What is Marketing Automation?
Marketing automation is software that enables marketers to automate repetitive tasks across different channels using “automation workflows.” Workflows are sets of predefined conditions that trigger specific actions, such as sending an email or updating an attribute in your contact database.
Marketing automation is one of the fastest growing tools in terms of adoption among digital marketers because of its ability to scale important one-to-one communications and marketing tasks without any technical skills.
Once reserved exclusively for businesses with enterprise-level marketing budgets, marketing automation is now being recognized as a necessity for all businesses. Thanks to the emergence of new solutions that are tailored for smaller teams (and budgets), marketing automation has become much more accessible for smaller organizations in the past 5-10 years.
Automation has enabled marketers in all types of industries and organizations to save countless hours of tedious labor while significantly improving their customer experience. If you haven’t already started, now is the perfect time to start building better customer relationships and saving yourself time by launching your first marketing automation workflow.
This article will cover all of the basic concepts of marketing automation and outline how your business could benefit from using an automation solution to scale your marketing efforts and create a more personalized customer experience.
Marketing Automation: Overview
There are a handful of aliases people use when talking about marketing automation, including “autoresponders,” “trigger marketing,” and “automated journeys.” Although they sound different, these terms all refer to the automation of marketing tasks — so, I’ll stick to calling it marketing automation to make things easier.
Like email marketing, marketing automation is intended to simplify the communication process between you and your customers. But, they do not function the same way or accomplish the same marketing objectives.
Email marketing is used to send one email campaign to a contact list (one to many). These campaigns usually have a broad purpose such as announcing sales or new products, promoting an event, or sharing content through a newsletter like this:
On the other hand, marketing automation sends a message to one person based on the outcome of predetermined conditions (one to one). These messages are usually targeted to nurture certain behavior, so they are much more timely and relevant.
Additionally, marketing automation can do things besides sending emails. You can also use it to automatically add contacts to specific email mailing lists, or score leads in your database based on their behavior. FYI: lead scoring is just a fancy way of describing a points system to know who are your most promising prospective customers (I’ll explain this a bit further down).
So now that you know enough to get your bearings, let’s talk a little more about exactly what marketing automation is.
How does marketing automation work?
The first step in setting up an automated task with marketing automation is creating a workflow.
Workflows start with an entry point condition. Entry points tell the workflow when to start paying attention to a certain contact. An example of this would be “contact clicks on a link in an email you sent.”
After a contact enters the workflow through the entry point, they navigate through the rest of the conditions in the workflow. The conditions in the workflow are if/then structures that branch out from each other to create a tree. They filter out contacts according to certain characteristics as they move through the tree.
Basically, your workflow will ask itself “does this contact match [a certain characteristic]?” If the answer is “yes,” then that contact goes down the yes branch. If the answer is “no,” then they go down the no branch.
These characteristics fall into two categories:
- Identity characteristics – These correspond to data from your customer database that can help trigger an automated message. Example: using a contact’s date of birth from your database as the characteristic to send a special coupon for their birthday.
- Behavior characteristics – These correspond to a certain type of behavior or action, including actions on your website, or engagement with certain emails (opening the email or clicking on the links inside). Example: Sending a special loyalty program invitation to customers who have made multiple purchases from your business.
Depending on each condition’s outcome (yes or no), you can perform different actions with your contacts. This could be adding them to an email list, giving them points for lead scoring, sending them an automated email message and more.
Also, you can delay these actions for a specific amount of time. An example of when this might be useful is if you have a series of on-boarding emails. Usually these are spread out over a few weeks. Once the contact enters the on-boarding workflow, it sends the first email. After waiting a week, it will send the next email, and so on.
Alright, I know that was pretty dense. Let’s make sure that you can put it all together by going over a basic example workflow.
Creating a “loyal customers” list for your e-commerce site:
The way this workflow operates is as follows:
- Contact enters the workflow by making an online purchase (entry point)
- Workflow checks if it is their first purchase (condition -> behavior characteristic)
- IF YES – the workflow will send them an email with a 20% off coupon to entice them to make another purchase. (action)
- IF NO – the workflow will automatically add them to the “loyal customers” list (action)
You can use any combination of conditions to create simple or complex workflows that automate your marketing tasks.
If this seems daunting, you don’t have to worry. Many marketing automation platforms like SendinBlue include “pre-made” workflows for common scenarios that help you get started more easily.
That leads us to our next question:
What is marketing automation used for?
Marketing automation can be used in a number of ways. In this section, I will share a few automation workflow suggestions to give you an idea of what is possible.
Send your contacts a special promotion for their birthday
With marketing automation, it’s easy to set up a workflow that sends your contacts a coupon for their birthday (assuming you have their birth date or month in your database).
Not only does this improve your customer relationships, it also encourages them to buy something from your site.
