No, your late-night panic buying isn’t the cause of nail-biting anxiety for some poor schmuck sat in a cold office at midnight, finger hovering over the Send button. There isn’t someone desperately waiting for you to place your order so they can get that email to you within seconds. In reality, your chosen online store has pre-prepared email automations in place. They’re designed to make you feel acknowledged for buying that chair you don’t have the space for, regardless of the time of day.

But marketing automation doesn’t only apply to online stores. Many of the online forms you fill out, eBooks, white papers or PDFs you download, and social media adverts you click on will trigger some form of marketing automation, whether you’re browsing an online store, a news publisher’s site, or a company’s website.

Nor does it refer only to automated emails. Marketing automation covers a wide range of digital marketing activities, including:
  • Automatically posting new blog posts on social media pages.
  • Showing adverts to people based on what they’ve looked at before.
  • Sending an SMS message about an upcoming delivery.
  • Showing certain content on your website to someone based on what you know they’re interested in.

To name but a few.

If you’re reading this, you’re likely a marketer yourself and considering implementing some form of automation into your marketing – perhaps using HubSpot, which is our marketing automation platform of choice (Why HubSpot?). You’ll see some examples of HubSpot marketing automation later in this post.

In this post, we will explore in more detail what marketing automation is and why we believe it’s important.

What is marketing automation?

Here’s our definition:

Marketing automation is a form of digital marketing, whereby various marketing activities are automated in some way by making use of marketing software, commonly referred to as marketing automation platforms.

Essentially, marketing automation allows you to automate repetitive marketing tasks – such as live chat, email marketing, social media posting, lead generation activity, and internal tasks and reminders, among others. The purpose is not only to improve the efficiency of your marketing but to also provide a far more personalised experience to your customers and prospects.

Bonus: it frees up more of your time to focus on where to improve and helps you reach your marketing goals faster.

But beware! Marketing automation still requires a human touch. Consumers have become increasingly accustomed to the sort of timely messaging and efficient service that marketing automation enables, but they will soon pick up on laziness or impersonal, bot-written copy – and it won’t take much to turn them off!

The lesson – take a human approach to marketing automation and you won’t go far wrong.

What is marketing automation used for?

According to HubSpot:

  • 70% of marketers are actively investing in content marketing.
  • Of those who are automating marketing, 23% are automating their content delivery.
  • 20% of marketers are using automated email marketing campaigns.

HubSpot, 2021 1

By far the biggest benefit to marketing automation, beyond driving efficiencies, is the ability to make every interaction a potential customer has with you more timely and more personalised to them. Happier, more engaged customers mean more orders and higher order values, and that means revenue!

Automated marketing that grows the bottom line… What more could you ask for?

This is great, in theory, but what does it actually mean in practice? Let’s consider an all-too-common scenario.

Far too many marketers have a list of customers and prospects in their CRM (assuming they have a CRM!) but send the same generic emails to every contact, every time. The hope being that some people might bite and download their latest guide or purchase their shiny new package. The most they might do in terms of personalisation is put the recipient’s first name in the subject line – usually in a slightly awkward, unnatural-sounding way.

Sound familiar?

Sadly, they’re wasting their time and money – and their customers’ time as well, which is probably worse. Chances are, after a few emails that a prospect considers irrelevant, they’ll jump ship, hit Unsubscribe, and go to a competitor – meaning the opportunity to market to them in future has gone. That ship has sailed, so to speak.

Now let’s consider a better scenario.

  1. Your company has produced a new report that focuses on a specific topic that would appeal to some but not all of your marketing contacts.
  2. You know who has previously downloaded similar reports because you’re tracking that in your CRM system (which, in some cases, may also be your marketing automation platform).
  3. You send an email invitation to download your latest report to a targeted list of your contacts, made up of those contacts who have previously downloaded one of your reports and those contacts who have visited pages on your website related to the topic of the report.
  4. You send an automated thank you email to all those who download the report, immediately after they’ve filled out the download form. You put a link to the report in the thank you email so they can come back to it at any time.
  5. A few days later, you send a follow-up email to the list of people who downloaded the report, offering them a case study relating to that topic.
  6. At this point, you might also send a chaser to those people who didn’t download the report the first time – perhaps revealing a bit more of the report content to entice them to click Download.
  7. When someone downloads the case study too, your sales team gets a notification from your CRM prompting them to follow up with the prospect, who is now far more likely to buy from you.

