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It’s as easy as switching on your computer, sitting back, relaxing and letting the software do all your work for you while you secretly read Viz behind a copy of Marketing Week.

Right? Right???

I originally wrote this guide last year and it has become somewhat out of date now, so this is a revised and updated version of that previously published post

What is marketing automation?

Let’s take a brief look back at the recent past. Marketing automation has actually been around since the 1980s.

The use of software to automatically insert names and addresses from your database onto the letters and envelopes you wish to send to consumers by mail has been a mainstay of direct marketers for decades.

The difference between then and now is the concept of ‘real-time’ and the vast amount of data available to companies on their customers via various digital and offline channels.

When you visit Amazon while logged in (which you will remain until you physically log out again), you will find your name has been dynamically inserted around the page and based on your browsing history, past purchases and ‘wish list’, brand new products are presented to you thanks to a predictive algorithm.

After leaving the site, I am routinely sent emails highlighting products I’ve viewed. Although I’m surprised that the email marketing team have decided against personalizing the email with my name, unlike the site itself.

All of this ‘dynamic personalisation’ and email communication is possible with marketing automation.

Marketing automation for all!

Marketing automation was once the preserve of only the most financially successful businesses. Technology needed to create the systems required heavy investment and was built ‘in-house’. Regularly the cost of building the software outweighed the cost-savings.

However thanks to a proliferation of third-party suppliers, sophisticated automation software is now much more readily available to B2C and B2B companies both large and mid-size.

In fact B2B companies are taking great advantage of marketing automation software by integrating it with their existing CRM system.

This helps combine and streamline both marketing and sales efforts, and creates better visibility for both teams.

Marketing automation for you (and only you)

There has been no bigger aid towards the democratisation of marketing automation than social media.

Now it’s not just the postal service, email and ad retargeting that can be used to broadcast messaging to consumers, social media channels such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn have bcome an important marketing channel, with more consumers using the channel to not only receive your messaging but also to communicate with you directly too. 

As it’s a two-way channel, and the most successful companies are the ones that engage directly in real-time with users, successful social media management requires a great deal of time, resources, energy and skills.

Benefits of marketing automation

These are some of the reasons why a company will adopt marketing automation: 

  • Save time – multiple campaigns can be scheduled way ahead of time and released as per your own settings, therefore working hours can be utilised for other activities.
  • Efficiency – it provides a streamlined automatic alternative to traditionally manual processes. Time and labour can be reduced, therefore costs can be reduced too.
  • CRM integration – it can help to make sure that leads don’t disappear off the radar after a couple of unsuccessful contacts.
  • Data collection – automatic marketing offers a touch-point to clients or customers that isn’t necessarily sales-driven. It can help provide better insight and be used to collect specific data to improve future campaigns or communication.
  • Multichannel management – whereas it was possibly easy enough to manage a single email channel, now thanks to the multiple channels that consumers can be found on, it’s getting harder and harder to keep track of them all. Marketing automation can help you keep tabs on any channel.  
  • Consistency – Incorporating all your marketing efforts in one process can help keep a unified brand tone-of-voice.
  • Personalisation – automation helps tailor the experience to the user, creating a unique and more inviting experience that’s entirely relevant and will more likely lead to conversion.

For lots more on marketing automation, download our report on Marketing Automation Best Practices.

Christopher Ratcliff

Published 29 July, 2015 by Christopher Ratcliff

Christopher Ratcliff is the editor of Methods Unsound. He was the Deputy Editor of Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via Google+ and LinkedIn

686 more posts from this author

Comments (17)

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Matt Fenn

Matt Fenn, Founder at Jumplead

Hi Christopher, nice intro to marketing automation! We find that most people are using the basic components of marketing automation such as analytics, email marketing, landing pages and a CRM but without the benefit of having them integrated that MA brings.

If anyone would like to have a play around with how this stuff works together we have a free to play account plan at Jumplead.com

over 2 years ago


R Michael Davies

Great article, Christopher.

Matt, (without hijacking) can you help me understand what Jumplead does that is not already available in free (or very cheap) WP plugins?

