Marketing automation programs are designed to collect and use marketing data to make your marketing efforts more effective and efficient. Marketing automation platforms can use data and patterns to send birthday emails and reminders, trigger lead generation content, schedule emails and social media content, and more.
In marketing, repetitive tasks can take up the majority of your time making it difficult to finish the important hands-on tasks that require your undivided attention. The objective of marketing automation is to help small business marketers bring their strategy to life without dominating their resources and headspace. This technology works best when you have an established audience and a nurturing strategy you want to put in place, but it is also an effective way to acquire new customers and generate leads.
By putting technology to work, businesses can use marketing automation tools to take care of simple, repetitive tasks, such as automated emails, retargeting ads, postcards, a/b testing, and other efforts that ensure you’re connecting with customers at every stage of their journey with your business.
In this post, we’ll discuss the ins and outs of marketing automation, including its benefits, how it works, and best practices for getting the results you want.
Definition: marketing automation
Marketing automation utilizes software to complete marketing tasks and execute predetermined campaigns across several different channels at scheduled intervals. By setting up a schedule, the software is able to perform many repetitive assignments for you, giving you the time back to focus on other efforts.
What’s more, you can use automation tools to customize an experience for people based on their behaviors, preferences, purchase activity, and more. Your customers will feel like you’ve crafted every marketing message just for them, which will grow their trust in your brand. And you’ll build a loyal audience of people who love (and tell other people about) your business. In fact, marketers report a 451% increase in qualified leads when marketing automation software is used.
What are the benefits of marketing automation?
1. It helps you understand your customers.
Customers like consistency. They also like personalized service. When it comes to personalized service, customers are more likely to return where they feel valued. Using marketing automation means you never miss a birthday, anniversary, or VIP opportunity. You never miss a chance to connect with your customers on a personal level. Customers also look for things that guarantee that they are a priority. Giving your primary customers access to sales and events prior to the general public makes them feel special and appreciated.
This personalization makes your interactions with them richer—and more profitable. Eighty percent of customers are more likely to buy from brands that offer customized and relevant experiences, according to a 2018 report.
Personalizations frequently drive customer loyalty, too. In a 2017 survey, 44% of consumers said that personalized interactions made them likely to buy from the company again. Customers appreciate it when companies treat them as individuals with personalized messages and not a sea of faceless consumers.
2. It lets you implement complex strategies.
Being strategic with your marketing communications isn’t just about reaching out to your contacts repeatedly—it’s about considering and mapping out when interacting with potential shoppers or customers will be most meaningful.
To do this, many companies use drip campaigns, sending out a series of pre-written emails at regular intervals. But there are also automation tools that let marketers think about and build workflows to execute more complex strategies. In Mailchimp, our Customer Journey builder not only lets you create emails that reach people at relevant moments, but it also helps you organize, clean, and manage your audience based on engagement.
Whatever your industry, the idea is to regularly deliver value to a customer over time, strengthening the relationship and their perception of your brand. Marketing automation (combined with your strategy) lets you reach better quality contacts and add complexity to your campaigns, because it makes it possible to send out custom messages to different segments of your audience based on their interests, behaviors, and even data from your CRM software. You can time those individualized messages based on the customer’s actions to improve your customer relationship management.
3. It lets your team focus on higher-level tasks.
Automation solutions are becoming more prevalent in digital marketing, helping marketers be more efficient. And by automating some of the manual, repetitive tasks that they normally have to do themselves, they’re able to focus on the more rewarding aspects of their work and the strategic side of lead nurturing and customer retention.
When your team automatically schedules and sends out marketing messages, for example, you can focus on enhancing the customer experience and respond to inquiries or resolve issues.
4. It saves you time and resources.
Marketing automation can help you save time, improve engagement, optimize your marketing and benefit your bottom line with workflow automation. It gives your customers personalized attention with thoughtful, authentic messages that sound like you’re writing to a friend, whether you have a hundred fans or millions of them. You can use merge tags in an email so that it starts with the customer’s name, for example, or you can reach out to people on big days like birthdays.
How does marketing automation work?
Marketing automation allows you to use a digital platform to consistently and efficiently market your products. By performing the repetitive tasks for you, it allows you to be more productive in other ways and also gives you a chance to work directly with your customers.
With that said, Automation depends on quality information. Each time someone subscribes to your list, buys something from your store, or clicks on your ads, they’re providing you with valuable data.
If you use Mailchimp, for example, your contact data is all in one place so you can get a holistic view of your audience as a whole. It also offers a visual breakdown of data—like where your contacts are located, how often they engage with your emails, and more insights—that you can turn into a map that will guide your customers to take the desired action at different interaction points.
You can also use browser cookies to track people’s behavior on your website and record where they go, what they do, and what they buy.
Then comes the “marketing” part of marketing automation. You give your system a few pieces of information, including:
- What messages you want to send and what tags you want to be added or removed from a contact
- What segments of your contacts you want to target
- What circumstances should activate the automation
If it all goes as planned, your system then engages your contacts, right when it’s most likely to make them convert.
Which tools are used for marketing automation?
When choosing your automation tools, you’ll want to consider your business goals. Automation tools are individual workflows you can set up to perform different functions that will help you accomplish the goals you’ve identified for your marketing strategy.
