Marketing automation (MA) is a confusing concept. It gives you the impression that you can actually automate the core process of any firm - the process of creating value to the customer. Tempting, admittedly, especially for those companies in which marketing is regarded more as a cost item than anything else. What makes it even more attractive is the suggested idea that through marketing automation, or ‘inbound marketing’ as one of the software providers call it, it is possible to pull prospects toward the company naturally, without excessive promotional efforts.
The idea of marketing automation is to enable a smooth customer journey – from awareness to engagement – by offering prospects/customers the right content at the right time across the right channels in a way that delights them. However, in many cases the use of the term refers to the technology, which enables automating certain marketing tasks, such as sending emails or targeted offers online. This is due to the software package providers’ willingness to own and define the process.
The fact is, though, that marketing automation is very little about technology and more about process, content and data.
The positive side in all this fuzz is that it highlights the importance of data in creating value for the customer. Data and analytics provide the intelligence for marketing automation. By capturing, enriching and developing analytics on your customer data, you can e.g.
- identify who are the most valuable customers
- find the best-fit offer for your customer (give even in real time an offer for the product your customer seems to be after)
- understand the probability/risk of churn and act upon
But do you need a special off the shelf platform to get all this? Another system to be integrated to the existent marketing platforms and to be mastered by its users? Not sure about that. Instead, I propose to go ‘customer first’: to analyze your current technology and analytics stack, and how you would enable a smooth customer journey across channels. Especially you need to understand how you are collecting data from all touchpoints (and do you have the permission to do that), how you are building the intelligence, and how you are using analytics to guide content and offer delivery in different channels.
In most of the cases, I recommend you to start with your customer journey definition, instead of rushing for a Marketing Automation tool selection process.