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.

Get To The Point: How to declutter your e-mail campaign

By Daisy Quaker

This post is part of a series that will get published every Wednesday on E-mail marketing or social media, subscribe to this blog to receive your copy of how to and helpful small business online marketing guidance.

Email Marketing Formatting HTML vs. Plain textIs your e-mail campaign overwhelming?

A few years ago, the novel way of spreading messages was through well formatted structured, edited e-mail, “See how beautiful it looks! Such fun images! So many useful sidebar links!”

It was a welcome change from the bland messages. It allowed marketers to put more information in their direct marketing message in a pretty way so if readers did not like one topic they had other options to choose from. It was also a break from the chunks of texts that had been popular before.

Flash-forward its 2012, inboxes are full, everyone has gotten pretty used to those pretty, structured, content packed e-mails, its nothing new. In fact, it has become overwhelming.  Why, you ask? Read on.

Increasing use of smartphones to read e-mail

Smartphones have grown in popularity and so has their use as a tool for opening e-mails.

If you have a heavily linked images, graphic monster e-mail it will either not display correctly on a smartphone or it will overwhelm the small screen. If subscribers  they really like your content they might save it for later, but if they aren’t that loyal they’ll delete it (I do this a lot).

Too many e-mails

Everyone’s inbox is full of messages to attend to, even personal e-mail take a while to get to because of how many other things going on. So if getting the content is too much work, and I can’t read it while I’m waiting for an appointment or have some down time, why bother?

The Return to a Simpler Time

Why we should all appreciate plain text e-mails

The biggest argument for plain text is that it looks more like a personal message than a heavily edited flyer being delivered to your e-mail inbox. Another reason is that it will display the same no matter what e-mail program you use.
But on the flip side, plain text sucks the fun out of things. You can’t use colors or graphics, and you can’t embed hyperlinks, you must type them out e.g. Istead of saying “Click here” you have to type out https://daisyquaker.com/2012/07/18/why-click-here-can-boost-your-sales/” which comes off as…. well, ugly.

But it’s important to have a plain text version of your e-mail nonetheless incase some subscribers have automatically set their e-mails to open as plain text.

Why HTML E-mails still rock

HTML allows you so much freedom, with images, embedding links, and putting the content into tables. It allows you to separate sections, put text borders and changing background formats. It also allows you to check how many people opened your e-mail, what links were clicked on, and even call to action buttons.

But this freedom can be abused to create monster e-mails that have too many links, images, background colours sidebars, and textboxes. Which  comes off as structured and edited but also highly distracting and impersonal.

So what’s the best way to go about it?

The jury is out on whether to go HTML or Text e-mail route.

But the argument here is to make it simple for your readers to get what you are saying not harder.

The Right Balance to your E-mail Campaign

“Here is Spot. See Spot Run.”

The best e-mails tell one story, and have a few links to other stories that relate to or enhance the message. The monster e-mails try to tell 15 different stories in one e-mail hoping that readers will see it as delivering valuable content. Sometimes they do, but from a customer stand-point, anytime something is too much work to wade through my interest goes down.

My argument is that you should use a lightly edited HTML e-mail campaign:

  • Great message/content
  • Good formatting
  • Minimal use of pictures
  • Minimal use of colours
  • Minimal use of links

It’s the body and meat of your e-mail that matters more to me than how many things you can pile on it. Graphic should enhance the message not distract from it. All that extra stuff the sidebar, the clever links, the “what you missed” starts seeming as distractions, gives a reader a feeling of being overwhelmed and not enough time to go through it all.

A well worded message will outshine any fancy poorly worded message. But a well worded and lightly formatted message is better. So opt for a well-written and lightly formatted message that can be  opened anywhere from smartphones, to desktops.

Note some of the e-mails you respond well to and keep a folder of their layout saved on your computer, that way you can have examples to model your message into.

Simple, easy to read, minimal distractions. Want more? Check out this in-depth and helpful guide by Campaign Monitor on how to design compelling e-mails.

You’re welcome!

Image Credit: Flickr-jonwatson

About: Daisy Quaker is a freelance internet marketing consultant,  specializing in basic web development, social media strategy, content marketing, e-mail marketing and branding strategy, find her on Twitter and tell her what strategies work for your business.

How to Write E-mails That Sell

By Daisy Quaker

This post is part of a series that will get published every Wednesday on E-mail marketing or social media, subscribe to this blog to receive your copy of how to and helpful small business online marketing guidance.

E-mail Maketing Basics-Small Business Internet MarketingIt will take you more than 5 minutes, but it will last you however long you want the campaign to run, and it will get opened and read. If you’re struggling with crafting e-mail for your small business marketing campaign, the buck stops here.

This is Email Marketing 101, basics to get you started in sending out emails that get read.

1. Pick email software

The simplest way to get started is to start on the right foot. Things to look out for when picking an email software is  the delivarability rate and features. There are a lot of email software services on the web, but three that I am familiar with and have heard great things about are: Aweber,  Constant Contact and Mailchimp.

In a nutshell: Aweber is among the best in the industry, plans start at about $19. ConstantContact is another great e-mail software provider, MailChimp is fun to use, and free for the first 2000 subscribers.

But before you pick read this post that compares the three services, pros, cons so you are better informed. Its important to start with a great software early on because if you have problems down the road switching can be difficult and you could loose all those hard-earned subscriptions.

2. Subject lines make or break you

Just like in writing for web posts, great headlines can entice someone to open your email or not.

Writing great email subject lines is somewhat of an art that you can craft and perfected over time. So pick carefully to communicate a value, emotion, time urgency and a benefit from opening your e-mail.

The goal of  the subject line is to get your e-mail opened and read.  Look out for an upcoming post on writing great email subject lines. In the meanwhile this post talks in detail about how to craft a great subject headline.

3. Give to receive

It’s the power of reciprocation. Great email market campaigns start by giving something of value whether it’s a free e-book, or a discount at your next purchase, you are simply giving the customer something they can use for subscribing to your list. It’s a great way to get people to subscribe to your email campaign.

Once they are subscribed keep track of your sales pitch e-mails. Provide useful content that your subscribers will care about in the first 3-4 email before pitching a service or product to them. After that keep varying with 2-3 useful posts before every sales pitch. It will give you an opportunity to sell your products, but also build a good relationship with your readers where they don’t feel harassed to just buy from your business. That way when you do pitch they are listening.

4. Create a series instead of one offer

Want to keep your readers listening?

Keep it short, and worthwhile of their time and attention. If you are writing great content on say keeping your home clean break it up into bite sized chunks. Say “12 Minutes to a Cleaner Home”, and have tasks that readers can complete weekly to become more organized, so when you do pitch your services say in the 3rd or fourth email they have built a trust that opening your emails deliver some value to their lives. (Read this post on creating a series instead of just one offer)

5. Whats in it for me?

When you do craft your offer communicate a value or benefit that goes beyond price. A really great way to set up your pitch is to offer something that complements all the free advice you’ve given. That way you already have your audiences interest, and they already know what they will benefit from using your product.

Happy emailing!

E-mail marketing is an art that takes time to master,to make our journey easier, perhaps you’d like a free consultation? Contact me and we can set-up a time to discuss your email marketing needs and how to meet your goals.

Don’t forget to subscribe to receive future posts to your inbox.

Image credit: Flickr-SocialMediaOnlineClasses