Choosing a marketing automation vendor can be a complex, multi-step procedure involving input from decision-makers across the business – to say nothing of the price tag attached.

And while the potential benefits of a good marketing automation platform – from improving the customer experience, to creating a competitive advantage, to boosting ROI and offering personalised communications at scale – make it worth the effort, the challenges don’t end once you’ve chosen your platform.

The next step is implementation – and it needs to be done well in order to get the most out of your new system and avoid technical challenges and internal roadblocks.

Often, the best guidance comes from marketers who have been there. Econsultancy’s recently-released Marketing Automation Best Practice Guide contains detailed guidance on every element of marketing automation, from how to choose a vendor to how to measure ROI, accompanied by practical advice from industry experts who have implemented and worked with marketing automation systems.

While you’ll need to download the report in its entirety to get the full benefit of their wisdom, here are three key pieces of advice from senior marketers on how to get the most from your new marketing automation platform.

Illustration depicting marketing automation with two robot arms: one holding a smartphone, the other holding an email.

1. Create rules for access and usage

An important first step is to know what the rules for your new system will be, particularly in terms of who will use it, the look and feel of the communications, and the frequency of contact with users, in order to ensure high quality and relevancy of communication. Stephen Yeo, Marketing Director at Panasonic System Communications Europe, told Econsultancy’s research team:

“We have set up communication limiters [within our platform] so that a contact can never receive more than three campaigns from us in a quarter. We did that to prevent the system becoming a free-for-all where there is no coordination between the categories and some poor person in the database is being bombarded with stuff.

“It’s very important to use marketing automation to control the frequency, to control the relevancy and to make sure you have high quality content.”

On top of this, a clear plan for who will access the tool, and how, is recommended in order to prevent wires being crossed and safeguard the quality of campaigns. Yeo describes how Panasonic System Communications Europe created a multi-level system of user access to dictate how employees could interact with campaigns:

“We created four levels of users. The first level was a ‘list loader’. For example, an administrator who is not dedicated to marketing but may get a list from a trade show and they can upload it. Then, level two users can go into the campaign library, clone a campaign to customise it, but can’t send it out.

“At level three, you can clone a campaign and also send it out. Lastly, a level four user can create new campaigns from scratch and send it out. We’ve probably run 7,000 campaigns and we’ve not had a single major issue.”

Three ways to take marketing automation to the next level

2. Create a content matrix

A marketing automation system can be fuelled by the most extensive datasets and the most smoothly-executed processes in the world, but this won’t look like much to the consumer without good content.

Allen Nance, Global CMO of Emarsys, reflects that he has seen the emergence of a “creative renaissance” where marketers are waking up to the importance of good content:

“People are realising that even if I have lots of data, and even if I’ve automated all these messages, without great content, it doesn’t matter.”

However, content creation and planning can seem like an intimidating prospect – particularly for small businesses. Peter Bell, Senior Director of Marketing (EMEA) at Marketo, advises creating a content matrix, or content grid, in order to identify where you have gaps in your content coverage, as well as where you already have plenty of content to be getting on with.

“If you’re doing a first-time deployment of marketing automation and you set yourself a vision beyond email, in all probability, you are going to run short of content,” he says.

“I’m a big advocate of mapping out all of your content assets, listing them out and then, in a simple matrix, matching them against several dimensions such as product interest, pipeline stage, customer type, geography, industry etc.

“What you will inevitably find is you’ll have certain points on the grid that have a lot of content and you are spoilt for choice, whereas other points on the grid you’ll find that you have no content. Knowing that before you get started and anticipating that because content takes time to develop is a very worthwhile exercise.”

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3. Take a long-term approach to data management

Finally, we have data: the lifeblood of any marketing automation system. While, as we’ve mentioned, good data alone isn’t enough to provide a stellar experience for your customers, it is still crucial.

Thomas Reyto, Director of Professional Services EMEA at Oracle Marketing Cloud, observes that,

“Many companies have a really hard time with their data in terms of clean, reliable data or sufficient data to support what they want to do. For example, a company may want to drive personalisation, but in order to do that, they need to have data attributes about the people they are marketing to. If you don’t have these attributes, the personalisation is not happening.”

A rough guide to creating a data-led culture

Data should be sorted and cleaned before it is inputted into the new platform, but successfully integrating data with a marketing automation system involves more than just a one-off action: it requires a long-term approach. The act of managing data as part of marketing should be an ongoing job, notes the report, that must be accounted and resourced for. As Emarsys’ Allen Nance puts it,

“Data management isn’t a project that you start in Q1 and end in Q2. The best companies have data management as an operational function that they do every hour, every day, every week, every month and into forever.”

Marketo’s Peter Bell agrees, advising marketers to take a strategic approach to data in order to achieve success.

Treat data like the strategic asset it is,” he says. “If you look at the world’s most valuable companies, all of them treat data as a first-class citizen. They’re using data to be successful and to become the world’s most valuable companies.”

For much more expert insight into the complexities of marketing automation, subscribers can download the Marketing Automation Best Practice Guide.