Creating Marketing

What Is Marketing Automation?

What is Marketing Automation?
Written by Rachel Weingarten

What is marketing automation? Marketing automation allows you to use software or apps to automatically process and personalize marketing activities. Using something called workflows, you can create highly customized integrated messaging campaigns across email, text, advertising, and social media posts.

When you’ve done the research and are ready to ongoingly fine-tune your channels you are organized and prepared to start marketing automation. It takes balance while you figure out the best way to create a more automated way of communicating with your clients, it’s crucial to also create to figure out the right tone and approach. Once you’ve done that, there’s also the challenge of coming up with a schedule and editorial calendar of sorts planning how often to be in touch, how to gauge if your marketing automation is working or not, and above all, when the human touch is needed.

Before we delve into the balance between automating the process and the human connection, it’s a good time for a brief reminder about the history of our relationship with technology.

Where high tech meets high touch

In 1982 at the infancy of PCs, and ten years before the World Wide Web debuted, futurist John Naisbitt famously wrote the book Mastering Megatrends. In the book co-authored with wife Doris, Naisbitt repeatedly wrote the more high tech we have, the more high touch we’d crave.

So passionate was Naisbitt about the topic that his follow-up book was called High Tech High Touch —  released in 1999 in the midst of the Y2K panic. It’s a bit ironic to look at the work of a futurist through a rearview mirror, but much of what Naisbitt predicted back then is taken for granted now. Many of us battle our tech addictions and challenge ourselves to find new ways to connect, which can be both good or bad for business.

Balance above all

If there’s one takeaway you need before digging into the background and future of your potential marketing automation plan, it should be to find a way to balance convenience with project monitoring and human connection.

But let’s first go back to the person who put a name to that challenge.

The communication evolution

In the decades since Naisbitt’s books were released, computers went from something of a novelty used rarely, or exclusively by geeks to a tool used in the office to highly portable devices we take everywhere. As our screens migrated from our desktops to our back pockets, we’ve become increasingly savvy about the way marketing impacts both us and our target audiences.

If the past year or so has taught us anything, it’s the way we connect, communicate and interact that keeps changing and evolving as we do. We’ve learned to use social media in new ways, incorporating images and voice, and the now Zoom happy hours. Most of us evolved to a mobile workspace which meant savvy marketers scrambled to keep up with a more 24/7 work style.

Three things to keep in mind before deciding to automate your marketing:

  1. Your bottom line should never be about convenience. If you’re not providing your client base with a welcome method of communication your marketing automation has failed.
  2. Don’t try everything at once. Ready to automate your marketing? Cool! Take it one step at a time. There’s no feeling of failure that compares to spending months on research and setting up an integrated plan only to discover you got the whole thing wrong. Start slowly and build as you go.
  3. The human connection will always matter. T-Mobile has one of the largest cellular networks out there, but you can always find a responsive and helpful customer service agent when needed.
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Getting started with marketing automation

If you are launching your own agency after working for a large company, a new job, or a new industry even the most experienced feel like newbies sometimes.

Bradley Skaggs, Partner and Creative Director at Skaggs Creative launched his business in 1998 with A-List brands like Microsoft and NASA as clients. Along the way, he learned streamlining his agency’s process was crucial for success. “We began using a CRM to track new business leads and deals,” Skaggs said. His company started by integrating Pipedrive and “setting up a flow to move leads from inquiry through project win.”

Since that time, Skaggs said his company has segued to using Hubspot “for better integration with our website inquiry forms and tighter deal tracking.” Like most of us, Skaggs said in the beginning they were tracking everything on Excel “and it just became a mess with multiple versions of the spreadsheet with information that was not up to date.” That prompted Skaggs and his company to find an online tool that allowed integration with email and the company website.

Skaggs said Hubspot remains a tool for marketing automation specifically for its ability to work with Gmail to track emails, create to-dos, and aid with deal tracking.

