What Is Marketing Automation And Why Is It So Popular?
If you’re an entrepreneur, growing business, or work in a digital marketing capacity, you’re probably looking for ways to scale your marketing efforts. Look no further than marketing automation. Marketing automation software has become increasingly popular among marketers in the last several years. Why? Just take a look at the numbers.
According to recent studies, marketing automation on average drives up to a 14.5% increase in sales productivity and a 12.2% reduction in marketing overhead. 80% of marketing automation users saw an increase in the number of leads using marketing automation software, and 77% had an increase of conversions. 91% of marketing automation users agree it’s ‘very important’ to the overall success of their online marketing strategy.” *According to Invespcro.com
The statistics certainly make a compelling case for the value of marketing automation software and why, in the digital age, it has become so popular. In this definitive guide, we’re going to take a deep dive into what marketing automation is (and what it isn’t), show you what you can do with it, and also share some of the best marketing tools available to achieve your goals.
By the end of this article, you’ll be able to see why the numbers show that marketing automation is a crucial part of an effective marketing strategy.
So what are we waiting for? Let’s dive in!
What is Marketing Automation: An Overview
First, let’s look at the textbook definition of marketing automation software according to Wikipedia.
Marketing automation refers to software platforms and technologies designed for marketing departments and organizations to more effectively market on multiple channels online and automate repetitive tasks.
Now let’s break that down a little.
In today’s digital economy, having a successful business is practically dependent on a strong marketing strategy: your way of building a relationship between your brand and your customer so that they will trust you, and buy from you.
But this is harder than it sounds, especially as your business begins to grow and scale. At some point, it simply becomes impossible to be everywhere at once, communicating, engaging, and building relationships with your potential customers. Even as you hire staff, you will quickly find that the cost of additional staff members will far outweigh the benefits of obtaining new customers.
At that point, the ability to build a high performing, high converting marketing funnel requires more than just a team, it requires a way of automating marketing tasks and to a certain extent, the automation of the customer journey. Simply put, marketing automation can save time by automating your marketing processes. It allows you to scale your customer base without having to waste resources on mass quantities of repeat marketing tasks or adding additional staff to handle those tasks. And it also can advantage a prospect to the next stage of the buying cycle, or re-enter them into one that they fell out of, without manually having to remember to reach out to them.
That being said, we don’t want to perpetuate the appearance that marketing automation is a do-all, quick-fix solution. So let’s take a look at what marketing teams can expect from automation and what its limits are.
What Marketing Automation Is and Isn’t
Marketing automation should be used as a tool to enhance your existing strategy. The software allows for the personalization of valuable content that nurtures leads all the way from curious prospects to happy customers.
And it’s important not to view automation software as simply a middleman between marketing and sales, no longer taking an active role after that handoff. Customers should remain at the center of all your efforts, regardless of what stage they’re at- meaning marketing automation should continue to nurture your relationship long after a lead has become a paying customer.
Moreover, existing customers become a valuable source of information that can be used to improve upon your existing system, so it’s critical that they not be forgotten after they reach the point of sale.
In addition, marketing automation should not be considered the solution to the problem of growth slow down, rather it increases in its effectiveness of nurturing leads as the effectiveness of your lead generation increases. One can’t work without the other.
It would be more appropriate to think of marketing automation as a tool that allows you to be in many places, building relationships, at once instead of a set-it-and-forget-it machine that you pump new leads into and walk away until the buzzer for a sales qualification goes off. Approaching marketing automation this way can really hurt the customer experience in the short run and deteriorate growth in the long run.
Marketing Automation and Content Marketing
Before we continue on to the types of marketing automation activities you can implement, we need to stop for a second and talk about content because we’d be totally remiss if we didn’t.
In the previous section, we talked about how marketing automation is not a set-it-and-forget-it machine that you can pump leads into and get sales from. The missing link in that equation is content marketing, otherwise known as, inbound marketing.
