What is a marketing automation strategy?

A marketing automation strategy is a playbook with a mix of automation technologies, tools, and tactics to automate and streamline repetitive tasks, such as:

  • Lead generation
  • Lead nurturing
  • Lead scoring
  • Cross-selling
  • Up-selling
  • Audience segmentation

Why you need a marketing automation strategy

A robust, realistic, and results-based marketing automation strategy can generate impressive, and in some cases profound gains.

According to Statista, during a February 2024 global survey among marketing decision-makers, approximately 58% reported automating their email marketing efforts. Social media and content marketing management followed, as respectively 49% and 33% of respondents said they used automation in those areas.

Overall, they also tended to be more satisfied with the results. The benefits of marketing automation are not a myth. About 70% perceived some success in using a marketing automation platform to achieve marketing goals, whereas almost 30% labeled their efforts as very successful.

Additionally, according to a 2023 report by Insightly, nearly half (48%) of those surveyed say they have some, or partial, automation throughout their customer journeys, and 39% of B2B marketers have customer journeys that are mostly or fully automated.

How to develop a successful marketing automation strategy in 7 steps

Here are 7 core steps to help marketers successfully automate their marketing processes:

1. Research existing data
When starting the strategic development process, some marketers focus on their ideal target customers. Obviously, this is an essential element — and one we will discuss in just a moment.

However, before looking ahead, it is important to look within. As such, the best place to start is by analyzing the data generated by current customers. Marketers should strive to collect customer data from as many channels as possible, and associate them with unique identifiers such as device IDs, cookies, POS data, loyalty program information, etc. Capturing and combining this data helps create a more complete, dynamic profile for known customers.

Collaborating with customer service and sales teams can be extremely helpful here; particularly when it comes to gleaning not just what customers are doing, but why they are doing one thing (or making one decision) instead of another. Connecting directly with current customers through surveys and conversations can also generate valuable, and often unexpected insights.

Ultimately, the goal of this step is to generate an accurate, objective picture of current customer behavior, since this core group absolutely needs to be part of the new and improved strategy. Overlooking or neglecting them (however unintentionally) is a recipe for customer churn and reputation damage.

2. Define the ideal target audience
This is where one of the most interesting and creative tools in the digital marketing landscape — buyer personas — enters the discussion.

Buyer personas are fictional profiles that represent each type of potential customer and include both demographic and psychographic information. They are rooted in first-party research and backed by data to ensure that they are comprehensive and credible.

Buyer personas empower marketers (along with other stakeholders such as UX designers, content strategists, product developers, etc.) to “walk a mile in the shoes” of customers, and empathize with their challenges, concerns, motivations, and aspirations. This understanding can then be leveraged to delivering personalized, relevant content and experiences across buyer’s journey that are driven by various marketing automation workflows (more on this in the next step).

Indeed, the vital importance of unforgettable personalization should not be underestimated — because for many customers, it is not merely a “nice-to-have” element that enhances the customer experience, but rather a “must-have” expectation that makes or breaks the customer relationship.

3. Create a customer journey map
A moment ago, we noted that marketers should use buyer personas to understand different types of target customers. However, there is another layer to this brand awareness that must be part of the overall marketing automation strategy: the fact that customers’ mindsets and motivations change as they move along the buyer’s journey.

To align with these shifts and make every interaction matter — emotionally, intellectually, and strategically — marketers can use yet another interesting and creative tool: a customer journey map. This tool captures all the experiences that various customer segments go through as they transition from initial prospect to satisfied buyer, ideally becoming a loyal brand ambassador.

There are 5 core steps to creating a customer journey map:

  • Identify the various stages in the customer journey based on intentions, requirements, and expectations. Often, these have labels such as: awareness, research, evaluation, purchase, usage, and advocacy.
  • Elaborate and expand on each stage in the customer journey, so they all have clear, distinct roles and purposes. It is also essential to ensure that all teams (e.g., marketing teams, sales, customer support, etc.) understand and agree on what is supposed to happen at each stage.
  • Identify touchpoints for each stage. Often, this analysis will bring to light that existing touchpoints need to be modified and new touchpoints need to be created.
  • Identify the key customer activities at each touchpoint, such as reading articles, watching videos, booking demos, etc.
  • Curate and craft relevant, informative, and engaging content for each touchpoint that aligns with each segment and stage with the goal of ushering customers forward toward a transaction (which could be minutes or hours away for B2C engagements, or days, weeks, or even months away for B2B engagements).