Marketing automation helps with overall efficiency

As most of us know, deals don’t happen overnight and months can pass before even an initial decision is made. Skaggs, whose current clients include Charlotte Tilbury and Diptyque, said there were  times he’d have a discussion with a company and “for whatever reason, it ended only to have them come back a year or two later (or someone else from the same organization).” Having the process automated means Skaggs can access any interaction or data shared at any point. “It’s great to be able to have all the background conversations at hand without having to dig through emails.”

Tips on setting up automated tasks

While many of us prefer extensive research and test programs, Skaggs highly recommends just starting. “Stop thinking about it and do it. It will change the way you do business,” he said. “For example, an inquiry comes in through our website and the person’s contact info is captured in Hubspot. We reply and that email also gets logged into Hubspot. We then set up the contact as Deal and continue to automatically log all conversations and move the lead through the deal stages – lead, needs discovered, proposal presentation, negotiation, win (or lose) Since all contacts are logged in Hubspot it is super easy to export all names for the next email blast.” It also allows Skaggs and his team to refer back to conversations in case future clarification is ever needed.

Marketing automation vs. human interaction

Skaggs shared two tips when deciding when to automate and when to jump in.

  1. Ideal tasks for automation: Capturing contact details and setting follow-up reminders for active leads. 
  2. Always keep the human touch: Communication. Skaggs said “Email is great but a phone call or Zoom call is always better. A call is always our second step.”

A deeper dive into marketing automation

As marketing automation becomes simply an additional method of interacting and managing your business, it becomes second nature to set up additional ways to harness the power of all available tools and tricks.

Tommy Lamb, Director of Lifecycle Marketing at WITHIN.co who’s worked with Sephora believes “automating and scaling marketing campaigns and touchpoints is the only way to keep up with the speed of the customer.” For Lamb, that includes “private offers, 1:1 replenishment campaigns, product carousels, and category affinity series to cross channel onboarding journeys.” It also means with different campaigns and individualized elements “it all needs to be running behind the scenes.”

Pay close attention to email and text

Lamb said he loves BlueCore for email and Attentive for SMS. “Both offer robust automated touchpoints and journeys that continue to surprise and delight the customer.” A glance at Bluecore‘s site, they specialize in working with retailers hoping to connect with shoppers. Interestingly enough, Attentive‘s offerings seem to be targeting company’s concerned with online revenue generated from e-commerce brands.

So does marketing automation make you more efficient overall? Not necessarily. Like everything else in business, it’s a matter of how you use the tools. For Lamb, crucial elements include identifying valuable touchpoints (abandon cart, welcome) to automate, prioritize and go from there. As he describes it, you chip away at the larger project and create a way for everything else to run more smoothly.

Make it a group effort

Those of us in creative careers loathe the notion of any project being edited by committee, sometimes it’s a helpful approach. Before you start automating, meet with all team members to discuss pain points. It’s also important to reassure them automating workflows doesn’t mean their contributions are less valuable, but these tools give them a greater grasp overall of data and connections. While you’re at it, consider creating a wireframe of what works and which parts of your process need support. Keep referring back to the original wireframes or outlines to see which parts of the automation process are working and tweak as and when needed.

Tasks to automate

According to Lamb, “nearly everything outside of customer service can be automated as long as you leverage customer data.” As you set up your own marketing automation plan, try to find ways to interconnect the data you extract so it serves all your purposes (or as many as possible) simultaneously.

Some tasks to consider automating especially if your business has heavy e-commerce, shopping, or inventory based component include:

  • Welcome series (real-time)
  • Abandon Series
  • Browse Abandon
  • Search Abandon
  • Post-Purchase
  • Transactional
  • Markdowns/Low Inventory
  • New Arrivals
  • Best Sellers
  • Cross-Sell / Up-Sell
  • Reactivation
  • Birthday/Anniversary
  • Social Proof/UGC
  • Product return
  • Leave a review

About the author

Rachel Weingarten

Rachel is an experienced freelance content creator, content strategist, writer and copywriter, and author of three award-winning nonfiction books. She specializes in business and style and the business of style.

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