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What Is Marketing Automation?

Marketing Automation School - Chapter 1

The best place to start with all things, is inevitably at the very beginning. So whether you’ve been automating aspects of your marketing for a decade, or you’ve just recently begun learning what marketing automation means (and what it has to offer), it’s imperative that we all start on the same page.

That’s why, in this very first chapter of Marketing Automation School, we’ll get started with the basics by asking the question: what is marketing automation? What do we really mean when we use that phrase? What can it entail? And what in the world is the difference between email marketing and marketing automation?

Once we some clear up some answers to these questions, we can start to explore the various marketing automation tools that exist, the things they can accomplish, and the wide variety of ways they can help you grow your business.

Class is in session - are you ready to get started?

Then let’s dive in!

What is Marketing Automation?

There are about as many definitions of marketing automation as there are tools that claim they do it. And these definitions can range from the sending of a few targeted emails to soup-to-nuts automation platforms that cost $5,000 a month and say they’ll automate every single aspect of your marketing stack, as well as do your dishes and put your kids to bed.

Of course we’re kidding - but it’s true that marketing automation solutions claim to run the gamut of features - from purely minimal scheduling of emails, to all-seeing, all-knowing, borderline unlimited abilities. So to get us on the same page, let’s start by giving you a look at the most common definition of marketing automation, and we’ll narrow down from there.

At the end of the day…

Marketing automation refers to software and technology that allows businesses and marketing teams to execute, automate, and track a variety of marketing efforts.

And the ultimate goal is always a specific conversion. Whether it’s driving a video view, encouraging a website visit, capturing an email address, encouraging a webinar registration, or the purchasing of a product, marketing automation has a specific conversion goal every time.

6 Key Marketing Automation Features

Because the definition of marketing automation can be illusive and varied, it can be helpful to look at what marketing automation actually is through what it can actually do. Knowing the capabilities of marketing automation software can help us understand what’s possible when implemented correctly in your business.

To do that, we’ve created a list of six essential elements or features that can be found in essentially any marketing automation platform worth its salt. They are:

1. Email/Lead Capture

Marketing automation platforms help businesses grow their lists and drive new leads using email capture forms or integrating with other softwares as an entry point for automated workflows.

With opt-in forms that can be as simple as a single field (typically only an email address to begin with) or as complicated as 7+ fields (like name, company, email, phone, job title, size of company, etc.) in high-touch or enterprise sales scenarios, adding contacts, leads, and new email addresses to your database is the first essential element of marketing automation.

2. Lead Nurturing via Email Marketing

Once new email contacts have been added to your database, marketing automation allows your business to nurture those new leads through the use of email marketing. Sending a personalized sequence of emails to an individual helps to educate your prospects and build trust with them.

Often the emails and sequences in a marketing automation platform will be chosen based on a person’s interactions with your website, as well as the ways in which they do (or don’t) interact with the emails you continue to send them.

3. List Management

Another essential element of marketing automation is the ability to tag, separate, and segment people in order to send specific communications, advertisements, or offers targeted to who exactly an individual is and how they have interacted with you in the past.

For example, once one of your contacts purchases a subscription to your SaaS company, marketing automation allows you to automatically tag that person as an existing customer, allowing you to communicate with only people in your contact database who are designated as a customer.

4. Website Analytics

Knowing what a person is doing on your website and where they’re spending time is helpful in determining how likely they are to become a customer, and which parts of your business they’re most interested in.

These analytics can also help you segment your audience based on certain traits, which contributes to their lead score (more on that momentarily). For example, if someone downloads your ebook, attends your webinar, and has visited your pricing page three times, they’re of course more likely to be on track to become a customer over another person who’s only read a handful of your blog posts.

5. Lead Scoring

Quality marketing automation software will assist your business in scoring your leads. This usually translates into providing a score, often 1-100, on how likely a person is to be ready to make a purchase.

In high-touch sales, higher scoring leads are typically assigned to sales agents who make phone calls and send one-to-one emails. In lower-touch sales processes, higher scoring leads can often be segmented and targeted with promotions, sales, or more frequent communications.