4. Set marketing automation goals
There are two levels to address, which for simplicity we can refer to as macro-level goals and micro-level goals.

Macro-level goals are bigger-picture business aims, such as:

  • Spark and establish a relationship with prospective new customers
  • Convert free trial customers into paid customers
  • Increase average order value
  • Increase lifetime customer value
  • Grow the number of marketing qualified leads
  • Increase conversion rates across different channels
  • Reduce the duration of the sales cycle
  • Improve the efficiency of your sales funnel
  • Convince existing customers to upgrade
  • Win back and re-engage former customers

Micro-level goals represent the desired activities that customers (hopefully) take in various automated marketing campaigns, such as:

  • Download a brochure, catalog, or price list
  • Register for an email newsletter
  • Visit a particular page
  • Sign up for an online demo

Micro-level goals can be used to measure customer engagement and evaluate which actions should be taken at various stages of an automation campaign. They can also be used to implement personalization rules based on customer behavior. For example, a customer who subscribes to an email newsletter can be automatically presented with content instead of a newsletter sign-up item.

5. Choose the right metrics to track
Key metrics and KPIs help marketers clearly see if they are headed in the right direction at the expected speed, address pain points, and improve how their marketing automation works.

Some possible macro-level metrics include:

  • Increase revenues
  • Increase average order value
  • Decrease cost per customer acquisition
  • Increase the number of conversions from free trial customers to paid customers
  • Improve productivity (i.e., reducing the clerical and administrative time that teams need to spend)

Some possible micro-level metrics include:

  • Increase email campaign open rates
  • Increase email click-through rates
  • Increase conversion rates for various desired actions (e.g., filling out a form) 
  • Reduce bounce rates
  • Reduce email unsubscribe rates 
  • Increase time-on-site
  • Reduce cart abandonment

6. Outline the marketing automation strategy
This step is essentially about taking everything that has been analyzed, organized, and developed in the first five steps, and outlining the overall marketing automation strategy. There are two important benefits of this effort.

The first benefit is that it helps marketers see if there are any gaps, which can then be addressed. For example, it may come to light that some buyer personas are not as robust and developed as others, that some goals are not specific enough to be measurable, or that some channels are not identified on the customer journey map.

The second benefit is that (once any potential gaps are identified and addressed), marketers will have a powerful and persuasive resource that can be used to generate consensus, buy-in, and enthusiasm across different teams and stakeholders, such as sales, customer service, C-suite, etc. This is a critical requirement! If relevant teams and stakeholders do not understand or agree what is being proposed or implemented, then they will not get behind it.

7. Choose the right marketing automation tools
The global marketing automation market is currently valued at $5.86 billion USD, and expected to reach a whopping $13.7 billion by 2030. This is good news for marketers, because it means they have plenty of options. However, this can also be bad news, since choosing the right marketing tools for their current and future needs can be difficult and time consuming.

To help find the right marketing automation software process straightforward instead of stressful, below we provide a checklist of core capabilities that should be supported by any tools under consideration:

  • The capacity to deliver personalized relevance through precise audience segmentation, AI-powered recommendations, and one-to-one messages
  • The capacity to save time, effort, and resources with email marketing automation for any customer journey.
  • The capacity to convert traffic through customizable forms and landing page templates for multiple use cases and scenarios.
  • The capacity to integrate with any ecommerce platform, website, or CRM without developer support.
  • The capacity to optimize campaigns by leveraging live data and advanced analytics.

In addition, all leading marketing automation solutions offer a personalized demo, during which marketers (and the members of any other teams who are part of the research effort) can clearly see and confirm that all the above-noted core capabilities are supported. If this is not the case, then marketers are strongly urged to cross the tool off their list and continue shopping. To realize the best possible results and take the shortest path to value, all these capabilities are essential, and none of them are optional.

The final word

The art and science of marketing is about tailoring the buyer’s journey based on customer responses and activities, while creating personalized experiences to build richer profiles and deliver more value — ultimately leading to greater sales, profits, brand loyalty, and competitive advantage.

A winning marketing automation strategy can make all of this happen and elevate customers — along with marketers and organizations — to the next level.

Request a custom Sitecore demo to automate your marketing tasks today!