What is Marketing Automation? A Complete Guide
Explore how marketing automation revolutionises campaigns and boosts sales with deeper customer insights and personalised experiences for both B2B and B2C customers.
What is marketing automation?
With marketing automation tools, businesses can target customers with automated messages across email, web, social, and text, helping marketers to meet the digital-first demands of today’s customers. Messages are sent automatically, according to sets of instructions called workflows. Workflows may be defined by templates, custom-built from scratch, or modified mid-campaign to achieve better results. It’s worth noting that workflow automation has become a key focus for marketers, with the recent State of Marketing report finding that 35% were making a strategic investment shift toward workflow automation. Of that group, 70% consider it to be a permanent change in direction.
Marketing and sales departments use marketing automation platforms to automate online marketing campaigns and sales activities to boost personalisation, increase revenue, and maximise efficiency. When automation is used effectively to handle repetitive tasks, employees are free to tackle higher-order problems, and human error is reduced.
Marketing automation software also helps with lead generation, nurturing, scoring, and measuring overall ROI on campaigns — especially important during times of economic uncertainty. The time- and cost-saving effects of automation increase as an organisation grows in size and complexity. Good marketing automation systems are designed to scale alongside your business.
What does marketing automation do?
Iconic Australian brand R.M.Williams is also leveraging the power of marketing automation tools to deliver highly effective campaigns. Marketing Cloud enables more targeted engagement through automated segmentation based on customer behaviour and purchase history, and allows for a hyper-personalised customer experience. Where once a customer would order a pair of custom boots and receive a call when they were ready, now they are taken on a journey through their creation.
While R.M.Williams is still developing its personalised marketing strategy, it has already seen a 5% lift in email revenue and a 176% increase in average order value from targeted email campaigns. Moreover, it has experienced a 65% increase in email deliverability and a 35% reduction in unsubscribe rates.
How do the best marketing automation tools work?
From there, the marketing automation software does all the work:
Streamlining segmentation and targeting processes to determine the right audiences, quickly and at scale
Tailoring messaging to customers and leads automatically based on their profile
Creating relevant and personalised messaging across email, mobile, social, web experiences, and beyond with a few simple clicks
Delivering personalised experiences for your customers and nurturing leads at each stage of their journey efficiently and effectively
What are the benefits of marketing automation?
Build valuable B2B relationships
Business procurement usually involves a longer process of building awareness and trust. Marketing automation tools can be used to:
Streamline a multi-stage procurement process
Develop trust at each stage of the nurture journey by using automated workflows to deliver relevant information and resources to the right people
Take over repetitive tasks so more time can be spent developing the relationships that matter
Trigger notifications at specific stages of the customer journey to ensure no opportunities slip through the cracks
What does marketing automation mean for the customer journey?
Marketing automation creates relevant content and messaging at scale across many channels. You can use it to:
Send email messages with dynamic content that is personalised far beyond sticking a customer’s first name in the subject line
Integrate mobile messaging with your email and social campaigns through SMS/MMS, push notifications, and group messaging
Generate digital ads that appear for the right person at the right time
Recommend the right products on your website for each individual user — automatically
With marketing automation, you can reach customers along their journey no matter where they are in the customer lifecycle — from acquisition to advocacy. Deliver timely, relevant content that reaches customers when, where, and how they prefer — converting prospects into lifelong brand advocates.
Fashion brand White Fox Boutique uses marketing automation tools to build the omni-channel journeys their customers demand. With Marketing Cloud Engagement, they’ve created over a dozen, including welcome journeys, win-back journeys, and abandoned cart journeys across email, SMS and social media.
Marketing Cloud Personalisation helps personalise every touchpoint by including product recommendations and images tailored to the customer’s purchases and browsing behaviour. The result has been a 2% average click-through rate on personalised recommendations, a 2.5% average click-through on personalised website banners, and 5% conversion of those banner click-throughs. An abandoned cart pop-up has seen a 27% click-through rate and a 10% conversion rate.
How to choose your marketing automation platform
Investing in any new technology should present opportunities to improve your business — not make it more complicated. So be systematic when it comes to figuring out what you need from marketing automation and take into consideration the following crucial factors:
Your existing technology stack — does your marketing automation need to integrate with existing tech or will it replace a legacy system? What might be the impact of a new system on existing processes and how will you prepare for it?
Your business types and needs — do you have a B2C retail business or a B2B wholesale business? Does the marketing automation platform have the ecommerce capabilities your business requires?
Your customers — what are their browsing, shopping and communication preferences and how does the marketing automation platform support them? For example, does it track the progress of social media campaigns and analyse how your brand is spoken about on social media?
