What is Marketing Automation and How Does it Work?

What is Marketing Automation and How Does it Work?

Beginner's Guide to Marketing Automation: Beyond the Tools
Disclosure: I sometimes use affiliate links which means that, at zero cost to you, I may earn a commission if you buy something through my links.

We have all heard the saying, “Work smarter, not harder.” This mentality is crucial when dealing with today’s demanding and highly-educated consumers. And in today’s day and age, nothing can prove as invaluable to modern marketing teams as the implementation of marketing automation.

While you may not be familiar with the term marketing automation, you have likely encountered such marketing processes. Businesses are relying heavily on marketing automation to sharpen their competitive edge and for others to level the playing field against larger businesses.

Join me as I uncover the truth about marketing automation. We will go beyond the tools and focus on the actual processes and strategies involved in creating a highly targeted, highly impactful campaign.

The Truth about Marketing Automation?

Marketing automation encompasses many facets of the customer journey and relies heavily on systems or software to facilitate the ongoing, timely engagement with a customer or set of customers based on their behaviors, interests, and/or demographics.

I love the definition used by SearchCustomerExperience, “Marketing automation is a type of software that allows companies to effectively target customers with automated marketing messages across channels including email, websites, social media and text messages to generate sales leads. The technology is a segment of customer relationship management, or CRM, and is typically used by marketing departments as a way to remove repetitive tasks from staff workflows and increase overall marketing efficiency.

As the definition suggests, Marketing Automation is all about using application software to automate your marketing process therefore eliminating repetitive tasks and increasing efficiency. But, before we move any further, it is important to clear an important confusion here.

Marketing Automation is NOT about successfully implementing a software program. Instead, it’s about designing automated marketing processes using a software program to implement the strategy.

In this regard, marketing automation was never meant to be easy in the sense that it is a simple plug and play one size fits all approach. I believe the idea of simplicity comes from the word automation and its very definition.

Automation: “The technique, method, or system of operating or controlling a process by highly automatic means, as by electronic devices, reducing human intervention to a minimum.” “Definition of Automation | Dictionary.Com.” www.dictionary.com, 2019, www.dictionary.com/browse/automation.

Even the very root word automaton, having come from greek origin, is defined as “acting of one’s own will.”

“An automaton is a self-operating machine, or a machine or control mechanism designed to automatically follow a predetermined sequence of operations, or respond to predetermined instructions.” Wikipedia Contributors. “Automaton.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 18 July 2019, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Automaton.

The key to this definition is that it is dependent upon a predetermined set of instructions. Simply put it is defined as something which can only act as it is acted on.

So Why The Semantics and Etymology?

Well as we begin a series that explores marketing automation and all its forms and benefits, I feel it important to clarify what marketing automation is and isn’t.

I believe that the hype of marketing automation over the past several years stems solely from a word or an idea that though trendy might require some further clarification, and that’s quite alright.

Over the years, I have helped navigate marketing trend words for many individuals and organizations and convert them from ambiguous ideas into meaningful and effective strategies.

If you have been around for a while you probably remember when the following words were trends that got thrown around like it was Pee Wee Hermans Word of the Day: SEO, UX/UI, Agile Marketing (truly just the word Agile in front of any word, was the thing. I even recall a client once suggesting an “Agile Lunch Meeting”), and of course Big Data.

What is Marketing Automation?

According to Dave Chaffey at Smart Insights, “Marketing Automation enables businesses to automate tasks and workflows for the marketing and sales process, including prospect and customer profiling on landing pages, lead scoring, sending automated personalised emails and web recommendations to support lead nurturing and customer engagement”.

Marketing is the backbone of almost all businesses and it is no longer a simple or straightforward job as it used to be a few decades ago. Today, marketing encompasses a lot of sophisticated tactics and strategies and the use of modern technology is central across all marketing channels. Marketing has the ability to allow any business to achieve its true potential.

It is a game changer for small to medium size businesses as it evens the playing field against larger organizations. Single man operations can now target, reach and engage with larger audiences without ever missing a beat.

