Depending on what side of things you stand, the word “automation” may sound intimidating, exciting, or perhaps somewhere in between these two emotional anchor points. For some, the word feels like a bomb that’s about to explode and render you useless, obsolete, and forgettable. For others, it looks like an opportunity to streamline, improve, and seize growth.
And, to be honest, it’s a little bit of both.
But if there’s one area where automation has the potential to benefit everyone in business – from employees to owners – it’s marketing. The future of marketing automation is bright and it promises a world where businesses are able to cost-effectively reach the right people at the right time with the right message – all without spending excessive time on segmenting, content creation, visibility, and branding.
How is all of this possible, you may ask?
Well, we’re going to explore all of this (and more) throughout this article. Read on to see how your business can leverage marketing automation for maximum benefit.
What is Marketing Automation?
For starters, let’s get clear on what marketing automation is, what it’s not, and where things stand.
When utilized properly, marketing automation is a combination of various strategies, apps, tools, and software. Each of these technologies and practices centers on nurturing prospects through personalized, useful content and messaging that pushes people from awareness to conversion to brand loyalty.
“Think of effective marketing automation like growing a garden,” HubSpot suggests. “You need fertile soil, ripe for growth. You need seeds to sow. And you need water and light to nurture those seeds into a lush, blooming plant. With good marketing automation, it’s easier to nurture leads (the seedlings) well enough to produce paying customers (a lush, full-grown plant).”
Marketing automation isn’t about removing your team from the equation and putting everything on autopilot. Rather, it’s about reducing friction, increasing speed, maximizing efficiency, and developing processes that nurture prospects and customers around the clock without constant hand-holding and manual execution.
For many years, we talked about marketing automation in a futuristic sense – as if it was this holy grail of technology that would eventually sweep in and save us all. But that was never realistic. But with that being said, the future is here. The market is currently at a unique inflection point where we have the technology for almost any business, small or large, to invest in marketing automation. Yet at the same time, very few businesses – if any – are maximizing the value of these solutions and systems.
The Biggest Challenge With Marketing Automation
When it comes to reaping the rewards of marketing automation, there’s one big stumbling block that prevents many businesses and marketers from being successful. It’s personality.
The big risk with marketing automation is that brands take their foot off the proverbial gas pedal and coast. They assume that the marketing automation solutions and processes they’ve implemented will do everything for them. As a result, they lose much of the human touch that customers have come to expect out of brands.
If you’re going to succeed with marketing automation, you have to look beyond efficiency and account for the softer side of things as well. You must find a way to streamline your marketing efforts without compromising the one-on-one connection customers feel with your brand.
How to Find Success With Marketing Automation
It’s easy to get lost in the world of marketing automation, but implementing a proactive strategy isn’t as challenging as you might think. Here are some key ways you can find success with marketing automation today, tomorrow, and for the foreseeable future:
- Choose Software Carefully
There are a lot of marketing tools out there. It’s a booming business that software developers and entrepreneurs are all trying to leverage to make it big. The problem is that marketing SaaS companies crop up and disappear all the time. If you’re unfortunate enough to land on a tool from one of these short-lived companies, you could be seriously inconvenienced and left out to dry.
While there are plenty of amazing marketing solutions out there, you have to remember that they aren’t all right for you. The key to your success is to find the tools that align with your needs and objectives. You want software that emboldens your strengths and offsets your weaknesses.
You’ll have to determine how you want to proceed. Are you looking for one big automation tool that touches on every aspect of your marketing? Or do you plan to stack a variety of tools together to create the perfect blend for your business? There’s no right or wrong way to handle things, but it is something you need to think about.
- Ensure Integration and Compatibility
If you choose to stack tools together – which is necessary in most cases – tread with caution. It’s not a matter of picking every tool you like and tossing them together. Interoperability is a must.
You might select two incredibly powerful tools that operate well on their one. But standalone functionality goes by the wayside if they can’t interact with one another in a frictionless manner.
When it comes to marketing automation hubs, the following platforms have a high degree of compatibility with other tools: HubSpot, Omnisend, Ontraport, SendinBlue, ActiveCampaign, Prospect.io, InfusionSoft, Autopilot, Marketo, Get Response, Drip, and Mautic.
- Don’t Buy Your List – Build It
There are few aspects of modern marketing more important than an email list. In fact, it could be argued that your list is your most valuable asset. So be careful not to get so caught up in the push for big numbers that you fall for the trap of buying your list.
It’s fairly easy to buy an email list these days, but in doing so, you set yourself up for failure from the start. Not only will your emails get flagged as spam by many recipients, but you’ll also waste a lot of your time on the wrong leads.
The key is to build your list – not buy it. And the only way to build a list of quality prospects is to be hands on. There are certainly elements of list building that can be automated – like incorporating email opt-in overlays and boxes into blog posts and web pages – but this isn’t something you set and forget. It requires constant maintenance and replenishment (to undo the ill-effects of database decay).
- Outsource Customer-Facing Tasks
There are hundreds of small behind-the-scenes tasks that you can automate with no ill-effects. All it takes is the right piece of software code and you can teach a computer to do tasks with greater efficiency and accuracy. But then there are other tasks that can be automated, but probably shouldn’t.
When it comes to customer-facing tasks – or marketing tasks that directly impact brand image and customer relationships – it may be more efficient and effective to outsource.
Content marketing is a great example. You never want to automate content creation, as this can negatively impact your brand’s image and compromise relationships with customers. But you won’t always have the time to commit to internal content creation. Thus outsourcing is a way to save time without stripping out the human element.
Not only can you hire freelance copywriters to manage your blog content, but you can also use a guest blogging service to help you build up backlinks and drive traffic back to your website.
- Utilize Ad Retargeting
The odds that someone sees your ad, clicks, and follows through on your desired call-to-action all in one magical sequence is highly unlikely. As you know from your own personal experiences online, it generally takes multiple exposures before you buy something.
So why are you expecting something different with your ads? What you really need to do is target the same people over and over again until they convert. And the best way to do this is through automated ad retargeting.
Ad retargeting works by serving ads to people who’ve already visited your website or are in your database. It’s like following them around the web and exposing them to your ad continuously until they take action (or enough time has elapsed that it appears the lead is disinterested).
- Leverage Automated Drip Campaigns (The Right Way)
Another way to efficiently reach people over and over again is to launch email drip campaigns where you continue to make contact with your prospects on an ongoing basis.
The key with a drip campaign – which gets its name from the way in which you drip, drip, drip, like a percolating coffee maker – is to only automate the backend. The copy itself needs to be written by you (or an outsourced content partner) so that it has the correct voice, tone, and messaging.
Accelerate Your Marketing Automation Efforts
Automating marketing isn’t about putting everything on autopilot and stepping away from the controls. It’s about streamlining the time-consuming aspects so that you can focus more on the creative elements of marketing and branding that allow you to cultivate healthy, sustainable relationships with prospects and clients. If that’s something you’re interested in, it’s time to dive in and test the waters. It won’t always be smooth and effortless, but the long-term benefits will be plentiful.
Nate Nead is the CEO of SEO.co/; a full-service SEO company and DEV.co/; a custom web and software development business. For over a decade Nate had provided strategic guidance on technology and marketing solutions for some of the most well-known online brands. He and his team advise Fortune 500 and SMB clients on software, development and online marketing. Nate and his team are based in Seattle, Washington and West Palm Beach, Florida.