What Is Marketing Automation?

Rosie Allabarton, contributor to the CareerFoundry blog

Marketing automation is a key part of every successful marketing team’s strategy. But, for those new to the field, or those hoping to break into it, understanding this aspect of digital marketing might seem daunting.  

Don’t worry. If you’re looking to launch a new career in marketing, or just hoping to hone your marketing skills, this article will teach you everything you need to know about marketing automation. You’ll learn why marketing automation is a great thing for your campaigns, and how it makes your day-to-day life as a marketer considerably easier. We hope you’ll also find that getting to grips with automation tools and processes is a lot more straightforward than you might think. 

In this post, we’re going to dive into the world of marketing automation: what it is, how it works, the benefits, best practices, and tools that a marketing team will use to optimize its performance, align goals, track progress, and much more. 

Here’s what we’ll cover:

  1. What is marketing automation?
  2. How does marketing automation work?
  3. What are the benefits of marketing automation?
  4. Marketing automation examples
  5. Marketing automation best practices
  6. Popular marketing automation tools
  7. Key takeaways

By the end, you’ll be confident in your knowledge of marketing automation and ready to start experimenting with automation tools in your own campaigns. 

Let’s get started! 

1. What is marketing automation?

Marketing automation is essentially the adoption of tools and services that can automate different marketing or sales activities to boost efficiency, streamline activities and goals, increase transparency, and enable the tracking and analysis of large amounts of data. Put simply, whether you’re collecting customer information or planning a social media campaign, any task that doesn’t require the direct involvement of a human can significantly benefit from marketing automation. 

Marketing automation tools can increase efficiency, accuracy, and productivity in a range of areas. Whether working on email marketing, surveys, follow-up messaging, event scheduling, social media posting, advertising campaigns, or content marketing, a marketer can transfer repetitive tasks associated with these actions to one of the many sophisticated tools which have been designed specifically to perform them. 

With software in place to perform the more routine aspects of a digital marketer’s job, the team is freed up to focus on the important tasks of building on, and reinforcing, long lasting and loyal customer relationships. 

A digital marketing manager smiling, looking at an iPad

2. How does marketing automation work?

With repetitive, and often mundane, tasks such as emails, social media scheduling, and other website actions automated by sophisticated tools and software, these activities become significantly easier to manage, are more streamlined, and better aligned with each other and the needs of the team. 

In marketing automation, every tool and task is different, but there are some general rules that marketers typically follow when moving processes over from manual to automated. 

1. They assess their marketing automation needs 

Before a marketer decides on a tool or process, they will ask themselves what it is they are hoping to achieve with automation. Do they have an overall goal? Do they want to save time? Do they want to increase team productivity or efficiency? Do they want more accurate customer data? Identifying the team’s core needs will enable a marketer to prioritize the automation of certain tasks and help them choose the right tools for the job. 

2. They identify their audience

As a next step in the automation process, a marketer will carefully study the company or brand’s current audience, customers, or user base. This is because understanding the target market will help the team know which tools will be most useful in helping to reach and retain those users. A marketer will look at the following factors when building up an accurate picture of the current audience (or audiences): demographic, geographic, behavioral, and psychological. 

3. They research and choose their marketing automation tools

Armed with an understanding of their goals and data about their customers, a marketer will explore the automation software available which best suits their needs. Once a tool has been found that looks like a good fit, they will then get to know its capabilities so they can maximize them to the advantage of the team and overall company goals. 

4. They implement, monitor, and make improvements 

With a clear strategy in place, a marketer will implement the chosen marketing automation tool. Team members are informed what they’ll be responsible forincluding during the transition from manual to automatedas well as what will be expected from them once the tool is up and running. Over time, the tool is monitored and tweaked until it is meeting the needs of the team, streamlining processes, and increasing efficiency. 

A marketing automation strategy might look something like this: 

  1. Build targeted lists
  2. Launch campaign
  3. Measure activity
  4. Assess and segment customers
  5. Feed qualified leads to a CRM tool
  6. Nurture warm leads
  7. Analyze overall performance 

Now we have a good idea of what marketing automation is and how it works, let’s take a look at some of the benefits. 

