It’s fair to say that marketers have lately been spending a bit too much time on new, unproven channels. In the past couple of years, many have dabbled with 3D printing, VR, AR and even blockchain with little to show for their efforts.

At the same time, though, most marketers are also still focused on old, unsexy channels that ‘just work’, and persistently pursue optimization techniques to squeeze the most that they can get out of them.

One mature channel (or discipline) in particular, marketing automation, is a constant topic of discussion among marketers and those who use it are always on the lookout for new tips and tricks to improve performance.

Econsultancy’s Marketing Automation Best Practice Guide

So, what issues are marketers facing with marketing automation now? And what advice do experienced practitioners offer nowadays?

To find out, Econsultancy recently held roundtable discussions on marketing automation at Digital Cream Singapore, in association with Emarsys. Table host Faith Chen, Regional B2B Marketing Lead (APAC), Financial Times spoke with dozens of B2C and B2B marketers throughout the day and collected the marketing automation obstacles people are facing currently, as well as the trends and best practices which may help marketers overcome them. Highlights of the discussions are summarized below.

Deploying marketing automation enterprise-wide

One of the first issues which came up is that marketers were finding it difficult to spread the adoption of marketing automation at their companies. While most found it relatively easy to implement a marketing automation system in one department, many are finding it difficult to deploy automation across business units.

Some attendees who had successfully done so said that the success of an enterprise-wide programme depended on an organisation’s ‘digital maturity’. Marketers whose companies had been through digital transformation found it easier than those who worked at firms which were still in the ‘digital dark ages’.

To get support for an enterprise-wide marketing automation roll out, one attendee said, marketers need to involve the business team, including sales, in their planning. Marketers should also understand the priorities of the various business units, which are often different from marketing’s.

Finally, they should elicit the businesses’ pain points. Doing so helps marketers identify ‘quick wins’ which can be delivered to business units without extensive integration. Then, armed with visible successes, greater buy-in from the business is much more likely to happen.

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Having limited data access

Another problem participants mentioned was that they did not have access to the data which they needed to optimize their marketing automation. Participants agreed that ‘data silos’ still exist in many organisations and data owners are often reluctant to provide marketing with access to customer data.

The advice for marketers suffering this issue was that they need to let product and tech teams know why they need the data and what marketing automation will use it for. This may involve, one attendee pointed out, drawing up boundaries for data usage and joint objectives so that other department can share in the success of the marketing automation initiative.

It also helps, another added, if the marketing automation project has a business owner as well as a marketing lead so that they can help align requirements and objectives across business teams.

In any case, marketers should, another added, aim for ‘data completeness’ when pursuing greater data access, including offline experiences and activity.

Ensuring consistent and seamless user experience

Some attendees, who had significant experience with marketing automation, said that they struggled to keep a consistent user experience. They were typically under pressure to deliver emails and micro-sites for different departments, each of which had different goals and objectives.

One helpful solution to this issue was that marketers could assert more influence over the automation channel through understanding the customer better. To do so, they should conduct surveys with customers to understand what information they want and the optimal frequency of communications. With that data at hand, marketers will feel more empowered to control when to engage customers and how often.

Another suggestion was that marketers should ensure that data from all touchpoints flow into the system so that they can segment their audience dynamically, based on user behavior. This will help the marketing automation communications be more relevant to each customer and make the experience more seamless.

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Managing unpredictable purchasing lifecycles

Delegates, especially those working for B2B companies, indicated that marketing automation is difficult when the consumer does not follow a traditional purchasing cycle. Site visitors, they said, seemed to flow randomly through awareness, interest and action-oriented content.

Attendees who had similar issues said that the first thing that marketers facing this problem should do is ensure a consistent message and experience across all stages of the funnel. Additionally, they should tie a distinct user action to an objective for each stage of the funnel – i.e. a simple page view should not count toward an ‘awareness’ metric. Instead, users should be asked to give up information to be considered ‘in the funnel’.

Participants agreed that in addition to encouraging customers to move down the purchasing funnel, marketers should take a long-term view and use automation to create multiple potential sales pipelines. Prospects, one participant pointed out, visit sites for many reasons and they often have many requirements which can be addressed. Another added that marketing automation shouldn’t stop the moment the purchase is made; it should be used to retain and nurture the customer.

Modeling attribution and calculating marketing automation return on investment (ROI)

Finally, participants felt that as marketing automation often has multiple touchpoints that it made attribution modeling and calculating ROI very difficult. Some said that they still attribute successful conversions to the last-click, but others felt dissatisfied with this approach.

Unfortunately, no ‘magic bullet’ for attribution or ROI was offered. Instead, marketers said that those who are leading marketing automation projects had to build a business case in advance and look for major changes in site visitors, conversions and revenue to justify spending.

Those who had experience in this area felt that having a marketing cloud or another ecosystem made it easier to attribute conversions to automation. Others said that it was important to calculate the customer lifetime value (CLV) and not focus ROI or attribution on the first instance of customer acquisition.

Regardless of the approach, attendees agreed that no one had reached 100% automation and that they still regularly sought advice to help fine-tune their marketing automation systems. Case studies from eMarsys and other automation providers helped many attendees with new ideas and experiments to try.

A word of thanks

Econsultancy would like to thank Faith Chen, Regional B2B Marketing Lead (APAC), Financial Times for hosting the Marketing Automation, Best Practice and Implementation table and Clement Burghart, Country Manager, SEA, Emarsys for acting as our subject matter expert on the day.

We’d also like to thank all the marketers who made time in their busy schedule to join us at Digital Cream Singapore and offer their views, insights and obstacles they face with marketing automation. We hope to see you all at future Econsultancy Southeast Asia events!

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