Those who perceive marketing automation as complex are not wrong, this particular take is also preferable to the one that views it as ‘spammy’ or a ‘set it and forget it’ approach. The truth is a little murkier overall. Marketing automation technology continues to evolve and keeping on top of developments, not to mention deploying them successfully, can often feel overwhelming. Additionally, there are a number of misconceptions about what marketing automation is and is not, preventing some businesses from using it in the best way and, in some cases, using it all. Simply summarised, marketing automation is a way of aiding marketing teams to do their job more efficiently to achieve set goals.
Before starting with marketing automation it’s important to understand what it actually is. Marketing automating is the employment of software that delivers personalised marketing materials to individual users. Marketers set a series of specific factors that trigger personalised messages, these can include how long someone is spending on the site, their past order history, spending habits, and many more. The possibilities are, in many ways, endless and so is the capacity for personalisation. Consumers no longer respond to traditional marketing and advertising in the same way. Traditional in this instance is mass marketing, with its clear attempts to get as many consumers as possible to buy into a product or service. In recent times, some of the most successful campaigns have been targeting consumers as individuals.
In December 2015, Burberry launched an interactive advert for its cashmere scarves and monogramming services on the giant screens in Piccadilly Circus. Anyone could head over to a microsite on their smartphone, choose a favourite scarf design and digitally ‘monogram’ their initials onto it – the scarf was then broadcast on the large screen for all to see. Users were also able to control which direction the scarf flew in, if they so wished, by moving their smartphone in the desired direction. The experience ended with either the option of purchasing the design online or directions to the nearest Burberry store.
Personalisation, whether as exciting and explicit as Burberry’s attempt or the more low-key web-based experiences, is one of the most effective ways for companies to foster positive customer relationships. The success of marketing automation lies in its ability to marry varying aspects of business development and marketing, bringing together content development, campaigns, conversation rate optimisation, email marketing, and lead generation.
Successful implementation of marketing automation relies on a few principles that should become part of developing business strategy to achieve the best results.
The first of these steps should involve defining and setting goals. Using a broad approach in this instance will likely lead to dissatisfaction with marketing automation as improvements across all areas of marketing can be difficult to achieve, especially short term, when any new strategy is implemented. Looking at current areas of a business’s strength and weaknesses will reveal how marketing automation is able to help best, first. Since different goals will require different approaches, it’s very important to establish clearly what the end point looks like. Is it increased lead generation? Maybe it’s about boosting sales during off-peak times or increasing business through returning customers, whatever the goal, as long as it’s well defined from the outset, marketing automation can help.
By adopting marketing automation businesses are broadly looking to get consumers to make specific actions. Identifying what is dubbed ‘user flow’ through mapping will aid in clarifying what steps each user must go through to take, or be prompted to take, an action. Different users will require different approaches based on how they arrived at the site, like requiring more detailed information before taking the desired action. It’s important to only make a user go through as many steps as necessary and relevant to them for the best conversions to take place.
A well populated and constantly updated contact database (never purchased – this is a cardinal sin of all marketing) will help tremendously with successful implementation of marketing automation. Building it, however, will take time. There’s also the difficult task of storing and processing customer data in the most efficient way. It’s well known that customer data and insights are invaluable to personalised marketing so the way this information is gathered, stored, and accessed is critical. Software offering a customer data platform, sometimes helpfully with a single customer view, come extremely handy in these instances so that businesses can harness specific details about their users, run analytics, and deploy campaigns.
Once a contact database is established and enough data has been gathered through a data platform, businesses begin to have quite a clear idea of the core customer base and what their needs are. The next step from here is utilising automation to deliver relevant messaging at the best time to the right users. Messaging must be clear and concise, no one wants to be confronted with walls of text, especially if users are looking for simple answers about a product or service.
Remembering where users are in the process (back to that work flow chart!) should prompt relevant messaging, for example customers merely doing research shouldn’t be hit with a hard sell. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, all businesses must strive to avoid appearing spammy. This is absolutely the opposite goal of marketing automation and a complete misuse of the software’s personalisation potential. The style of content (promotional, informational, offers) should always reflect the business’s ethos as it’s an extenuation of it; if a marketer wouldn’t shout at a potential customer in the street about services offered then written marketing content should avoid superfluous capitals and exclamation points, which produces a similar effect on readers.
Marketing automation comes with a lot of misconceptions that need to disappear once and for all. The impersonal nature of automation is brought up a lot, when people hear ‘automation’ they think of repetition and robots. But good automation is always powered by good marketers who create the right content for the right users whilst removing the repetitive task of manually deploying campaigns to individuals. Some see it as spam, but this is again misunderstanding of marketing automation’s purpose to offer something of value to end users, and this extends beyond sales. Marketing automation is never a ‘set it and forget it’ process, at least not if it is set to produce the best results. It’s a dynamic process with a continuous feedback loop, using customer insights to inform and affect messaging and campaigns.
Marketing automation is undoubtedly revolutionising the field of marketing, and even with its multitude of benefits, it won’t be the perfect solution for every business. Sometimes basic email marketing is all a business needs whilst other companies can most benefit from comprehensive automated solutions. What remains clear is that automating at least some part of the marketing process frees up resources (time and money) reducing the tedium associated with repetitive tasks. It’ll inevitably take businesses, and their marketing staff, some time to acclimatise to automation but once on-board, marketing automation can really enhance the marketing process.