Working at maximum productivity can be a challenge for marketing teams in the best of times. During the pandemic, many marketing teams are also trying to navigate remote work for the first time while still delivering on their marketing goals.
Will great productivity have to wait until things get back to “normal”? No, and in fact, this may be an opportunity to unlearn poor work habits and re-imagine how your team can successfully work together.
Here at Clariant Creative, we produce consistently high-quality content, at scale and speed. Our content generates terrific engagement, hits our SMART goals, and is a pivotal component of our overall business development strategy. We’ve also been intentional about giving our clients the tools they need to seamlessly implement the inbound marketing strategies we develop for them.
But it took some hard lessons about what not to do before we finally discovered the habits we needed to become such a fast and efficient marketing team.
In this post, we'll examine the four biggest obstacles we've found when it comes to marketing team productivity, and we'll identify the four positive habits that high-output marketing teams like ours rely on overcome these obstacles.
We’ve also asked our long-time client WellRight, a leading corporate wellness platform provider, to chime in on how they manage to execute their ambitious multi-channel content strategy with only three people on their marketing team (and with the help of Clariant Creative, of course).
Let's dive in!
Marketing team productivity killer #1: Disorganized workflows
Your team may set out with every intention of sticking with a consistent routine for creating content, but as you grow and more team members or stakeholders get involved in this process, your best-laid plans can get thrown off course.
Here are some signs that you've fallen victim to a disorganized workflow:
- Missed deadlines: Your content is rarely published on a consistent schedule (or just squeezes by after an eleventh-hour work session) and you often need extensions on deadlines for deliverables.
- Bottlenecks: You’re missing your deadlines because pending work is stuck in limbo; you can’t proceed until someone answers questions or completes a task.
- Approval purgatory: When outside stakeholders get involved (whether clients or executive leadership), you have to go back to the drawing board multiple times for changes before everyone’s satisfied with the final product.
- Unpredictability: You’re never sure how long a project will take or what outcomes to expect because the content creation process is different every time.
Productive marketing team habit #1: Define and map your content creation process
An effective workflow with consistently followed processes is essential to your marketing team’s productivity. Once you establish and communicate the process, everyone knows exactly what to do to meet expectations and ensure work is delivered on time.
However, be aware that it can take time to get everyone on board with these processes, and it also requires setting boundaries around who needs to be a part of the process and which work to prioritize.
Here’s how we handle content creation workflows at Clariant Creative:
- Document processes: We’ve documented our entire process for creating content, which helps us stay consistent both internally and with our clients. We also encourage open discussion about how to continually improve these processes.
- Set clear expectations: Everyone involved in content production follows our documented processes, so everyone always knows what’s expected of them and when tasks need to be done.
- Use the right tools: We leverage a variety of technology tools to keep our marketing team on track with content production. When we were a young agency, our project management tool of choice was Trello; it was free, easy to learn, and easy to use. As our agency has grown and our workload has increased, we've experimented with other systems as well. The project management tool we're currently using is ClickUp. ClickUp lets us manage many types of deliverables and gives us better insight into our project budgets, helping us not only be more productive, but also more efficient and cost-effective. For internal communications, we use Slack as a place to ask questions and brainstorm ideas that aren’t tied to a specific task.
Marketing team productivity killer #2: Unclear roles
As a member of a small team, you’re probably always expected to “pitch in” regardless of your job title. But if you jump in without first understanding what your responsibilities are, you and your fellow team members may feel confused and distrustful of one another, and the overall quality of the team's work may suffer.
Here are some common symptoms of unclear marketing team roles:
- "Stepping on toes": Everyone jostles to take the lead and have the final say on the direction of a project. Or the opposite: No one steps up to take the lead out of fear of seeming aggressive.
- Adversarial tension: Team members place blame on each other for issues that pop up. You start to dread team meetings because of the uncomfortable atmosphere.
- Duplicate efforts: You often discover that someone else has carried out a task that you assumed was your responsibility.
- Missed details: Errors and misunderstood expectations aren’t discovered until after the project is delivered.
Productive marketing team habit #2: Designate individual responsibilities
One of the first steps in your content creation process should be defining the roles of contributors needed for each type of project, and then assigning those roles to individual team members to establish accountability.
Here’s how we approach role assignments at Clariant Creative:
- Select a project leader/facilitator to assign roles: When building out our 90-day content plans, one person (usually one of our Inbound Marketing Specialists) takes the lead. They designate who will create, review/proof and approve content.
- Come together as a team to discuss the plan: As we’re finalizing the plan, we hold a meeting to discuss objectives, expectations, and roles. This gives everyone the opportunity to weigh in and provide their own creative ideas.
- Create space for collaboration and communication: If someone has fresh ideas or needs clarification on anything while a piece is in production, they can ask their questions on our project management tool so the rest of the team can answer, and that conversation becomes something everyone on the project can see and participate in. For more general communications that aren't tied to a specific project, we share ideas and brainstorm possibilities on Slack.
- Review content before proceeding to next steps in production: We always require multiple people to review everything we produce before it can can be published or shared with the client. Having multiple sets of eyes on a piece of content as it moves through the production process helps us make sure no mistakes slip through the cracks.
All that said, having established roles doesn’t mean your work is done once you’ve completed your assigned tasks – especially if you have a small marketing team.
“Try to have defined roles, but also hire people that are willing to pitch in and help when necessary. When you are just starting out, you may need to be a generalist and know a little bit about everything.”
– Lynn Zimmerman, VP of Marketing at WellRight
Marketing team productivity killer #3: Siloed communication
Communication silos can undermine the performance of your content.
