Charting a Course Toward Transformation
How maturity models can help leaders guide organizational change in marketing and communications—and beyond
By Jaime Hunt
If you’re leading a marketing and communications team, transforming your approaches can feel daunting. Leaders often understand the ideal outcome: an innovative, data-driven, creative organization that strategically provides value, is operationally effective, and crafts omnichannel campaigns that put our audiences at the center. But achieving that vision can feel insurmountable if you find yourself and your team in a situation that is reactive, transactional, and siloed. One way to address this challenge is to use a maturity model to guide your efforts.
I first learned about the concept of maturity models when I came to Miami University (Oxford, Ohio, U.S.) in 2020. Before that, I had built a high-performing, award-winning marketing team at Winston-Salem State University in North Carolina, U.S., but when I came to Miami, I desired a framework that would help me more clearly outline the path toward replicating that effort with a larger team. To make the changes that were necessary, I needed a way to assess where we were and define concrete steps that could be taken to get where we needed to be.
That’s when my former colleague and friend Jamie Ceman, Vice President of Strategic Marketing and Communications at Chapman University in Orange, California, U.S., introduced me to the marketing maturity model. I instantly fell in love with what I now call the “MMM.” A maturity model offers a framework that helps leaders assess their operation’s current performance, identify areas for improvement, and develop actionable plans for achieving that improvement. It also provides a structure for evaluating and improving performance over time. A maturity model typically includes several stages, each representing a different level of organizational maturity, and defines the key characteristics, processes, and outcomes associated with each stage. The goal is to identify the level of maturity of an organization and make a plan to reach the next level.
The maturity framework is flexible, adaptable, and scalable. It can be used to grow a specific aspect of your unit or your entire division. And while this article focuses on marketing maturity models, the framework can be applied to nearly any business function—from advancement to information technology, athletics to procurement. Now, as Vice President for University Communications and Chief Marketing Officer at Old Dominion University (Norfolk, Virginia, U.S.), we are using the MMM to identify gaps in our division’s marketing capabilities and provide a roadmap for improvement.
Building Your Maturity Model
Building your own maturity model is the first step in creating that road map. The first task is to identify the right mix of elements to evaluate in your organization. Some you may consider are:
- Messaging: The extent to which communications are consistent, research-driven, and personalized.
- Metrics: The degree to which data is used to inform decisions and measure and evaluate the performance of marketing activities.
- Operations: The extent to which systems and processes are in place to support the planning, execution, and measurement of marketing activities.
- Technology: The degree to which appropriate marketing technologies have been adopted.
- Expertise: The level of marketing skills and capabilities within the organization.
- Priorities: The extent to which work is connected to institutional priorities.
- Planning: The degree to which projects and campaigns are planned proactively to measure success for future improvement.
- Culture: The degree to which the department or division culture supports collaboration and trust.
- Alignment: The degree to which communications and marketing plans are aligned across your organization and standards are followed.
- Automation: The level to which your marketing efforts are automated.
- Customer Experience: The extent to which customer journey maps, personas, audience segmentation, and personalization are part of your audiences’ experiences.
When choosing the categories that will serve as the foundation for your MMM, be realistic. If you have multiple areas that need significant work, you may want to choose fewer overall to evaluate. If you feel you’re in good shape across many categories, selecting more categories—or more complex categories—may be reasonable. Much like goals, MMMs should be measurable, achievable, and relevant.
After defining what you want to assess, the next step is to create a matrix that outlines the state of each area on a scale from one to five. In my experience at Miami University, and now at Old Dominion University, it is not unusual for the level achieved in each category to vary—sometimes widely—on that scale. For example, your division may have relatively well-defined operational practices but lack the staffing or technology to effectively measure performance. Or, you may have excellent and well understood brand standards in place, but your organization continues to be heavily siloed with little to no collaboration.
The matrix should clearly but succinctly describe what each category looks like at each level. For example:
It is incredibly useful to have your entire team engage in the assessment activity, especially if you are new to your role. Having team members independently assess where they personally feel the organization falls is telling. This can be done anonymously or as part of a larger exercise with the team. Offering an opportunity for honest, judgment-free discussion after the assessment will provide even greater insights.
Some questions to ask your team:
- Are the categories the right choices for moving our organization forward?
- Are there categories you think deserve higher priority than others if we need resources to take action?
- What level do you think we have achieved in each category?
- What categories do you think will require the most work to level up?
It’s not uncommon for opinions to vary—sometimes significantly. Some parts of your organization may rely heavily on data, while others can’t even conceive of what could be used to measure their work. Some units might be forced into being entirely reactive while others have the luxury of time and resources to plan projects more strategically. At the end of the day, what is most important is a shared understanding of where you are collectively.
Once you have that shared understanding, it is time to plan for what is next. Moving the needle in multiple areas is another challenge that can seem overwhelming. One effective way of tackling this is to work with your team to define a goal for each category that is accomplishable within one year (academic or calendar). From there you can identify the tactics needed to make progress toward that larger vision. At Miami, we assigned an individual at the director level or above to serve as “category champions” for each of the categories we used. That person was responsible for bringing together category supporters to collaborate on setting that year’s goal and sketching out proposed tactics.
