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What is marketing automation?

Marketing automation enables marketers to streamline, automate, track, and optimize a range of repetitive marketing tasks — and deliver the personalized experiences that customers demand.

Personalized connections

In recent decades, the art and science of effective marketing have changed dramatically — and in some ways unrecognizably. However, despite these major advancements, the key to successful marketing efforts remains the same: personalization.

Indeed, whether the goal is for both large and small businesses to sell industrial equipment to large enterprises, smartphones to individuals, advice to organizations — or anything else on the business landscape — marketing fulfills its fundamental purpose when it sparks, establishes, and elevates a meaningful one-on-one relationship with customers.

And among everything that today’s marketing tools offer, what drives this multi-faceted marketing process — one that can take several months or even years in B2C/B2B marketing engagements — is personalization. Consider the following:

  • 90% of customers see personalization as “appealing”, and feel that it improves their opinion of a brand.
  • Companies can generate as much as 40% more revenue from personalization.
  • 84% of customers say that being treated as a unique person is critical to winning their loyalty.
  • 80% of customers are more likely to purchase from a brand that delivers personalized experiences.
  • 72% of customers only respond to personalized messaging and ignore anything that they perceive is generic.

Ideally, marketers would have an abundance of resources and time to customize and personalize every marketing campaign and piece of collateral for all their different buyer personas — from webinars and ebooks to infographics and articles, and the list goes on. Of course, this objective falls between impractical (for every company) to impossible (for everyone else). Fortunately, that is where marketing automation enters the picture and makes a transformative difference.

Streamlining, automating, tracking, and optimizing repetitive marketing tasks

Marketing automation solves this dilemma by enabling marketers to streamline, automate, track, and optimize a range of repetitive marketing tasks, in order to increase operational efficiency — and ultimately, to personally connect with customers and encourage them to make a purchase. These processes include (but are not limited to):

Below, we’ll highlight some practical applications of marketing automation. However, before moving on, it is worth repeating and remembering that while marketing automation can dramatically accelerate and improve operations, the aim is not just about doing things faster, or at a higher capacity.

Marketing automation is rooted in personalization. It frankly does not matter how much faster, and how much more, marketers can get done through marketing automation if it does not result in greater personalization by delivering relevant content through effective channels and touchpoints.

It is very easy for marketers to dive deep into the (rather amazing) technology, and lose sight of the ultimate goal of both marketing automation and marketing itself: personalization, personalization, and yet more personalization. Technology is the means. Driving customer experience, generating sales, and inspiring long-term customer loyalty through personalization are the ends.

Helping marketers avoid exhaustion and burnout

Another important benefit of marketing automation is that it can significantly improve engagement, enthusiasm, and energy levels among marketers by alleviating the sometimes crushing administrative and clerical burden they face daily. One survey found that marketing and communications professionals had the highest burnout rate of all professionals, with 83% reporting that they felt overwhelmed and exhausted.

Automation helps liberate marketers to focus on higher-value activities that not only boost productivity but also improve morale and engagement. In other words: marketers spend less time doing what they dislike and more time doing what they find meaningful and enjoyable — and ultimately, they achieve better results. It is all gain and no pain.

Bridging the disconnect between marketing and sales

Another significant benefit of marketing automation is that it can help bridge the gap between sales and marketing departments. In some organizations, there is a longstanding disconnect and disharmony between those two. This does not mean they are adversaries. Rather, it means they have different agendas and mandates.

Marketing is concerned with generating brand equity and delivering sales-qualified leads, while sales are concerned with nurturing SQLs on the buyer’s journey and into a transaction. Ultimately, they both want to do what matters most to the organization as a whole: drive revenues, profits, growth, and competitive advantage. But they take different paths.

Marketing automation plays a key role in establishing standardized, consistent workflows that enable alignment between marketing and sales processes. For example, marketers can configure a lead scoring system that identifies precisely when a customer graduates from being a marketing-qualified lead into a sales-qualified lead. The moment this happens, the right sales rep is notified, and the customer is engaged accordingly.

Without marketing automation, the following could happen:

  • There could be a delay in identifying when a marketing-qualified lead becomes a sales-qualified lead.
  • There could be a delay in informing a sales rep of a sales-qualified lead.
  • The wrong sales rep could be informed. For example, a sales-qualified lead has a technical background and very detailed product-related questions, but the sales rep tapped to engage them is a recent hire who is still familiarizing themselves with the product suite.

