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 to increase form submission rates (Tips from a Pro)

How do you sell someone a contract-until-death?*

Let me rephrase that, how do you get people interested in a product that is tough to sell quickly, needs some thought process and a lot of trust?

According to Regis Hadiaris, a “Pursuer of WOW” and Director of Internet Marketing at Quicken Loans, one way is to learn what makes them tick, and specifically what makes them click.

In his talk on the 14 secrets to improve conversion rates presented to the Social Media Breakfast Twin Ports group last Friday. Hadiaris, delved into the science of how Quicken Loans converts its thousands of daily visitors into leads, and eventually customers.

Saying that the team of marketers at @QuickenLoans likes to experiment is an understatement. (Tweet this)

Learn faster than the competition

Similar to lean start-up principles, Hadiaris believes experimenting and learning faster than your competition can help you get ahead in your niche.

Closing the feedback loop is something that proponents of lean start-up methodology, like Steve Blak and Eric Ries, often talk about as a  vital part of success for start-ups.

Bloggers should embrace a spirit of experimentation

Now Regis Hadiaris has a whole team of people he works with to churn the rates of conversions at Quicken Loans, but even a single blogger doing things on the side can learn a few conversion tactics from their techniques. I was particularly fascinated by one of the secrets that Hadiaris shared with the group that focused on the form, a tool that is essentially the gatekeeper to conversions.

Here are some tips that Hadiaris shared that I think bloggers and business can use to increase their form submission rates.

Increase form conversion on blog

  • Quicken loans submission formHeadlines grab attention, so put something more up there than “Please fill in this form”. From changing their headlines, the team at Quicken where able to close more visitors into leads.
  • Color and for that matter images matter, in running tests at Quicken Loans, they learned that their conversions changed when they changed the color of the form from tan to blue, and adding images affected their forms negatively. While this is not going to be the same for every industry it it still worth experimenting with different colors and images to see how it affects your numbers.
  • The order of the questions in a form go from general questions to very specific personal identifier type questions, this has also changed their conversions. If you have a form with several fields don’t start by asking for e-mail information right away.
  • Click-through rates increased by more than half when the team changed text in the submit button from “Get rates” to “Submit”
  • Although recently featured logos did not impact the amount of leads that submitted the form, it did affect the lead to close ratio because it made the company seem more credible.

Start testing your form fields

The main theme that was woven through the presentation was to test, test, and test again. All the concepts Hadiaris covered were learned from getting out and testing theories, seeing which ones worked, which ones did not and moving on.

If you put up a call-to-action that does not convert your visitors then you need to go back and revisit why it’s not working and try and change one thing about the item (also known as multivariate testing).

The faster you learn the sooner you can get ahead of the pack.

*The word “mortgage” is derived from a french term meaning “death pledge”, i.e. the pledge ends (dies) when either the obligation is fulfilled or the property is taken through foreclosure.

Daisy Quaker is a freelance internet marketing consultant, specializing in social media strategy, content marketing, e-mail marketing and internet marketing strategy. In her spare time she writes a personal style blog. Find her on <Twitter and Google+ and tell her what strategies work for your business.