Useability — how easily will your team be able to use the software? How much training will be involved? Does the software provider have implementation partners you can work with and on-going customer support?
Scaling your business — will the software grow as your business expands or will you have to further invest in add-ons or replacement software?
Pricing — what are all the costs involved and do they change as your number of users increases or your customer database grows?
How to implement marketing automation software
Consult with your team. They have the best insights into what tools and setups work most effectively and where to look out for potential obstacles. They will be using the software so getting them on board with any changes will be crucial to the long term success of your marketing automation project.
Once you’ve selected your marketing automation platform, it’s time to make an implementation plan. Work closely with your IT department and implementation partner to establish exactly what technical requirements must be met. This could include things like user permissions, data structure, how other assets might be impacted (landing pages, forms etc), and staff training needs. Your IT team can help ensure best deliverability protocols, subscriber tracking and security.
Import your data and integrate it with your CRM. Ensure your custom fields and tags match up by test importing a few records before completing the transfer of data. Make sure your marketing automation tools are integrated with your CRM so you have a true 360-degree view of the customer at every point in their journey and can deliver the cross-department functionality that will help personalise and streamline the customer experience.
Organise your marketing resources and assets for user-friendly access so your team can work efficiently and consistently across campaigns.
Empower your team to use the new tools with appropriate resources, training and onboarding. The success of your automated marketing campaigns will depend largely on how well your marketing team can use the software.
What are some best marketing automation software practices?
Here are some best practices to keep in mind when designing your marketing automation strategy:
Define and present your goals. Use real numbers to justify your stakeholders' investment in a marketing automation platform.
Collaborate with other teams. Your marketing automation strategy will touch several teams in your company. Get their input and buy-in before you begin.
Create process visualisations. Use detailed diagrams of your marketing automation workflow to relay your big-picture objectives to your entire organisation — efficiently and effectively.
Prepare for database segmentation. Consider your customer data. Think about who you’d like to engage and why.
Prepare your content strategy. Build your content library. Create interesting, engaging, and relevant messaging designed to reach all stages of the customer lifecycle.
Plan for a slow rollout. The world’s most successful marketing automation firms stagger their launches. Test early and optimise the next block of programs to give yourself the best chance of success.
Analyse as you go. See what’s working and what’s not. Use some of the time you get back from automation to dig into the analytics and make the changes that will grow your business.
B2B marketing automation
B2B prospects and customers form a small, focused target market for the procurement process. This is usually multi-stage and part of an ongoing relationship of repeat business.
Because buying decisions in the B2B sector generally take place over a period of weeks, months or even longer, lead nurturing is a much more extended process involving product education and awareness building.
The long marketing-to-sales evolution, combined with multiple customer research data points, makes marketing automation especially well-suited to the B2B environment.
With marketing automation, you can more accurately qualify leads, trigger follow-up workflows at specific points during the customer journey and create an automated flow of relevant educational resources including videos, webinars, and how-to guides.
B2C marketing automation
The sales cycle for B2C, or consumer, marketing tends to be much shorter. Yes, building trust and loyalty are a long term goal, but the goal along the way is to deliver a simple and streamlined road to checkout. When a B2C customer is handed over to the sales process, they should ideally have familiarity with the brand and product, and a compelling impulse to make the purchase. Marketing automation can do the heavy lifting so that minimal or no involvement from the sales team is needed.
As with B2B marketing, but over a shorter time period, B2C marketing automation is often characterised by an automated email flow to build awareness and interest. Customer actions at specific points in their journey can trigger automated responses or prompts while customer history and preferences can ensure messaging remains personalised.
The State of Marketing report found 82% of high-performing marketing organisations say customer experience is the key competitive differentiator. And given personalisation is critical in building great customer experience, marketing automation tools that allow targeted, relevant messaging are an essential part of the B2C marketing arsenal.
Is marketing automation software easy to use?
Yes! Marketing automation platforms are all about ease of use. Create campaigns with a single click. Control all aspects of your digital marketing strategy in one place. Leverage simplified user interfaces and drag-and-drop functionality that’s familiar from other apps you use every day.
Automation makes it easier to manage every marketing task, from basic email sends to complex campaign management and data analysis. A few examples:
- Schedule email sends, create one-off campaigns, and manage your subscriber base, all from the same interface.
Automatically run A/B tests of email campaigns to find the message that inspires the most engagement and conversation.
Define goals and measure everything: click-through rates (CTRs), timing, channels, conversions, and more. Evaluate progress and optimise on the fly, from any device.
Expand your view of customers beyond CRM into web analytics and e-commerce data.