Marketing automation

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Researched by
GrowthLoop Editorial Team
verified by
Tameem Iftikhar

Key Takeaways:

  • Marketing automation drives productivity and efficiency for marketing teams, while driving more effective campaigns through personalization.
  • For successful automation, marketing teams should collaborate with other customer-facing departments, clearly define audience personas and the customer journey, and review data to iterate on existing workflows.
  • Most marketing functions and channels can benefit from marketing automation software, whether they use multiple tools or a centralized platform that integrates all cross-channel efforts.

Table of Contents

Marketing automation is a category of software platforms that helps marketers streamline, or automate, their marketing campaigns and workflows.

What is marketing automation?

Marketing automation is a process that uses technology to streamline and automate marketing workflows for more efficient and data-driven customer interactions. Marketing automation lets marketing teams reach as many individuals as possible in a personalized way.

Marketers use tools like marketing automation software — such as HubSpot and Adobe Marketo Engage — to build workflows, define customer journeys, and send campaigns that reach leads at the right time. The software is a central hub for executing marketing activities and often relies on a customer data source like the data cloud.

Marketing automation software typically includes features like:

  • Email sending
  • Push notifications
  • SMS sending
  • Lead scoring
  • Website and app event tracking

How does marketing automation work?

The primary processes involved in marketing automation typically include:

  • Data collection - Marketers gather customer information across their website, social media, and other channels and compile this data in their CRM, data cloud, or marketing automation software.
  • Customer segmentation - Teams create well-defined audience groups with characteristics like job title, company type and size, budget, and desired products or services.
  • Content creation - Marketers build content for distribution, including email campaigns, organic social posts, and paid ads, as well as content marketing like videos, blog posts, and live events.
  • Campaign personalization - With well-defined audiences and targeted content, marketers can create journeys designed to nurture and convert prospects into customers. They can automate the distribution of personalized campaigns with targeted and timely messages that bring prospects closer to buying.
  • Cross-channel workflows - Customer journeys span every channel where customers encounter your brand. Use marketing automation to customize messaging to each channel and create a cohesive experience.
  • Measuring and reviewing results - Effective automation develops over time. Marketers review campaign performance (like conversion and engagement rates) and use tools like A/B testing to optimize the results of future campaigns.

Marketing automation benefits

Marketing automation benefits marketers and their organizations by:

  • Saving marketers’ time on manual or tedious tasks so they can focus on creative and strategic work.
  • Saving money through streamlining marketing tech stacks.
  • Driving personalization, using customer data to create campaigns based on the customer’s needs and characteristics.
  • Prioritizing content that an audience is most likely to interact with based on their interests and past engagement.
  • Driving targeted customer engagement through defined customer journeys that encourage conversion at specific moments.

Both business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) companies benefit from marketing automation.

  • B2B brands tend to have longer lead nurturing cycles and more decision-makers. B2B marketing automation helps these brands build trust and relationships with customers to grow a pipeline for sales, educate buyers, create trust, and drive revenue.
  • B2C brands nurture customer relationships over time, but buyers may decide to purchase more quickly and easily. Marketing automation helps drive awareness and loyalty and build rapport with the brand, all leading to revenue and relationships. Automation helps with B2C channels like social media, paid ads, and SMS marketing.

Evolution of marketing automation

The earliest versions of marketing automation appeared in the early 1990s, when the first email marketing automation capabilities arose, allowing marketers to streamline and personalize email distribution. Tools like Unica and Eloqua made their mark here.

The next automation evolution came with the development of customer relationship management (CRM) systems in the late 1990s, which allowed marketing and sales to manage customer data from a centralized database. Salesforce was founded in 1999, and Hubspot would follow in 2006.

In the mid-2000s, social media platforms arrived on the scene — LinkedIn in 2002, Facebook in 2005, and Twitter in 2006. In the years after, marketing automation for these channels arose, so brands could schedule posts and measure engagement.

Over the last decade, marketing automation tools have further advanced by connecting with other platforms and expanding their automation capabilities. Tools like Zapier offer integrations that automate entire workflows for marketing teams.

