What is Marketing Automation? Everything You Need To Know

Marketing automation is technology used in marketing that allows a user or company to automate their communications across a range of digital channels including (but not limited to): email, pay-per-click, social media, display and more.

Marketing automation has existed in some form for around a decade, in its early days it was more commonly referred to as “Martech”. The simplest definition of it is that: marketing technology.

Martech is a pretty loose term though; marketing technology embodies pretty much all of digital marketing: email campaigns, SMS, display, PPC, social media etc. But what we really mean when we refer to marketing automation is this: a series of campaigns scheduled in advance, adding different flows of content based on checking how a contact engages.

Still, a bit to get your head around though, right? Yep, so given the old saying, that a picture paints 1,000 words. Hopefully, this will help:

What’s the difference between marketing automation and email marketing?

Consider it like this: email marketing makes up a component of marketing automation programs. Here at CommuniGator, we primarily use email marketing campaigns as the core channel to drive automation.

Marketing automation allows you to not just schedule your campaigns ahead of time but set up a series of logic and a journey to take your contacts on. It can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be.

It’s so much more than just email marketing campaigns, wait periods and conditions though. You’ll need to ensure you have a clever CRM that’s integrated into a two-way flow of data. Using an integrated marketing automation platform, such as CommuniGator, allows you to stitch together your lead generation software with your campaigns. For example, if you have GatorLeads as well as GatorWorkflow, you can create sophisticated lead nurture programs. This means that you can trigger campaign journeys based on actions you determine, warming your leads and feeding that information back into your CRM.

Am I ready to start doing it?

Provided that you have a CRM packed full of useful data, and a solid marketing strategy, chances are, yes. We recommend starting small and working up to more sophisticated programs once you’re more acquainted with your marketing automation platform.

The only real limitation of marketing automation is your data. If you are regularly tracking your leads and customers activities, whether that’s what they’re engaged with on your website or emails, or what they’re buying, you shouldn’t have an issue.

If you’re not so confident about your data quality, then you’re in luck. At CommuniGator, we have a team of account managers and specialists available to help. With us, you can improve what you have and supercharge your strategy, meaning your lead and customer journeys convert to better opportunities for you.

We are also available to assist you in ensuring your marketing content is in tip-top condition. Our team will conduct a website content audit, identifying improvements you may wish to consider, and how the website journey could be translated into your marketing automation strategy.

Once you have content and data considerations dealt with, next comes your goals. What do you want to achieve? Perhaps you want to save time, or there is a particularly repetitive part of your sales process that you wish you could have someone else perform. Ask yourself the following:

  • Are your sales and marketing teams working together on your lead generation process?
  • Have you mapped your ideal lead journey?
  • If you are dealing with customer contracts, have you set out the key touch points for past successful renewals?

To be fair, even if you can’t say “yes” with conviction to all of these, marketing automation could still be for you.

Should I use a marketing agency instead?

For some businesses, using lots of different marketing agencies seems the easiest way to go. One for email marketing, one for social media, one for PR…etc. However, we don’t think this is the easiest – or necessarily the best – choice for many businesses.

Why shouldn’t you use marketing agencies, we hear you ask? Good question.

First of all, it’s not cost effective. In general, you’ll find yourself paying more for multiple agencies than you would for one, manageable, in-house system. Even if it is cheaper, what are you really paying for? The hassle? You might be saving money, but trying to keep on top of all those different records and piles of data will take just as much effort as managing it yourself in one marketing platform.

An automated marketing suite makes it much easier to keep a close eye on your leads. If it’s learning the system itself that puts you off, that’s not a problem either. Marketing automation platforms are now built with so much product support that learning the systems and managing your own marketing is a step by step process. That way, you get the leads you want, at a lower price, all on your own terms.

