If asked for a definition, I would say:
Marketing Automation is the art and science of automatically managing the targeting, timing, and content of your outbound marketing messages.
Let's look at why.
The Changing Buyer
First, let’s look at our buyers. Over the last decade, their ability to self-educate and manage their own buying processes has increased astronomically. Whether it is through vendor websites, analyst websites, social media, or peer reviews, buyers can acquire the information that they need in order to move towards a purchase decision.
However this transition in our buyers has meant that we as marketing organizations need to work with our buyers differently than we did previously. If we hope to facilitate their buying process, and guide them to consider, prefer, and select the products and services we are offering, we need to provide them with the precise information they need as part of their buying process.
The most critical factor is relevance. If we are able to deliver information that is relevant to the buyer’s role in the buying process, their stage as a buyer, their level of interest, and the areas of decision making of interest to them, we will establish a connection, and our message will get through. If not, our message will be lost in the clutter.
So where does marketing automation come in?
If you look at what is required, we need to first understand each of our prospective buyers individually, then we need to provide a message to them that has ideal timing and content based on their interests and stage in the buying process. This level of precision on targeting, timing, and content is nearly impossible without having a solid underlying platform to work from. The art of marketing, when it comes to creating persuasive, compelling copy, great offers, and elegant positioning cannot be automated, and likely won’t be in our lifetimes. However delivering the right selection of those messages to the right person at the right time is something that can no longer be done without automation.
Marketing Automation and Timing
Marketing automation gives us the ability to work on the exact timeframe of the buyer. This is best understood in the context of marketing initiatives like downloadable free trials. In downloading a free trial, the buyer has indicated that, at that exact moment in time, they are at the stage of their buying process where spending time with a trial is their most appropriate use of time. Your communications, as a marketer, need to reflect this buyer timing in order to best connect with this buyer.
Without automation, if a marketer is to attempt this with batch communications, the more closely one tries to align with the buyer’s timing, the smaller and smaller your batches must become, and the larger your workload as a marketer grows. Only through automation can a marketer effectively deliver a message on day 1, day 15, day 30, and day 90 to each individual prospective buyer.
Marketing Automation and Personalization
As one communicates with prospective buyers, each communication should ideally contain content that is precisely in line with their interests. The best way to do this is with dynamic content that automatically matches content to their interests. However, most prospective buyers will not explicitly declare their interests. If they do, the data is likely to be inaccurate. Marketing automation, by letting you tie web activity into buyer insight allows you to understand buyer interests based on what they do, not what they say.
On top of this foundation of buyer understanding, marketing automation gives you a platform from which to have that insight automatically personalize outbound content. Manual processes to personalize the content would quickly prove impossible, and the impact of not personalizing the content is a significant decrease in its relevance to the buyer.
Personalization and the Sender
However, the content itself is not the only aspect of personalization that impacts the buyer’s likelihood of engaging. Who it comes from is equally important. Recipients are 30% more likely, in most cases, to interact with content if it comes from a known person, rather than from a company. A marketing automation system can automatically have each communications come from the appropriate member of your sales team, building the relationship while increasing the response rate. To send your communications on behalf of 5 or 10 sales people might be possible if done manually, but to send on behalf of 50 or 100 requires automation.
Marketing Automation and Sales
As buyer progress through their own buying processes, they eventually reach the point when they would be willing to talk with someone in your sales team about pricing, contracts, or other elements of the purchase process. Knowing when they have reached this stage involves understanding their digital body language. Signs of buying activity can be seen and with the appropriate lead scoring algorithm, sales ready leads can be identified and passed to sales.
Whereas this analysis of leads has in the past been done manually or with spreadsheets, the need to identify and follow up with leads when they are most ready means that it must be done quickly. Using automation allows marketing teams to objectively and automatically score the leads in their marketing funnel in real time, identifying those that are sales ready and those that are not. Those that are not yet ready can be kept warm over time through lead nurturing, again a process that automation greatly facilitates.
The New Importance of Data
What we’re seeing in the above discussion is a shift away from batch communications that are not highly differentiated to true one-to-one personalization. However, as we do this, and we have marketing automation platforms, rather than people looking at the data to make decisions, the importance of data quality takes on a new priority.
Data, in order to be used by rules for personalization of content, segmentation of lists, and scoring and routing of leads, needs to be clean and consistent. Marketing teams are being tasked with ensuring this consistency is maintained at all times, even though marketing data may be touched by web forms, list uploads, CRM synchronizations, or sales input. The only way to consistently and constantly maintain a clean and standardized set of data is to use automation to manage marketing data quality in-line within the marketing database.
What Can’t be Automated?
Marketing remains as much art as it ever has been, even as the new buyer requires elements of science in automating how the targeting, timing, and content of a message is delivered. Compelling offers, captivating visuals, great positioning, and elegant copy are as difficult as ever to create. Likewise, the understanding of market segments, buyer journeys, stages of a buying process, and what moves a buyer along their buying process still differentiate excellent marketers from merely good marketers.
However, as today’s marketers shift from outbound messaging to understanding a buying process and facilitating it, they can only do so if enabled with a platform that automates the conversations, timing, and personalization needed. That is where marketing automation comes in.