We have all those pieces you referred to, but I would like it all to work together better than it does.



over 2 years ago

Matt Fenn

Matt Fenn, Founder at Jumplead

Hi Ron, sure!

Each of those components are mutually supportive when combined in a MA system, the CRM system tracks individual contacts and their activity, scoring them in real-time based upon their activity from website analytics and email campaign responses so as to identify contacts that are sales ready.

Landing pages work with analytics / CRM so as to identify the contact's subsequent behaviour across your website and add them to your CRM; trigger any automations and adjust lead score.

Email Campaigns work with analytics / CRM so as to track and analyse activity beyond opens / clicks through to subsequent website behaviour and allow for segmentation.

More importantly activity such as completing a landing page, visiting a pricing page etc can trigger an 'Automation' to change a contacts lifecycle stage, begin an autoresponder campaign, or send a sales team notification etc. This provides a mechanism to carefully nurture and respond to unique activity.

Ultimately it's designed to pull information together to create and deepen relationships with individuals (think permission marketing - Seth Godin) rather than exist as siloed activity.

I don't believe marketing automation has to be expensive that's why we built in our 'free to play' plan and tapered pricing right down - we just didn't set off to build a WP plugin as we felt it was more flexible for us to build it stand alone (although we do have a WP plugin to aid integration :) ).

Hope this helps.

over 2 years ago


Fedja Hvastija, Head of client strategy at Frodx

I feel that the biggest benefit of marketing automation (working hand-in-hand with real time communication) is context.

Gathering the information you have on a prospect or customer in a single resource lets you communicate with the individual, one on one, about things that individual cares about, at scale.

We already have this ability in our email clients, but once you have a hundred customers on your website, how do you manually send an offer about shoes to everyone who looked at shoes?

This is where MA comes in. Dynamic segmenting of your contacts into people who looked at X, did Y, clicked Z, but did not sign up for Q gives us the ability to predict these segments in advance, prepare effective communication (email or website customized blocks), and then automatically deliver it whens someone fits the profile.

over 2 years ago


Jordie van Rijn, email marketing specialist at emailmonday

In a study by Ascend2. 18% of respondents were using marketing automation extensively, while 43% made limited use of it, and 39% didn’t use at all.

David Raab sums it up pretty well in this article about satissfaction with Marketing Automation that shows different research findings: http://www.emailvendorselection.com/satisfaction-with-marketing-automation-plenty-of-room-for-improvement-and-maybe-a-little-vodka

In MA there is plenty of room for improvement (and maybe a little vodka). :)

over 2 years ago

Michael Dean

Michael Dean, Senior Customer Success Manager at SuccessFlow

Marketing Automation is so much more than just personalisation. For me relevancy is the key. You target, segment and personalise on relevancy which turns sales into customer service. Nurturing your customers from cold to warm enables you to given them what they are looking for. Of cause let's not forget the conversion of unknowns to knows leads.

There are lots of different aspects, great for B2B and doesn't have to be expensive. We have some interesting webinars on this topic as well as couple of online tools.



over 2 years ago



Hi Chris,

I am sold on automation and have helped organizations reap significant benefits from it. Finding the right talent to own the vision for and build out the engine is tough! In fact, I have immediate openings for two key roles for Grovo, a fast moving and tech-savvy startup in NY - sharing links if anyone is interested!
Automation Manager: http://grnh.se/2ps64k
Demand Gen Manager: http://grnh.se/jn1hmo

I cannot wait to turn on the engine for them again!

over 2 years ago



Hi All,
Nice to get lot of thoughts about Marketing Automation.For me,Having worked in MA is all about Leads.Landing Pages,CRM stuffs and Analytics can be done independently as others discussed.But MA has Customized Lead Generation Models that eventually turn your Suspects to Prospects to Marketing Qualified Leads and then pass on Sales team.For me it is that part really unique with MA and thats why companies investing in MA can get effective Sales.

over 2 years ago



It was really impressive.I would also recommend a worthy feature wherein you can send bulk emails with 'schedule time' option.

about 2 years ago



Yeah.. I'm a technology guy and I've been in touch with a lot of marketing folks from last 2 years.. And the basic requirement of lot of them were to scrape data from different directory websites like yell, yellowpages, amazon, 118118 etc...