Here’s what this process might look like in a workflow (think: ‘flowchart’) within a marketing automation system – in this case, HubSpot:

HubSpot email workflow example

This is a relatively simple example of email marketing automation as part of a lead generation or lead nurturing programme but there are infinite ways to build upon it.

You could feed the top of the funnel with new contacts you didn’t previously have a relationship with – through organic and paid social media posts, paid search ads, blog posts, podcasts, or any number of inbound marketing activities.

You could continue nurturing your prospects through their buying journey by providing them with increasingly more relevant, personalised, and convincing content based on their behaviour – breaking down their barriers to purchase and, ultimately, making their decision to buy from you easier.

And that means higher conversions and higher revenue. All with limited ongoing input from you.

Types of marketing automation

Let’s start by taking a look at the all-time favourite form of marketing automation: email marketing. We’ll then explore some of the many other forms of marketing automation that you may be less familiar with.

Email marketing automation

Email automation is probably the most common form of marketing automation, and every marketing automation platform worth its salt includes some form of email automation functionality.

Automated emails can help generate leads, drive content views and downloads, prompt sales, recover abandoned sales, increase order values, build trust with your company, and much more!

There are three main types of automated email:

  1. Transactional emails
    These types of automated email are typically focused on sales-related activities – including order confirmation emails, delivery status updates, payment status updates, abandoned cart emails (to recover incomplete sales), and ‘back in stock’ notification emails, among others – as well as non-sales-related activities such as account creation confirmation emails, account activation emails, password reset requests, etc.

  2. Promotional emails
    Whereas transactional emails are typically action-based (placing an order, registering an account, etc.), promotional emails are often time-based and sent on specific occasions. For example, you might get an email offering you a free glass of fizz with your birthday meal, or a notification email when an item you liked goes on sale, or an email offering you a discount on your next purchase as a reward for a recent purchase (see the B&Q example below). Usually, these are automated based on a specific date, change in price or status, or following a recent event such as a purchase.

    Here’s a great example of promotional email marketing from home improvement retailer B&Q, offering a £10 discount on the customer’s next in-store or online purchase totalling £75 or more. This was triggered by an in-store spend of £100+, which included a scan of the customer’s B&Q Club loyalty card. You’d go back and buy from them again, wouldn’t you?

    B&Q promo email

  3. Content-based emails
    Automated content emails, as the name suggests, typically relate to content on a company’s website. Whilst many marketers will create one-off emails announcing new content (especially for high value pieces of content), there are many ways to automate content emails, including automatically sending out new blog posts and case studies to your subscribers, sending follow-up emails prompting people to download a report or whitepaper, sending reminder emails about an upcoming webinar, and sending thank you emails after someone has downloaded a piece of content, to name just a few.

Paid advertising automation

When we talk about ‘paid advertising’, most of us think of PPC (or Pay-Per-Click) advertising. You set up a series of advertisements via a PPC platform such as Google Ads or Facebook Ads and you pay for each click that occurs on those adverts. The benefit is in the targeting. You can get very specific with demographics, behavioural data, and other attributes to target your potential customers or retarget visitors to your website.

There’s a myriad of PPC automation tools available to automate elements of your pay-per-click activity, as well as a wealth of information available about all of these tools, and PPC in general, so we won’t go into those here.

What isn’t often explored is how paid advertising fits into your overall marketing automation strategy. In other words: what happens after someone clicks on, or interacts with, one of your paid ads?

Paid advertising supports your inbound marketing strategy by creating relevant, timely experiences for your new and existing leads on the platforms they’re already using. A marketing automation system can then use the behavioural data generated by interactions with your ads to send highly targeted communications to a focused audience.

Consider this in the context of a lead nurture campaign:

  1. You use paid ads to drive leads to targeted landing pages and/or capture their information directly on the platforms they’re using.
  2. You add the leads that interact with your ads into an automation workflow that sends them an immediate follow-up communication that’s tailored to the ad they interacted with.
  3. You continue to guide each contact through their buying journey via your automation workflow, providing them with timely and increasingly relevant content that breaks down their barriers to purchase and, ultimately, leads to a sale.
  4. When a contact completes a sale, you add them to another workflow that focuses on cross-selling, serving up similar or complementary products / services / content via automated emails or even further paid advertisements.

