We wanted to help marketers understand how streamlining their marketing workflows saves time. So we created a marketing workflow to describe the process of creating a marketing workflow. Then we asked one of our consultants to streamline it (see what we did there?). This is what happened.
But before we get into the nitty-gritty, let’s cover off some basic principles: like what a marketing workflow is. Everyone’s heard the term: but what is a marketing workflow, actually, and why do you need one?
What is a Marketing Workflow?
A marketing workflow is a sequence of interdependent tasks or actions that together define a repeatable marketing process.
Marketing workflows can be created for any part of the broader marketing team to define a process involving many different actions, personnel, teams or departments. They are of most value when a process is repeated many times, making efficiency a key concern.
Marketing workflows can be automated using modern cloud-based technology such as a content and marketing operations platform. Automated workflows define tasks, initiate actions and request approvals based on the workflow itself and the completion of previous tasks in the workflow, and can even be used to trigger entirely separate downstream workflows.
For example, a budget allocation request workflow, once approved, might trigger a brand campaign workflow with a request for brief and subsequent actions, all automated to ensure timelines and responsibilities are clear to everyone involved.
Then the media plan proposed by the media agency might trigger a number of other dependent workflows governing how marketing work should be created for different channels: the process for creating a microsite will be different from the process for creating a television commercial.
Benefits of Marketing Workflows
The purpose of documenting and automating your marketing workflows is to save time, achieve clarity of purpose and clarity of process, use resources efficiently and improve the overall brand experience — ultimately making your marketing work simpler, faster and more effective.
Marketing workflows reduce duplicated and wasted work, remove the need to chase people by email, and build in the necessary steps to ensure all your briefing, branding, compliance and approval requirements are met up front.
Ideally, they make it easier to get the job done by removing unnecessary steps and unnecessary input, clarify the required process so it can be followed by numerous team members, and prevent confusion by stopping people from getting distracted by unnecessary tasks.
All of this results in increased productivity, greater transparency, shorter go-to-market times and improved accountability.
Clarity Without Mind-numbing Minutiae
Essentially, marketing workflows, according to Mark, should be about clarity and speed, rather than documenting every minor detail of a marketing process.
While due process is important, workflows with too many steps end up wasting time and can have other negative effects.
No one likes to be micro-managed: not only do overly detailed workflows suck time and resources out of organisations, they stifle initiative among team members.
“When I’m advising marketing teams on how to create their marketing workflows, I encourage them to focus on tasks that require meaty action, rather than ‘busywork’,” Mark says.
Why Fewer Steps Save Time
Too many steps in your marketing workflows are almost a guarantee of sluggishness, particularly when they involve too many approvers or the movement of work back and forth between different people.
This is common sense, but there is science behind it as well. For individual team members, switching between tasks is counterproductive and those interruptions are costly: it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to the original job on which you were focused, according to Fast Company. And it can take much longer to get back into the ‘flow’ of complex tasks.
And according to the American Psychological Association, multi-taking is overrated. “Even brief mental blocks created by shifting between tasks can cost as much as 40 per cent of someone’s productive time,” the APA claims.
That’s not what marketing teams today need!
How to Create a Marketing Workflow Draft
So with that in mind, how do you document a marketing workflow? Do you write a list? Should you put it in a spreadsheet? How do you go about streamlining it?
We drafted a marketing workflow to define this process, and came up with the following 11 steps:
- Document your workflow process in written bullet points
- Transfer these to post-it notes
- Add responsibility for each step (including doers and approvers)
- Consolidate steps into clear tasks
- Give each task a clear definition of done
- Remove approvers where possible
- Document the workflow
- Add timelines
- Test it and track your experience
- Improve it if necessary
- Publish it to the organisation
Then we gave it to Mark, who consolidated the workflow into clear stages as follows:
How to Create a Marketing Workflow in 6 Simple Steps
- Document: Jot down your process on sticky notes
- Assign: Add your doers and approvers. Ask why each approver is there. Only include the essential approvers.
- Consolidate: Toss out the ‘busy work’ steps and consolidate where possible. The only sticky notes left should be the important points!
- Define: Give each Sticky a clear definition of done with timelines
- Test: Try it out, track your progress, and add in stickies to fill in any gaps
- Publish: Enshrine it as best practice by publishing it to your team!
That’s a 45% reduction in steps, a clear delineation between stages that require defined actions, and a big increase in clarity and speed of process.
That must be why Mark’s the marketing workflow consultant and we’re in marketing!
Four Stages of a Marketing Workflow
To help you translate this example to common marketing workflows, most marketing content creation workflows move through four main stages, according to Mark:
- Final creative
Download our generic marketing workflow campaign template and start streamlining your marketing workflows today. Define your generic campaign creation template. Add specific tasks to create channel-specific workflows. And add your approvers and observers. (Don’t forget to apply these 5 best practices when it comes to adding your marketing approvers to ensure you speed up your process rather than slow it down).
How you publish the workflow to your team and ensure they use it is a whole other question. You may decide to present it in spreadsheet form, publish it on the company intranet, or put it into your marketing operations platform and automate the process.
About The Author
Lara Sinclair is the Head of Content at Simple, which is a member of the Which-50 Digital Intelligence Unit. Members contribute their insights and expertise for the benefit of our readers. Membership fees apply.