If you think of Marketing as a series of Campaigns, of Postings, or of E-Mails, you might be swallowed by the rhythm of your agency’s work. Tightly paced and ad-hoc in nature as it is, the everyday of a digital marketing agency has the unfortunate side-effect of pushing many of the creative folk outside of the strategy realm and into reactivity and execution. If that is the case, work is repetitive, and made of a high number of very small tasks: create a social media post, publish it, create a new newsletter, test it on a small user group, send it out, create a new landing page, configure two custom fields on a form, and many, many others. These small tasks have the power of making everyone unlearn how to look at the big picture, how to question it and how to evolve it.
Marketing automation makes a difference in this space: taking away many of the repetitive small tasks from our desks and helping us get the answers that we need to continuously enhance our strategy, to learn from our activities, and to drive personalization at scale in the interactions we design between brands and their customers.
1. Start with a solid strategy
Marketing lives and dies by the funnel. Every activity for any brand has its well-deserved place in the marketing funnel of that brand or client for their customers, be they B2C or B2B. Ironically, marketing automation is a tool solving exactly this myopic issue, but at the same time, marketing automation is prone to win or fail depending on a solid underlying strategy. A solid design of the journey through the funnel of a brand is the minimum basis that needs to be in place, for successful marketing automation to be set up.
Know the stages that a customer needs to pass through. Know what needs to happen on which of your brand’s digital touch points in which stage and know why it needs to happen. With the help of marketing automation, you will be able to keep re-asking this question and optimize the strategy, but the starting point needs to be as solid as possible.
2. Know your audience
Depending on the data you already collected, on how you store it and on how much you already connected it to deliver business relevant KPI, you will know more, or you will know less about your audience. Marketing automation will help give you time to focus on researching the audience further, but it is very important to ask, always, whether research methods will refine your knowledge about your audience much more and much faster than insights you will get from the steps you automate.
Act upon these assumptions and invest in knowing your audience to sharpen your toolset for best results.
3. Know your assets
Your brand most likely has a bunch of digital properties already, and they are there because of the promise they are bringing into the marketing funnel. Each one of them plays a role in at least one of the stages of the funnel. Know this and make sure to keep this knowledge as clean and fact-based as possible.
A second type of assets is the expertise that your brand has access to. Some of it is delivered by your own company and some of it is outsourced. Know which areas of digital marketing expertise are your strongest: they can be strategy, user experience, CRM, e-commerce, content strategy, research, automation, and many others. You can easily recognize your strong suits by quantifying their impact in the context of your marketing activities – you’ll have a hard time putting any numbers on areas where you lack expertise.
With these two types of assets in mind, focus on the properties that play the largest role, and on the areas of expertise with the most impact. Once you started, your horizon will progressively broaden, because automation creates the needed space for it.
4. Focus on the right step
Let us assume a classical funnel, converting strangers to leads, to buyers and then to fans. Automation will always be initiated within an already existing landscape of activities. It is very important to start with the right ones, and to consider the factors that make some of the activities’ impact more important than the others: conversion rates, KPI improvement, learning effect, impact on the rest of the funnel, and automated work volume.
In the beginning of an automation journey, it might be very important to get as much work volume automated as possible. If, for example, your team spends most of their time writing personalized emails to different segments of buyers to get them to become fans, for good reason, then dedicate time to finding out what parts of that can be automated as a first step.
Because if you start with tasks that free up substantial amount of time in your marketing team, you will take your marketing automation game to the next level. And a good marketing team’s availability and dedication can easily amplify all future results. Have this fact on your radar when you define value.
5. Design meaningful engagement
Depending on the size of your organization, many stakeholders are swarming a bunch of the marketing activities. Often, their goals are at least just as political as they are customer-oriented. The bad thing about politics is, though, that they tend to be much louder than data-driven customer centricity. As a result, marketing activities are often servicing the loudest stakeholders and not the customer.
Avoid this by any means. Instead, identify through research what your users need to make the next step and move down the funnel. Is it some product information, some how-to content, even a whitepaper - or simply a special offer? Once you know it, don’t compromise, but go with it. Because each engagement, when not meaningful, has the potential to weaken the relationship between a customer and a brand. So, make sure to advocate for your customers and not for your stakeholders.
6. Leverage tech
A high amount of what is happening in the digital space is marketing, so you will find tools out there for pretty much everything you need. Some of them will be focused on specific jobs, some of them will have tons of features, some of them will advocate ethical values. Leverage the experts at your disposal to answer these questions and make sure that all data you gather, all activities you automate, and all storage you use are getting you one step closer to the organizational goals.
Know that things might change and that standards are important, when they exist, to ensure a smooth transition to potential new systems in the future.
7. Keep on learning
Focus on both the tasks and the big picture. Make sure that you have a solid data model and a good visualization. Re-visit the data model and the visualization periodically and make it possible that useful data is flowing in all the time around your automation activities.
Capture the learnings gained from analyzing the data and use them as fast as possible in the next iterations. Your ability to learn fast and use that knowledge will be crucial for your success.
You will have a bunch of assumptions, some of them better founded and some of them not. Go with them. Dare to fail. Experiment as much as your workforce allows it and gain insights as fast as possible.
Do not work only on a data collection strategy without initializing the first data operations, triggers, and workflows. There are so many companies out there who have been spending years working and re-working on the right data collection, because this is the first step to get right. Their main outcome was to see how their competition was breezing by, by implementing whole workflows at smaller scale.
Instead, learn from every journey and optimize your activities by combining strategy and empirical data for fast results and adaptability. This will get you closer to your goals faster, but it will also empower your teams to focus on learning, to develop a mindset of experimentation and to accelerate how you generate value.
9. Leverage your network
Marketing automation is not new. If you take your first steps shrouded in uncertainty, leverage your network and ask for help. Communities of professionals, Open-source communities around technology, or connections you have in other fields of activity can be a great source of learning and fresh impulses.
10. Start with what you have
When you go for you next steps, you will not have many answers. You will probably have a lot of assumptions, a long path to an ideal funnel, and almost no budget to get there soon. To make the most out of it, always start with what you have, go for impact, make sure you go with the best assumptions, and never forget that you need to generate learnings through data. From stepping stone to stepping stone, the journey shall reveal itself.