Strategic Planning

When I Grow Up

We’re pretty darned lucky about where we live. We are at the water’s edge at Lake Merritt, the nation’s first wildlife sanctuary, which means there are miles of paths, as well as lots of birds and other wildlife, literally, at our doorstep. Canadian Geese are particularly abundant year-round here. Most are carefully managed so that they don’t exceed the ability of the neighborhood to support them and the other wildlife but, each year, a few eggs remain undiscovered and new chicks hatch.


The adults are really urbanized and cross the stop traffic to cross the road as slowly as possible or hiss at people walking their dogs too close to the flock. Obviously, the little chicks can’t manage this sort of thing straight out of the egg. They pick up these weird abilities somewhere along the way, as they grow to adulthood. It’s the same with organizations. How do you know you need a marketing transformation? One way is to conduct a marketing maturity model assessment.

The first time I heard this term was in a conversation with an in-house consultant I was trying to lure into doing a customer best practices webinar for me. I suggested he pick a topic he felt strongly on that he thought would help clients improve their marketing. Bizarrely – at least at that point in my life – he wanted to talk about a set of parameters that helped organizations assess their marketing to see what new capability they could take on (also known as ‘which of our products they should buy”) – or that they needed to add to be effective. Once he explained what it was, though, it made perfect sense to me.

You’ve probably heard of business process maturity model but that applies to workflow optimization with regard to people, processes, and tools. Similarly, there are maturity models for any number of specific business functions (i.e., sales, manufacturing, etc.). Why are maturity models necessary? For the same reason you measure and benchmark your marketing channels – so you can improve, so that you can quantify just how and where you’ve made progress and where you still need to put in a little more effort.

Marketing-specific maturity models typically measure elements related to the key success factors of good marketing, such as:

  • Level of specificity in audience segmentation and targeting to agreed-upon personas
  • Alignment of planned tactics and content to each other and target buyer
  • Customer experience quality and campaign’s orientation to the target buyer
  • Ability to collect, benchmark, and optimize based on performance data
  • Systems, including marketing automation
  • Staffing with the appropriate skill in the appropriate role
  • Results (i.e., do you measure on task completion, pipeline, conversions & lead quality, return on investment, etc.)

Organizations typically start off with marketing that is designed for mass marketing. Slowly, over time, the brand’s interactions align to a well-understood, well-aligned buyer. They reflect the appropriate stage in the buying cycle and the buyer’s unique information needs and preferences. The campaign is well-coordinated across all marketing channels so that the best interaction is delivered to the buyer every at every interaction point at the most appropriate time. All of these actions are supported by highly-skilled team members in the right role collecting and using relevant data and result in long-term customer value.

Most maturity models have four or five levels that are variants of “we haven’t really started” to “we have a plan but haven’t put it into practice” to “we’re better implemented in some areas than others,” and “we are awesome!” No matter where you start when you first measure your organization’s marketing maturity, you make incremental progress along the metrics above, building upon the accomplishments of the past. Along the way, you measure performance as related to your business goals, compare yourself to relevant benchmarks using the same selection criteria you would for marketing tactics, namely industry benchmarks, competitors of like size, or even organizations you strive to be like.

Work on improving all the areas of your marketing from one level to the next, at the same time. Some organizations find, however, that they inadvertently improve in different areas at different times. That’s ok, though, since this just helps you identify areas you still need to improve upon. Just don’t try to activity achieve more than one level above where you are today in any one area (i.e., an amazing set of marketing automation software but really poor use of data) or you risk throwing your entire system off-balance. It’s also a lot harder correcting that level of skew rather than trying to pull up everything just a little bit all at once.

Revisit the maturity model assessment periodically to see how well your transformation is going and to determine what you should focus on next. You can even assess yourself on each channel if you’re ambitious. To find a marketing maturity model with the level of detail you need specified to make progress, you can go to an analyst firm or one of the larger marketing software vendors (though these necessarily skew to support the outputs enabled by their software).

Comments are welcome, especially if you have examples of how your organization used a marketing maturity model.

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