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Marketing Automation 101: What You Need to Know for 2021

  • Pat BlakelyPat Blakely

Done right, marketing automation is like having a space-age supercomputer for handling your marketing grunt work.

In other words:

Automation makes running your business easier and more efficient.

Excited?

Here’s what you’ll learn today:

  • How marketing automation can maximize efficiency and increase conversions
  • The specific problems marketing automation solves
  • Automation best practices that can help your business boom
  • Plus, a lot more!

 So if you’re ready to explore the magic of marketing automation, let’s dive right in!

What is Marketing Automation?

Marketing automation is the process of using technology to automate marketing tasks.

These tasks are often time-consuming, repetitive activities like:

Although these tasks are menial, they’re still important. In fact, many of them are vital activities for engaging your target audience.

That said, by offloading these tasks to a marketing automation tool, you’re free to focus on the higher-order to-dos that have a greater impact on your business.

For example, improving your digital marketing strategy and creative problem-solving are higher priorities than a social media post or thank-you email.

The big idea: marketing automation streamlines marketing and sales activities, helping enrich customer experience, boost conversions, and free up brain-power for more important things.

What is a marketing automation platform?

A marketing automation platform is software a marketer uses to create, manage, and perform automations.

These platforms run in the background, handling much of marketing busywork like lead generation, nurturing, and scoring tasks, as well as audience segmentation and analytics reporting.

That said, automation platforms aren’t all created alike.

Some focus on specific needs, while others offer a range of marketing automation features.

For example:

  • ConvertKit mainly handles automated emails
  • SocialBee and Sprout Social are social media management and automation tools
  • ActiveCampaign is a complete automation suite, steering email and social media campaigns and handling tons of other “behind-the-curtain” marketing, sales, and customer support processes

Still with me?

Perfect!

Now let’s switch gears and look at a real-world example of marketing automation.

This is the story of how automation helped me buy a spiffy new desk…

Marketing automation: the abandoned cart example

I was shopping online for a new desk.

And I came across one I liked:

So I entered my contact info and confirmed my email address:

But at the last second, I decided not to buy the desk — I wanted to “think it over.”

Now, when I decided not to buy the desk, a marketing automation tool triggered an “abandoned cart nurturing sequence” to try to get me to convert.

Here’s what that looked like:

First, I got an email telling me they were “still holding my cart.”

Note the discount, incentivizing me to buy.

But again, I wanted more time to “think it over.”

And when I decided not to buy this time, the next step in the nurturing sequence triggered — another follow-up email:

Note how this email reminds me my cart will expire soon.

So, not wanting to lose the discount, I mull it over again and eventually buy the desk.

In this case, an abandoned cart nurturing sequence successfully led to conversion.

What’s more, this company now has a customer profile based on my purchasing behaviors. And they’ll use this information to market relevant products and content so I “warm up” and make another purchase.

…And I did!

Based on my standing desk purchase, this company marketed me an anti-fatigue mat, which I bought immediately.

 Clever, right?

What Does Marketing Automation Do?

Now that you’ve got the gist of what marketing automation is, let’s explore all the helpful things automation does for businesses.

  1. Budget more time and resources for the things that matter

When you’re not spending time and resources on menial tasks, you can earmark more time and resources for critical tasks

In other words:

You’ll spend less money and get more important things done.

For example, automated chatbots can save you up to 30% on your customer service costs, and social media automation saves 6+ hours every week.

At scale, that’s a lot of extra time and money.

  1. Personalize your marketing messages for higher conversions

80% of customers say they’re more likely to buy from a business that provides a relevant, personalized experience.

You see, personalization is a big deal when it comes to the customer experience.

Not only does personalization drive loyalty, but 42% of consumers are turned off by impersonalized content marketing.

Even more alarming, 63% of consumers won’t even buy from companies with poor personalization.

Fortunately, with marketing automation, personalization is a breeze:

  • Automatically segment your audience based on engagement and interest
  • Nurture leads with relevant content delivered at the right time
  • Make data-driven decisions to craft unique experiences for your customers, increasing engagement (and sales)
  1. Increase sales while reducing overhead

The “holy grail of business” is anything that drives more sales while decreasing costs.

 Enter marketing automation.

According to Nucleus Research, automation results in a 14.5% increase in sales productivity while achieving a 12.2% reduction in marketing overhead.

 Not bad!

  1. Scale your business easily and affordably

As your business begins to grow, you’ll experience two things: 

  1. Happiness that your hard work is paying off.
  2. Panic as you wonder how you’re going to keep up.

The beauty of marketing automation is that it helps scale your business affordably, whether you gain 10 new customers or 10,000.

How Does Marketing Automation Work?

At a high-level, marketing automation collects data, segments your audience based on behaviors and interests, and lets you create personalized marketing campaigns to get your target audience to convert.

In a nutshell, you can break marketing automation into 6 steps:

Step 1: Collecting customer information

Information drives automation.

 Every time your target audience engages with a piece of content, your marketing automation platform collects information.

 For example, your target audience might engage with your content by:

  • Opening an email
  • Subscribing through a web form
  • Making a purchase
  • Downloading a freebie
  • Clicking on an ad

Once this information is fed back to the automation platform, it creates a customer profile based on things like behaviors, interests, and demographics.

