Published: July 2, 2021
If you’ve ever ordered something online late at night or downloaded a white paper to read the next morning (we’re guilty of both, on countless occasions) and immediately received a ‘Thank You’ email – you’ve been hit by marketing automation.
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:
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.
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.
According to HubSpot:
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.
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.
Here’s what this process might look like in a workflow (think: ‘flowchart’) within a marketing automation system – in this case, HubSpot:
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.
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 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:
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:
Here’s what a simple version of this workflow might look like – again, in HubSpot:
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 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.
Social 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.
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:
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.
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?
1 HubSpot, 2021 –– The Ultimate List of Marketing Statistics for 2021 –– https://www.hubspot.com/marketing-statistics