Research shows the likelihood of calling to qualify a lead decreases 6 times after the first hour of discovery. If you’re waiting to hear from agencies in this time, you might be missing out on vital sales. In fact, the same research shows that after 20 hours, calls made to these leads will actually damage your chances of qualifying them – not something you want to hear if your agency reports are delayed for any reason.

Why not manage your marketing in one place, and make sure that you’re getting the results you want when you want them? All your data can become manageable, easily accessible and simplified so that your time is spent on moving prospects through your pipeline and improving your marketing results.

What do I need to get started?

As mentioned before, you’ll need an active CRM so you can identify segments and analyse the performance of your campaigns once live.

From emailing prospects, updating records, to following up your website leads, there’s a lot to do in a day.

This is where your CRM and marketing automation integration comes into play. Creating automated workflows that sales add leads to, and marketing track and report. It means more time to get your hands dirty. Less activity but more productivity.

Next, you’ll need to have a content strategy for your campaigns. If you don’t have someone in your team who can write blogs and guides, you may wish to consider using our content writing service.

Set up ongoing lead nurture campaigns at the press of a button. Keep them relevant and personal by using dynamic content.

If you are generating thought leadership material like whitepapers, a company blog, newsletters, and webinars, you can accomplish all of your efforts through marketing automation. Your platform has the ability to store all of your collateral so that you can access it at any time. When you take your content and generate campaigns around them, you will see that you can accomplish much more as a result of the insights gathered from previous campaigns.

Nailing your Marketing Automation Campaign & Content Strategy

Step 1: Review your personas

If you are having a face to face conversation with someone, it’s easy to tell when they become bored of listening to your voice. Their eyes wonder, their body language changes and they simply stop the conversation. You don’t have that luxury with digital marketing. So you need to know who you are talking to. Review your current customer base, their top target data and how their customer journeys went in order to know who you should be talking to and HOW to talk to them through your content.

The more personal you are with them, and the more targeted you make your email campaigns around these personas, the more effective your marketing will be. Failing to personalise your emails with details such as their first name and what they’ve interacted with in the past will see your conversion rates be lower and your sales slower. USE these tools – we’ve included them in the marketing automation platform for a reason!

Step 2: Create a content structure that matches your funnel

We all know the sales funnel. Your lead nurturing technique should match this funnel. So, for example, we use four levels:

  • Intrigue (blogs, infographics, hints and tips, videos)
  • Discover (whitepapers, guides, best practices)
  • Consider (feature pages, solutions, case studies)
  • Decide (offers, prices, demonstrations)

Each topic that we focus on (lead generation or marketing automation for example) will have all the content around it split into these four tiers. If you don’t have that much content, you can simply focus on one topic stream at a time.

Do a content audit. See which content pieces fit into which level under which topic stream. (I imagine a table would help here to get started). This will help you pinpoint areas that you need more content and what level you need. This way, you’re not creating content for the sake of it all the time.

With the average content production costing around £3-5K, you should be squeezing every last opportunity out of your content as you can. Don’t be afraid to reuse it in any number of campaigns. If it draws the leads in, keep repurposing it.

Step 3: Put your content into lead nurture streams

We’ve talked about how at least 40% of you have adopted triggered workflow campaigns within your marketing automation, which is great. This content strategy works WITH that. Align your email rules as per the four levels. For example, a lead goes into a new campaign at the intrigue level. They read your blog posts for a couple of weeks and once they establish a certain lead score within your platform, they are moved onto the next level of the campaign ‘discover’. On it goes until they are at the decide stage and ready for a sales call or message.

This is all achievable within your marketing automation platform, you just need to include these rules in order to optimise your marketing performance.

Now this could be implemented for any number of campaigns. Perhaps you want to target all of your contacts that have a particular CRM and want to work on their lead generation for example. Or you could run this automation for a large scale, quarterly campaign.

Experiment!