Content marketing is the practice of attracting potential leads with valuable, high-quality content that is in alignment with both your brands’ expertise and their interests and desires. An effective inbound marketing strategy will result in the quality leads needed to fuel your marketing automation strategy and build loyalty and brand authority.
As you will see in the next section, content marketing, and marketing automation are symbiotic and strengthen one another. For instance, as you begin building a strong database of leads obtained from content marketing and implement marketing automation efforts to manage those leads, tracking features will begin to show you how your content is performing.
You’ll likely notice that some content receives far more attention than others. With this information, you can double down and create more of the type of content your audience wants to consume and thus bring in more, solid leads and keep the flywheel of marketing automation spinning.
Components of Content Marketing
So what exactly constitutes “content”? In the early days of digital marketing, blog posts constituted the majority of available content, but now the options are many. Depending on your brand, you may want a diverse content strategy, or it may make sense to focus on only one or two types of content.
Here are just a few examples of content you can create:
- Blog Posts
- Case Studies
- White Paper
- Product Reviews
The list and variations of content go on and on. After your content is created there are a number of ways to promote it to the masses including websites, pages, social media, ads, guest appearances on other sites, and more.
This information may seem a bit out of place right now, but as we continue the discussion about marketing automation features, you will see the crucial role that it plays in your content marketing strategy and increasing its efficiency and effectiveness.
For instance, marketing automation can help you to see what content is getting engaged with the most. It can also help you to see where visitors are spending the most time on your site. You can manage your advertisement and marketing campaigns in your automation software to see how they’re performing and tweak them to improve performance. We’ll cover this more in the next section.
Building an Effective Content Marketing Strategy
It’s also important to make sure that you’re creating content for customers at all stages in the life cycle. Top, middle, and bottom of funnel customers will all have different interests. You don’t want to get carried away creating content for only one portion of your marketing funnel and leave the others out.
Here’s a great post we wrote on how you can map your content keywords to funnel stages and create content a content marketing strategy that addresses each level of the customer lifecycle.
What Can You Do With Marketing Automation?
Up to this point, we’ve been talking about marketing automation from a “big picture” standpoint, so now let’s take a closer look at what you can do with a marketing automation platform.
It just so happens we wrote this killer post about all the best features of marketing automation platforms and which platforms include which features (because not all are created the same) so be sure to check that out for more detail on this subject.
But just so you can start to visualize the power of marketing automation, we’re going to briefly review some of the most popular features here.
Email Marketing/Lead Nurturing/Drip Marketing
While this might be the first thing you think of when you think of marketing automation, we assure you, it’s only one piece of it, albeit it an important one.
Not only can you send timed email campaigns to someone when they do something (this is called a trigger or an action) but you can personalize the emails based on what they’re doing so that every interaction is tailored to that particular customer.
You can also send sequences of emails to develop a prospect’s knowledge of your brand and your product line. This helps move them closer to being a customer and helps you upsell and cross-sell to existing customers.
Visitor & Content Tracking
Marketing automation tools can enable you to track visitors to your site, how long they’re spending on each page, and which content of yours they’re engaging with. Conversely, you can also track how much traffic your content is receiving.
B2B marketing and sales teams frequently use this feature along with a reverse IP lookup to match a hit to their website with a company or organization name and target them like a lead when appropriate.
Both of these features help you to better understand what’s most appealing to your customers so that you can double down on that kind of content and boost the efficiency of your strategy.
Not all leads are at the same place in their journey. Some have just found that something of yours piqued their interest and they’d like to learn more (top of the sales funnel), some are working their way towards the decision about whether or not they are ready to buy (middle of the sales funnel), and some are qualified and primed to buy (bottom of the sales funnel).
Lead scoring helps you to see, at a glance, where your customers are in the journey. Lead grading helps you better understand how qualified a prospect is based on its lead score. That way, when they’re ready you can follow up with them immediately and limit the chance of losing a potential sale.
And if you think that’s awesome, you’ll love the fact that most automation software that offers these features allows you to program actions or steps a lead might take so that the software can assign them a score and/or a grade automatically.