Any one of the scenarios above is enough to compel customers to exit the buyer’s journey and head to a competitor. Or at the very least, it can make the buyer’s lifecycle much longer and more arduous for sales reps than it would be otherwise. For example, a sale that would have taken a matter of weeks with marketing automation, could take months without it — and end up costing much more in labor costs and other expenses.

Common marketing automation use cases

Let’s shift focus and look at marketing automation in action.

What can marketing automation do? Here are a few common use cases:

  • Nurture leads by delivering relevant thought leadership content such as educational articles, guides, white papers, etc.
  • Send out a series of automated emails (welcome, cart abandonment, etc.)
  • Identify and incentivize loyal customers to make additional purchases or function as brand ambassadors and influencers
  • Send birthday, anniversary, or other special occasion messages
  • Follow up after purchases to deepen the relationship, while gleaning valuable market research
  • Reach out to customers who abandoned their cart
  • Reach out to customers who visited certain pages
  • Reach out to lapsed customers
  • Reach out to customers who cancel an order or terminate their subscription, in an effort to get them back — or at least, discover why they disengaged

Marketing automation strategies and advice

There is no generic, one-size-fits-all approach to how to use marketing automation. What works in some organizations will not necessarily work in others. However, while respecting these differences and distinctions, there are some basic best practices that all marketers should adopt:

1. Start with a robust plan
Before launching a marketing automation email campaign, marketers should build a robust plan that embraces the following key elements:

  • Objective (e.g. account development, conversion rates, retention, win-back, etc.)
  • Content marketing strategy (planning, creation, and channel distribution)
  • Customer journey map
  • CX and UX design factors

Together, these key elements help bring to the surface how customers interact with the brand, and how their experience can be nurtured with the right content, delivered at the right time, and through the right marketing channel.

2. Be open to experimentation
Marketing automation is dynamic, rather than static. Marketers should embrace the opportunity to experiment, in order to glean what works for their target audience, what does not work, and why. These insights can be used to enhance current and future campaigns and collateral.

For example, metrics may show that a specific infographic is driving a significant amount of progress at an early stage of the buyer’s journey. Marketing teams can use this actionable intelligence to:

  • Make the infographic available through more channels and touchpoints (main website, landing pages connected to pay-per-click ads, social media, etc.).
  • Create additional infographics for other relevant topics that align with the same UX and CX factors (graphics, layout, fonts, links, length, loading speed, etc.).
  • Inform the sales team that customers find the infographic’s topic and content relevant and engaging, which can help spark and shape conversations, leading them down the sales funnel.

3. Do not be afraid of (a little) friction
Owing to a philosophy that was crystalized in a 2005 best-selling book on UX design called “Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability” by Steve Krug, many marketers are afraid  of using marketing automation if it adds friction to the buyer’s journey through elements like pop-ups, forms, “click here to learn more” prompts, and so on.

However, in recent years it has come to light that rather than finding these elements irritating, many customers find them helpful. Indeed, 90% of customers say they are happy to share customer data if it enhances their purchasing experience.

The takeaway is not that marketers should overload and overwhelm customers by populating the buyer’s journey with a dizzying array of asks and options. Rather, they should be confident that leveraging marketing automation to inject a small amount of friction empowers existing and potential customers to interact as they wish, and on their terms.

4. The right marketing automation software will unleash success — and the wrong one will prevent it

When it comes to making marketing automation work, the right knowledge, strategies, tactics, and content are obviously vital. But there is an even more important piece of the puzzle that will either unleash success or prevent it: marketing automation software.

Indeed, the choice of marketing automation software should be viewed as a mission-critical decision — because the influence on both process and results is enormous. Here are key aspects that marketers should focus on when evaluating and ultimately recommending marketing automation solutions:

  • The capacity to deliver personalized relevance with 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 more traffic with customizable form and landing page templates for every scenario
  • The capacity to easily integrate with any ecommerce platform, website, or CRM without developer support
  • The capacity to power digital marketing with real-time data and advanced analytics, and therefore optimize every campaign — from smaller and shorter projects to larger and ongoing programs

Elevating customers, marketers, and organizations

The bottom line is that, in its purest and best form, marketing is about adapting communications so that customers can engage with the brand through multiple channels, tailoring the buyer’s journey and overall experience based on customer behaviors and activities, and personalizing each step of the dialogue to build a richer profile and deliver more value. Marketing automation helps make these crucial objectives enjoyable, manageable, and achievable — ultimately elevating customers, marketers, and organizations as a whole.

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