6. Customer Relationship Management (CRM)

Contrary to it’s name, a CRM typically has less to do with “customers” and more to do with following up and closing a sale. This element of a marketing automation tool often shows all the information your business has about a prospect.

This potentially would include their contact information, how they’ve interacted with you in the past (have they attended a webinar, have they downloaded an ebook, etc.), and which elements of your business they’re most interested in.

As we discussed earlier, there exists a wide variety of marketing automation softwares, which means some tools will have more than these features listed above, and some will have fewer. You might also see additional elements in certain marketing automation platforms that we won’t include in our definition, such as landing pages and online shopping carts.

Regardless, the core purpose of marketing automation is to engage and nurture leads or contacts over a period of time, until they’re ready to make a purchase. Almost all features in a marketing automation platform will drive towards that goal.

If you currently use a marketing automation platform, what did you primarily use to do your marketing before?

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Why Use Marketing Automation?

The short answer is because marketing automation will have a shocking impact on your conversion rate. It will save you time, increase the predictability of your results, and leverage what’s working for you in your marketing.

But you have to do it the right way.

When marketing automation is constructed and implemented properly for your business, you’ll eliminate many of the pitfalls that businesses face. You’ll drastically reduce human errors and prevent communications from falling through the cracks. Plus, you’ll be able to nurture your leads and prospects hands-free, and have better data on how people are (or aren’t) interacting with your business.

Companies that win financially are harnessing the opportunities that marketing automation provides - while avoiding the overwhelm and confusion that often comes along with trying to do too many things without a system in place. They’re choosing to approach marketing automation with their eyes wide open, and not just jumping in for the sake of jumping in.

The days of one-to-many email marketing are quickly coming to a close. We are entering the age of one-to-few and one-to-one email marketing. This shouldn’t be a surprise; being able to accurately personalize communications and move from one-to-many to one-to-one is far superior to sending the same static email newsletter to thousands of people. And when it comes down to it, there’s simply no comparison in terms of relevance, engagement and end results.

The best part, is that marketing automation democratizes the highest levels of marketing best practices. Even the smallest of teams can incorporate automation to perform complex workflows routinely and at low cost.

Marketing Automation Examples

To give you something more concrete, here are a few examples of how marketing automation is being used to personalize email communication, advertising, lead scoring, and lead nurturing.

  • A prospect opens an email and clicks on a link about SEO. Upon clicking said link, they are automatically tagged “SEO” and moved into an email campaign that sends them an educational sequence of messages regarding the SEO capabilities of your agency.
  • A prospect opens an email and clicks a link about social media marketing. You tag him with “social media marketing” and move him into the relevant email sequence. Notice two customers receive information tailored to their needs.
  • A prospect starts a trial of your software and indicates during sign-up that they are a realtor as opposed to a homebuyer (your software serves both groups). You tag them “Realtor” and send them an email sequence that educates your new user on how your tool caters to their specific needs.
  • A customer views your upgrade page but does not, in fact, upgrade. You follow up with an email four hours later with a special bonus or coupon if they upgrade in the next 24 hours.
  • A customer’s recurring payment fails. You automatically trigger and send them an email alerting them of the issue, with a link to your payment page, requesting they update their credit card information.
  • A website visitor enters their email address in exchange for a single chapter of your ebook about organic gardening. You tag them with “Prospect” and “Gardening” and follow-up with a sequence of emails that provide organic gardening tips, as well as a call-to-action to purchase the full book at the end of each email.
  • You’re gearing up for your annual Black Friday sale, so you run a query to find all prospects who have visited one of your pricing pages in your online t-shirt store and schedule an email with a 50% off deal on all your t-shirts to only these people.
  • A group of prospects have given you their email address in exchange for a free infographic. You automatically generate a Facebook audience based on their list of emails and send retargeting.

Do you use marketing automation in your job or at your company?

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Marketing Automation vs. Email Marketing

Many people have approached email marketing the same way for more than a decade. So it may come off a bit jarring to learn this, but tailoring your emails to someone’s specific behaviors and actions is exponentially more effective than the email marketing blasts of old.

This highlights the most sizable difference between marketing automation and email marketing.

Of course email marketing is an essential element of marketing automation - but it is only one part.
They by no means compare to each other directly.

