A hot topic lately in the field of marketing is Marketing Automation. In this article I plan to explain what its roots are, how it came to be, and how it can make your marketing more efficient then ever, for a cost of course!

To understand what Marketing Automation is we first need to understand its roots which lies in Email Marketing. I’m sure many of you are familiar with big name Email Service Providers (ESP) out there like MailChimp, Campaign Monitor, or Constant Contact. The service which an ESP provides you with is the ability to store contact data in a database and then give you the ability to send out emails, in HTML and plain text format, to your list as you segment it. This is a step up from just sending out an email in Gmail or Outlook. By coding the HTML for you it gives you an ability not found easily in the typical email client. Additionally they give you tools to tell you what’s happening with the emails at the other end to see why emails are bouncing, what emails are being opened and where your readers are clicking in the emails. The result is that you can create a well-groomed email list where you can engage your readers by giving them content they want, in a format they prefer, and you can keep track of how much your readers enjoy your emails.

That’s all good and well. You can put a signup form on your website or blog and then these applications manage your list for you, give you statistics and maybe some other integrations. So how can another service improve on that? What needs to be improved on that and why is it called Marketing Automation? Well that’s a very good question.

Email Marketing reaches its limitations when you get to scheduling emails. You can send them out right now, save a draft for later, or schedule for a later time. But that’s the end of the process as far as ESPs are concerned. Let’s say you were planning events for your business. Maybe you want to send out two emails, one introduction and one reminder as it gets closer to the event. We all know how if you don’t keep information plastered in front of your audience how easy they can forget dates. With an ESP you would create two different campaigns, pick the lists and schedule them individually. Marketing Automation takes a different approach. Instead of two separate campaigns, Marketing Automation tools say that this is not two separate campaigns, but rather a single campaign that has a single objective, to get visitors to your event. Now with Marketing Automation you would go through the same process of setting up two different emails, selecting your lists, but, what is different.

Let’s take this example one step further to give you a clear explanation. Now you say, well I need guests to RSVP so I can know how much food to order for the event since it’s being catered. With Email Marketing you would have to make a signup form separate from your ESP and then update the list before your second invitation email goes out before the reminder. On the other hand, Marketing Automation will allow you to keep multiple lists within your campaign. So if a guest registers in email #1, they do not have to receive email #2, and because you set up a rule in your Automation, there is no work needed on your part and then they get the final reminder. To see this point illustrated check out the images below:

Email Marketing Flow
Email Marketing Flow
Marketing Automation Flow
Marketing Automation Flow

At first glance, the Marketing Automation Flow can look more complex, but what it does is it looks at all the emails as a single event, which for business, allows you to gauge your Return on Investment (ROI) for your marketing campaign. Or if you are just a small firm who plans a lot of events, Marketing Automation allows you to schedule everything in advance and have the list cleaned up based on user actions such as registration.

This is only one example of Marketing Automation. Another aspect is integration with your website. How many times have you installed a CMS like WordPress or Drupal. Well Marketing Automation solutions provide you with options like Javascript code or landing page and form designers that you can include on your site with iFrames. This makes setting up pages a breeze as no technical knowledge is typically required to set up these pages. But if you are a web designer and have worked with Muse, you know that these solutions don’t always provide the best code. As such, the Email Marketing providers tend to have superior tools when it comes to creating emails. No solution I have worked with to date has the capabilities, nor the ease-of-use of creating new emails like the Email Marketing solutions.

In addition to those landing pages and forms, you can set up, for lack of a better term, automated emails that work when you are not around. Ever fill out a form and get an automated, or canned, response that says “Thank you”. Or maybe you requested a PDF but now receive regular emails on the topic. Or maybe you were logged into Amazon, viewed a product page and now received an email offering you discounts on a bunch of similar products in that same category. That is Marketing Automation.

Some names you may come across with marketing automation will range from the likes of Eloqua, Marketo, Manticore, and Genius, just to name a few. These solutions range from hundreds of dollars a month up to tens of thousands of dollars per month. So if you plan on going the automation route, be prepared to be engaged yourself with setting up the processes and dedicating yourself to thinking in this “plan ahead” manner. ┬áThis is one of the stark differences between Marketing Automation and an Email Service Provider.

In some respects, Marketing Automation providers are like the old saying “jack of all trades, master of none”.┬áSo which way do you go? Well that is up to you. If you are looking to send out newsletters on a regular basis and don’t have to connect to something like Salesforce, the Email Service Providers are the way to go. If you have a larger customer base and want to keep them engaged with automated campaigns that you can setup and forget about, go with Marketing Automation providers.

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