Start off with a small campaign (perhaps an event promotion campaign) and see for yourself how it works within your marketing automation. Once you see it performing, you’ll be able to implement it across your marketing – becoming that proactive marketer we talked about earlier. We have seen CTR’s in email streams go from sub 1% to an average of 11% (in some tiers 50% plus!) with this strategy.

Step 4: Create a content treasure box

As we mentioned, there is no point creating constant content that will go to waste. Instead, focus on the topic streams your audiences are interested in and the levels you need to convince them throughout their buyer journey. The brilliance of a content box is that it can help you align your entire marketing strategy, no matter how many channels you use.

Not sure what I mean? Ok, here’s another example for you.

You have a report on marketing automation for 2016. This is the backbone of your treasure box. You then create an opinionated link bait piece to entice readers in, (such as this article). You create a number of blogs and soundbites to support it, social media posts, case studies, a stream of email messages. Eventually, you have what we call a content treasure box that can be implemented into any campaign.

So you remember that story of the managing director that set you a seemingly impossible task? Now you don’t have to run around like a headless chicken planning a campaign that doesn’t align across each channel. Instead, you build one around your content boxes, with a TARGET AUDIENCE in mind and run as much of it through your marketing automation platform as you can.

Once you’ve got that down, it’s time to start planning your marketing automation campaigns. We have five key considerations we recommend you work through before you get pen to paper:

1. What do you want to achieve?

You’ll want to ask yourself exactly what you are looking to gain from your marketing automation campaign. It seems simple enough, but you’d be surprised by a number of campaigns that launch without having a clear goal in mind.

Ask yourself/your team:

  • Do you want to save time?
  • Are you selling something?
  • Is the aim to raise awareness for a product or service?
  • Are you scheduling a series of campaigns, such as newsletters?

2. Who are you targeting?

Your audience will have a huge impact on how you write your campaigns and approach the logic of your workflow. For example, if you’re creating a lead nurture series, hotter leaders will move much faster than cold leads. Similarly, you’d be silly not to segment customers separately from leads and prospects.

3. What are the triggers to start the campaign?

Sometimes the most obvious questions get ignored, and in this case, this one often gets neglected. You’ll want to consider how your audience enters your workflow:

  • Website downloads
  • Website visits (although this method only works if your IP lookup software is linked to your marketing automation platform, e.g. GatorLeads and GatorWorkflow
  • Form fills: this is more than just website downloads, it’s sales and demo requests, event bookings, newsletter sign-ups, etc.
  • A lapse in activity: consider your contacts who have stopped engaging with your campaigns.
  • Subscription or purchase history: consider frequency, downloads and try to identify potential patterns

4. Exit strategy

Entering the workflow is as important as leaving it. You’ll want to consider what triggers a contact to exit your marketing automation campaign.

Have they completed a task?

Have they booked a meeting with your sales team?

Have they renewed their contract?

5. Visualise the journey

Now you know what you want to achieve, who your audience is, how they enter and exit the workflow. It is time to plan how the structure of the marketing automation campaign will look.

We have a series of methods to recommend, as we know not everyone digests and learns in the same way. Some of our team prefers to draw the wireframe on paper, whereas others prefer to use Excel or online tools to create the journey digitally. If you can forward-plan this, it’ll be a lot quicker to build. It’s like completing a puzzle with a reference picture, rather than blindly piecing it together.

How do I make my marketing automation campaigns a success?

We always recommend you thoroughly plan your campaigns to ensure that you have thought it through as best you can. That way there is minimal ‘what ifs’ that can affect the performance of your campaigns.

Constant improvement is a good strategy for marketing automation. We recommend you regularly report on the performance of your campaigns, that way you can monitor what works and what doesn’t. In order to define the success levels of your campaigns, you need to determine what your campaign goals were.

For example, in one marketing automation campaign, the total goal could be to warm leads but the campaigns within may have different measures. Early campaigns may be simply based on clicks, whereas others could track interactions with the sales team, such as booking a meeting or demo.

Is your marketing automation optimised?