If you’re still using software that’s good at sending static email newsletters and puts a lot of emphasis on a collection of fixed-width email templates, we encourage you to be concerned. These types of software are good for one thing, and one thing only. They won’t (and simply can’t) grow with your business or the changing digital landscape.

For a more simplistic breakdown, we can look at it like this:

Marketing Automation is:

  • Automatic
  • Personalized
  • Multichannel
  • Cost-Effective

Email Marketing is:

  • Manual
  • Single Channel
  • Static
  • Wasteful

Furthermore, if your email marketing software doesn’t view an email address as a single person, no matter which “campaign” or “list” they are subscribed to, you’re losing out information that would help you understand your prospects better and make more sales. This is because you simply don’t have a unified picture of who that prospect is, what you know about them, and what type of information they want from you, and how they’ve interacted with you in the past.

The current approach of one-to-many broadcasts through email marketing is dying, while the richer, broader, automated communication options of marketing automation are steadily on the rise.

4 Marketing Automation Mistakes Beginners Make

There are four key mistakes that decision-makers are susceptible to making when it comes to marketing automation. This course is designed to prevent you from making and of these mistakes in your business. We’ll mention elements of these in later chapters, but for now, the following four things should be kept in mind, whether you’re planning a new marketing automation strategy or refining an old one.

1. The Robot Mistake

First, it’s a common mistake to think that marketing automation is just about tools - especially with so many marketing automation platforms available - all claiming to do things better than the rest. But the truth about marketing automation, is that it’s really about people.

It’s about scaling communication and processes in order to build relationships and enhance your personal productivity, or the productivity of your team. It’s also about building a reliable customer experience that builds their confidence in your products and services.

As you engage in your marketing automation journey, remember the real humans behind each of the automations you create. Create an experience for people - not robots.

2. The Technology-First Mistake

Marketing automation doesn’t begin or end with technology, even though many marketing automation tools would lead you to believe that it does. It begins with your strategy, and knowing what you want to accomplish.

Your technology should match your goals, not the other way around. To get the best possible results, you’ll want to begin by thinking through what steps, processes, and communications will take you to your desired goals. Then, find out what the best match from a usability, cost, and convenience standpoint is for your business. From there, you can automate as much of your processes as possible with a tool you select to match.

3. The Cure-All Mistake

Another common mistake is those who believe marketing automation is a cure-all for whatever ails their business. Businesses that are struggling to make sales right now with their current sales and marketing methods simply aren’t going to benefit from purchasing a wildly expensive and comprehensive market automation tool.

Automating bad marketing is just as bad (or worse) than not automating good marketing.

Instead, it’s much more important to look at marketing automation as a way to amplify what is already working in your business, but needs to be done faster, more efficiently, and more effectively. If haven’t arrived at that point yet, you can certainly begin experimenting with marketing automation, but be sure you’re willing to revise your current strategies as you go.

Test each and every one of your marketing processes before you automate them, and then only automate and scale the winning ones.

On a scale of 1 to 5, how effective is marketing automation software in achieving your goals?

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4. The Set It And Forget It Mistake

The fourth mistake we see decision-makers making is buying into the “set it and forget it” fallacy. Some people believe that once if they could just set up the right email campaign, they’ll never have to look at emailing their prospects or customers again, and they can go into autopilot mode forever. This just simply isn’t true.

Although your company will certainly be able to create marketing automation campaigns and workflows that drastically reduce the time it takes to run business processes, you’ll benefit most by revisiting your automation campaigns. If you test and tweak key steps, you’ll optimize your results and get better on a larger scale.

While it is true that marketing automation can become a perpetual motion machine that works for your business 24/7, that doesn’t make it a permanent solution in an ever-changing environment. Your prospects and the online world change all the time, and your marketing automation should reflect mirror those changes as they happen.

4 Marketing Automation Questions to Start Asking

As you begin to delve deeper into the world of marketing automation, there are questions that will benefit you to begin thinking about now, before you’ve begun fleshing out workflows and email campaigns.

And if you’re already an experienced marketer, these questions are still a good reminder to think through as you refine your automation sequences in your business. Wherever you’re at - take a moment to reflect on the following four questions.