One of the often overlooked, but extremely valuable, features of marketing automation platforms is contact management or CRM (customer relationship management). This enables you to easily store and pull customer data as well as track all of the touchpoints and activities your business has made with the contact so you can see their location in the sales cycle at any given moment.
Integrations are really marvelous to have once you begin to scale your marketing efforts. If your marketing automation tool can integrate with your other important tools, for example, a sales outreach platform, you should be able to sync data between the two platforms and use them interchangeably without constantly having to make manual updates. This is a HUGE time saver and it can create more unity in messaging between various internal departments.
Some examples of frequently used integrations are:
- Webinar Connectors
- Video Hosting and Connectors
- Social Media
- Paid Advertising
- URL Shorteners
- Customer Success Tools
- Communication Tools (ChatBot, SMS, Text)
- Event Tools
A/B testing is a way of tweaking content slightly to see which content variations result in more engagement. This feature allows you to optimize your content and gain a better understanding of what appeals most to your audience.
Reporting is probably the most important feature of a marketing automation platform because it gives you an idea of what’s working and what’s not. Reporting can help you connect closed deals to the campaigns that won them, calculate campaign costs, and sync the data between it and your sales tool or CRM. In this way, you can determine marketing ROI and improve your budgeting and forecasting moving forward.
Marketing automation solutions that include this feature help you with SEO and best practices to ensure you are getting the most benefit from your advertising initiatives. It will then track conversion rates and other metrics that can help you optimize the effectiveness of your paid and organic search efforts.
Social Media Management
Many marketing tools offer social media management capabilities so that you can manage your content and posting cadence from one area instead of having to manually schedule and program your content on several different platforms.
Which Marketing Automation Tool Should You Use?
That question isn’t the easiest to answer. There are many great platforms on the market today, each having its own strengths and weaknesses. The one you choose will depend upon a variety of factors you’ll need to consider before making a selection.
With that being said, we’re going to break down five of the most popular marketing automation tools on the market, along with their strengths and weaknesses, to help you compare and find the best option for you.
We will also include links to reviews we’ve written for each of these platforms as well as checklists designed to help you migrate from one tool to another if you’re considering jumping ship.
At Interrupt Media, we specialize in marketing automation migration and implementation, so if this all becomes a bit too overwhelming, give us a shout, we’re happy to help you with this process.
Pardot is a marketing automation platform with a strong focus on B2B organizations with long sales cycles. It is particularly attractive to companies who need a robust sales solution since it was acquired by Salesforce, a powerful CRM, in 2013. Because of this powerhouse combination, Pardot is typically the choice for Salesforce users due to its seamless, native integration. To learn more, see our extensive review of Pardot as well as our Pardot migration post.
Pros & Cons
- Native Salesforce Integration
- Very Customizable
- Strong Prospect Tracking Ability
- Limited Integrations
- Less Intuitive Interface
- Pardot is best for B2B organizations with long sales cycles and a preference for Salesforce integration.
- Pardot is not the cheapest solution available and is less ideal for small businesses, newer companies just starting out with marketing automation.
Migrating to Pardot?
If you’re already using a marketing automation tool, and you want to migrate to Pardot, these checklists can help you prepare for a smooth transition.
Marketo, an Adobe product, has gained a reputation as a leader in marketing automation, lead management, email marketing, and analytics. It also has a very robust set of capabilities and nearly limitless integration potential. Marketo is comparable to Eloqua in terms of its versatile integrations and is competitive with Pardot in terms of Salesforce integration. To learn more, see our extensive review of Marketo as well as our Marketo migration post.
Pros & Cons
- Excellent Usability
- Very Customizable
- Extensive Marketing Functionality
- Strong Salesforce Integration
- No CRM capabilities
- Weak Landing Page & Form Builder
- Marketo has excellent integration ability, particularly with Salesforce but doesn’t include a CRM which means you will need to add a separate tool for that. This is a deal-breaker for some.