Falling behind in your industry means leaving money on the table. At the same time, you know that you have to optimise your marketing campaigns. You must be asking yourself… How do I achieve this ‘optimal performance?’ The answer is: You’ve got to put more effort into marketing automation.

You’ve adopted marketing automation to get rid of spreadsheets and cut down on your marketing department. That’s great! But it’s just the beginning of what your platform can actually do.

What can you get with a little more effort?

Leading marketers are using automation to increase conversions. They are honing in on what makes their customers tick and what persuades them to take that next step towards making a purchase decision. How do they achieve this? They use real data and metrics. They are turning marketing from an art into a science.

Gathering insights into customer behavior enables you to refine your messages while enabling you to send them to the right person at the right time. If you’re pursuing social media marketing, you will see that by using automation to its full potential, you will find where your customers are, what conversations they are having, and what competitors they are talking to. With marketing automation, you will be able to dig deeper to find out the best time to post your messages while individualising them instead of applying a ‘one size fits all’ approach.

How do I choose a marketing automation provider that’s best for me?

First and foremost, you’ll need to check whether the marketing automation provider can support integration to your CRM, as the flow of data is paramount. Ideally, find out if they have any customers who are willing to talk about their experience of the integration as well. It’s all well and good knowing they support it, but is it capable of anything useful?

Next up, find out if they have a service team who can meet your needs. One of the top reasons our leads convert and our customers stay, is our support team, product specialists and account managers. You can’t put a price on being able to speak to an expert when you’re stuck or lacking inspiration.

CommuniGator is based in the South of England, with a team of account managers and product specialists who travel to meet their customers. We hold on-site training sessions, as well as web sessions, plus regular seminars and workshops. This is because we believe the service we offer is of equal importance to the power of our platform.

What is IP lookup and how does it work?

IP Lookup is a tool that enables you to identify the IP addresses of companies browsing your website. It’s key that we point out it will only show you:

  • You cannot identify individuals or home-workers as IP addresses are linked to businesses
  • Companies viewing your website, but not the employee. For example, if we were looking at your website it would not tell you Amy Johnson, Marketing Executive, CommuniGator is online, just Someone at CommuniGator

If an IP address is registered with a company, the lookup software will then delve into our huge database to tell you who it is. So rather than seeing a list of gobbledegook numbers (that is, IP address), you’ll see a list of companies with information that company households about them, like country, revenue, staff size etc.

From there, you could purchase email addresses of contacts based on job title. For example, sales director, marketing manager, or CEO.

On the CommuniGator suite, GatorLeads is the tool to use. Simply add the tracking code to your website and go! We have an open API, meaning we integrate with almost every CRM, allowing you to create custom dashboards for your teams to assign and track their leads.

What else can it do?

You can also use lead generation software, like GatorLeads, to track the performance of your PPC campaigns. GatorLeads allows you to easily set up different UTMs to assign to your links automatically, making it really straightforward to track your multichannel campaigns.

You can also track links sent to individuals using personalised URLs, or what we like to call: PURLs. This means we can cookie drop specific links sent, so you know for sure if a certain contact at a company is engaging with your sales team.

But it doesn’t stop there. You can track any external channel, from PPC to blog shares and social media. Another key point to consider: can your provider house all of your digital marketing needs in one place?

At CommuniGator, we pride ourselves on being able to not only provide you with a limitless marketing automation tool, but a suite that enables you to create email campaigns, identify the leads on your website with our IP lookup tool, track and report on your PPC, plus automate your social media marketing.

After reading the findings in the 2016 B2B Marketing Automation report from Smart Insights, we realised B2B marketers were still afraid to push the boundaries of marketing automation. In short, most were only using their marketing automation platform for email marketing purposes.

Instead of wasting your marketing budget on media buying, content production, agency relationships and reporting processes, you need to be focusing on your strategy. More importantly, how it can align with your marketing automation software. Once you have this in place, you can take on the machine that is marketing automation. You’ll be able to start using proactive, rather than reactive, marketing techniques.