One of the most recent and powerful advancements in marketing automation is AI. More marketing automation platforms are incorporating predictive and generative AI, further enhancing marketing workflows.

How does marketing automation affect the customer journey?

Marketing automation can enhance marketing campaigns across every channel by triggering relevant, timely, and personalized messages. These messages encourage customers to move through the marketing funnel at each customer journey stage:

  • When a customer is in the awareness phase, automation might use cookies to trigger a personalized ad on another channel or email additional content similar to what they’ve already read about.
  • In the consideration phase, marketing automation can trigger a social media ad or text message based on previous interactions with the brand, offering a timely discount or recommendation. Automated emails can also recover lost sales, like through abandoned cart messages reminding them of items they considered and didn’t purchase. When a contact has been inactive, a check-in email (with an offer or discount) can remind potential customers why they are interested in your brand.
  • When someone is purchasing, marketing automation can drive revenue by upselling them on a complementary product that also meets their needs. This stage is also a great time to send a personalized, automated email inviting customers to join a loyalty program, which can deepen relationships and inspire future purchases.

Marketing automation use cases

Marketing automation varies based on the company’s workflow and target audience needs. Here are a few of the primary use cases.

Lead generation and nurture

Marketing automation helps with lead generation by automatically collecting customer details (like through a website form), sending a welcome or confirmation email, and showing relevant content to prospects on social media channels. Automation can also help nurture leads who have opted in by sending targeted email campaigns based on their persona or previous browsing behavior, or even assigning them to a sales rep after they’ve opted in to learn more.

Audience segmentation

Some marketing automation tools can guide audience segmentation by gathering data about behavior and revealing patterns in the purchase journey and traits of certain customer types. From there, a marketing automation tool can streamline segmentation by assigning individuals to a segment based on their behavior and details.

A/B testing

With A/B testing, you can use data to determine which messaging, channels, or offers are most compelling to your audience personas. Marketing automation tools allow you to send emails with different subject lines or calls to action or show a homepage or landing page with separate headlines. The tools offer enhanced customer data on clickthroughs, opens, or time on the page to show you which is more effective.

Personalized customer experiences

Marketing automation tools help you build personalized customer journeys for small, well-defined audiences. When you can automate tasks and use data to trigger campaigns like email marketing, relevant ads, and text messages, you can customize journeys that guide customers to purchase. Instead of sending a generic message, you can promote a product you know they want or offer a discount just for them — all through automated workflows. 

What are some marketing automation best practices?

Maybe you’re implementing automation for the first time or you want to refine your existing automation workflows. Wherever you are in your automation journey, here are some best practices for marketers when using marketing automation.

Collaborate with other teams

For marketing teams implementing marketing automation, it’s important to work closely with other teams and stakeholders:

  • Executives who will approve expenses and want to know the results of new processes and marketing automation platforms.
  • Sales teams, who will work closely with prospects and customers and care about lead scoring and nurturing processes.
  • Customer success teams, who can offer insights about audience pain points and use cases to help with segmentation and messaging.
  • IT and data teams who may help with integrations, data governance, and security. 

Create a shared, well-documented process for automation

For long-term automation success, define workflows and processes first. Utilize a well-defined customer journey map that visualizes the journey each prospect should go through and how automation fits into every step. 

Don’t rush the rollout

If you try to rush marketing automation and complete everything at once, you are likely to miss steps and end up with inconsistent processes. Instead, aim for a slow rollout: Learn about the functionalities and integrations of all your marketing tools first, and start with one use case. Build the right workflow for your brand and audience, then work with your team to set up automations that work across your entire tech stack. You might even work with an automation specialist who can set you up for long-term success.

Segment your customer data

For personalized and effective campaigns, it’s essential to segment your customer data. Review customer research and insights for your audience’s pain points, their budget, their job title, and desired outcomes. Use this data to create well-defined customer personas, segments, customer journeys, and messaging.

Create an informed, data-driven content strategy

Build your content strategy based on existing customer data, including their traffic and engagement with your previous blog posts, social media posts, and emails. This data should inform your priorities throughout the marketing automation rollout, including future content you decide to create and how you’ll distribute that content to your audience throughout the customer journey.

