When you hear the words marketing automation, it’s likely to bring to mind the efficient whirring of marketing cogs and wheels, working in perfect harmony to make your business grow whilst you relax and go for a gin and tonic. At least it does me, but look at it a little deeply and things get more fuzzy and ill-defined.
Marketing automation is currently a bit of a buzz word, but descriptions on the internet and by marketing automation software companies themselves as to what they do, are really muddling. Like a digital marketing Sherlock we are going to try and untangle the mystery for you.
Let’s start at the beginning and get our definition right – what is marketing automation? It’s best described as different digital marketing tools brought together and joined up.
Over the past 25 years you don’t need us to tell you that different digital (by which we mean online) marketing tools have appeared. From the baby steps of email, spawned before the www even existed (and incidentally email still has the highest marketing ROI of any media), over the years many others have been added. Before we get into any explanation of marketing automation, we need to recap on these tools, so here’s a primer (stay with me):
- 1. Search marketing, which allows you to bid to have your site appear in the sponsored area of a search engine’s results page;
- 2. Search engine optimization (SEO)- tweaking the structure and content of your site to improve its ranking in search results.
- 3. Social media marketing – using social media such as Twitter or LinkedIn to build excitement and interest around your business by engaging with the industry at large or directly with clients.
- 4. Website visitor tracking; software that allows you to track visitors to your site then analyse their behaviour in great detail.
- 5. Content marketing, that is a blog post, video or white paper bursting with targeted, interesting and engaging content that will pique people’s interest and encourage them to visit your site – frequently driven by email and social media marketing (see above).
- 6. This is a bit techier. It’s when you visit a site and show an interest in a particular product or service, then sometimes you will notice ads will pop up on other sites, in a frankly slightly spooky way, advertising what you had looked at earlier. This is retargeting –trying to entice someone back to your site once they have left.
- 7. CRM (Customer Relationship Management). Software that allows you track customer interactions or touch points, allowing a sales person to be well primed when dealing with a customer or prospect. There is some crossover between Marketing Automation and sales so most Marketing Automation software is able to “talk” to CRM software or has some CRM functionality built in.
Marketing automation software allows you bring some or all of these digital marketing techniques together, giving you an omnipresent overview of your marketing and your (potential) customer’s interaction with you. An example of how this might work would be that you could track a visitor to your site, at some point they may download a white paper submitting their email in the process – you could then start a targeted email campaign which would invite them to a webinar you are running. If they sign up to the webinar the software would handle confirmation and reminder emails and afterwards might invite them to a client event – if they agreed to attend, their details, including information on their interests, could be automatically passed to a sales person who would meet them at the event. And that’s just one example.
So marketing automation does indeed enable you in a God-like omnipresent way, to bring together strands of your digital marketing and automate many day-to-day actions, actions that would previously need to be performed by a member of a sales or marketing team. But don’t unscrew the gin bottle and slice those lemons just yet.
Like all good mysteries there’s also a warning. Through our experience we’ve witnessed that automated marketing can and does go wrong. It is not a panacea, a turnkey solution that the name suggests.
The first problem is that you must feed the machine with content – and lots of it. The problem is that like most automated models, the quality of what you get out depends on the quality of what you put in. Content needs to be good content, interesting, engaging and clickable. You can’t just rely on endless reposts of other people’s articles or that it’s the company’s 7½th birthday.
Secondly, marketing automation systems are not a replacement for tacit knowledge. However clever, an algorithm cannot laugh at a client’s jokes or listen to their needs. Many think that by introducing marketing automation you might be able to cut back on people. But automation is still only as a strong as your strongest marketer and you need them to make sense of system to get real value from it.
Finally, these systems work well on a large scale, but can be expensive for small companies. The jury is out as to the value to be generated from getting a complex system into a 10 people agency, where interaction should go on in the old fashioned way – human to human.
So to get marketing automation to work for you successfully you need content, commitment, time, budget and the right people. Then you can kick back and enjoy your G&T!
(… Oh, and by the way should you need content to feed your machine, please give us a call… +44 (0) 207 622 0355)