What is Marketing Automation? How to Use It, and Best Practices

Last year, MailChimp launched free marketing automation. Companies like HubSpot have become household names in the digital marketing space. Marketing Automation has been widely embraced and accepted as a crucial part of executing digital marketing strategy. I’ve worked as part of an agency selling marketing automation, and in-house deploying marketing automation (and re-deploying when we switched platforms). It’s changed how I execute digital marketing strategies and used correctly, marketing automation can make your organization’s digital efforts scalable, personalized and more effective.

So what is email marketing automation?

marketing automation - robot
Photo by Alex Knight on Unsplash

Marketing Automation is a system of creating automated functions for marketing tasks that is aimed at making your marketing more efficient. With marketing automation you can send automated series of emails that are relevant to your audience, create functions such as adding members to a list when they take the desired action and building marketing campaigns tied to goals that will weight the readiness of your leads to talk to sales. Done well, marketing automation can help scale your marketing. DOne poorly, it’s yet another expensive tool in your toolbox.

There are a lot of use cases where marketing automation is effective, but a few common ones include:

  1. Nurturing new Prospects to become customers
  2. Strengthening your relationship with new customers and your brand
  3. Re-engaging with current customers for retention, cross-sell or up-sell
  4. Disengaged subscribers to get them to reconnect with your business
  5. Moving customers from one group to another based on their activity
  6. Weighting the sales-readiness of your lead pool
  7. Building robust profiles of your leads from progressive web forms
  8. Create smarter calls-to-action and offers based on user interests
  9. Mapping the customer journey from end-to-end using a CRM (Customer Relationship Management Software)

Why Marketing Automation Makes Your Marketing Efforts More Effective

Personalized Communication

Personalization is increasingly important in building connections with your audience. Marketing Automation allows you to segment your audience and create a user experience that matches their needs and expectations. You can, for example, build a campaign based on the end-users role, the offer the user responded to, how they first found your content, and the list goes on… Because of the level of personalization, it offers you can create an experience, content, and journey that matches with your audience’s needs.

Key takeaway: When you’re able to send information that is relevant to them, your audience is more receptive to your message and thus it creates a better relationship/affinity with your brand.

Less Time Spent Day-to-Day

Another element I love about marketing automation is that even though it may take a while to set up upfront, once your campaigns are running, it becomes a lot less time-consuming to manage your campaigns so you can focus more on optimization, to improve performance.

Scalable Marketing Campaigns

Marketing Automation can be built for contacts of 1500 subscribers to over 150,000 subscribers the list size does not hurt the performance (although the bigger your list is the more segmentation is critical). Since each contact will receive an email from your company based on when they signed up, which offer drew them in, and where they are at on the buying process, each user has a customized experience that caters to them. It’s scalable and effective for different organizations and industries.

Improving overall marketing efficiency

marketing automation efficiency
Photo by Alex Knight on Unsplash

If your marketing team works with a sales team, or if you run a compelling offer that helps convert lukewarm leads into buying customers, marketing automation will help you tie these two elements together through lead-scoring. Once you have set up a method of scoring leads it can help your team pass leads to sales that have been primed for the conversation or trigger smarter offers to get your customer to buy.

How to deploy Marketing Automation

The following steps give you a good starting point if you are considering building your marketing automation program.

  1. Align your marketing strategy, target customer, goals, and tactics

Marketing automation platforms are tools. They can’t make up for a weak or ill-defined strategy. Without a strategy, you could end up with a lackluster campaign that takes a lot of effort to get off the ground but doesn’t deliver.

While we’re at it, get an understanding of inbound marketing. This is a topic that has been pretty well-covered so I won’t go into details here, but suffice to say, it’s pretty important that you buy into the approach.

2. Assign your marketing automation lead

If you’re building your marketing engine in-house, you’ll want someone whose job it will be to know the ins and outs of your platform and what it can do. Today’s marketing automation platforms are complex engines that require a little training/learning curve. SO think beyond the price tag of the software itself to having a resource that will maintain the engine and champion the creation of content that improves performance.

3. Choose the right platform

Choose a good platform that allows you to build and scale your campaigns. I’ve worked in a few environments, and Mailchimp’s solution is free but it’s now become the cost of entry for an email marketing provider. HubSpot is the gold standard in being the first software (in my experience) to build a platform for automation that is user-friendly and powerful. There are plenty others since then that have made a dent in the market and cost considerably less.

Some platforms I like:

HubSpot: By far the most robust and user-friendly automation platform available. Also the most expensive. I liken it to the Ferrari of Marketing Automation platforms. It may be missing some backend features, but HubSpot is built for marketers, not IT/web devs. Its functionality is very intuitive and easy to use. However, you really need a full time or at least pastime person to really leverage the most out of HubSpot’s platform.