- Marketo is not the cheapest solution available and is less ideal for smaller, newer companies just starting out with marketing automation.
Migrating to Marketo?
If you’re already using a marketing automation tool, and you want to migrate to Marketo, these checklists can help you prepare for a smooth transition.
HubSpot is an excellent all-in-one platform that combines marketing, sales, customer service, CRM, as well as a blog dedicated to the methodology of the services it offers. They’re a platform that primarily targets small to midsize businesses (SMBs) and is considered to be one of the pioneers in its arena. To learn more, see our extensive review of Hubspot as well as our Hubspot migration guide.
Pros & Cons
- Friendly UI
- Expert Forum & Resources
- Built-in Free CRM
- Great Reporting Capabilities
- Better Pricing
- Strong Integration Capabilities
- CMS (Content Management System)
- CRM isn’t as feature-rich as other tools
- Inflexible for complex sales processes
- Hubspot is an excellent choice for small to midsize companies looking for a strong tool at a more reasonable price.
- Hubspot is great for those that are eager to learn as they go. The interface is easy enough for beginners, but powerful enough to grow with you.
Migrating to Hubspot?
If you’re already using a marketing automation tool, and you want to migrate to Hubspot, these checklists can help you prepare for a smooth transition.
Eloqua is the pioneer in marketing automation and set the industry standard for enterprise organizations long before marketing automation became a frequently used term. After twenty years of evolution and acquisition by marketing giant Oracle, Eloqua is considered one of the most powerful tools in the industry. To learn more, see our extensive guide on Oracle Eloqua.
Pros & Cons
- An Industry Veteran
- 400+ Integrations
- Intuitive UX
- Non-Coder Friendly
- Good Segmentation Ability
- Limited Templates
- Long Implementation
- Eloqua is best for Enterprise level organizations that require a powerhouse of capabilities.
- As such, their subscription packages start at $2,000 per month. That’s a hefty price tag, but one many are willing to pay for the features.
Migrating to Oracle Eloqua?
If you’re already using a marketing automation tool, and you want to migrate to Eloqua, these checklists can help you prepare for a smooth transition.
SharpSpring, founded in 1998 and headquartered in Gainesville, Florida is a complete sales and marketing automation platform. Unlike some of the other tools we’ve reviewed, SharpSpring differentiates itself by offering a fully re-brandable platform that agencies can offer to their clients or use to manage services for those clients. SharpSpring includes email automation, tracking, CRM, and over 700 third-party integrations to extend the functionality of the software.
Pros & Cons
- Built-in CRM
- Robust Integration Library
- Less Intuitive Interface
- Falls Short on Enterprise Features
- Strict Email Compliance Team
- SharpSpring offers a fully re-brandable platform that agencies can offer to their clients or use to manage services for those clients.
- While a con to many, SharpSpring’s strict email compliance ensures their system’s deliverability isn’t compromised due to black hat practices.
Migrating to SharpSpring?
If you’re already using a marketing automation tool, and you want to migrate to SharpSpring, these checklists can help you prepare for a smooth transition.
We hope this guide has helped you to understand how marketing automation works and why it is such a popular (and super helpful) component of many businesses today. However, we hope we have also made it sufficiently clear that marketing automation isn’t a do-it-all-for-you type of tool.
What it does best is to help you build relationships with more qualified leads than a team could on their own by delivering personalized content when the customer is looking for it. It can also help you to boost and track your content marketing efforts to deliver the most valuable material to your customers.
Those that get the most benefit from their marketing automation platform are well aware that content, or inbound marketing, play just as big a role in their strategy as the automation itself.
Finally, there are a number of awesome marketing automation platforms on the market and it will depend on your budget, business type, and needs as to which one you choose to use.
We realize it can be a bit of a daunting task trying to get a marketing automation system implemented, or migrating from one to another. If that sounds like you, and you’d like a team of marketing automation experts to see you through the process, feel free to reach out and we’ll schedule a time to chat about what Interrupt Media can do to improve your digital marketing strategy.
Topics: Marketing Automation