1. How would you talk to an individual customer?

In a perfect world, every prospect who wants to know more about your business and who chooses whether to work with you would have an opportunity to talk to you directly about their specific situation, and how your solution can solve it.

Of course, we live in the real world, and it’s impossible to meet every clients and prospect face-to-face and speak with them directly. When done the right way, marketing automation is the next best thing.

The core goal of your company’s marketing automation strategy should be to emulate real, human-to-human interaction. You’ll get to learn individual information from your audience, and you’ll also be able to provide them with an experience that’s customized to their self-identified and hidden challenges.

Matched to your product and service offerings, you’re starting to have a conversation with an individual customer that becomes exceedingly more meaningful for both parties.

2. What do we want?

From your potential customer’s point of view, ask yourself: what is it that they want? What are they looking for? What problem are they trying to solve? Your marketing automation should be a streamlined process to deliver that solution in answer to their question.

And in return, ask yourself: what do I want? What processes in your business are a necessity? Which interactions with prospects are most valuable, and what do you want to achieve out of them?

When you get clear about what you want to have happen in your business, the decisions and plans you make around your marketing automation become much easier to make.

3. If this happens, then what happens?

Part of automating processes in your business relies on thinking ahead, and optimizing what should happen once something else does. In all areas of your customer acquisition journey, ask yourself: what would the best case scenario be for what happens next?

As you plan out your marketing automation workflows, you’ll create situations where your automation behaves based on the criteria you set for what happens when something else does.

You’ll be able to refine these automated actions based on other actions that your prospects and customers do or don’t take. For example, if one of your prospects attends your webinar for over 30 minutes, what would you want to happen next?

What if you could automatically send them a coupon code that expires at midnight that day? What if you could automatically send them a personalized email from one of your sales people asking them what further questions they have about your product or service? What if you could automatically send them a replay and the webinar transcript as soon as it’s available?

Thinking in terms of “If this happens, then that should happen…” creates a clear pathway for you to plan and implement your marketing automation strategy.

4. When am I going to do all of this?

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and your entire business’s marketing automation strategy won’t be either. If a lot of what we’re talking about sounds intense, fear not. I promise it’s not as scary as it may seem.

It’s easy to admire larger companies that have marketing automation locked in with complex workflows and borderline magical things that occur in response to their prospects actions. And if you want to get there one day, you will. But the best way to create effective and approachable marketing automations in your business is to start with big bedrock items first.

You can start with simpler challenges like your most important email marketing workflows, delivering purchased products to your customers, some Facebook ad retargeting, or whatever makes the most sense for your business. As you tweak and optimize, add layers of automation as you can, to maximize your ROI and save yourself time.

Give yourself quarterly implementation goals for your marketing automation, and adjust your pace when you need to. Take what you learn from this course and implement the biggest priority for you - and adjust based on the real numbers you’re seeing. Don’t wait to get started - and don’t stop before the payoff.

One final note - there are over 1,500 established marketing automation tools out there, and that field of companies and tools is growing. It would be impossible for us to break down all the various iterations and combinations that are possible, especially as they may relate to your specific strategy.

That said, we’ll still be focusing on what matters most in your marketing automation strategy, in an effort to educate and encourage you throughout your business journey.

In Conclusion

Congratulations! You’ve made it through the very first chapter of Marketing Automation School!

Once you’ve wrapped your mind around the basics of marketing automation, it’s easy to see a world of options start to unfold. From cart abandonment campaigns to onboarding sequences to retargeting and lead nurturing, the possibilities begin to appear almost as endless as your imagination. Throughout the next four chapters of Marketing Automation School, we’ll be exploring that world of possibility in full.

From strategies and tactics outlining what marketing automation is used for, to different marketing automation software options, with examples and sample workflows, we’ll be walking step-by-step through the detailed ways this technology can dramatically impact your business.

Join the Future of Marketing Automation

Drip is the fastest growing marketing automation software in the world. Thousands of marketers and business owners use Drip to trigger millions of automated marketing actions every year—and tens of thousands of new automations happen every day. People around the world are discovering that Drip is truly the future of marketing automation; for the many and not the few. Join us today and find out why.