The 4 quadrants of marketing management, a 2×2 model

4 Quadrants of Marketing Management

Having spent many years in the “conversion optimization” subdiscipline of marketing — a forerunner to what is now known as “growth hacking” in some circles — I’ve mulled over the inherent tension between innovation and optimization for a while.

They’re two different mindsets.

At its best, innovation is about exploring a wide range of bold, new ideas that challenge the status quo — often questioning assumptions that an organization takes for granted. Many of these daring experiments don’t work out, but that’s okay, as long as they “fail fast.” You’re panning for gold, which means sifting through a lot of dirt.

On the other end of the spectrum, optimization is about refining a raw idea — making it more effective and efficient. You’re exploiting a previously discovered innovation. You’re leveraging assumptions about an idea to scale it up, to standardize its execution across your organization. You’re turning those gold nuggets into priceless jewelry.

While I am reluctant to play into oversimplified stereotypes, innovation tends to be more intuitive (“right brain”) and optimization more analytical (“left brain”). Some people are instinctively gold prospectors, while others are master jewelers. But many marketers are ambidextrous and capable of both — although not necessarily at the same time. My experience has been that a marketing team is typically in one mode or the other, largely depending on organizational context.

Both are important to a healthy and sustainable business. Optimization without innovation is myopia. Innovation without optimization is the organizational equivalent of ADHD.

As a marketing leader, you want to structure your department to have both. They can — and must — coexist. But each end of the spectrum benefits from different kinds of management approaches and incentives. You will likely want different captains on each side.

There’s another two-ended spectrum in marketing: front-end experiences and back-office operations. Marketing used to be mostly concerned with customer-facing communications. But as the scope of marketing has expanded into “experiences” along the buyer’s journey, the importance of software and data in marketing has grown significantly — as have the roles of marketing operations, marketing analytics, and marketing technology management to support these new capabilities.

Both ends of this spectrum are important: you need champions of customer experience and defenders of the brand. But you also need operational strength to realize those visions. And as with innovation and optimization, there are often different dynamics in managing front-office experiences vs. back-office operations. The captain of customer experience is likely quite different than the captain of marketing operations.

Marketing Management Quadrants I, II, III, IV

These two axes — innovation and optimization, and experiences and operations — intersect.

You can innovate customer experiences and optimize them. You can innovate internal operations and optimize it.

Which led me to visualize the 4 quadrants of marketing management as a 2×2 model.

It provides a framework by which we can distinguish between these different facets of marketing. We can ask questions such as:

  • Which quadrants are we good at?
  • Which quadrants do we need to improve?
  • Who leads each quadrant and with what incentives?
  • What processes do we have to facilitate collaboration between quadrants?
  • What is our rate of flow of new ideas from innovation to optimization?

To make this model a little more concrete, in the graphic at the top of this post, I mapped some common marketing subdisciplines into these quadrants — many cover a continuum across two or more — such as customer experience management, conversion optimization, marketing technology management, data science, etc. These aren’t intended as iron-clad definitions, so much as centers of gravity, at least as I’ve observed them.

For instance, marketing technology management is a back-office function, but it tends to interface to more front-end customer experience work than, say, traditional marketing operations. It also tends to span innovation and optimization programs as an enabler for both.

I’m still thinking through this model, so I’d appreciate any feedback you’d like to offer. Do you find this a helpful way to frame marketing management in your company?

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8 thoughts on “The 4 quadrants of marketing management, a 2×2 model”

  1. Scott, this is brilliant. I’m still processing it but intuitively it makes sense. We often discuss how to innovate (do something different or even risky) while also staying true to the brand which requires consistency. However it is the consistency which can lull customers to sleep (and decrease response / engagement.)

    Question: where would you put “content marketing”? I’m thinking it is similar to marketing innovation and straddles quadrant 1 and 2 but may also touch 3 and 4 with some small amount of overlap?

    1. Thanks, Michael!

      I’m actually more interested in your assessment of where you think content marketing operates, since you’re one of the world’s leading experts in that field.

      I can definitely see how it would have tentacles in all four quadrants. You can use content marketing as a forward-leaning, exploratory voice in marketing innovation in Quadrant I and use it to solidify content leadership in a core, established space in Quadrant III. My impression would be that most brands do the volume of their content marketing in Quadrant III, essentially “optimizing” an editorial position that they’ve staked out.

      Let me also take this opportunity to emphasize that I think there’s great creativity in the optimization hemisphere of this map. It’s just that the creativity in that half tends to be more focused on an established “frame” and with relatively well-proven tactics.

      I also see how content marketing, particularly at scale, relies on key back-office technologies and processes. But since most of that is done through a very customer-centric lens, I would probably put it just across the line into the experience hemisphere.

      It would actually be interesting to hear how different leading content marketers place their mission within that map — might vary quite a bit from one brand to another?

      1. Scott, my thought is that effective content marketing really “takes the brand out of the story” and so is the least represented in Quadrant IV but as you said this would vary across brands. Coke and Red Bull for example would fall into III and IV but for the majority of B2B brands I think it fits squarely in I and II – experiential and testing new ideas and innovations. I is only as the need to scale becomes apparent, does quadrant III start to get involved.

        For SAP, our only editorial guideline was to publish content the market wanted (customer experience + innovation + testing, analytics) that did NOT promote our brand.

        I think this is different from the majority of marketing techniques that have either awareness (advertising) or conversion (lead generation) as the main goals.

        Content marketing objectives should be more closely aligned with engagement and engagement is “easier” the less it tries to sell and the lighter the branding is. I hop that makes sense? Clear as mud probably but this is a really interesting model and I’d be happy to discuss offline or continue the conversation here!

        1. Yes, that makes sense to me. I’d agree, the way you’re leveraging content marketing at SAP sounds like it’s very strong in Quadrant I. Quite cool, actually.


  2. Taking a step back, Scott, and the basic framework (the simple 2×2) is really applicable to any function within an organization, isn’t it? It’s not endemic solely to Marketing, but can be overlaid to anything from Warehousing to Finance to HR to whatever.

    If that’s true, then the key to making the grid work is the application of technology-driven (fill in the blank) optimization, which is based on the scientific method. Thus the CORPORATE mindset is about innovating and optimizing across a variety of disciplines if not all disciplines.

    Are we now delving a bit too close to the whole Quality Improvement/Six Sigma thingy?

    1. Hi, Joe — you’re absolutely right, the “innovation to optimization” axis plays itself out in many parts of an organization. Good point about the relationship to the Six Sigma movement.

      I do think the axis of back-office operations to front-office customer experiences is less common in other departments (although there are no doubt parallels). Sales and customer service definitely have that axis though.

      I can’t recall having seen anyone juxtapose those two axes to use a “map” of capabilities — but I’d be surprised if people haven’t. If you see a reference anywhere, let me know, and I’d be happy to cite it and link to it.

      1. Although less common, CX is an across-the-board initiative (or should be: better to ask a CX aficionado). So yes, sales and customer service sit atop the north pole, but I’m certain there are CX opportunities from billing to distribution to whatever.

        And I’d like to forget about all those Six Sigma exercises: the pain!

  3. Enjoyed reading your post, Scott.

    When it comes to setting goals for the marketing subdisiplines you mention in the model, what would the KPIs be if you had to plot both a company-centric and a customer-centric goal in every quadrant?

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