Go back to the data and iterate

Once you have initial automation in place, conduct a thorough data analysis to ensure that your workflows are helping you meet your strategic goals. For example, if you notice a dropoff in a particular step of an email campaign, use email data to determine if you need to test new messaging, design, or timing of the send. Maintain this practice of testing and iterating to optimize your automation.

Marketing automation pitfalls to avoid

When using marketing automation tools, marketers should steer clear of mistakes like these.

Failing to clean data

Marketing automation isn’t a one-and-done setup — it is a process. Data can quickly become outdated if you’re not regularly cleaning it. Outdated data can affect performance, as your emails or messages no longer reach the right individuals. Keep email lists and databases clean by updating contacts and removing outdated information like duplicates or email addresses that have bounced.

Going with your gut instead of data

It’s a mistake to create and distribute campaigns based on gut feeling instead of audience behavior data. Use audience engagement data to guide how you choose channels, create messaging, time your campaigns, and promote products and services.

Automating in a silo

Marketing automation platforms don’t just affect the marketing team — they affect sales and customer success as well. With that in mind, be sure to consult these teams before rolling out new automations. For instance, work with your sales team to create a seamless journey from lead capture to the nurturing process and assigning the lead to a sales rep.

Neglecting segmentation

Automation is only as effective as the segmentation marketers use. Failure to segment your audience based on key characteristics means you send generic, broad messaging to your entire audience or outright incorrect messaging to parts of your audience. Instead, identify clear audience personas, use data to define those segments in your CRM or database, and send relevant messaging to each audience. For instance, when announcing a new feature, use messaging that points to how the specific persona will use that feature.

Types of marketing automation tools

Each type of marketing automation has tools to support creation, distribution, and analytics, while some tools overlap and work cross-functionally. Here are some types of marketing automation solutions and their functions.

Email marketing automation

Marketers can use email marketing to build segmented audience lists, create and distribute email campaigns — including one-off messages, drip campaigns, and personalized pitches — and analyze results to improve future messages.

Some tools offer A/B testing to improve opens and clicks based on subject lines and calls to action.

Examples of email automation tools include:

  • Mailchimp
  • Constant Contact
  • ActiveCampaign
  • HubSpot

Social media automation

Social media automation helps marketing teams with content publishing across channels. Tools offer functionality like:

  • Post scheduling
  • Hashtag suggestions
  • AI-assisted content
  • Community moderation
  • Automated reporting
  • Team collaboration
  • Engagement and audience analytics

Examples of social media automation tools include:

  • Buffer
  • Hootsuite
  • Sprout Social
  • Aritic Pinpoint

Customer journey automation

Customer journey automation helps marketers manage every interaction with their audience from the first time they learn about a brand until they purchase and beyond. Marketers can more efficiently understand their audience’s behavior and preferences to create relevant, helpful, and timely content that brings them closer to purchasing.

Customer journey automation is essential for B2B and enterprise marketers responsible for building pipeline in longer customer lifecycles. Customer journey automation uses data to identify and score qualified leads for shorter sales cycles and more personalized interactions.

Examples of customer journey automation tools include:

  • Insightly
  • Pipedrive
  • Salesforce
  • GrowthLoop

CRM automation

Customer relationship management (CRM) automation helps marketing, sales, and customer success teams manage customer relationships and interactions throughout the customer journey. CRM automation tools are a central location for tracking customer meetings, calls, emails, and chats so that everyone can see each customer’s journey. The tools integrate with marketing automation, allowing marketers to:

  • Automatically distribute email, social media, or text messages based on use cases and audience personas to improve productivity
  • Identify triggers for personalized marketing sequences
  • Nurture leads to bring them close to purchasing
  • Transfer lead information from each channel to the CRM
  • Streamline the customer journey for a shorter sales cycle and higher conversion rates

Software tools that offer CRM automation include:

  • HubSpot
  • Zoho
  • Pipedrive
  • Intercom

Mobile/SMS automation

Mobile automation (also known as SMS automation) allows marketers to use marketing automation platforms to send personalized and timely marketing messages to their audience via text.

