The proof: why investing in marketing workflows leads to stronger outcomes

The proof: why investing in marketing workflows leads to stronger outcomes

As marketers, we don’t always prioritize workflows. And yet, this year’s Marketing trends report shows that investing in workflow efficiency ultimately frees you to focus on the work you enjoy most.

Anecdotally, even the most numbers-minded marketing leaders are also creative; inspired by shaping storytelling, reaching customers, and growing brand awareness. In practice, we are too busy for much of this deep work—pulled into redundant meetings and distracted by manual tasks.

Investigating your workflows—or the multi-step process that takes your team from ideation to promotion—might feel as if you’re adding to manual work, as opposed to contributing to real outcomes. But this year’s marketing trends report (which served 300+ marketing leaders, ranked ‘senior manager’ and higher at large organizations) shows marketing teams who do prioritize this work are more likely to meet deadlines, achieve goals, and surpass revenue targets.

In short, spending time focusing on the ‘how’ of marketing frees you and your team to dive deeper into the creative work that drives real results.

The numbers

Through this research, we saw a direct correlation emerge between workflow efficiency and goal attainment. Marketing leaders who think through the steps their team takes to plan, execute, and deliver work—and who invest in making this process as efficient and replicable as possible—ultimately achieve better outcomes.

For example:

  • Teams with ‘moderate’ to ‘very efficient’ workflows are over 5x more likely to ‘almost always’ meet their objectives/goals (34% vs. 6% of teams with very to slightly inefficient workflows).
  • Teams with ‘moderate’ to ‘very efficient’ workflows are twice as likely to meet their deadlines, compared to teams with inefficient workflows.
  • Teams with ‘moderate’ to ‘very efficient’ workflows are over 3x more likely to exceed their marketing revenue goal (42% vs. 14% of teams with very to slightly inefficient workflow).

Defining workflow for marketing teams.

A workflow is a repeatable, multi-step process that helps teams meet their goals by activating the right people, with the right information, at the right time. Unlike a task list, a workflow is a repeatable process that needs to be accomplished in a specific order. Put simply, it’s the sequence of steps your team will take in order to meet your goals.

Whether you're thinking about workflows or not, your team still follows certain processes to get things done. As your team scales and your organization grows, the need to standardize these processes becomes more urgent—otherwise, data is duplicated in multiple places, resulting in inaccuracies and a ton of manual work updating and double checking which information is correct, in which locations.

The best marketing workflows give teams the ability to stay aligned yet flexible at the team level. Outlining steps, linking to shared data, and standardizing timelines and dependencies—so content, comms, creative, campaigns, and all of marketing can drive shared impact while working the way they want.

A key trend to emerge from the 2022 Marketing trends report. 

West Elm saves time by streamlining workflows and automating repetitive tasks

Like many marketers, Korin Thorig, VP of Creative Operations at West Elm, didn’t go into marketing because she’s passionate about workflows. She’s focused on the bigger picture, asking user-focused questions like:  “How does our product make people more comfortable at home?”

However, she, like many marketing leaders, found herself up against a major tension in her workday, balancing high-impact work and manual, mundane tasks. According to the Marketing trends report, marketing leaders spend an average of 10 hours a week on non-core tasks that don’t contribute to the bottom line and this only increases as companies scale.

"There was one glaring problem. Every single one of [our] images moves across seven different departments, each with their own workflow, before it ever reaches a customer,” Korin told Airtable. “Managing this scope of content across photo production, merchandising, warehouse, samples teams, and more required lots of manual work. The data for each photo (the SKU, shot list, including color, dimensions and angles) all lived in a basic spreadsheet. These teams all work in different physical locations, so the lack of a single source of truth for photo shoot information created a considerable disconnect across teams.”

So Korin set out to reimagine West Elm’s customer experience and transform the way her team spends its time. Where did Korin begin? She mapped their workflows and automated the most repeatable parts. Every photo and its metadata is automatically uploaded into Airtable, which contains the Stock Keeping Unit (SKU), detailed dimensions, color, angles, and the photography shot list for each image, and connects that information across related workflows and teams.

Now, instead of manual data entry, Korin’s team spends its time getting creative. By investing in workflow efficiency, West Elm’s creative operations team can not only produce more than 1,000 images each week, but they’ve also connected seven departments, pulled 250 people into true cross-functional collaboration, and saved 85 hours every work week.

Start by mapping your workflows

Before you can make changes to improve efficiencies, first you must get clear on what your workflow looks like in its current state—this comes from mapping your workflow. To start, define the goals you’re targeting: this will help you identify the tasks that are most important, the timing of those tasks, and what success ultimately looks like.

Establishing this early throughline from deliverables to goals is a major step to success. It helps you prioritize which initiatives will have the most impact, and makes it easy to identify when ad hoc tasks are draining your team's capacity, without contributing to the overall mission. This alignment is one of the reasons teams with efficient workflows more often surpass their revenue goals—they clearly understand when they’re moving in the right direction, and when they’ve deviated from course.

This guide to designing marketing workflows outlines four key steps for mapping workflow, specifically:

  1. Define goals: Write down the goal for your team’s workflow. To do this, fill out this sentence: We want to _______, when we’re _______, so we can _______.
  2. Map out the steps of your current workflow: Write out the key steps in your workflow, from start to reaching your goal, including every major step along the way
  3. Identify key inputs for each step: For each step of the process, identify the information your team needs to progress to the next step, and which stakeholders are involved.
  4. Organize your information into groups: Consider the distinct groups of information in your workflow, and start to sketch out what falls under each group. This will help you see areas for improving efficiencies and combining tasks.

Remember, when you’re mapping your current workflows for achieving those goals, look for opportunities to consolidate steps, bring information into one place, and automate repetitive tasks.

Even if workflows aren't at the top of your to-do list, this research shows that spending time thinking through 'how' your team works will help you generate results and keep your team focused on the work they love most. Marketing teams who meet deadlines consistently, and who confidently surpass revenue targets, can easily prove their value to the rest of the org. And teams who achieve these outcomes by following repeatable, efficient workflows are able to scale their success without breaking stride.

More for the record