For larger businesses, marketing automation allows them to create a more personalized and responsive approach, without the need for human intervention. Allowing them to tap into even smaller target markets and/or regions where they may not be actively present.

Marketing Automation finds its primary applications in the digital world where modern IT systems could be used to streamline and automate marketing efforts across multiple platforms and to reach a wider but relevant audience.

With Marketing Automation tools, it becomes possible for marketers to give up on their boring and repetitive tasks and to find time to design and implement strategies.

Simply put, marketing automation allows marketers to embrace a more strategic role in any organization.

What Marketing Automation is NOT?

Well, as briefly discussed earlier, Marketing Automation is NOT merely software implementation. Below is a list of common misconceptions that are associated with marketing automation:

  1. Marketing Automation is not about having an automatic sending machine, just to send automatic Emails or Tweets. Sending automatic E-mails could be a part of the overall automation strategy but such Emails (or tweets or posts etc.) need to be aligned with the overall marketing strategy.
  2. Marketing Automation is not there to rob marketers of their jobs. On the contrary, it is there to make marketers’ jobs easier and more engaging by eliminating the repetitive tasks that marketers find mundane or labor intensive.
  3. Marketing Automation is not just about generating leads. Instead, lead generation only forms a small part of a properly implemented marketing automation. It can have various other benefits (as discussed towards the end of this article).
  4. Marketing Automation is not agile or flexible. On the contrary, Marketing Automation can be as flexibile and changeable as needed or as structured and rigid as you want it to be. We will get into this more later.
  5. Marketing Automation is not a SPAM list. E-mails are a primary channel for most marketing automation tactics, however these e-mails are collected willingly from the email recipients. Unlike spam, marketing automation is one of the most user-friendly marketing channels as it provides personalized engagement.

 How Does It Work?

As we dive deeper into understanding Marketing Automation, I want to take this time to remind you that our focus is not on the tools themselves, but rather the strategies and tactics that make for effective Marketing Automation. Though understanding how to use the tools is a necessary component of marketing automation as a whole, my main goal for now is to outline the strategy that is required to put this marketing practice into place.

We are taking a first-time driver approach to learning marketing automation. I want you to understand the rules of the road and the mechanics of the vehicle (gas pedal, brake, steering wheel) before jumping in the car and taking off onto the highway.

So as such, our focus for today is on the strategies and tactics of marketing automation.

Remember our definition of Automaton?

Marketing automation is similar to this definition as it is dependent upon a predetermined set of instructions. You and I are going to learn how to layout these instructions so that our marketing automation tools can act accordingly and not by free will.

Understanding Marketing Automation Smart Tasks

Modern marketing has provided us with the ability to automate every component of the buyer’s journey both seen and unseen to the average consumer. The following is a list of tasks that you can automate:

  • Analytics and ROI Tracking
  • Campaign/Customer Segementation
  • Content Curation and Content Management
  • Email Marketing Automation
  • On-Site Automation (Pop-Ups, Live Chat, Social Proof, etc.)
  • Social Media Marketing
  • Lead Generation, Analysis and Management
  • A/B and Multivariate Testing
  • Website Visitor Tracking

Automating these tasks not only saves time and money, but allows you to gain valuable data concerning your audience and sales efforts as well as engage with your audience along their buying journey.

Features of Marketing Automation

The following may be seen as integral features of marketing automation.

  1. Lead Management platform where data regarding all leads could be handled, stored, scored and assigned.
  2. Email campaign platform to handle individualized Emails throughout the process, from initial contact to sale and after-sale service/ communication.
  3. Progressive profiling of leads and customers as they scroll through your website and fill forms.
  4. It is important for a marketing automation platform to work together with your Customer Relation Management (CRM) platform. CRM integration allows behavioral tracking and evaluating marketing efforts.
  5. Real-time alerts to users and trigger responses to customers/ leads must be incorporated in a marketing automation system to make it worthwhile of all the effort and resources.
  6. Analytics dashboard to have a bottom line of all the resources implemented, results achieved and evaluations performed.