Here’s what a simple version of this workflow might look like – again, in HubSpot:

HubSpot paid ads workflow example

Marketing automation can also help build and/or refine your paid advertising audiences, ensuring you only pay to surface ads to those people who are most likely to buy from you, and avoid those who aren’t.

Creating dynamic (i.e., constantly updating) lists of contacts in your CRM based on past interactions with ads can help you build audiences that are a good fit (or a bad fit) for your future ad campaigns. These audiences can then be used for both lookalike and custom audiences for PPC targeting. They can also be used to target or exclude contacts from future outbound marketing activity.

Social media marketing automation

Social media marketing is time-consuming work when it’s done well. Writing and sharing content, engaging with followers, responding to messages, dealing with customer service queries, finding and engaging with like-minded individuals, all across multiple platforms – it’s a full-time job!

Marketing automation can help take up some of the strain. It enables you to schedule content for distribution across multiple platforms, set up social media listening to monitor what people are saying about your brand or industry online, report on social media activities and audiences, produce content ideas, and even respond to common customer and prospect queries via the use of chatbots.

HubSpot social post scheduling exampleSocial media automation tools free up your time on these repetitive, time-intensive tasks. So, you can spend more time engaging and interacting with your followers, having authentic conversations with them, and focusing on your wider social media marketing strategy.

The added benefit of using a tool like HubSpot is that you can tie your social media activity into your wider campaign activity, so you can see at a glance how your social media efforts impact your overall campaign performance.

CRM with marketing automation

Marketing automation and the CRM are a match made in Heaven.

An update to a customer record in your CRM can trigger a wide variety of tasks and actions in your marketing automation software, such as alerting your Sales team to a warm lead or sending out a tailored email communication to that contact. Equally, the marketing activity run through your marketing automation system can trigger a host of updates to contact records and lists of contacts in your CRM.

It goes both ways, and each respective system works best when used in tandem with the other. An even better scenario is when your CRM and marketing automation system are one and the same, as is the case with HubSpot.

There are many ways to automate your CRM processes that will save you time, enable you to engage with more leads and, ultimately, make the sale faster. These include automating data entry, logging customer interactions automatically, setting up personalised automated email sequences to engage with leads, and automating elements of your customer service.

Such automations are, however, very much geared towards your Sales (and After Sales) teams. For a marketer, the real power comes from integrating your CRM with your marketing automation, creating better synergy between the Marketing and Sales functions and, ultimately, providing a more seamless experience for your customers and prospects.

Examples of automations between marketing software and the CRM include:

  • Creating or updating contact records from online form submissions and purchases.
  • Using progressive online forms that ask for different pieces of information from a contact depending on what’s missing from that contact’s CRM record.
  • Segmenting contacts into dynamic email lists based on past behaviours, interests, and purchases.
  • Nurturing CRM contacts through the use of automated workflows.
  • Assigning scores to leads in the CRM based on their online behaviours. This helps you to understand where leads are in their buying journey and who is more likely to buy from you.
  • Creating internal tasks and reminders for members of your Marketing and Sales teams to periodically check-in with prospects and customers.

With direct access to the CRM, marketers can evaluate the whole buyer journey and create content and activities that appeal to the right people at the right time, improving the customer and prospect experience, and allowing them to replicate and improve upon what works in order to reach more potential customers and convert them more effectively.

Final Thoughts

Marketing automation may seem like a bit of a minefield – and this is by no means a comprehensive summary of the entire marketing automation landscape – but with the right approach it can be hugely beneficial.

The key is to keep it human, start small and scale over time, and to ensure your marketing automation strategy aligns with your wider marketing goals. And remember – don’t automate what should be done manually.

Get it right and you’ll soon reap the benefits of marketing automation and put your inbound marketing on autopilot.

The only question that remains is: is marketing automation right for your business?

References ––

1 HubSpot, 2021 –– The Ultimate List of Marketing Statistics for 2021 ––