Marketing

5 reasons you’re not using marketing automation

And how to get past them

Databox on November 9, 2015 • 7 minute read

Email marketing has been one of the few constants in my career over the last 14 years. I’ve managed it for a media company; run it for a B2C SaaS business; and was on the management team at an email marketing vendor. I’ve written about it, presented about it, and taught it. As digital marketing mediums go, email and I go way back.

It wasn’t until 2005 that I began to understand how powerful email could be, though. That year, the media company I worked for began seeing declining response rates to its emails. We relied on those messages to deliver leads to our clients, and because clients paid on a per lead basis the decline in response was threatening revenue. At the same time, there were a couple areas of the business where demand for our programs was so high we regularly sold out of email inventory, since we were unwilling to send any given person more than one email per day (I know, I know – still a lot. This was 2005, remember?). As the manager of our email products, it fell on me to solve this riddle: how do we drive more leads and create more inventory without messaging our subscribers any more frequently than we already did?

In other words, how do we get the right content delivered to only those people who actually want it?

We were already segmenting our email subscribers based on the topics they told us they were interested in when they signed up. But I thought we could factor in another dimension to how we were cutting our lists by taking a look at what other content people were consuming on our sites. Fast forward a couple months and a lot of quality time spent with our analytics team, and we automated targeting for all campaigns to rely primarily on how people behaved on our websites. Ten years ago, that required a hell of a lot of custom development. But it was worth it: the number of people we emailed for any given promotion declined by 50% on average, doubling inventory overnight. And the response to those promotions increased by 10% overnight.

That’s the first time I truly realized how powerful email could be when it came to that whole “right message to the right person at the right time” thing.

Thankfully, it’s gotten a lot easier in the last decade to target emails very precisely, thanks to marketing automation software. Marketing automation lets you trigger messaging based on a recipient meeting certain predefined conditions, like having recently signed up; or having bought a specific product; or interacted with your app a certain way. As a category, it encompasses more than email – there are platforms that will automate landing page creation and social media messaging. But at it’s core, marketing automation revolves around email.

And there’s no shortage of vendors that make it possible for you to automate email marketing campaigns. There are lightweight providers, like Drip or Campaign Monitor (where, full disclosure, I previously ran marketing), that make it dead easy to send things like triggered welcome emails or simple onboarding workflows. Then there are more powerful vendors, like Hubspot or Marketo, that let you automate more than email and can support very sophisticated campaigns.

In total, there are more than 200 marketing automation vendors out there. Yet, very few marketers are actually using the technology. To illustrate the relationship between the number of vendors, the adoption of marketing automation, and the impact on marketing campaign results, we pulled together a Databox Spotlight datagraphic.

When you look at the stats, it’s clear there’s a wide gap between the technology that’s available and the number of marketers taking advantage of it. So I figured it would be worthwhile to address five common reasons marketers who have heard of marketing automation haven’t jumped on the bandwagon yet.

Marketing automation is too complicated.

Marketing automation can get complicated – no argument there. But it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. The key is to get yourself organized around what you’re trying to achieve – namely,

  • Where are you trying to automate your marketing campaigns?
  • What are the segments of your audience?
  • How will you make your content relevant to them?

In other words, get clear on what you want to send to whom; how they’ll receive the message; and when they should get it. This is your messaging framework, and you don’t need to get crazy with it. Here’s an example of a lightweight messaging framework template we use at Databox.

Marketing automation is too expensive.

Again, that all depends on what you need to do and how large your subscriber base is. Campaign Monitor has plans that start at $9/mo for 500 subscribers. Hubspot plans start at $200/mo for 100 contacts. Drip is 2,500 subscribers for $49/mo.

Of course, vendors like Pardot, Marketo and Eloqua are more expensive – you’ll need to plan on investing at least $1k/mo to start, and depending on your business you can quickly find yourself investing six figures annually in your marketing automation platform.

But it all comes down to knowing your requirements (see above) and the economics of your business. If you have a keen understanding of both, the investment in automation is worth it. Which brings me to my next point…

There’s no ROI in marketing automation.

There is always ROI in sending content that’s more relevant to the recipient! But if you need further convincing, a study by Autopilot found that marketers who adopted marketing automation generated twice as many leads as those who were using old-school “email blasts.”

I don’t have any data I can use to target my messaging.

You need data to be a digital marketer. Here are a couple options to consider:

  • Get some additional info when you’re collecting email addresses. I’m not suggesting you go wild and start asking dozens of questions before someone creates an account. Be selective in what you ask, make sure the extra information will allow you to deliver more value to the subscriber, and consider testing your longer subscribe form against your shorter one to make sure you’re not having a detrimental impact on your business.
  • Start logging key actions people take on your website and in your app. Make friends with your engineers, and ask them what it will take to set up something like MixPanel or Intercom.
  • Append from a third party source. You need to be careful with this method, because it’s easy to venture into illegal or creepy territory. For instance, never buy email names outright in an effort to “clean up” stale contacts. But there are sources out there that will aggregate public information – like corporate headquarters, or vertical industry – and append it to an email file based on the addresses of your subscribers. Just be prepared to pay, and set your expectations of a match rate (or successful append) of about 30-40%.

Marketing automation technology is too intimidating.

This has always been my favorite objection to address. Marketing tech, as a general rule, is intimidating – no doubt about it. But there are a few things you can keep in mind to lessen the intimidation factor:

  • If the software is insanely complicated to operate, I guarantee there’s another vendor in the space who’s growing its customer base by making it easier to use the tool. Don’t stop looking.
  • All marketing technology comes down to trying to help you deliver more relevant content to a targeted audience. Keep that in mind, and then start using your imagination for what’s possible. Chances are there’s a tool or a tactic that will accomplish what you want to do – just keep asking questions.
  • You must have some degree of technical comfort to be a good digital marketer. It’s a non-negotiable. Consider taking courses with someone like General Assembly to brush up on your skills.

The data doesn’t lie – marketing automation truly does pay off. If you’re still on the fence, post your questions in the comments or tweet @databoxHQ and I’ll do my best to help you out.

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