A marketing professional in side profile, typing on a laptop

3. What are the benefits of marketing automation?

Marketing automation offers a host of benefits for marketers and their target users. Whether automation is adopted to streamline customer correspondence, or to execute repetitive processes, the scope of tasks which automation can help a marketing team to align and simplify is growing all the time and provides considerable value to the companies and individuals who use it. 

Let’s take a look at some of the benefits marketing automation can offer. We’ll look at these in terms of the problems automation can help to solve, the goals automation can help marketers to achieve, and generally how marketing automation can help make marketers’ lives easier. 

What problems can marketing automation help to solve?

Personalization 

Marketing automation enables marketers to create more human interactions with their customers, while still reaching large groups of people. Using the bank of user data that an automation tool is able to gather, communications can be scheduled around user behavior and preferences rather than set at random. These personalized customer experiences help a brand to become more memorable to its users and bolster the relationship between brand and customer. 

Eliminates manual tasks 

Automation enables marketers to set up manual processes just once and then forget about them. Automated campaigns can run in the background without assistance or be tweaked and adjusted as necessary. The types of tasks that automation can take over include: reminders, follow-ups, reporting, customer emails and newsletters, social media scheduling, and data collection. 

Reduces costs

When manual processes are automated, marketing costs come down. This is because team members are no longer occupied with manual tasks, and can instead use their experience and energy on higher level tasks that make better use of their skillsets. Lower skilled positions no longer need to be recruited for, and recruiting for higher skilled positions (an expensive and time-consuming process) is less frequently required as team members who are actively engaged stay in their positions considerably longer.   

What goals can marketers achieve with automation?

Better conversion rates 

Lead generation conducted via marketing automation is found to boost customer conversion rates. This is because, thanks to the data collected via automation, an organization can attract the target market and aim campaigns and initiatives at the right users. When the right groups receive messaging that meets their interests and needs, inquiries come through from potential buyers, which in turn increases the possibility of a sale. 

Improved customer retention

As every marketer knows, customer retention is just as important as acquisition. Marketing automation tools can provide marketing teams with customer data and analysis that makes it easier for a company to know what to do to keep their customers happy and loyal. Thanks to tracking and reporting technology, automation tools can provide a company with instantaneous updates on customer trends and behavior, making it easier for an organization to respond quickly to change and stay relevant to their user base.  

Increased revenue

As well as the efficiency savings automation brings about, revenue and sales are also boosted by the adoption of this technology. Studies have found that marketers who were proactive in leveraging data-driven marketing were three times more likely than those who did not adopt automation technology to have increased revenues. In addition, automation was found to shorten sales cycles and enable sales teams to close deals faster.

How automation helps marketers 

Better data for smarter decisions

Marketing automation tools can gather, measure, and draw conclusions from customer data so that marketers can make data-backed decisions. Many sales and marketing automation platforms offer complete solutions to gauging consumer reactions to marketing campaigns by building complete user profiles and forecasts for a team to learn from.

Refined marketing process

Automation tools give marketers greater insight into their customers’ experiences on their platform. Marketing activities and strategy can then be refined in response to these experiences, which enables marketers to more easily process targets and nurture leads. 

Increased productivity 

Thanks to marketing automation, team members are relieved of repetitive and mundane tasks and can instead focus on more impactful, engaging tasks that require their skills and experience. Research by Marketo found that 95% of companies interviewed saw an increase in staff productivity when marketing automation was implemented. 

A digital marketer standing in front of a desk, leaning down to type on a laptop

4. Marketing automation examples

To give you an idea of the scope of actions marketing automation can help with, here are some of the tasks that a marketer might consider automating: 

  • Analytics and ROI tracking
  • Social media planning, scheduling, and posting
  • Campaign segmentation
  • Content curation and management
  • Email marketing 
  • Lead generation, analysis, and management
  • Testing
  • Website visitor tracking

Now let’s explore some best practices you’ll want to keep in mind if you’re implementing marketing automation. 

5. Marketing automation best practices

We’ve put together a list of best practices for you to keep in mind when you start working with marketing automation tools and techniques. They’ll help you keep your eyes firmly on the goals you’ve set for yourself and your team, as well as help you get the most out of your marketing automation tools. 

1. Set clear goals 

Establishing the goals or ideal outcomes you’d like to see as a result of automating some of your marketing processes makes it easier to know which tools to use and where to best invest your time. 