7 Steps to Marketing Automation Success

1. Identify Your Needs

Before you start to automate these various tasks, it is a good idea to identify which of these you are actively engaged with. Which of these activities are you finding yourself burdened with? What requires manual, day-to-day engagement? What areas are you finding challenging or lacking insight.

So before you decide to take on something new, work with what you understand best. Are you finding yourself posting blogs or social media posts regularly, try scheduling these posts in advance, eliminating your need to log in and post these the day of.

Maybe you are finding it challenging to build your email list, try implementing a behavioral pop-up or even a live chat to better engage with your audience and cultivate your lead generation efforts.

2. Set Very Specific Goals

Understanding what it is that your are trying to achieve will not only help you in crafting a successful marketing automation campaign, but will also make it clearer to the consumer as to what action(s) are required of them. Write out your goal(s) and align key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure and track your performance.

3. Segment Your Audience

It is imperative to understand who your audience is. If you have not done so already, take the time to segment your audience.

Segmenting your audience is a critical aspect of marketing automation. It will help you in identifying your customers in ways that allows you to effectively engage and respond to your customers via multiple touchpoints and along various steps of the buyer’s journey. It is also an essential component to understanding where to find your customers.

4. Craft Your Campaign

Now that you know what you want to achieve and who your audience is, its time to craft content that is personalized to each of your audience groups along each of the steps in their  journey.

5. Create Accountability Between Marketing and Sales Departments

It’s not only important for your audience to be on the same page as you, but it is important that your internal efforts are aligned as well. By openly communicating your marketing automation efforts to your team members, you are likely to have better cooperation between both marketing and sales teams which will help drive sales.

6. Establish a Definitive Closed-Loop Reporting Process

Closed-loop reporting ties the sequence of steps delivering potential customers through the buying cycle to the point of recording the actual sales.

7. Test, and Then Test Again

All aspects of marketing can be reviewed with A/B testing. Landing pages, calls-to-action, offers, blog posts, social media posts and website pages can all be evaluated to produce the best results possible.

Benefits of Marketing Automation

Following may be regarded as the most celebrated benefits of marketing automation.

  1. The first and foremost benefit of marketing automation is that it redirects management’s focus and energy towards designing strategies as opposed to operational tasks. It has resulted in a tremendous amount of improvement in efficiency and goal-achievement in numerous organizations.
  2. The second biggest benefit is that it enhances customers’ experience and satisfaction level. An essential feature of marketing automation is that it sends behavior-triggered messages which are individualized and tailored to targeted user. This results in positive interaction with customers and prospective leads.
  3. The obvious benefit is related to the increase in sales, and hence the profit for the company. Marketing automation has been successfully implemented by tons of businesses who observed a reasonable increase in revenue and profits over a gradual period.
  4. Successful marketing automation allows businesses to understand customers in a much better manner. Furthermore, customer loyalty programs that are often incorporated in the overall strategy result in longer customer lifetime value along with better reviews and customer satisfaction.
  5. As repetitive tasks are automated, marketing automation often results in a better return on investment (ROI) regarding staff costs. This happens as the number of operational staff performing repetitive tasks may be reasonably reduced due to automation.
  6. Last but not the least, such automation makes it easier and far more efficient to measure the results of marketing strategies. It also becomes more convenient to try various strategies as the results could be measured easily and quickly. Strategies with the best ROI and sales-conversion could be implemented as a result of it.
Angel Flores

Angel Flores

Angel Flores is a digital strategist, marketing evangelist and serial entrepreneur with over 10 years of hands-on experience in SEO, PPC, marketing analytics, brand and campaign strategy, lead generation, and CRO. Having built his first website at age 12, Angel has gone on to build and manage over 100 different websites for various startups, agencies, e-commerce, SaaS, healthcare and international brands. He has had the honor to work with such brands like Microsoft, Workfront, Kodak, Edison Energy, Chuao Chocolatier and many more.

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