Mailchimp: I’d recommend Mailchimp if you’re already using the platform because it’s free. However , t does not offer the robustness that HubSpot would offer. It is simply for email marketing campaigns and landing pages.

4. Build your pool of leads and contacts

You need to have a website that generates traffic and has built a small list of at least 1K leads. It may work to build marketing automation campaigns as you build your list, but you need to have web traffic and an ad budget to get people to sign up and get emails from your  company. Marketing automation’s effectiveness hinges on the quality of your email list.

If you have an old email list that you would like to run a marketing automation campaign on, read my post on re-engaging old email lists.

5. Build and promote your offer

You need a good offer to get leads to your lists. This may include exclusive content, eBooks, or a sample of your products. Either way there has to be a compelling reason why people outside your company should sign up to your list. This requires the most work in aligning your buyer personas, building a content strategy (what are your buyers interested in, what will get them to sign up, what would they want to receive and how frequently, what are their preferred channels of communication).

6. Optimize your ongoing campaigns

Once your campaigns are built, you need to come back and continuously refine and tweak them to improve performance. This is a critical step because often your subject lines or offers promoting your content can improve through incremental tweaks. It’s also important to study the performance of the campaign overall to catch areas where customers drop off or email that have low opens and click-through.

Best Practices for deploying a kick-ass automated marketing machine

In the last five years of building and running marketing automation campaigns, I’ve come across a few scenarios of “Wish I’d known that”.

Get buy-in for your marketing automation program (especially if you have a sales team)

The true beauty is when Marketing and Sales can work in tandem. Marketing automation ion is not just customer-facing it allows you to build automation that can alert your sales team when a lead is ready to be contacted. This can help generate better leads for sales follow-up. It’s also good to tap your sales team for content that your leads are interested in, what questions do they get the most when talking about your service? What problem does your product/service solve? These can all be good clues on what type of content to create.

Segment your lists and who you are targeting

Marketing Automation is most effective when it’s personalized, and while you don’t need to get down to the level of sending 1-1 emails, you can segment your lists based on buyer profiles, what their interest are. This will allow you to give relevant information to the people that are about the topic, or address the challenges of your buyers specifically. Specificity in reaching the right customers/lists is key.

Commit to creating good content (that people want to subscribe to)

marketing automation best practices-good content
Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash

What position does your content fill in the buyer’s journey? What are you uniquely qualified to talk about? These are all important pieces to think about when trying to come up with good content. The right content might be boring to 75% of the audience but interesting to 25% that is I your target audience, and even among that pool some types of content will resonate better with some instead of others. Think beyond the offer to what blog posts can you create that would incentivize people to sign up for the list. What do people want to receive when they sign up for your list?

Promote good content that people want to subscribe to

Once you’ve created your content and a roadmap for distributing it, you will need to spend time promoting it including but not limited to outreach other industry blogs and publishers, and potentially running ads or using it in sales outreach. Look at which pieces of your guide or eBook can be broken up into standalone blog posts or bite-sized chunks of video.

Ask for help

No man is an island.

help with marketing automation
Photo by Ishan @seefromthesky on Unsplash

You don’t have to go at it alone. Often times switching to a marketing automation platrform is a lot of work. The best way to make it successful project is to educate your marketing team, stakeholders, and leadership on the value so you can get additional resources to help you build and sustain your campaigns and the platform.

How I brought back an old email list back from the dead to 40% open rate


Building an email list is a lot of work. Work that you wouldn’t abandon, right? But sometimes, companies go through changes, people leave, other people come in and a treasured list gathers dust. Or worse an email list you haven’t been giving enough love to, starts to withdraw with low opens and CTRs. Do you toss the list and start over?

Abandoned email marketing list

Building an email list takes a lot of time and effort, if people chose to hear from you at some point, why not try and rebuild the connection so you can market to them again?

HubSpot recently talked about how they scrapped an entire list of 250K email subscribers because contacts had technically opted in but were not engaged with their emails.

HubSpot Unsubscribed Emails

Honestly, it’s hard to let go of a sizeable list of people who did show interest in joining the list at some point but have since been ignored. And in some cases, your boss may look at you like you are crazy for doing so. But there is a solution that can help you re-connect and meet your boss halfway.

Here’s what I did when I came across a list of 20,000 subscribers, generated over the course of five plus years but had since been untouched for the last two years.

So, your email marketing list is old or unengaged

Industry stats point to email lists deteriorating a t a rate of 22.5% each year from abandoned email addresses to opting out of email lists.

