Campaign 342, you are cleared to land on runway two-seven…

Marketing communication is in a perpetual state of flux. It certainly has to be to stay relevant and keep up with constantly changing consumer behaviour. The problem today, though, is most businesses are still way behind their customers in this multi-device, multi-channel world where consumers now expect a seamless experience from their providers that’s consistent no matter which channel, when or how they choose to interact with them. They also expect any marketing messages to be tailored to them, which has prompted a shift from large-scale one-size-fits-all campaigns towards more personalised communications.

Enabling this ‘omni-channel’ experience for your customers is no small feat, but delivering a suitable, personalised message consistently across all relevant channels is another level of complexity altogether. Just think of the number of different campaigns and content variations you’d have to create to make just one campaign appear personalised to a customer’s specific circumstance. For example, a campaign that is simultaneously available through 3 different channels and containing 2 personalisable content panels, each with 5 possible variations, requires 30 different campaign assets to be created, approved, synchronised and executed. Whilst campaign automation, decisioning and asset management tools can all help make individual campaign delivery more efficient, most businesses have more than one campaign to worry about at the same time.

In fact, it’s becoming common for 10’s or 100’s of campaigns to be ‘in-flight’ simultaneously, creating a complex management problem that’s akin to air traffic control (ATC): You have lots of campaigns in-flight (the aeroplanes), each with different managers (the pilots), channels (the destinations), content (the passengers) and drop-dates (the arrival times).

Your job in this new world is to make sure they all arrive on time and in one piece or, at least, in the manner in which they were intended. Just remember that if you get it wrong and a campaign crashes, no one should die, but a job opening might come up. It’s not going to be an easy task as the campaign sponsor (the airline) is likely to hassle you if the campaign doesn’t land on time and the campaign managers can’t always be relied on to watch out for other campaigns, just like pilots.

So, how are you as a campaign planner going to manage it? You’ll need a good memory, the ability to multi-task, an excellent attention to detail, a tolerance to frustration, strong influencing skills and teamwork. Being trained as an air traffic controller would certainly help, but even they need tools to complement their exceptional abilities.

You could use the trusty spreadsheet to keep track of campaign status, but it becomes unwieldy when you have 100’s of campaigns and/or start overlaying the different content variations to support personalisation. A traditional campaign would be just one row in our spreadsheet, but in the personalisation example, above, this now becomes 30 separate rows each representing the creative components required, plus another row for the overall campaign.

This sounds manageable, but if you multiply that by the total number of campaigns you currently have in-flight, you’ll probably realise you’ve got yourself more than a full-time administration job just to stay on top of how the spreadsheet works, let alone the inevitable changes in business demands…and you know how much marketers enjoy admin instead of creativity and innovation.

You’ve also got to contend with that nagging doubt of whether the thing’s actually up-to-date and reflecting the correct information about each component of every campaign – after all, it relies on chasing people for updates. For all you know, one of those 30 components may not have been formally approved, but the campaign has just gone live…

Air traffic controllers use more sophisticated fit-for-purpose tools than spreadsheets so, wouldn’t it be great if you, the marketer, could have something that helps visualise and orchestrate all your separate campaign activities into one, joined-up plan?

This is where marketing middleware comes in. It’s called middleware because it should sit in the middle of all your existing marketing processes and systems and join them all together into one, cohesive and effective marketing management machine.

Marketing middleware is a relatively new concept, but typically includes a range of integrated tools that directly support the marketing planner role, such as:

  1. Calendar visualisations, which are used to make it easier to see exactly what’s going on with all your campaign activities, whether strategically or tactically. For example, a Gantt chart shows the steps, resources, timings, status and progress of each campaign and their creative assets;
  2. An integrated holiday planner, which keeps track of staff availability so that assigning resources for creating and approving campaigns is easy;
  3. Auto-scheduling, which can help you re-plan campaign tasks to fit business constraints such as staff availability and drop-dates. For example, when a staff member is ill, you can quickly re-prioritise tasks across the rest of the team;
  4. Status tracking so you always see the latest information about the progress of each campaign, including who’s holding up approvals and the budget utilisation;
  5. Workflows, which help you make your processes more consistently compliant across the different campaigns, e.g. defining the approval conditions for campaign launch;
  6. Agile traffic management that enables applied methods of kanban and scrum to deliver marketing activities quickly
  7. Collaborative messaging that helps you chase, share and publish plans and updates;
  8. Performance reporting reveals how well each of your campaigns is doing in-market so you can decide if it’s time to close them down or keep them running.

With marketing middleware you should have everything you need to replace that ubiquitous and cumbersome spreadsheet with something that really makes your life easier and minimises your admin time so that you can focus on the stuff that really makes the difference. So, isn’t it time you landed that campaign…?