Through these messages, brands can:

  • Share a discount or deal
  • Recommend relevant products to individuals
  • Ask for feedback or reviews after a purchase or support interaction
  • Provide tracking details about an order
  • Recommend a reorder or subscription

While it would be impossible for marketers to text every customer or lead in their audience individually, automation lets them communicate at scale in a personalized way as efficiently as possible. SMS marketing also boasts high open rates, clearing the way for higher engagement with your brand.

Examples of SMS automation tools include:

  • SimpleTexting
  • Klaviyo
  • Attentive
  • SlickText

Lead management automation tools

Lead management automation helps marketing and sales teams streamline lead capture and nurture activities. Automations drive productivity and efficiency, especially with large pipelines and audiences. It can also help brands (often B2B) that use an account-based marketing (ABM) strategy focused on building buyer relationships.

Lead management automation streamlines tasks and workflows like:

  • Lead capture and tracking, gathering lead information across sources into a central location
  • Lead assignments and follow-up, connecting every qualified and outreach-ready lead to a sales rep
  • Lead segmentation, using data to identify where a lead is in their buying journey
  • Lead scoring, using data to determine which prospects are more likely to buy
  • Creation of custom landing pages, using design editors to A/B test copy and calls to action
  • Lead nurturing by automating distribution of personalized and timely messages to leads through various channels

Tools that offer lead management automation include:

  • ClickUp
  • Salesflare
  • Keap

Marketing analytics automation tools

Marketing analytics automation tools let marketers gather and create streamlined data and analytics about the performance of the campaigns across channels. Automation brings cross-channel data together for more efficient reporting and optimization of marketing efforts.

Analytics automation tools offer audience insights, including the messaging that converts, the products or offerings they enjoy, or the channels they engage with most often. Instead of guessing about your marketing efforts, you can review real-time data on your promotional outcomes to optimize future campaigns. Analytics automation tools automate both the collection and compilation of data, as well as exporting and distributing regular data summaries to your team.

Marketing analytics automation tools include:

  • Adverity
  • Improvado
  • Hotjar 

Omnichannel automation tools

Omnichannel automation tools allow marketers to automate interactions with customers across multiple platforms, which interact with each other to create a seamless experience. With omnichannel marketing, channels are interconnected and exchange data, giving customers a more immersive and cohesive journey at each step. An omnichannel approach to automation is cohesive, using customers’ prior behavior to guide future marketing content they encounter.

For instance, a customer who buys for a specific product online might automatically receive a personalized coupon for a complementary item. The next time she arrives on the site, an omnichannel marketing approach might show her personalized product recommendations based on her prior purchase, all using automation tools.

By automating dynamic content that responds to customer behavior across channels and connects those interactions, marketers personalize and segment content that can lead to a faster purchase.

Examples of omnichannel marketing automation tools include:

  • MessageBird
  • Omnisend
  • LeadSquared

Implementing marketing automation

When implementing marketing automation for the first time, consider these steps:

  1. Define your audience personas - Before you can personalize and automate campaigns for your audience, you need to clarify who buys your products and why. Create detailed customer personas with information like demographics, interests, age, job titles, and pain points.
  2. Map the customer journey - Work with your sales and customer success teams to create a customer journey map that charts each touchpoint where customers interact with you, what messaging they should see, and what you want them to do after each interaction.
  3. Centralize your data - Before rolling out automation, work with your data team to ensure that all of your customer data is stored in a single, central location so it can be activated from the data warehouse or cloud effectively and efficiently. Your goal should be to centralize the data once, so you can activate the data across multiple platforms.
  4. Schedule and track campaigns - After defining the audience journey, you can create personalized campaigns across relevant channels, including defining audience behavior triggers that will start customer journeys.
  5. Leverage data - Over time, you should consistently review campaign performance to gauge what resonates with your audience and make changes to improve your messaging or offerings to match what your customers want. Use A/B testing to iterate based on their preferences.
Published On:
January 9, 2024
Updated On:
January 9, 2024
Read Time:
5 min
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