Send a welcome message to new subscribers of your mailing list
Sending a welcome email to a new subscriber is a great way to immediately establish a good relationship.
This message can reinforce your initial value proposition. It should also include information to set your subscribers’ expectations. You can explain what content you will be sending them, and how frequently they should expect to receive it.
Create a series of onboarding emails
Making account setup easy is key to making your customers happy. The best way to do this is to create a workflow that gives them helpful information to get started when they sign up.
This marketing automation workflow can include an email welcoming them to the site. It should also include instructions on configuring their account profile.
After this, you can include a condition that sends a follow-up message if they do not configure their profile after a certain amount of time.
Once they complete their profile, you can send them a final email that shows them how to get the most out of their account on the site.
The idea is to gently guide the customer through the account setup process. It also helps them use their account to its fullest extent.
These emails set the tone of the relationship that they will have with your site. That is why you should make this process as simple and painless as possible.
Score leads based on specific actions
Wouldn’t it be nice if you could know which contacts are your most promising leads, and how close they are to making a purchase? With marketing automation, you can create a “lead scoring” workflow. This works by assigning points to leads as they perform specific actions on your site or with your emails.
This is very useful if you know which actions (or combination of actions) lead up to a conversion for your business. If you don’t know these, you need to start researching!
Once these contacts reach a certain score, you can add them to a specific list for a promotional coupon. This further encourages them to buy something.
Create Dynamic Email Lists
Another useful function of marketing automation is creating dynamic email lists based on contact behavior. This is a great way to enhance your bulk email marketing efforts by improving your contact list segments.
Creating behavior-driven email campaign lists enables you to provide the most relevant content. In turn, your contacts are more likely to engage with your campaigns and visit your landing pages.
Create an abandoned shopping cart follow-up email for your e-commerce site
If you have an e-commerce store, then you know the frustration of having potential customers abandon shopping carts before they make their purchase.
One of the most effective tactics to get these people to convert (make a purchase) is following up with them via email. This email should include product recommendations based on the items left in their cart. Many people abandon shopping carts because the products were missing a key feature, or the price was too high. Similar product recommendations can show them what else is available and drive them back to your store.
Who can benefit from marketing automation?
If you’re looking to grow your customer base and increase your customer lifecycle, you will benefit from marketing automation. That being said, there are several types of businesses that should incorporate marketing automation into their strategy ASAP:
- Businesses with solid lead generating content: Marketing automation is especially useful for contacts in the middle of the sales funnel. Once anonymous prospects become known leads, the path to conversion can be mapped into steps. Use automation to nurture contacts through these steps. Do this by sending guided messages triggered by their on-site behavior.
- Businesses looking to enhance email marketing efforts: Dynamically segmented lists make bulk email marketing campaigns much more effective. Using marketing automation to create lists corresponding to contact behavior means you can provide more relevant information to contacts. This increases campaign engagement and conversion. For example, you may have certain contacts that use your coupons for small purchases. You can encourage them to make larger purchases by sending them a promotion that incentivizes a larger purchase.
- E-commerce or SaaS businesses looking to increase conversions: Marketing automation is great for improving communication with customers. You can encourage people to create accounts while demonstrating the benefits of having an account for your store. It also enables you to follow up with people who abandon carts and failed to make a purchase. Marketing automation makes sure that these prospects don’t fall through the cracks.
- Businesses looking to improve relationships with customers: Individually targeted messages gives you the opportunity to reach out to customers and make them feel like you care. With marketing automation, you can target prospects based on their behavior. This lets you provide timely and relevant information at critical points in the sales cycle. It also gives customers a better sense that you know their needs, improving their overall perception of your business.
Putting it all together
Let me quickly recap to make sure that you didn’t miss anything:
- Marketing automation is the automation of repetitive marketing tasks based on a set of predefined conditions. These tasks include lead nurturing, lead scoring, customer engagement, and many more.
- Automated tasks are created in the form of workflows.
- Prospects enter a workflow through an entry point condition.
- After entering the workflow, they are filtered through different if/then conditions based on certain characteristics. The outcomes result in branches that form a tree.
- Characteristics come in the form of behavior or identity characteristics. Behavior characteristics refer to specific actions taken on your website or email campaigns. Identity characteristics depend on your customer data (e.g. birthdays, account anniversaries, etc.).
- As the workflow tree branches out, different actions are performed on the filtered subset of prospects in each branch.
Now you should have a better understanding of what marketing automation is, as well as how it can grow your business.
If you’ve done your research on marketing automation tools, you’ve probably found that many platforms are too expensive for anything but a large enterprise. As a fresh new platform, SendinBlue offers a more affordable and easy-to-use solution that doesn’t compromise on functionality. That means you have no more excuses — it’s time for you to give marketing automation a shot!
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