For example, your marketing team may be cut off from other business operations teams like sales, customer support or product design, making it harder for your team to understand customer needs. Without that understanding, it’s hard to create content that delivers on business objectives.
Additionally, some marketing teams may be so siloed internally that mid- and entry-level team members feel undervalued and ignored by leadership – which kills their desire to do good work.
Here are some indicators that silos are creating communication problems for your team:
- “Order desk/assembly line” mentality: You rarely contribute ideas because you aren’t invited to do so by leadership. You’re expected to fulfill orders for marketing materials, and that’s all.
- Lack of creative direction: You find it difficult to get insights about customer needs from other business teams. You’re unsure what purpose the content serves toward overall business outcomes. You often feel like you’re expected to read your boss’s or client’s mind.
- Poor marketing performance: Because you’re more focused on pleasing your boss than delivering meaningful value to your customers, your campaigns fall short when it comes to engagement and conversions.
- Poor team morale: Your team never feels like it measures up and their expertise and contributions go unrecognized – unless something goes wrong.
Productive marketing team habit #3: Communicate your content strategy to the company
A company-facing content strategy is a wonder-cure for communication silos because it gets everyone on the same page.
Documenting the plan also protects your team from micromanagement: If your boss or client has questions or concerns in the middle of the production process, you can show precisely how your work is fulfilling the pre-approved content strategy.
Here’s how we communicate about content strategy at Clariant Creative:
- Document the content plan: We build out our content strategy every 90 days. The content plan includes working titles for each piece of content and identifies the persona the content is targeting, keywords, calls-to-action, and key takeaways.
- Articulate the purpose and value of the content: Each piece of content should support a company/marketing goal, whether that’s lead generation, thought leadership, lead nurturing, or something else. Other factors to consider are SEO, timely/trending topics relevant to your industry and audience, or supporting a company initiative like a new product launch or service offering. You should have clear metrics to measure and communicate the value off all content once it is published, which might include views, conversions, shares, leads, etc.
- Share the content plan and make it accessible company-wide: Our 90-day content plans are documented on a Google Sheet everyone can access, including our client. This helps everyone stay informed and aligned.
It’s important that you articulate and document your content strategy – even if you’re a one-person marketing department. WellRight’s three-person team works with Clariant Creative to develop a quarterly content calendar that stays true to their customer needs while delivering on business goals.
“We always think of what our ideal customer would want to know more about. If it's not something they would read, we aren't going to publish it.” – Madeline Phillips, Marketing Specialist at WellRight
Marketing team productivity killer #4: Context switching
As a marketer, constantly flipping back and forth between projects comes at a big cost to one of your superpowers: creativity. After an interruption, it can take 30 minutes to regain that creative state where words and ideas flow from you effortlessly. That flow state is essential not only to your output but also to your overall job satisfaction.
If your team has fallen into the bad habit of multitasking, they may be sacrificing the deep focus needed to do great work.
Here’s what happens when your creative team suffers from context switching:
- Falling behind on to-dos: Your team has a growing backlog of small tasks that never seem to get accomplished.
- Unfinished/half-finished projects: Many of the brilliant ideas your team comes up with are put on pause or on the backburner to give attention to more urgent tasks.
- Creativity blocks: You procrastinate on doing creative work because it’s a huge struggle to get started – and once you do, you often have to stop because you’re called into meetings or asked to do something unrelated.
- Stress: It feels like you’re always falling behind and you’re constantly worried about hitting deadlines.
- Lost time: You get sucked into time-wasting activities and lose work hours.
Productive marketing team habit #4: Manage time purposefully
As remote working becomes the new normal for many businesses, finding a balance of meetings and designated production time is crucial. Regular planning/strategy/status meetings are important, but you need to make sure you allow time to actually do the work, and space for creative and big-picture thinking.
Here’s how we protect our productive time at Clariant Creative:
- Time blocks: One or two days a week, we block off a morning or afternoon as "busy" on our calendars to keep that time interruption-free.
- Themed sprints: Within those time blocks, we designate which type of work we’ll be accomplishing during that time and focus only on tasks related to that work. For example, someone may have their Thursday morning blocked for writing a blog post, and that’s all they’ll focus on – no email checking, no Slack chats (unless it’s to ask a question related to the blog post), no last-minute to-dos.
- Scheduled email breaks: Many of us designate specific times throughout the day to check and respond to emails so we’re not distracted by our inboxes all day long. It helps to set up an autoresponder to let incoming senders know that you only check your email twice a day, so they aren’t expecting an immediate response.
- Predictable meeting schedules: There’s nothing worse than just settling into a productive flow that comes to a screeching halt when you’re suddenly hauled into a last-minute meeting. Instead, building a consistent meeting structure into your team schedule allows your team to stay focused on priorities.
“We have a weekly meeting with Clariant Creative on Mondays where we discuss projects and next steps. These weekly content meetings help everyone to stay on track toward project delivery while leaving room for us to adapt if any changes need to be made.”
– Lynn Zimmerman, VP of Marketing at WellRight
Related Content: How We Manage Our Remote Team of Marketers
Better Productivity + A Happier Marketing Team = Business Growth
"Clear is kind. Not getting clear with a colleague about your expectations because it feels too hard, yet holding them accountable or blaming them for not delivering is unkind." – Brené Brown, author of Dare to Lead
By communicating clearly about expectations, roles, boundaries, and time management, we’re expressing our respect for each other and for our clients. Everybody is better informed, everybody knows what to expect, and everything gets done – headache-free and on time.