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E-mail Marketing vs. Marketing Automation

12.13.2016 / Posted in Digital Marketing

Marketing automation involves e-mail marketing, and e-mail marketing may involve marketing automation… but they aren’t the same thing.

What’s the difference? And which one do you need—or have?

E-mail Marketing Defined

Marketers use traditional e-mail marketing as a digital way to do the same thing they’ve done for decades with direct mail, newsletters, and catalogues: They set a schedule or calendar of items to go out to a specific list of people on a specific date and then use that plan to send the outlined materials on the defined timeline. In this case, the transmission happens through e-mail.

For example, at FrogDog, we’ve used traditional e-mail marketing to send our contact database regular marketing tips and tricks. On our clients’ behalves, we’ve used traditional e-mail marketing to highlight new products, seasonal offerings, and sales items; to deliver news releases and updates; and to promote innovative thinking and perspective through linking to thought-leadership pieces.

Though marketing automation is a type of e-mail marketing, it is a separate type, and operates differently. Let’s review how.

What’s Marketing Automation?

Marketing automation takes e-mail marketing up a notch (or, really, a few notches). Marketing automation uses marketer-created workflows with if−then branching, timelines, content, landing pages, forms, digital advertising, and more to send people information and material based on their actions and behaviors.

Marketing automation has value for companies that market to businesses and for companies that market to consumers. For an example of the former, let’s look at Nordstrom.

When you make purchases at Nordstrom on-line or in the store with a loyalty card, you will begin to receive e-mails with items the company feels would entice a person who has bought what you’ve bought. How you interact with the e-mails Nordstrom sends—which e-mails you do and don’t open, which products you do and don’t click, and what you do and don’t buy—will determine the types of e-mail Nordstrom sends you in the future, so that you receive ever more targeted content and promotional items. Further, using the number of days between which Nordstrom sent the e-mail and you open it, click it, or don’t interact with it at all, Nordstrom will refine the frequency at which it sends you messages. After all, the more specific Nordstrom can get with what it sends you and how it sends it to you, the less likely Nordstrom is to annoy you and prompt you to opt out of its marketing—and the more likely you are to buy.

Marketers draw people into marketing automation through other channels than purchases. They push out ads and social media teasers that draw you to custom landing pages that request your e-mail address, they offer content that you need to fill out a form to receive, and beyond. Once you enter the system, as in the Nordstrom example, your behavior triggers different types of information and messages on different timelines.

The Pros and Cons of Each

Just as you’ve guessed, marketing automation is complicated.

Before you can even begin, you need to develop branching workflows using if−then logic, all of which need to be programmed into a marketing automation system (a type of software for which you’ll need a subscription). And before you can program anything, you need to create all the ads, landing pages, loyalty programs, and everything else you plan to use to draw people into the marketing automation program. Further—and still before you begin—you need to create the e-mail messages to program into the system to deliver your information, and these e-mail messages need to cover many bases over a reasonably lengthy period to give the system time and variables enough to run.

Once the marketing automation is running, you can’t rest on your laurels. The machine needs care and feeding: Marketing automation requires new content, more e-mail messages, adjustments to the algorithm, and optimization and testing and tweaking based on results on an ongoing basis.

In exchange for all this work, marketing automation gets you better results, due to its use of highly targeted information and timelines. In addition, marketing automation gets you a huge amount of valuable data about your customers, from what they like and when they like it to the nuances of their buying behavior.

In contrast, traditional e-mail marketing is flexible. Rarely is any one traditional marketing e-mail tied to another e-mail or a chain of content or anything else. Also, it doesn’t require nearly as much content—and certainly not as much at the outset—and it can be put together a little more “on the fly” than marketing automation can. Further, traditional e-mail marketing requires far less time up-front for set-up.

Yet traditional e-mail marketing doesn’t give you the same depth of data as marketing automation—and it doesn’t give you anywhere near the same results.

What Do You Need?

Whether you need traditional e-mail marketing alone or need to add in marketing automation as well depends on your marketing strategy, marketing tactical mix, and goals.

Need help figuring it all out? Call FrogDog.

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