Many marketing teams find it useful to set their goals around the following:

  • Quality leads attracted
  • Leads which are ready to move to the sales team (often called “SQLs” or sales qualified leads)
  • Conversions which the marketing team contributed to, and where in the customer’s journey they happened

2. Know your customers 

Having a clear idea of your audience enables you to target your campaigns at the right user groups, address their specific needs, and avoid messaging that sounds generic. Creating personas helps you to keep in mind the sort of individual your content should be speaking to. 

You can collect the data needed to create a persona via the following means: 

  • Surveys, interviews, and focus groups
  • Website and social media audience analytics
  • Contact form data
  • Insights from your sales team

3. Get to grips with the customer’s journey

A customer’s behavior, expectations, and engagement with a brand are changing all the time. This is particularly true as they go from being a follower of a brand to becoming a customer. An automated campaign should never be static, but should instead be set up to complement each stage of the customer journey. An example of this would be the user receiving helpful content relevant to the stage they are currently in. 

Most marketing teams will create a customer journey map, covering all the stages and points of interaction a customer has with the company. Using this map, the team can decide what kind of content a customer should receive at each stage, and set up automated marketing workflows to send it out. 

4. Build workflows around the customer journey 

Once personas are in place, and a map of the customer journey has been created, it’s a good idea to map out workflows for each persona to get them engaged with the brand and address their problems, questions, or concerns at each stage of the customer journey. 

Workflows might be built around the following customer stages: 

  • Awareness – User has a problem and is seeking a solution
  • Consideration – User is looking at numerous solutions 
  • Decision – User opts for one solution and becomes a customer
  • Post-purchase – Has questions, or needs additional products or services 

5. Establish lead scoring

Lead scoring helps a marketer determine a user’s level of interest in their company. Different customer actions are given a numerical value, depending on how well it demonstrates that user’s interest in the brand. For example, commenting on a blog post or following the company on Instagram are both actions that indicate a customer’s interest. Using automation software, points are assigned for each action a customer takes. You’ll be able to look at a customer’s overall score to understand that person’s potential as a customer. This information will help you target your campaigns more effectively.

6. Make great content

It won’t matter how good your workflows are if your content isn’t relevant and delightful to your target personas: these are the people who will be defining the content you should be producing. That’s why it’s important to create engaging contentwhether via email, the blog, or social mediathat directly addresses the needs of your target persona and answers their questions at the different stages of the customer journey.  Remember the four stages we mentioned earlier? Awareness, Consideration, Decision, and Post-purchase. Design content that is relevant to the customer’s stage in their journey, and which supports and encourages them to move to the next stage. 

A digital marketing manager working on a computer, setting up email workflows as part of a marketing automation strategy

6. Popular marketing automation tools

Here’s a rundown of some of our favorite marketing automation tools, separated by use case. 

Email marketing automation  

Email marketing automation tools are still what most of us think of when it comes to marketing automation. Tools in email marketing automation typically help marketing teams to manage and organize tasks like sending triggered customer journey emails. Some popular email marketing automation tools are:

Social media automation 

Social media automation tools cover the widest range of tasks, from content scheduling, to conversation monitoring, to analytics. Some of the most popular social media automation tools are:

You’ll find more handy tools in our round-up of the best social media management tools

The complete marketing automation tool 

From social media scheduling to lead nurturing, to analytics, these tools are designed to align and streamline every aspect of the marketing team’s output. Popular marketing automation all-rounders include:

Customer journey automation 

We’ve talked a lot about the customer journey in this article. From lead generation to lead nurturing to lead scoring, here are the tools that can help marketers go the distance with their users:  

7. Key takeaways

We hope this article has given you a well-rounded understanding of marketing automation and how you can use it to streamline processes and increase efficiency within your team. 

Key tip: Be sure to prepare thoroughly before moving your team’s processes over from manual to automatic.

You can do this by: 

  • Drawing up a list of your team’s goals
  • Identifying your customer base 
  • Mapping the customer journey
  • Anticipating customer pain points and needs at different stages of the customer journey
  • Creating relevant and engaging content
  • Researching the tools that can help you meet your own and your customer’s goals
  • Testing, tweaking and monitoring your tools once they are up and running to get the best results 

Want to learn more about digital marketing? Check out the following:

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