the value of mask-wearing or the importance of vaccination). A good offer with a bad campaign won’t succeed, and vice versa.
Three key things they are personally responsible for are validating the offer’s appeal, defining the message, and targeting the right audience. Without those, the campaign will inevitably perform suboptimally with disparate messages over the wrong channels to the wrong audiences. The campaign will be disjointed, and overall campaign performance will be impossible to measure. If no-one owns the message, audience, and offer, how can you tell whether things are going well?
Given the strategic impact of this kind of campaign manager role, where are all the campaign managers? If you search LinkedIn for campaign manager vacancies, the role descriptions are not strategic leadership roles at all. Rather, they tend to be project management roles with a preference for some digital marketing skills. These are critical skills for many marketing campaigns, to be sure, but they do not describe the marketing campaign management role. Campaign managers used to exist in marketing teams, but the emergence of channel-dedicated technologies and tools has led to a channel-first mindset in marketing structure and measurement. These have sidelined the campaign manager role, and it is time for marketing campaign management to make a comeback.
Marketing Campaign Management is to CMO’s what Product Management Is to CEO’s
Good product managers are hard to find, but the very best among them treat their product lines like their business. Of course, they have constraints, but the best product managers take ownership of every aspect of the product life cycle: strategy, roadmap, technical decisions, pricing, value prop, target market, competitive dynamics, sales enablement, profitability, growth, engineering management...everything. Do they own all of those things on the org chart? No, probably not. But they feel accountable and act with accountability for making sure all of those things are solved and orchestrated. This combination of skills, high accountability, and the ability to pay attention to detail-oriented execution while also considering macro-level strategy are the skill sets that organizational leaders need. This is why the best product managers often graduate to senior management roles.
The role of a marketing campaign manager should be the proving ground for future CMO’s. There is no element of a digital marketing campaign the campaign manager shouldn’t care about from its creative direction, to its analytics, to its financial performance, to the timeliness of its execution, to the measurement of its overall impact and success. And if you can handle that consistently well, you might be a good CMO candidate. Or for that matter, a good CEO candidate.
But for some reason, this strategic marketing role does not currently exist widely in the industry. The strategic responsibility lies too completely upon the CMO alone, or it’s outsourced to agencies and consultants, or - worse - it just remains unaddressed.
In another article, I wrote about the levels of marketing performance measurement, and the types of questions that can be answered at different levels. This is very relevant to why digital marketing campaign management is so important.
CMO’s are often responsible for answering level 1 questions (Is our marketing working? What is the value marketing has generated this year, in layman’s terms like revenue, bookings, and pipeline?) And most teams are populated with staff that is focused on level 3 and level 4 measurement, using tools optimized to a specific channel. These people and technologies can answer useful questions, but they can’t answer critical strategic level 2 questions, like:
- Is this integrated campaign achieving our business goals?
- Did the campaign return a compelling ROI (meaning we understand the financial value of the return and can compare it to the total campaign investment, all-in - vs, say, cost per outcome or return on ad spend?)
- Can we look across all our campaigns, and consistently compare which were more/less effective?
- Can we describe campaign impact in terms the CEO and CFO understand (revenue, bookings, deals, churn reduction) or do we get stuck with marketing specialized metrics (click-through, downloads, impressions, reach)?
- Can we understand why different campaigns across diverse channel mixes were more or less successful?
The list goes on. These are strategic questions that add tremendous value, not just to the marketing organization, but to the company. Campaign managers can answer these questions. Channel managers cannot. CMO’s handle them in a small company because they are the de facto marketing campaign managers too, but as a company grows, a critical gap emerges.
Role description for a marketing campaign manager
A campaign manager is responsible for achieving the strategic goal of the campaign. In politics, that’s getting someone elected. In marketing, it might be launching a new product, generating a certain amount of sales-accepted leads, reducing churn by a certain percentage, or repositioning the company to grow revenue in a new marketing segment by a certain dollar amount. The outcome tends to be strategic and objectively measurable. The campaign manager is responsible for rallying and administering the budget, staff, consultants, technology, channels, creative, and project management skills at their disposal to make it happen. They will know if things are on track, and have the ability to make course-corrections as needed. They will be natural leaders with strong persuasion skills, and they will have an analytical and financial aptitude. If it feels like a unicorn hire, then put the best fits in the role, train them to close skills gaps, and build teams around them that possess complementary skills.
Marketing campaign managers are responsible for:
- Audience - who are the people you’re trying to reach? This could be named individuals, audience definition by job role (e.g. CIO’s), by generation (e.g, Generation X), or a combination of characteristics (e.g. middle-income casual gamers, aged between 30 and 45, who own an Android phone)
- Message - what are you going to say to your target audience? What is the message, or set of messages, you can craft to galvanize the desired outcome? The messaging does not live in a vacuum. It must be coordinated with your broader strategic narrative and be consistent with your branding, but it will be honed within that framework to achieve a target outcome
- Channel mix - channels are to marketing campaigns as packaging is to physical products. Like packaging, channels have very little inherent or stand-alone value, but when orchestrated with the other campaign elements they can make a significant difference to campaign performance.