And I created couple of them:

Yell Scraper - http://youtu.be/BepwR6W7DjE
YellowPages Scraper - http://youtu.be/6HJzL4PqPRk
Amazon Scraper - http://youtu.be/k-hRl9B-nZ0
118118 Scraper - http://youtu.be/BepwR6W7DjE

Extreme Excel Solutions

about 2 years ago


Jean Borgman

Thanks for the interesting post, Christopher, and I agree that marketing automation is a "complicated, multi-faceted beast." Interestingly, marketing automation has typically been a “push” technique of companies reaching out to prospects via multiple channels like email, phone and now social media. But it doesn’t always have to be a push to be considered MA. Real-time personalization is alive and well on many websites – not just on Amazon – and can serve to nurture prospects with a “pull” mentality. That is, when the prospect or customer is right there in the channel they want to interact with you on - your website or your SaaS application – brands have the ability to understand who that user is (even if it’s their first-time anonymous visit) and what their intent is, and display relevant messaging in real time to guide them through their journey. Several cases, including how Compete PRO integrated real-time web personalization with their CRM/Salesforce to increase client retention by 26%, can be found here:

about 2 years ago



Hi Christopher,
As a newcomer into the Digital Marketing, this article is very helpful to understand the concept of the digital marketing. This article is very impressive with the details of Marketing Automation as well as very informative. I would like to hear many more articles from you, thanks for sharing a good article.

Best Wishes,

about 2 years ago

Ann Stanley

Ann Stanley, Managing Director and consultant at Anicca DigitalSmall Business Multi-user

I recently presented an introduction to using Marketing Automation to solve common sales and marketing problems at the SEM Days conference in Romania. The slides are available on our blog or Slideshare.net/annstanley

The approach I used in this talk was to take common problems eg uploading lists for email, tracking activities of individuals and then explaining how MAS software can solve the problem.

I also included some 3rd party supplier comparisons and a list of resources which we used during our research.

With regard to the solution we selected, in the end we plumped for a software package which is only available for agencies, so we can offer it to clients at a very low monthly fee.

I hope this is useful for people
kind regards
Ann Stanley (MD Anicca Digital)

about 2 years ago


Harish Chandramouli, Marketing Manager at Mannar and Co

Thanks for the great insights Christopher. I might just use your post as a cheat sheet when I'm asked about MA in the future! With the plethora of tools available it makes choosing that much more complicated but keeping an eye on our marketing goals could help navigate the convoluted world of Marketing Automation. Came across another great presentation on successful Marketing Automation here http://www.slideshare.net/xerago/marketing-automation-42710987. Couple of interesting facts in there and I'd love to know your and everyone else's opinions on what it takes to get your MA implementation successful.

Harish C.

almost 2 years ago

Pete Austin

Pete Austin, CINO at Fresh Relevance

One more advantage is control. A good real-time marketing system lets you change content on-the-fly as circumstances change, even in emails that have already been sent.

You can adjust product recommendations to match your stock levels, react in minutes to promote products that match a new event, or replace your hero image by a sale banner - across web and email in sync.

about 1 year ago

jon louie

jon louie, President at FacePalm Advertising

Pete. That is true. But it also depends what platform you are using. Our guys here at FacePalm Advertising are certified on the top platforms on the market and some platforms DO NOT allow you to change email/landing page content "on-the-fly."

This means that you'll have to send another email to people you had already sent to, which then makes your brand look like spam and become annoying to your contacts. So it definitely depends on your MA platform. Unlike some agencies, we don't push one platform over another because we don't actually have contracts with them. So research is key to choosing the right platform. I'll be happy to consult anyone on the matter. Just ask.

7 months ago

Paul Bola

Paul Bola, Owner at DocMate

Your article about marketing automation, explains that some “seek out marketing automation software under the influence that all of the digital marketing devices important for hike… are rolled up under the hood of marketing automation.” This confusion has people caught under the idea that marketing automation can be used for every stage of the funnel for growth.

Thanks and regards,
Paul Bola

18 days ago

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