The ultimate beginner’s guide to marketing automation
If you’re reading this article it’s fair to assume you’re interested in marketing automation, but don’t yet know enough about it to call yourself an expert. Maybe you’re paying for marketing automation, but you’re worried you’re not getting the most out of it. Maybe you’re looking for a new marketing automation provider. Or maybe your content marketing strategy is ready for a power-up.
Well, we can help with all of that. Here’s what you’ll get from this post:
- A brief explanation of what marketing automation is
- An equally brief explanation of how it works
- Some marketing automation stats (with sources)
- 3 basic marketing automation features
- 3 more advanced (let’s say ‘pro’) marketing automation features
- A bit about marketing automation providers along with our tips for choosing the right one
What is marketing automation?
Marketing automation software allows marketers to identify, qualify and nurture leads. As the name suggests, it automates some marketing functions, such as segmenting email lists, sending emails and assessing the relative value of leads.
Marketers can use marketing automation to dramatically increase their marketing activity. They can send more and better-targeted emails and serve content to users that is more likely to align with their interests and their stage in the buyer journey.
How does marketing automation work?
Marketing automation stats
Before we get into some of the particular features of marketing automation software, let’s have a look at some numbers:
- More than 10,000 Australian websites use HubSpot, Marketo, InfusionSoft, Eloqua, Adobe or Pardot for their marketing automation (BuiltWith)
- 49 per cent of Australian content marketers use some kind of marketing automation software (Content Marketing Institute)
- 88 per cent of marketing leaders use or plan to use marketing automation over the next two years (Salesforce.com)
- 93 per cent of market leaders who use marketing automation said it delivered a positive return on investment (Act-On and Econsultancy)
3 basic marketing automation features
A 2017 study by Act-On and Econsultancy revealed that more than half of marketers using marketing automation only use three basic features: email, forms and landing pages. While these features are indeed pretty basic they are still very powerful. And as this is a beginner’s guide they seem like a good place to start.
Email marketing is one of the oldest digital marketing tactics but remains extremely popular. Use of email marketing grew by 83 per cent between 2015 and 2017, according to Salesforce.com. And according to HubSpot, email remains second only to the telephone as the best channel for salespeople to reach their prospects.
If you’re looking for a way to ease yourself into the exciting world of marketing automation start using it to send your regular marketing emails. Popular email platforms such as MailChimp offer some basic automation features, but you’ll find your marketing automation software is more sophisticated.
As your subscribers start to click on your emails and engage with your content, you’ll be be able to start differentiating between them. You can then use lead scoring to segment your audience and serve them better-targeted content. More on that later.
Even if you’re starting out with a big email list you’ll always want more subscribers. With marketing automation, you use website forms to identify new leads and add them to your email database. When a user fills out one of your forms your software will be able to connect their browsing history (or at least their cookie data) with their email address.
One of the challenges here is giving users a reason to fill out your forms. A product demo or free trial might be enticing at the bottom of the sales funnel, but with marketing automation you need to offer conversion opportunities throughout the buyer journey.
To start tracking more users who aren’t quite ready to become customers yet, you need some really compelling content. Email newsletters, gated downloads, such as ebooks, whitepapers and case studies and webinars can all provide the required incentive to get people completing your forms. And it’s form completions that grows your email list and ultimately drives more leads.
Marketing automation is supposed to put the power in the hands of marketers. You need to learn how to use your chosen platform. And how difficult that is varies considerably. But you don’t need to be able to code to get stuff done.
Creating new landing pages is a good example of a marketing challenge that marketing automation can solve. Rather than waiting for the tech department to build you a new landing page for your email or social media campaign, you can do it yourself.
Marketing automation platforms will usually offer hosted landing pages, which marketers can use to create templates. Hosted landing pages are no good for SEO, but if you want to promote a special offer by email or with paid social media ads, they’re perfect.
They’re quick and easy to create. You can tailor them to the specific needs of your campaign. And you can run split tests (different versions of the same landing page to see which one gets you the best results), which is create for optimising your campaigns and – let’s be honest – sounds cool in internal presentations.