It may seem obvious, but the benefits are vast. You won’t just save time when you’re creating your campaigns but also reporting on them too. When everything is in one place, you won’t have to spend time trawling through or getting to grips with more than one platform.

What could go wrong with marketing automation?

Yes, we pride ourselves on being the UK industry leader in marketing automation, but we’re only human. We make mistakes. Sometimes we’re so focused on the end goal and the next best thing, we don’t dedicate enough time and attention to the here-and-now of our marketing. So when it all went wrong, it was with humble heads we looked at each other and said: “we need to change the way we handle our marketing processes.”

So, first thing is first. Deal with the marketing automation mistake you made.

In our case, what had happened was that we’d built a workflow and forgot to put the appropriate wait times in. It meant that the workflow reacted to the conditions immediately and everyone got all the emails all at once. So we thought, ok can we stop this workflow? Pause it? What can we do to fix the issue?

Solve the initial problem before you go around saying sorry! Apologies mean nothing if the error keeps occurring.

Then come the consequences.

We don’t just mean handling the fallout from prospects and customers. You also have to check that you haven’t damaged your domain or become blacklisted. Email marketing mistakes can cost you more than just angry complaints. Make sure to sort your domain issues after you’ve fixed the initial problem or your other marketing campaigns might fall foul thanks to your first mistake.

Time to suck it up and take complaints on the chin!

Once you’ve made sure to stop the technical issues that are giving your marketing team a headache, a twitch in the right eye and a complex to boot, it’s time to address the complaints head on. Don’t try and cover your tracks or find an excuse. Simply own up to the fact that there was a mistake, that you’ve fixed it and will endeavour to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Don’t do this by sending out a generic apology mass email either. If people have personally gone out of their way to complain to you, you need to personally respond. Listen to what they have to say. No matter how angry or nasty their complaint is, be genuinely sorry when you reply. You know the saying: kill them with kindness.

This extends to your social media platforms too. It’s even more important here to make your apology really clear and genuine. The public platform can affect your brand even more if you don’t handle your complaints in the right way & start a war of words. Remember: hold your hands up, take the angry comments on the chin and reply personally. One human to another.

Want an example? Here is a response email we sent out to one of the complaints. They, in turn, replied, apologised for the harshness of their original email and appreciated our transparency.

Hi XXX,

I picked up your emails from this evening.

We are so sorry about the amount of emails you received at once and are investigating right away. It is absolutely not something we promote and will be doing everything we can to make sure it is not repeated.

Kind Regards,

XXX

No blame throwing, no words that could be misconstrued as sarcasm or defensive. Just an apologetic, humble message to fix the damage already done. Don’t even reassure people that it won’t even happen again, because you’re human and it might. We can only ever try our best to make sure that our marketing is on point moving forwards.

Moving on with your marketing…

The past will only repeat itself if you don’t learn anything from it. Moving forwards we must remember this important marketing automation lesson. Just because your email campaigns are automated doesn’t mean you can just leave them to run and move on to the next thing. Check each aspect of every current email campaign and workflow. Make sure they are working. Analyse and test them. Change the elements that don’t work. Test again. And again. Get it right before moving on to the next thing.

If you are too busy to check that your automation is working as it should be, you need to scale back on the new marketing stuff you want to take on. Focus on what you’ve got first. Otherwise, you’ll end up rushing ahead, making a mistake and making more work for yourself. Slow and steady wins the race.


Share this story and choose your platform

Want to know more about our software?

SpotlerUK is more than just software. You get unrivalled support and service and we help you implement a playbook for marketing automation and lead generation success. Schedule a demo without obligation and we'll happily discuss and show you how you can utilise marketing automation for your organisation.

Read our privacy and cookie policy to see how we will process the data you provide.