Automating for Marketing Success

Pierre Mallia, Malta Business Weekly – 18th April 2013

I’ve always considered Marketing to be a very creative discipline – with the capacity to pull at our heart strings, senses and “needs” to drive brand awareness, interest and ultimately the transaction.

Normally, I’m a strong opponent to automating marketing. Automation sounds very much like the antithesis of marketing. But, let’s face it. Marketing professionals today are being called upon to ride a tidal wave of marketing platforms and channels, all having different tasks associated with them in order for one to actually utilise them.

If you’re a marketing professional, my guess is that you’re not part of a very big team and possibly one that has experienced a shrinking budget – derived from the (mis)perception that digital media has fully replaced the traditionally expensive media like newspapers, journals, radio and television.

In actual fact, many marketing professionals who have embraced the digital media on internet and mobile, have found themselves spending a lot of their time doing low-value tasks like sharing and curating content, tracking clickstreams by hand and trying to make some sense of the numbers that the various platforms generate. As a result, marketing professionals become TOO busy to focus on the high-value tasks such as listening, engaging with customers, and producing content that creates value for their target audience.

A new balance between automation and focusing on high value tasks is thus necessary to optimise your organisation’s marketing.

What is Marketing Automation?

It is all about joining the dots. The following diagram shows the typical scenario that today’s marketing professionals deal with when using digital media channels:

Traditional Marketer's Tools

In the above scenario, an organisation may have a customer relationship management system. Possibly this may be loosely connected to an email marketing platform on the internet such as MailChimp. More often than not, the two are not integrated and there is significant exporting and importing of data across systems.

The marketing professional is potentially monitoring the company website using tools such as Google Analytics and struggling to produce a coherent, meaningful picture of site visitors and somehow correlating this with campaigns to try and measure their impact.

The company may have an active presence on one or more social media platforms, each with its own reporting and analysis tools, producing yet another distinct, disjointed source of data. The marketer may also be using an online survey tool to gauge customer satisfaction.

This becomes a pretty complicated scenario for even the best marketing professional to execute, manage, analyse and measure return on investment (ROI).

There is certainly enough work in there to occupy a small team for some time and maybe even driving the need to hire marketing specialists such as social media marketers, PPC analysts etc.

Certainly for the SME, this starts to put marketing in the realm of unaffordability.

The Dots Joined…

So what is one to do about all this? First of all, it has to be kept in mind that sales and marketing departments have to a large degree been the most underserved community when it comes to automation and tools to support their mission inside most businesses. Finance departments get their financial systems and budgeting tools, operations get their line of business applications…and frequently sales and marketing get Excel, PowerPoint and Photoshop!

With the downward pressure on headcount and the upward pressure on performance in all areas of the organisation, sales and marketing departments are left with only one real option: to automate their processes to such a degree that campaigns, whether email or otherwise, can be launched in minutes or a few hours versus days or weeks.

To achieve this within the context depicted above, with traditional marketing channels thrown in, makes for a stressful and probably disappointing environment in most marketing departments.

Marketing automation therefore is about achieving a set of interlinked processes supported by tools that will allow marketing professionals not only to rapidly launch campaigns, but also rapidly measure response, and subsequently adapt and optimise the message for more impactful interaction with the consumer, possibly down to the level of 1:1 personalised communications.

Marketing Automation

To begin with, the first step in joining all the dots, requires that the data about customers, leads and prospects is gathered in one place, typically in a CRM system. This source of data is then enriched with information connected to marketing campaigns (e.g. email campaigns), web traffic resulting from those campaigns and interactions on social media and surveys. Typically once this centralised data source is in place, acquiring a marketing automation platform is the next step. Ideally the organisation should seek a platform that is compatible with its CRM system, thus enabling the rapid ramp up in its use.

Many marketing automation systems exist on the internet with integration with various CRM platforms. The following outlines the typical sort of functionality that one can expect from these systems:

Email Marketing

This provides the ability to build up a newsletter, possibly with some built-in intelligence whereby the content displayed is adjusted dynamically based on certain personal preferences of a target recipient. These preferences may be defined as insights in the underlying CRM system. The platform also ensures that you don’t fall foul of domain blacklisting and reduces the chances of your email being considered as spam. All “opens”, “deletions” and “forwards” of emails sent should also be tracked, in addition to tracking which parts of the newsletter were clicked upon, thereby identifying areas of interest by the consumer.

A/B Testing

The marketing platforms typically allow you to do email marketing trial runs on a smaller percentage of the target list – to gauge which flavour of a certain newsletter was more effective, before sending on the email campaign to the entire target list.

Website Integration

Typically these platforms can also be harnessed to the company website – this means all information related to visits is pulled into the company CRM, possibly generating new leads automatically, based on specific criteria. For example, if a person spent more than 5 minutes looking at a specific product on the website, this would trigger off the automatic creation of a lead in the CRM system. Additional capabilities such as tracking where the visitors came from, the referring site and tracking keywords used to find your site are also typical elements of the information that can be captured.

In Conclusion…

Your sales and marketing teams are very much the pointed part of the spear that is your business. Unless properly equipped, you may find yourself having to hire more people than you have to or spending more with external marketing agencies, simply because of the sheer workload of having to manage so many channels. By implementing a proper CRM supplemented by marketing automation technology, you can amplify the impact of your marketing and sales teams dramatically with the resultant effect that your bottom line will improve. By pushing a broader pipeline and more lead qualification and identification, marketing automation will empower you to drive more sales and grow your business, whilst nimbly taking advantage of the digital media channels, the way you had hoped to when you first thought about doing so!

Most importantly however, with the kind of approach described in this article, you will for the first time have an easy way to measure one of the core KPIs of your business – MROI – marketing return on investment.