The concept of marketing automation is a relatively new phenomenon. A quick look at Google Trends data reveals that search volume for “marketing automation” has ramped up rapidly since 2012. It has become one of the top buzzwords in our industry, but just what does marketing automation mean?

We recently posted a position for a marketing automation manager to join the team here at Mason Digital. We laid out the skills and experience we were looking for in the job description. Unfortunately, most of the resumes and cover letters from people claiming to be qualified didn’t have any of the skills we needed. Turns out, even among us marketers, there’s a lot of confusion as to what marketing automation means.

These days, most digital advertising could potentially be considered “automated.” We’re not placing a full-page ad to run within a special section of a weekly magazine. Instead, we’re relying on advertising platforms to run our ads to specific users or on pages that contain relevant content. This type of advertising is certainly more automated than the ad units placed on radio or television. But this isn’t what digital marketing professionals mean by marketing automation. We’re referring to very powerful software systems that allow us to directly market to prospects and customers on an individual basis based on their interests and actions. These systems include Hubspot, Pardot, Marketo, and SharpSpring, to name a few.

In general, the term “automation” has a negative connotation for many people. There are concerns that our ability to use machine learning and artificial intelligence to automate tasks currently performed by humans will lead to a loss of jobs. In my experience, marketing automation is just the opposite. Setting up and maintaining effective marketing automation campaigns requires a large amount of human intervention and expertise.

When you hear the term “automation” you might think it’s synonymous with “automatic.” In reality, marketing automation takes a lot of strategic implementation across many different digital marketing disciplines. It’s important to start with a plan that outlines how different communication and content will be delivered to specific audiences based on the pain points they acknowledge and show an interest in. But that’s just the beginning.

Effective marketing automation requires a team or possibly an extremely ambitious individual who can deliver the following elements:

  • Programming of workflows or automation tracks within the software
  • Copywriting emails, social media posts, webpages, and other communications
  • Developing content that addresses different audience pain points at different stages throughout the buying journey
  • Designing and programming emails, landing pages, and forms
  • Collecting, transforming, and analyzing the data to learn and optimize performance over time

I hope this doesn’t seem overwhelming because marketing automation is becoming increasingly important. It provides the ability to personalize communications and offers which can be much more effective than more general advertising campaigns. It allows marketers to connect their products’ features and benefits with a prospect’s needs. In addition, it creates a plethora of data that can be used to learn what works best through ongoing experiments.

Just like any marketing technique, marketing automation is not a silver bullet and it isn’t right for every product or service. It works best for companies that currently manage their customers and prospects using a CRM like Salesforce.com or Microsoft Dynamics. The software solutions mentioned above can all work as an add-on to these systems. Further, many of these marketing automation platforms are also developing CRM solutions in order to streamline these activities.

Also, this technique works best for products and services that have a long buying cycle. Typically, these are B2B purchases, although some high-priced consumer goods like automobiles are ideal for marketing automation as well. Consumers decide which car or truck to buy for many different reasons. It could be safety, performance, technology, price, style, or brand perception. With marketing automation, you could learn what is most important to each potential customer and only send information they’re interested in. This gives the brand owner the ability to position their product in many different ways at the same time – Samantha learns how safe the car is, Bill learns about the intuitive touchscreen interface, and Mary finds out how much she can save compared to other car manufacturers.

Marketing automation also provides an excellent opportunity for companies that are looking to upsell or cross-sell their current customers. The easiest way to increase sales is to sell more things to the people who already enjoy doing business with you. If you don’t have a marketing strategy for this important audience, you’re missing a huge opportunity.

The capabilities for personalized marketing messages through automation will continue to evolve and become more effective. Marketing automation has become a buzzword in our industry because it works. Well, that and the fact that it sounds pretty cool and futuristic.

Originally published by the Rochester Business Journal