Step 2: Segmenting your audience

Without getting too complicated, segmentation means dividing your audience based on their interests, behaviors, actions, and the like.

In other words, segmentation means sorting your “customer profiles” into specific piles so you can identify and address their needs and pain points.

All marketing automation platforms provide some level of audience segmentation.

Step 3: Creating personalized marketing content

Based on the information gathered in Step 1, you can start to create valuable, relevant content.

Let’s be clear: the marketer creates the content, whereas marketing automation collects the data needed to create personalized content.

This personalized content makes up the marketing messages in your campaigns, which you’ll deliver to your audience segments across different marketing channels like email, social media, and text.

Step 4: Planning campaigns

Marketers plan campaigns and design the sequences that marketing automation software executes.

Remember the “abandoned cart nurturing sequence” we talked about earlier?

A marketer would have designed that sequence as part of a campaign in their marketing automation platform.

Step 5: Marketing automation executes the plan

Your automation software executes your marketing campaign and collects valuable data about your target audience and their individual customer journeys.

Step 6: Analyze results and tweak campaigns

Continually track and analyze data provided by your automation software.

For example, you might look at where leads are most likely to convert in your customer journey or, just as important, where most leads are dropping off.

Use these results to tweak campaigns, optimize customer experience, and ultimately drive more conversions.

What Problems Can Marketing Automation Solve?

From chasing and nurturing leads to customer retention, modern marketing has many issues.

Now, marketing automation isn’t a silver bullet solution to all your marketing problems. But, with a host of features designed to make marketing easier — and the industry data to back it up — it might just be the next best thing.

Let’s explore some common problems marketing automation helps solve.

Tracking user engagement

As you know by now, tracking how users engage with your content is essential.

To effectively market to your target audience, you’ll need to know critical data like:

  • Open rates
  • Click-through rates
  • Pageviews
  • Bounce rates
  • Conversion rates

With this data, you’re not shooting in the dark with your marketing campaigns and can make informed decisions about what content is vibing with your target audience (and what isn’t).

Fortunately, marketing automation, by design, provides all these data points and more.

Generating and converting leads

91% of marketing professionals say generating high-quality leads is their top priority.

With marketing automation, it’s easier to generate and nurture leads with relevant content delivered across multiple channels.

And the results speak for themselves, with 77% of companies reporting higher conversions because of automated lead nurturing.

Customer retention

It costs 5 times more to acquire new customers than to keep existing ones.

What’s more, you’re 60% – 70% more likely to sell to an existing customer, compared to a 5% – 20% chance of selling to a new one.

In other words, customer retention is a big deal that impacts your bottom line.

Marketing automation helps you retain customers by:

  • Tracking and managing customer data
  • Helping you create automated loyalty programs (to enhance customer experience)
  • Cross-selling and upselling products and services
  • Collecting customer feedback (which also helps refine customer experience)

Data organization

As you scale, you’ll acquire an incredible amount of customer data.

Now, without organization and centralizing this information, you may lose leads, revenue, and probably even your mind, trying to keep track of everything.

Luckily, marketing automation sorts and stores all this data, and makes it accessible with just a few clicks.

What Are Some Marketing Automation Best Practices?

Now that you’ve survived marketing automation thus far, let’s cover some helpful best practices.

Plan out your customer journeys

So you’ve got some brand-spanking-new marketing automation software, and you can’t wait to dive in.

But before you start chugging away, you should map out your customer journeys, detailing key stages from awareness to action.

Mapping out your customer journeys not only gives you the 30,000-view of your entire process, but your automated workflows are based on these journeys.

So, planning the journeys makes planning your workflows a heck of a lot easier — win-win!

Don’t “dial in” your marketing messages

You may have a sophisticated automated workflow, but your campaign performance will likely suffer without the right messaging to match.

Your marketing messages must be personalized and relevant at each stage of the customer journey. And this requires a deep understanding of your customers, their behaviors, and how they interact with your content.

Automation platforms do a lot of wonderful things.

But the actual crafting of meaningful marketing messages, that’s all you; so don’t gloss over this part.

Start small and work the kinks out

If you’re an automation newbie, it’s easy to underestimate the size of a marketing campaign.

Instead of tackling complex scenarios, start small. Look for simple activities that could benefit from automation.

For example, you could set up welcome emails for new subscribers or create simple sequences that send messages when certain events are triggered, like a birthday or a thank you message.

Once you’ve mastered the basics, gradually take on more complicated automation projects and learn the nuances of these activities.

Test and tweak ’til the end of time

Marketing automation isn’t a set it and forget it solution.

Although some platforms have clever AI to help optimize marketing campaigns, you’ll still need to analyze the data and tweak your campaigns based on those results.

So, if you’re a data-nerd (like moi) who goes bananas for spreadsheets, tinkering with automation will be your Super Bowl.

Ready to Move Forward with Marketing Automation?

So there you have it:

Marketing automation 101.

We’ve covered a lot of ground here today, and hopefully, you’ve learned a thing or two about what marketing automation is and how it can help your business boom.

So, if you’re ready to experience the mind-blowing world of automated marketing first-hand, find a platform that meets your needs and take it for a spin.

Your untapped conversions are waiting.