To some extent, the pros and cons of marketing automation are two sides of the same coin, similar to deciding whether to keep a boyfriend or girlfriend and writing ‘decisive’ in the ‘for’ column and ’controlling’ in the ‘against’.
There’s definitely a feeling of ‘how far can we take this’ within marketing. What started out as triggered emails is fast turning into a conversation where machine learning pops up fairly often. Automation won’t just be about doing the grunt work of comms, it will also be about spotting trends and creating content.
Whether this day will come and how soon is up for debate. For now, I thought I’d set out clearly the pros and cons of marketing automation.
Let’s start with the bad news..
Too much messaging?
There’s a danger that automation leads companies to communicate with their customers too frequently. Companies cannot be relevant all of the time, only when a customer wants to (whether they know it or not) hear from them.
At the moment, a lot of marketing automation consists of pathways of triggered emails, usually triggered by browsing and purchase behaviour on a website or interaction with email.
These pathways can be longwinded in their setting up, though email marketing service providers usually specialise in this and to some extent can ‘copy’ standard pathways (e.g. welcome campaign) between clients.
Perhaps slightly paradoxically, I’ve heard marketers talk about the risk of setting up too many automated campaigns. They can get away from you and become hard to untangle or update with content.
Of course, more advanced technology using machine learning allows for these pathways to be determined automatically. The technology is designed to ‘spot’ trends and understand where improvement can be made. A lot of the time, this is simply determining segments of your audience that you didn’t know existed.
In theory this sounds like less work, but of course more segments will lead to more work until the software is sophisticated enough to spot segments, create campaigns and ultimately tweak content itself. That, I would suggest, is a long way off, if not a fallcy, so marketers can breathe easily for now.
Smaller segments need better customer profiles (and more content)
Although nobody would suggest broad brush marketing is a good thing, the opposite can be a curse, too. Chasing ever more personal interactions could be futile because users can only be differentiated by what information you have about them, and how much confidence you have in that data.
Unless you have lots and lots of data, both demographic and behavioural, the customer will always be able to suprise you. Although on average you might be sending more of them the right messaging, there’s still the problem of creating content.
Splitting out audiences further needs to be thought about very carefully. I’ve heard of large companies hamstrung in product development, because they don’t know which segment to target next and perhaps they target the wrong one because of some internal bias of affiliation.
You’ll have to invest in technology
I think that’s a given and something most companies in good health (or trying to transform) are reconciled to. Try our Marketing Automation Buyer’s Guide if you’re stuck.
Technology has made marketing and media a more interesting and fertile industry. Getting to grips with automation might just save the soul of the poor email marketing executive who spends his every day setting up email shots.
Whilst I admit this might be slightly disingenuous (given that automation leads to much higher email volumes and doesn’t negate other manual efforts) I still believe that a marketing department richer in tehnology can be more fulfilling for staff as well as the business.
More messaging, more time, more channels, more sales
A simple one really. You can communicate more (not too much!) and in myriad marketing and comms channels, be it by email, social, SMS, personalised websites, search etc. In theory (once it’s set up) you will save time, at least on the theoretical manual work involved in crafting each message one by one.
And of course, all this should mean more sales.
Top Digital Priorities 2014: Targeting and Personalisation
Automation technology is a good platform within which you can test creative in different channels. In much the same way that AdWords copy is perfected, you can split test effectively in other channels.
Marketing teams can share the love
Whether it be making B2B sales cycles a lot slicker by adding a comms layer to content marketing, or allowing community managers to acknowledge customer contact, marketing automation can be applied in many areas of the business.
It can help to unite previously disparate teams and improve their operations.