- Activities - what activities need to be undertaken, by whom, when.
- Investments - what are you going to spend on campaign execution. In principle, a high investment should yield larger outcomes than a low investment.
By coordinating these elements within a marketing campaign, the campaign manager aims to drive the best possible outcomes. The relative importance of any of these elements varies by marketing campaign, but in all instances, they operate together, interlocking cogs in an engine - the campaign. Remove a cog and the engine won’t work at all. Assemble the engine with perfectly sized, well-fitted cogs working in perfect alignment and you have a winning campaign.
The campaign elements described above are conceptual peers. None is more important than the others, and all are interdependent. If we ignore an element, the campaign will fail. If you over-emphasize any element too strongly, the campaign will likely fail.
How channels killed marketing campaign management (and how to fix it)
Consider a few of the key marketing channels: TV, Radio, Print, Billboard, Digital Advertising, Social Media, Events. The tools, skills, consultants, platforms, reports, and so on, that are needed to orchestrate and run these campaigns are disparate.
Unsurprisingly, individuals tend to become experts in executing campaigns over a subset of all the channels. Events managers rarely run digital campaigns as well, and vice versa. This leads to teams being structured around channel expertise too. Since budget allocations tend to follow team structure, many marketing teams allocate budget by channel. Furthermore, there are specialized, channel-specific tools, reports, and metrics for measuring performance in narrow ways, that cannot possibly encompass everything that went into a campaign. For example, ad platforms report ROI based entirely on ad spend, and don’t capture any of the other costs that go into running and managing a digital marketing campaign.
In the previous section, we talked about the sibling relationship between messaging, audience, activities, investments, and channels to organize a campaign. Yet, in this channel-oriented structure, we find investments and activities organized around channels. In such a team, individual performance is likely to be managed by the performance of their channel. The individual is going to be focused first and foremost on the performance of their channel. They will want to preserve funds to be spent in that channel. And they will need to be able to report analytically on how that channel is performing.
These are all good things to measure, but they are micro-level measurements. They do not tell the company whether their marketing campaigns are successful or not. They do not speak to which campaigns are more effective than others.
Due to the channel-oriented structure and budget allocation in most organizations, the hierarchy in a channel-biased environment looks more like this:
Channels have organizational ascendancy, and audience and messaging are relative afterthoughts. Or, the audience and the message are managed within the channel, leading to disparate strategies channel by channel. Campaigns are not true campaigns in this model. They are subordinate to the channel, which (1) decreases the likelihood the campaign will achieve its goals (2) obfuscates campaign-level measurement.
Such an orientation almost necessarily leads to a local approach to marketing measurement - “which channels are performing best/worst”, “is social working?” - rather than a global approach to marketing measurement - “is this campaign achieving its target metrics and ROI”, “are we achieving our key goals?”
There is danger in thinking that the channel determines marketing success. It can only determine marketing efficiency. If the message is wrong for the target audience, if the audience reacts to the message in an undesirable way, it doesn’t matter what channels you pick. If you have an attribution model that attributes value to some point in a customer journey (which we don’t recommend, but if you do), don’t forget the parenthetical phrase, “for this particular message to this particular audience.” Otherwise, you may mistakenly think that it is the channel doing the heavy lifting rather than the complete blend of campaign elements. It only takes a moment’s consideration to reaffirm that the success of a product launch is never primarily down to the channel: it is down to the campaign.
The time has come to reintroduce strategic marketing campaign management into the organization.
It is unrealistic to expect marketing organizations to simply add staff. Or to tap into some imaginary latent market of people who have been patiently waiting on the sidelines with perfect campaign manager resumes.
Rather, there is an opportunity for marketing teams to embrace the strategic importance of level 1 and level 2 measurement and to ensure they have representation in their team structures, technology stacks, and analytical landscape to answer the questions that pertain to those levels
Stretch your existing team members, help them learn new skills outside their channel specialization. Educate the team on the strategic marketing goals, and relentlessly repeat the goals. Help them see the bright line between what they do, and when and how their efforts impact the metrics that matter to the company.
Finally, ensure that each campaign - especially each multi-channel campaign - has a marketing campaign manager responsible for the audience, message, offer, and strategic campaign outcomes. Even if that is not a specialist, dedicated, campaign manager, pick someone and make them accountable for the overall success of the program. Give that person authority and accountability for the campaign. Over time, the natural campaign managers - and future marketing leaders - will emerge, and your ability to consistently measure campaign performance will advance.
Dan Faulkner is co-author of The Next CMO: a guide to operational marketing excellence, and the CTO of Plannuh, a first AI-driven marketing planning software, where he is responsible for the technical strategy and delivery of the world’s first AI-powered marketing management platform. Dan has 25 years of high-tech experience, spanning research and development, product management, strategy, and general management. He has deep international experience, having led businesses in Europe, Asia, North America, and South America, delivering complex AI solutions at scale to numerous industries. Dan holds a Bachelor’s degree in Linguistics, and Masters degrees in Speech & Language Processing, and Marketing. He has completed studies in Strategy Implementation at Wharton.