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Marketing Automation: Five Realities

03.12.2012 / Posted in Articles, Direct Marketing, Strategy

Marketing automation has been around for a number of years, and it’s gotten more sophisticated over time. To define it for our purposes in this article, marketing automation is a software program—usually connected to a company’s customer relationship management system—that automates some of the steps in a company’s lead-generation efforts.

Typically, marketing automation is defined as something done through e-mail: A company sends an e-mail blast to a contact list and then nurtures and develops the leads it gets as a result through further e-mail messages. Often the e-mail messages drive people to articles, videos, or information on the company’s Web site or to make a phone call. These calls and Web visits are tracked, and they trigger follow-on communications tailored to the prospect’s interest or action.

At FrogDog, we define marketing automation more broadly. In addition to e-mail lead generation and cultivation, we add two other technologies to the marketing automation world: The social media programs that automate posts to Twitter and Facebook and the tools that add snail mail to e-mail to create diversity in automated communications. (Both are brilliant developments, we say.)

The benefits of all this? When done well, marketing automation helps companies qualify and nurture the leads they receive through lead-generation efforts, whether the efforts are primarily based in e-mail, snail mail, conferences, social media, or a combination. Marketing automation takes over the more mundane tasks of systematized marketing so that staff members can focus on areas that require their unique focus. And marketing automation helps with efforts to measure marketing and sales efforts—a huge plus.

So let’s talk about the realities:

1. No marketing strategy? No dice.

If you don’t have an overall marketing strategy that tracks to your company’s goals and indicates how each marketing effort ties into achieving those goals, you’re wasting valuable time and money.

Marketing automation will never be worth the often extensive investment it requires if you have no overarching plan or program within which it will operate. Don’t spend a bunch of time and money on a system and then decide how it fits into your strategy. Bad move.

(For an example of what a marketing strategy can do in general, click here and here to read a couple FrogDog case studies.)

2. Don’t forget the warm fuzzies.

People like interacting with people. A machine can’t do all the work, or eventually people lose interest. You need to ensure that your sales and marketing teams are working together to make human touch part of their sales and marketing processes.

In addition, no one person is exactly like any other one person. Marketing automation segments people according to their corporate functions and their seeming interest in one or another product or service. Yet, for example, all CFOs are not the same, and their interest in any given service may not be the same. Relying too heavily on assumptions or past experience can at best create prospect disinterest and at worst frustration.

3. “Set it and forget it?” Forget it.

Remember infomercial icon Ron Popeil, of Ronco, whose commercials lauded how easy his kitchen inventions were to use? After demonstrating his rotisserie oven, for example, he’d exclaim, “You can just set it and forget it!” (Don’t know what we’re talking about? Click here.)

Well, marketing automation is no Ronco kitchen appliance. You cannot just set it and forget it. Instead, you need to continually evaluate the marketing and sales processes around it and the content within it and continually make adjustments. This requires strategic marketing skills and the expertise to know how to make the right adjustments to the marketing automation process in response to the marketing metrics the system provides.

4. It doesn’t stand alone.

Ah, the quest for the silver bullet: The one marketing activity that eliminates the need for all others and generates heretofore unseen revenue.

It doesn’t exist.

Marketing automation is fantastic, but it doesn’t stand alone. Companies need to make it part of their ongoing, coordinated marketing efforts for it to truly succeed. The bright side? Marketing efforts that work together in a coordinated fashion generate far higher returns than any one tactic standing alone.

5. You need to feed the machine.

Marketing automation requires high-value content that drives people to your Web site or encourages them to sign up for a webinar or in-person meeting. And that’s typically just for the first touch. Subsequent messages to the contact require additional content tailored to his or her specific interest. Unless you have a lot of content that you can provide—or the ability to generate content—marketing automation won’t give you the results you seek.

The term “marketing automation” brings to mind a sci-fi world in which most tasks are done by machines. It conjures a magical vision of buying software and systems that can simply take over the marketing and sales work for you.

Not so fast. Just as some prognosticators were sure that paper would be extinct long before now, this is a myth. Marketing automation is a valuable tool, but it doesn’t eliminate the need for marketing strategy and management by humans with definite expertise. Don’t have a marketing strategy? Call FrogDog. We can help.

Shout out: A huge thanks to Warren Ables (@WarrenAbles) for suggesting this topic. Have an article you’d like to see FrogDog write? Send it in! We love suggestions.

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