Marketing Automation: What is It and (How) Should You Use It?

If you’re a marketing professional on even the slightest of job hunts, you’ve likely bumped into the requirement of marketing automation as a skill set in a job description. While you may not have used the software, you’ve likely created an ideal customer journey from awareness to purchase or at the very least, noticed the path your customers take. Either way, all marketing professionals regardless of industry or position should be aware of the variety of functions as well as the pros and cons of using software to automate certain marketing functions.

HubSpot defines marketing automation as the software that exists with the goal of automating marketing actions. Many marketing departments have to automate repetitive tasks such as emails, social media, and other website actions. The technology of marketing automation makes these tasks easier.

Software varies wildly in complexity and price for the purpose of marketing automation. Many platforms also provide customer relationship management (CRM) in addition to automation features. Price is probably the largest deterrent to many small or medium sized businesses when considering implementing marketing automation strategies. Platforms like Eloqua, Marketo, Pardot, and HubSpot can run companies anywhere from $1,000 per month all the way up to $4,000 per month and beyond. Other peripheral companies are beginning to identify this need as a concurrent revenue stream, such as MailChimp, who recently added marketing automation to its suite of offerings.

Curious marketers need to understand that marketing automation is intended to make the most of their time in the middle of the marketing funnel. It does not, however, automate the entire marketing process and should not be seen as a replacement for people or implementation of human-initiated tactics. Marketing professionals still need to be actively creating lead generation offers and promoting their services/goods beyond just those who have actively opted into receiving communications. They also need to be presenting their brand as alive and tangible, not robotic and absent.

It also should be understood that marketers will need to have a clear understanding of the flow and nurturing of their current marketing leads. Time needs to be spent not only understanding how to set up a lead and nurture workflow within a software system but also what that entire flow is – both in reality, and in a perfect world – for their ideal customers. This alone is an understated skill that many managers may overlook in a new hire or current marketing professional.

Some example of nurturing workflows could include:

  • Personal: reaching out to prospects using the information you have on them in your database regarding location, birthday, preferences, affiliations, etc.
  • Purchase oriented: providing information on new products, promotions, updates, or services based on previous purchases.
  • Interest related: serving information to prospects based on triggered behaviors from social media, web traffic analysis, or abandoned carts.
  • Professionally related: provide information to help prospects better do their jobs

What marketers need to be on the lookout for is that their marketing automation efforts, meant to engage users at scale, are not coming off robotic or, well, creepy. Timing is everything when assessing appropriate triggers and follow-ups. We’re looking to be helpful but not stalkerish or pushy.

Marketing automation used in the appropriate way can provide prospective customers with the right information at the right time and allow marketers to be in more than one place at a time. But careful thought needs to be applied to ensure that automated actions provide the right tone and do not further remove the brand from the conversations they’re trying to initiate.

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