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Marketing automation: the myths and the magic

The need for marketing automation is greater than ever. Although adoption is growing rapidly, there are still many myths surrounding this technology.

When marketing campaigns are built around individuals and their behavior, it quickly becomes apparent that the batch-and-blast approach is insufficient. Automated, triggered messages are essential. The recent focus on customer journey mapping then inevitably leads to a need for marketing automation.

For many though, the reality of implementing campaign automation is a mixture of myth and magic that is not well understood.

Myth: Marketing automation will save you time

This is the first, and perhaps biggest myth of marketing automation. The thinking is that an automated campaign is like a manual campaign, but one that can be reused over and over again, thereby saving time.

The real benefit is in improving the quality of campaigns.

Automated campaigns require at least as much time and effort as traditional batch campaigns for the following reasons:

1. They’re harder to set up

Like a batch message, the content of an automated message must be thoroughly tested. However, the set-up and configuration of an automated message is much more complex. The rules to determine who will and will not receive the message must take into account many more variables, such as individual behaviors, other messaging, time of day, day of week, and holidays.

2. They’re harder to code

Personalization is even more important to automated messages. The complexity of the trigger behaviors and timing of the messages increases the complexity of the coding required to customize and personalize these messages.

3. They still need maintenance

Content still becomes stale and irrelevant, even if it’s being delivered individually. Batch messages created from scratch or from a template get fresh content and are updated regularly. Automated messages need the same updates, but there are just fewer obvious opportunities for these updates.

Myth: Marketing automation is “fire and forget”

Many marketers view automated messaging as “fire and forget”: set it up and let it run. The truth is that automated processes break and situations change. Data transfer and load (ETL) processes error out. The same is true of the deployment and delivery processes; servers go down, network connections fail, and software patches can break things.

These problems can result in recipients not getting messages, getting too many messages, or the wrong people receiving messages. The only solution is continuous and effective monitoring, which of course takes time.

Myth: Software makes it easy

There is a myth that today’s email service providers (ESPs) make automated messaging quick and simple. While things are improving, the reality is that setting up automated programs requires significant technical and platform expertise, as well as substantial marketing experience.

Technological integration and shortage of key skills are two of the leading pain points in implementing marketing automation solutions.

It’s not all doom and gloom, though. There is magic, too.

Magic: Personalized, triggered messages drive higher engagement

Studies have repeatedly shown that messages triggered by individual behaviors and personalized to the individual drive significantly higher engagement. When compared to newsletters, eConsultancy saw four times more open rates. Experian saw a revenue increase by 13 times, depending on the type of trigger.

The magic lies in identifying the right triggers for your customers and the right combination of timing, content, and frequency to deliver based on those triggers.

Magic: Adaptive campaigns can handle a wide range of scenarios

By identifying the key signals – the critical decision moments in your customers’ individual journeys – you can create a smaller number of personalized campaigns that are adapted to a wider range of individual scenarios.

The magic is in identifying the right signals and the messaging to drive customer behavior. There is much advice about common signals like welcome series, abandoned shopping carts, purchase, and service “thank you” messages, and so forth. These are common and powerful messaging opportunities, but every organization is different. The ones that are most important to your business is something you will only learn through a combination of careful analysis as well as trial and error.

The key takeaways

At the end of the day, marketing automation is extremely valuable and increasingly important; however, it is not a panacea. Some important things to keep in mind as you navigate this process are:

  1. Be prepared for hard work.
  2. Ensure you have sufficient resources.
  3. Identify your customers’ decision points and key signals.
  4. Don’t expect to ever be finished.

Understanding the myths and the magic is vital to ensuring success and avoiding the pitfalls.

by Derek Harding