There’s no question about it: Marketing automation is a lifesaver for the marketing departments and agencies grappling with big cuts in both budgets and people that are still expected to maintain a high level of output.
No wonder you have companies gobbling up automation platforms and investing in the future of these companies. The acquisitions (Eloqua and ExactTarget), IPOs (Marketo) and the $150 million in new VC funding — not to mention the legions of agencies and organizations that are adding marketing automation to their arsenal of tools — amounts to a 50 percent boost in adoption by 2015.
With marketing automation, we can do a lot more with a lot less. But how much, if any of this, "more" is actually being felt by customers? Is marketing automation helping us get to know and engage customers better? Or is it simply allowing us to complete more tasks, regardless of whether they're doing more harm or good?
I'm not challenging the value of marketing automation. As reported by Econsultancy,
delegates of the recent Digital Cream conference in London suggested that marketing automation is prompting more organizations to bring their marketing and sales departments together. This is a good thing — as is the new emphasis on fewer yet more high-quality leads over more duds.
But delegates also expressed some uncertainty around the benefits of marketing automation. Some of the recent blogs I've encountered suggest that many aren't seeing the return on their marketing automation efforts. A big part of it is most organizations — as much as 80 percent — are investing in marketing automation tools without fully leveraging all that the tools have to offer. But I suspect much of this is also due to lackluster content that fails to engage.
Gartner Research says by 2020, 85 percent of the customer relationship will be managed without any human intervention. What this tells me is customer engagement will be tremendously efficient. What this doesn't tell me is whether engagement will benefit or suffer because of it. If the content is compelling and right on the money in terms of relevance for the receiver, the customer relationship will strengthen. If the content is untimely, out of context or not what the customer cares about, that relationship will be lost.
Furthermore, when it comes to digital communications, it's no longer an email-only world. The channel matters as much as the message does, and both need to complement each other.
Take SMS: According to CTIA, it takes 90 minutes for the average person to respond to an email. But if it's a text message, it takes the average person 90 seconds to respond. This represents a tremendous opportunity for marketing to reach highly captive and responsive audiences. But people are also very picky about what pops up on their phone. The content must be compelling, personalized and in tune with what is delivered, when it's delivered and how it's delivered.
This is another area where marketing automation can help. For marketers, it's essential to have a consistent engagement strategy. What needs to change is the content, which depends on where the message is being delivered. With marketing automation, you can monitor and instantly tweak your messages as needed. Lead nurturing, too, can be adjusted on the fly. So as long as it's being used properly, with the right content continuously optimized according to how it's being received, intelligent marketing automation can bring you closer to the customer.
You need to understand your customers and how, when and where they want content. This way, your message can evolve right along with your customers.