To test out how healthy the list was, I broke up the list into segments of 2000 subscribers each.

Step 1: Break the list up into segments

Rather than send a spray and blast email to the entire list by breaking up the list you can test different messages, and send times. This will help you see what messages and times work, but also give you a chance to refine the message. For simplicity I opted for one send per segment spread out over the course of 3 months.

Emailing to an old list - Puzzled man

Dude, how did you get my email?

The biggest fear with old lists is SPAM, which hurts your email deliverability, and hurts the relationship you could have with potential customers (also the guilt of being an evil SPAMMY marketer).

Step 2: Reintroduce yourself and give subscribers an obvious way to get out

Your first email re-introduction email will need to do a lot of heavy lifting to avoid your biggest fears coming true.

I created an email that reintroduced the company, talked about the new direction we were taking and gave subscribers a chance to unsubscribe. I went through a lot of refinement and tweaking to make it interesting, relevant, and personable. My goal was for the recipients to understand why I was emailing them, and to give them a chance to leave. I also explained what they could expect if they stayed.

The unsubscribe button was big and obvious and referenced twice in the email.

The goal is to reach people who want to hear from you’re a part with those that do not. It was part apology, part-let’s-try-this-again, part it’s-ok-if-you-would-rather-not-be-friends.

There were six email sends (thus far); here is the average sum of all the sends:

  • 0.19% SPAM complaint rate (fairly high for an active list, but considering it was an old list…)
  • 0.66% unsubscribe rate
  • 10% open rate
  • 2.4% Click rate (Although the only link prominent link was to unsubscribe so I was not tracking this too closely)

Of those that opened a good percentage of them clicked on the links to the new website.

Takeaway: 5 questions your reintroduction email should answer

  • Who are you?
  • Why should I open your email?
  • Why am I receiving this?
  • Why should I care/give you the time of day?
  • How do I stop hearing from you, if I want to?

Test subject lines, or send times and/or refine the message. I sent it to the first list during the conventional email send time Tuesday 9 AM, but tested the next 3 batches during other send times to see which times fared the best overall.

Step 3: Respect unsubscribes and the email recipients that did not open.

The list was surprisingly healthy with a 96.86% delivery rate, and a relatively low SPAM complaint count (20 complaints from a total of 10,020 successful deliveries).

Based on the performance of the campaign, I moved only the contacts that opened the email and did not unsubscribe into a new email list. For every 2000 emails ends, I received 10% of contacts that were open to sticking around.

If a subscriber did not open the email I added them to a backburner list of contacts that I plan to reach two more times (maybe even throw a Facebook targeted campaign in the mix) before I give up.

Those that unsubscribed were permanently removed from the list, never to be seen again.

Takeaway: Reward your subscribers with helpful, useful emails

Instead of sending them summary of your blog posts, why not create emails that have content only they can get? Focus on building the habit of rewarding the recipients for opening your emails with super helpful information.

Step 4: Nurture the people who stuck around (Don’t be boring)

I started the first few email sends by sending helpful information. The emails received a 40% open rate.

Email Campaign Metrics form an Old list

Granted it’s from a list of people who had opened my first email, it still is pretty good given the circumstances.

I also include a very descriptive explanation of why he/she is receiving the email at the bottom of each email send.


Done well, you can bring an old or disengaged email list back from the dead

Building an email marketing list takes a lot of time and resources. Keeping it healthy can have a phenomenal impact on your email metrics and ROI. You can use these tactics for old email lists or for email lists you’ve been marketing to whose open rate has dropped considerably.

Image credit: Life of Pix, and Bark


Daisy is an Inbound Marketer with a love for HubSpot, email marketing, content marketing, SEO and PPC. She helps clients build and execute HubSpot Marketing Strategies. She also makes a mean curry.

When nothing seems to help

When I was in high school I came across this quote posted on a bulletin board. I crossed it several times a week and it stuck with me.

“When nothing seems to help, I go and look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock, perhaps a hundred times without a single crack in sight.

Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that last
blow that did it, but all that had gone before.”

-Jacob Riis

Ironically, this is also the mantra for San Antonio Spurs, my favorite NBA team.

The key question your product or blog must answer to guarantee success

It’s brilliant.

When I first heard about Songza, I thought, “Oh yay, yet another music streaming service.”

I already had Pandora, Last.fm, and sometimes Spotify on my list not to mention iTunes radio here and there. But after using Songza in just one day, I fell in love. I haven’t looked back since.

Marketing Blog

Here’s what the music streaming service does really well, and what we as marketers, entrepreneurs, and app developers need to keep in mind while conducting market research, building or marketing our products or services.

Continue reading “The key question your product or blog must answer to guarantee success”