Example in Action:
Say, for example, your vision from the MMM is to move to Level 4 in the expertise category. You want to have the majority of your staff bring a depth of expertise to their roles, including in emerging areas.
Then this is the high-level goal to set for next fiscal year: Build an ecosystem within university communications that provides team members with consistent opportunities to deepen their expertise, develop new skills, and cross-train colleagues.
Use these tactics:
- Create an expertise map for each member of the team, including area of responsibility expertise and skills, as well as other special skills and knowledge.
- Use the expertise map to identify gaps and make strategic hires as positions become vacant to fill those gaps.
- Identify funding for professional development to allow every team member to attend at least one conference or participate in one paid online workshop or webinar.
- Reevaluate position descriptions as positions are vacated to ensure the required expertise aligns with the proposed budget for new hires. When there is misalignment, identify funding to bring up the budgeted salary.
- Each team within university communications will present at least two learning sessions where team members give presentations on their area(s) of expertise.
- Each university communications team member will participate in at least one conference, webinar, or workshop given by a professional development organization within their area of responsibility and at least one learning session hosted by university communications.
Once you have defined the tactics that will take your team to the next level, you can begin to work within the performance management process to assign team members to execute tactics. The category champion should schedule regular check-ins throughout the year with category supporters to ensure that these tactics are not put on the back-burner by day-to-day work. To truly make progress, the work needs to be a priority. I recommend finding a prominent location to display your maturity model and including opportunities to reinforce its importance and collect feedback on progress during your staff meetings.
At the end of this exercise, you will have developed three important documents: a definition of the ideal state of your organization, a multiyear roadmap for reaching that state, and short-term tactics that will move the needle in your first year. These documents will be the foundation for your decision-making about how you operate, prioritize projects, and cultivate a culture of excellence. You will also have engaged your entire team in the exercise, generating buy-in and support across your organization. Finally, regular check-ins will ensure it remains top of mind for everyone in your organization.
Maturity Models as Reporting Tools
Perhaps the best thing about a maturity model is that it gives you the opportunity to report out to leadership, boards, and other stakeholders on your progress. There are a myriad of benefits in this, not the least of which is that you can establish reasonable expectations for how long it will take to move to the optimal state. As a bonus, a maturity model showcases a few critical facts about your leadership:
- you understand that your organization is not in its optimal state (and you aren’t defensive about that fact);
- you have a vision for a best-in-class operation;
- you understand the steps necessary to bridge the gap between the now and the optimal; and
- you have created a system that will allow you to annually report out on progress.
At the end of the day, the best leaders understand that it is not enough to have a vision. You must also understand how to actuate that vision. By using a maturity model, you are creating a roadmap and outlining the tactics that will be necessary to achieve your goals and create an operation that helps your institution thrive.
Maturity Model Matrix
|Messaging||Fragmented with a lack of consistency across channels||Organizationally focused and guided by organization needs, not audience needs||Communications are clear and targeted to appropriate audiences||Research-driven messaging is distinct for each audience||Personal journeys are designed for segmented audiences|
|Metrics||Efforts are not guided by data or research||Pockets use data to inform decisions||Data is leveraged, but there are no universal KPIs||Data is leveraged, and KPIs are global||Near real-time data allows for campaign optimization|
|Operations||Practices are ill-defined and continually shifting||Practices are improved but adherence is sketchy||Operational practices are in place and largely followed||Operational practices are in place and trust exists||Operational practices are in place and so well understood that agility is possible|
|Technology||Modern marketing technology is not in use||Some marketing technologies are in place but are relatively unleveraged||The marketing technologies that are in place are leveraged||More advanced marketing technologies are in place||Advanced marketing technologies are in place and leveraged|
|Expertise||Most team members are generalists||Expertise exists in pockets||T-shaped individuals provide depth of expertise across most areas||Majority of staff bring a depth of expertise||Team has deep expertise, including in emerging areas|
|Priorities||Projects are not connected to university priorities||Some campaigns are connected to institutional priorities||Most campaigns are connected to institutional priorities||Campaigns are connected to measurable institutional goals||Campaign outcomes inform decisions across the institution|
|Planning||Projects are reactive||Less than 60% of projects are reactive||Projects are planned in advance and begin with goals vs. tactics||Projects are proactively planned and proposed||Projects are proactive, effective, and measured|
|Culture||Clear silos exist and trust is low||Collaboration is task-focused||Cross-team collaboration is commonplace||Collaboration extends beyond the department||True campus-wide collaboration exists|
|Alignment||Communications do not follow brand standards and are siloed||Basic brand standards are followed but coordination is limited||Brand standards are followed and some coordination exists||Brand position is well understood and coordination is commonplace||Brand position is well understood and communications plans are interconnected|
Open or download this chart as a PDF.
About the author(s)
Jaime Hunt is Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, U.S.
Article appears in:
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