Marketing automation - making new sense of an old concept

March 03, 2019

Excerpt from 'How to Wrestle an Octopus: an agency account manager's guide to pretty much everything'. Available now!
What is ‘marketing automation’?

According to one of the world’s leading marketing automation platforms, Marketo (, ‘marketing automation’ helps marketers to: “...streamline their lead generation, segmentation, lead nurturing and lead scoring, customer lifecycle marketing, cross-sell and up-sell, customer retention, and marketing ROI measurement.

Marketing automation encompasses marketing campaigns across all channels — from direct mail and phone campaigns to online, social, and mobile initiatives.

Some of these practices are possible at small volumes without software, but technology becomes essential with any scale and with the increasing number of channels marketers are required to manage. In particular, these processes all require:

  • A central marketing database. A place for all your marketing data, including detailed prospect and customer interactions and behaviours, so you can segment and target the right message to each customer. Think of this as the ‘system of record’ for all your marketing information.
  • An engagement marketing engine. An environment for the creation, management and automation of marketing processes and conversations across online and offline channels. Think of this as the ‘orchestra conductor’ for your customer interactions.
  • An analytics engine. A way to test, measure and optimise marketing ROI and impact on revenue. Think of this as the place you go to understand what worked, what didn’t, and where you can improve.”

Marketing automation software (such as Marketo) helps to bring these three components together in one system.

Another basic definition is: ‘marketing automation tools are designed to make something happen if something else happens’. As someone who may be required to facilitate a marketing automation project, you get to be the one who decides what those ‘things’ are, when they happen, and which specific things you should be implementing for your client.

Examples of marketing automation software:

  • Marketo.
  • HubSpot.
  • Pardot.
  • ActiveCampaign.
  • Integrated Marketing Portal.
  • Autopilot.
  • Wishpond.  
Is marketing automation the same as ‘inbound marketing’?

Marketing automation is closely aligned to the term ‘inbound marketing’, which is a technique for drawing customers to products and services via content marketing strategies, social media marketing, and SEO (search engine optimisation).

In the ‘early days’ of marketing automation (mid-to-late 2000s), systems focused solely on email marketing automation, but these days the term refers to a broad range of channel automation and analytics tools for monitoring various types of marketing – especially inbound marketing.

Is marketing automation the same as ‘CRM’?

Marketing automation is a subset of CRM (customer relationship management), which broadly focuses on the definition, segmentation, scheduling, and tracking of marketing campaigns. The use of marketing automation replaces high-touch, repetitive manual processes, and makes new processes possible.

Components of marketing automation
  • Social media automation. This uses tools that automate posting, the mixing of content, and engagement on a wide range of social media channels.
  • Email marketing. The sending of emails when, and if, certain behaviours happen (or don’t happen), without having to do it manually.
  • Website tracking. Marketing automation software provides a tracking code which can be added to your client’s website and landing pages. The tracking code documents the interactions that your client’s prospects and customers take on their website and within their eDMs. Once the new lead has given you their email address, the software then connects all of their previous interactions with your client.
  • Automated lead scoring. Marketing automation tools allow you to compile interactions with your client’s audience, from a wide source of locations and services and then track a person’s engagement with your client from a high level. You can then score the leads, based on how valuable they are, how often they have interacted with your client and their brand(s), and how likely they will be to purchase your client’s products or services.
How does marketing automation work?

Marketing automation moves leads from the top of the marketing funnel through to becoming sales-ready leads at the bottom of the funnel. Prospects are scored, based on their activities, and receive targeted content and messaging, thus nurturing them from their first expression of interest through to clinching the sale.

Marketing automation is commonly used in B2B (business-to-business), B2G (business-to-government), and longer B2C (business-to-consumer) sales cycles.

Tactics can include:

  • Email automation.
  • Nurture marketing.
  • Dynamic forms.
  • Landing pages.
  • Storytelling and content marketing.
  • Data management and segmentation.
  • Behaviour tracking
  • Visitor I.D. and personalisation.
  • SMS and in-app messaging.
  • Lead scoring.
  • Analytics.

Example: marketing automation for event registration
For a typical event, major tasks can include: promoting the event, inviting attendees, confirming their registration, providing reminders, and following up. All of these tasks can be handled with an automated programme.

  • Promotional materials are scheduled to be sent.
  • Registration information (already segmented) can be added to the database.
  • Trigger emails can be sent to say “thank you” immediately after registration.
  • Follow-up can be segmented into (1) attendees; and (2) those who registered, but didn’t attend, sending out different offers for each.
  • Once the automation for an event has been set up, it can be used again for future events.

Example: marketing automation for pre-selling products
If your client has a new digital product that they are about to release, you can set up a marketing automation communication campaign.

  • A landing page is designed specifically for the launch of the new product. The landing page copy, call-to-action, and subscription form are all designed to pre-sell the product before it’s general release.
  • A carefully-planned combination of social media posts and email marketing is created to drive leads to your client’s landing page and tracks the viewer’s behaviours while there.
  • Depending on the actions that the potential customers take in the social media posts, the emails, and on the landing page, you can keep tweaking the pre-sale campaign for the best possible results.

Example: marketing automation for cart abandonment
Abandoned shopping carts are missed sales opportunities. You can use marketing automation to try to capture these lost leads.

  • The marketing automation software is set up to track website visitors.
  • Once a website visitor has submitted their email address (e.g. during the checkout process), you are then able to match their web activity with their email address.
  • If that particular visitor leaves the website without completing their purchase, they will be sent an automated email response, to encourage them to complete their purchase, and give them a special discount or another offer to sweeten the deal.

Example: marketing automation for onboarding
Many software companies now work on a subscription model, and a popular tactic is to offer users a free trial, then encourage them to renew their subscription at a paid rate. This is known as ‘onboarding’ because the nurturing campaigns expand the user’s knowledge of the product over time.

  • A website page (or landing page) is designed to outline how to download and install the free trial of the software.
  • Once the software is installed, and the user’s email address received, the user is then sent a welcome email with helpful hints on how to get started using the product. The email also contains advice on how to seek help if required.
  • The user is then moved into a new segment, which triggers the sending of the next email in the series (to be sent seven days after the first email). The purpose of this email is to encourage the user to integrate the downloaded software with other apps that the user may already use. This is to highlight the software’s power of integration.
Marketing automation 2.0

It has been said that ‘marketing intelligence’ is the next step in marketing automation. By adding tracking codes to social media, email, and web pages, the behaviour of anyone interested in a product or service can be tracked to gain a measure of intent.

This code can track the social media group or thread followed, which link was clicked on in an email, or which search term was used to access a website. This information helps to create a more accurately-targeted response, and the development of a relevant nurturing programme.




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