3 pro (or at least more advanced) marketing automation features
This is a beginner’s guide to marketing automation but if you’re investing the time and the money in this fancy software you’ll want to try out some of the more advanced stuff pretty quickly. Once you’re feeling comfortable with the basics, here are three slightly trickier features you can experiment with:
We mentioned this already a couple of times. So what is it? Lead scoring is a set of rules you can use to award users points as you learn more about them. A user’s lead score might increase if they have a particular job title or visit important pages on your site. That lead score might then decline if they don’t open your emails or stop coming back to the site.
Lead scoring is especially valuable when you’ve got a big email list. You can’t manually track how thousands of users are interacting with your content. But lead scoring identifies those users more likely to take useful actions.
Those useful actions don’t have to be making a purchase. Remember with marketing automation you can target the whole sales funnel. You could use lead scoring to identify users more likely to download an ebook or attend a webinar. In your pre-marketing automation days these users might have been neglected. But now they can get email and website content that’s more in tune with their needs.
We’ve said a couple of times now that one of the benefits of marketing automation is providing users with better-targeted content. Dynamic content is one of the best examples of this in action.
Here’s a simple example. You operate across Australia selling widgets. You have a landing page promoting a flash sale. Red widgets are much more popular in New South Wales, but blue widgets are more popular in Victoria. With dynamic content your flash sale landing page can promote red widgets to users in New South Wales and blue widgets to users in Victoria.
As well as geographical targeting, marketing automation software allows you to tailor content in a similar way based on pages users have previously visited or the keyword they used to find your page. This is a good opportunity to get some insights from your Google Analytics to start driving your marketing automation strategy.
For users already in your marketing database you can do some really simple personalisation, such as addressing them by their first name when they arrive on your landing page. Personalised can turn into creepy really fast so you need to be a little careful here. It is an effective way to grab the user’s attention though and – as any marketer knows – you only have a few seconds to do that.
Marketing automation software is a force multiplier for your marketing campaigns. Same effort in, lots more activity out. So let’s talk about drip campaigns.
A drip campaign works like a flowchart. Users either receive different email messages or drop out entirely based on their engagement at each stage. Drip campaigns can be a really effective way to move users down the sales funnel, with your emails getting more sales-focussed only for those users who show an interest by continuing to engage.
Marketers can use drip campaigns in combination with lead scoring. When users reach a certain lead score they can automatically get opted in to a drip campaign. Users can also be opted in manually. For example, you might have a lead nurture drip campaign that your sales people can opt their prospects into.
Who sells marketing automation?
A 2017 study by Bold Digital (a marketing agency) and SimilarTech (a website technology profiler) revealed that six big marketing automation brands accounted for around 50 per cent of the global market share.
They were, in descending order, HubSpot, InfusionSoft, Marketo, Pardot, Act-On and Eloqua. HubSpot was most popular among small and medium-sized businesses. Marketo was the dominant brand among businesses with turnovers over USD 1 billion.
We’ve worked with clients who use all manner of marketing automation providers. We have first-hand experience of Marketo, HubSpot and a lesser-known US brand called Sharpspring. Here are our tips for finding a marketing automation platform that works for you:
- Think about your CRM integration. If you’re wedded to a CRM then you’ll have to integrate it with your chosen marketing automation software. This can be a complicated process as even widely-used CRMs are often heavily customised. Read reviews from other users who have done the same integration that you’ll need to do before you commit.
- Commit for the long-term. Marketing automation takes time. It’s likely you’ll need to train your team how to use your chosen software. And then it will take a while to build your lead database, create your workflows and perfect your lead scoring criteria. Make sure you have C-level buy-in with a realistic timeline.
- Get a content marketing strategy first. Marketing automation software varies in price but the better platforms aren’t cheap. If you don’t have any content to send out in your emails or to use for capturing new leads then you’ll be paying for something you’re not really using. Creating a regular supply of relevant, engaging and valuable content needs to come first.
- Check particular features before you sign. Switching marketing automation providers can be a real pain. Even if they don’t tie you in to a long-term contract you have the hassle of transferring over all your data. So before you commit to anything you should make sure you’ll have access to the features that matter most to your marketing team.
- Look at what businesses like yours already use. We’ve referenced both SimilarTech and BuiltWith in this post. Technology profilers like these can show you what marketing automation brands different sites are using. Software that’s already popular with businesses similar to yours might be a good fit for you.