December 12, 2018

Marketing Automation Guide: Definition, Benefits, and Examples

Reading time about 11 min

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.

Start saving time with Sendinblue automation today >>

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 referring to marketing automation, including “autoresponders,” “trigger marketing,” and “automated customer journeys.” Although they sound different, these terms all refer to some form of marketing automation.

Many marketers use marketing automation for email automation or email marketing automation, or automating email messages that are triggered by certain conditions. But, marketing automation software can actually do many other things, including:

  • Sending SMS marketing messages (e.g. Keeping event attendees in the loop with live SMS updates)
  • Adding or removing a contact from an email list in your database (e.g. Add a contact to your “qualified leads” list if they visit your pricing page)
  • Updating information in your contact database (e.g. You can have an attribute in your contact database for “interests” and update the value according to which links your user clicks in your emails)

By abstracting marketing tasks and letting software do the work for you, you can save your team and business tons of time and money.

So now that you know enough to get your bearings, let’s take a closer look under the hood of marketing automation.

How does marketing automation work?

If you’re looking to automate a task using marketing automation, the first step is creating a marketing automation workflow, which is just a fancy way to describe the set of rules that you define to trigger the desired action.

Tell your automation workflow where to start

To create a new automation workflow, you need to start with an entry point condition.

After a contact enters your workflow through the entry point, they will navigate through the rest of the conditions in the workflow as you have defined them.

Set the conditional triggers for your marketing automation workflow

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.

What is marketing automation example

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 automated emailing, and more.

Set global goal conditions for your workflow

In Sendinblue, you can also set global exit conditions and restart conditions for your workflow. These are essentially just conditions that let you easily tell your workflow, “if the contact [meets condition X] then remove them from the workflow (exit condition) or bring them back to the beginning of the workflow (restart condition).”

marketing automation exit condition

You can think of the exit condition like a “goal” that you want the workflow to accomplish. For example, if you have a workflow that sends a series of emails aimed at nurturing leads into customers, you don’t want to keep sending that contact emails if they make a purchase before the series of emails has finished.

Similarly, restart conditions are for when the contact does something that requires you to start from the beginning. Using the same example from above, your restart condition could be something like waiting 6 months and if the contact still hasn’t made a purchase, try again.

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:
purchase workflowThe way this workflow operates is as follows:

  1. Contact enters the workflow by making an online purchase (entry point)
  2. Workflow checks if it is their first purchase (condition -> behavior characteristic)
  3. IF YES – the workflow will send them an email with a 20% off coupon to entice them to make another purchase. (action)
  4. IF NO – the workflow will automatically add them to the “loyal customers” list (action)

Note: The entry point condition (making a purchase) sets the rest of the workflow into motion. The workflow follows your conditions in order, and performs the corresponding action based on each contact’s characteristics.

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. Sendinblue has several “pre-made” workflows for common scenarios that help you get started more easily.

marketing automation workflow templates

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.

birthday example

Use email marketing automation to 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.

welcome email

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 email 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.

Marketing automation example

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.

lead scoring workflow

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 automated emailing 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.

sales item workflow

Create an abandoned shopping cart follow-up automated emailing 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 automated emails. 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.

abandoned cart workflow

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 automation 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 automated emails 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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