In the dark ages of marketing, a marketer could broadly target an audience by choosing to run an ad in a topic-specific magazine, sending a postcard to a particular zip code, or running a television ad at a particular time next to a particular show.
It was hard to guess exactly who would or wouldn’t see the marketing message. It was even harder to know what consumers did with that message once they received it. Focus groups might help, “mention this ad for a discount” language might improve tracking, but overall, marketing was a job that was two parts art for every one part science.
That was then. Today’s marketing has gotten far more precise. Companies like Google and Facebook have earned their billions by giving marketers a chance to target increasingly precise audiences and get razor-sharp insights on their results. Despite the precision that’s available to marketers today, however, too many businesses are still marketing their products and services as if we’re still in the dark ages. These are the businesses that still don’t understand marketing automation.
What is Marketing Automation?
What if your email list could tell you which list members were ready to buy a product and which members still needed more information? What if you could easily differentiate between these two groups, create different marketing messages for each of them, and walk both of them step-by-step through the sales process based upon their different needs? What if upselling customers who had already bought a product was an automatic process?
Best of all, what if you could set up all of these different marketing messages at the very beginning of an email campaign, press “go”, and not have to think about it again?
That is essentially what marketing automation does for your marketing department. By tailoring specific marketing messages to specific subscribers, fans, or followers, marketing automation processes allow companies to create more effective campaigns that boost ROI. A successful marketing automation process will make recipients more purchase-ready, increase conversion rates, and reduce unsubscribes.
What a Marketing Automation Process Looks Like in Practice
Here’s how most business owners approach their email list:
John Doe has an email list of 10,000 subscribers. For Week 1, he sends out a message to his whole list that says, “Widgets are 50% off this month!” For Week 2, he sends out another blast to the 10,000 that says, “Don’t forget — get a 50% discount on widgets this month.” For Week 3, he sends out a third email that says, “Only two weeks left to get your 50% discount on widgets!” By Week 4, John’s list has dwindled down to 8,000 subscribers because everyone is tired of hearing about the 50 percent-off discount and people are unsubscribing in droves.
Here’s how a marketing automation process would approach the same email list:
For Week 1, John sends out an email that says, “Free ebook download on our widgets.” When 1,500 out of his 10,000 subscribers download the ebook, another email goes out just to those people a few days later that says, “Did you know our widgets are 50% off this month?” Out of the 1,500 people who get that email, 500 clickthrough from the email to the widget page on John’s website. Of the 500, 100 make a widget purchase while 400 do not. One week later, a third email goes to the 100 that says, “Buy another widget and get free shipping!” while an email to the 400 that says, “Don’t forget to take advantage of our 50% off sale.”
Get the idea?
This second way of using an email list is an example of a marketing automation process. It is far more efficient and effective than the repetitive email blasts most companies send to their entire email lists.
“Where’s the ‘automation’ in that?” you ask. “It sounds like a lot more work instead of a lot less.”
Well, my friend, that’s where marketing automation software comes into play.
What Marketing Automation Software Is and How It Works
There are plenty of choices when it comes to marketing automation software; for the sake of example, the one we’ll focus on here is Marketo. (Other marketing automation software options include companies like HubSpot, ActOn, and MagicLogix.) Like other marketing automation tools, Marketo’s clients can set up repetitive marketing tasks by using intuitive, drag-and-drop tools to create rules related to their email campaigns. For example, a Marketo client can send an email blast that comes attached with a rule that says, “Send a reminder email after three days to everyone who didn’t open the email the first time,” or a rule that says “Send out email #2 to everyone who clicks on this link in the first email.” All the emails can be set up in advance; the marketing automation software does the rest.
It’s also easy to segment a master email list into “smart lists.” An example of a smart list would be a list of all your subscribers who live in Massachusetts and visited your website within the last ten days. An email campaign could then be customized just for this smart list, such as with a message about an upcoming event in Boston. This ability to precisely customize emails increases email open rates and reduces unsubscribes.
How Content Management Systems Support Marketing Automation
Besides investing in marketing automation software like Marketo, business owners should also be taking advantage of marketing automation tools for content management systems (CMSs) that either complement the marketing automation software the company is already using or add additional marketing automation data.
WordPress, Joomla, Magento, and Drupal all offer excellent tools, many of them free, that enable easy communication between the website and most popular marketing automation software. For example, Marketo Munchkin, a module designed for Drupal, can create data associated with each lead capture and communicate that data to the user’s Marketo account. Using CMS extensions and plugins in this way, marketing automation software becomes even more robust and comprehensive.
What if you don’t have the budget for an expensive service like HubSpot or Marketo? Although you might have to take some of the “automatic” out of your marketing automation process, WordPress is a platform with tons of free tools that enable you to learn more about your visitors and thereby make your marketing processes easier. These free plugins aren’t going to make up for using marketing automation software, but they will definitely make marketing more precise for the small business that doesn’t have the budget for premium services.
Conclusion: Don’t Waste Your Customer Data
Marketing automation enables you to boost your ROI and boost revenue while respecting the limited attention span of your audience. Ideally, you should use a platform like Marketo or HubSpot to do most of the heavy lifting of marketing automation for you and integrate that platform with your existing CMS. However, even if you don’t have the budget for software like Marketo, you can still do a lot of automation just by taking advantage of tools, both free and premium, for CMSs like WordPress, Joomla, Magento, and Drupal. Regardless of what route you choose, do start experimenting with marketing automation processes and stop wasting your time with email campaigns and lead capture campaigns that aren’t carefully targeted.