In Mailchimp, our automation tools cut across our platform, so you can think holistically about how you want customers to interact with your company:
- Email automation. Automate a single email—like a welcome or abandoned cart message—to take repetitive tasks off your plate, or set up a drip campaign if there’s a series of content you want your customers to receive. Once a customer has met the criteria required to enter your automation, they’ll trigger all the emails included in the workflow.
- Customer Journey. So named because it lets you visually map how you want customers to engage with your brand and see how that relationship evolves over time, this tool helps you think more about an end-to-end experience. Email is one of the interactions you can set up to send whenever customers reach that stage in the individualized journey the system delivers, but this tool goes beyond email. With the Customer Journey builder, you’re doing just that—building journeys for your customers, with logic they have to meet in order to move to the different interactions in your map like getting an email or being removed from a group.
- Scheduling. From emails to social posts to postcards, you can get ahead on your marketing by scheduling the date and time you want your content to send.
- Retargeting. Retargeting emails and ads make it easy to remind people about the stuff they’ve viewed on your site and give them a clear path back to your store to buy. When developing your strategy, it’s good to keep in mind that people won’t always buy something the first time. They might get distracted, or they might not be ready at that time. Think of retargeting as a gentle nudge that gets people thinking about your stuff until they realize that they just can’t live without it.
- Optimization & recommendations. With product recommendations, dynamic content, send time optimization, and a/b testing, you’ve got the tools you need to make every interaction with your customers more meaningful and valuable.
How does marketing automation impact the customer journey?
Before making a purchase, people might read the website, consider what product they want, sleep on it, and eventually go back to buy. This wandering route is called the customer journey, and it’s different for everyone.
It helps you connect with new fans...
If a person expresses interest in what you offer and enters their email on a subscriber pop-up form on your site, you can send them a welcome email to introduce yourself—and give them a reason to stick around.
...and sell more stuff.
It’s OK to sell to your customers, but with automation you can do it without sending lots of promotional emails.
Let’s think about that contact who signed up through the pop-up form on your site. When that contact starts to move toward a purchase, such as putting something in their cart without checking out, you can set it up so they receive an abandoned cart email from you.
Meanwhile, you can send occasional reminders to people who haven't interacted with you in a while. Retargeting emails, for example, remind people about the great stuff they saw on your site. Chances are, at least some of them are still interested and will make a purchase if you reach out.
It cultivates a trusting 2-way relationship.
When you deliver relevant content to your customers, you show them that you care about them. The more you target your communications, the more they will trust you to keep providing high-quality products or services. You can even use automation to send coupons or other discounts to people that meet certain criteria for loyalty or spending.
Best practices for marketing automation
While marketing automation requires minimal maintenance, there’s still some effort needed on your part, especially during setup. Let’s take a look at some of the best practices for using marketing automation.
1. Be specific about what you hope to achieve.
Collect all the data you have about your current marketing strategies and set goals for what you want to achieve with automation. Then you'll be able to measure your progress. You can also collect some examples of successful marketing automation campaigns to give you some ideas.
2. Think about how you want to segment your audience.
Marketing automation benefits you the most when it's as targeted as possible. Who you should be targeting depends on your products or services—and your customer base. Segmentation is a key element of successful automation, so take your time with it. It’s better to do it right than do it quickly.
Maybe you have products that appeal to different age groups. In that case, you'll want to segment by demographic. Maybe your services appeal to people with different levels of responsibility in their companies. If that's the case, segment by career level.
3. Create a flowchart.
Marketing automation is all about if-then. Figure out when you want people to enter your workflow—such as joining your subscriber list—and then specify when to move these people forward.
Our Customer Journey builder gives you a way to map out this type of if-then flow your customers will take. If someone interacts with your welcome email, for example, then that person gets an offer related to the action they took. If the person redeems the offer, then they are placed into a group that gets regular discounts and offers, and so on.
4. Test everything.
If some of your targeted messages aren't doing well, you can use that information and improve your next campaign. On the other hand, you can look at what your successful campaigns have in common and apply those insights to future marketing efforts.
Marketing automation FAQs
What are examples of marketing automation?
The most common forms of marketing automation are simple engagement-based forms of communication. Anniversary and birthday cards and appointment reminder emails fit into this category. Emails that include surveys and feedback requests can be executed with marketing automation as well.
Other examples include trigger campaigns which help nurture leads throughout the buyer’s journey with various content assets, including, editorial posts, promotions, e-books, guides, and more.
What is the main purpose of marketing automation?
Marketing automation is designed to enhance your marketing efforts while also making them more efficient. By scheduling communications and setting up trigger campaigns, you can market in an effective way while gaining time back to focus on other business development efforts.
What is a marketing automation platform?
A marketing automation platform is any digital or software platform that allows you to develop specific types of communications (emails, texts, posts, etc.) and send them out according to a predetermined schedule or pattern that you dictate.
Start building your marketing automation strategy
No matter what industry you’re in, it’s easy to set up marketing automation for any situation. Once you’ve settled on your goals, created your messaging, and have decided on the criteria that will power your workflow, you can start cultivating lasting relationships with your customers.
Check out how Mailchimp's free marketing automation tools stack up against the competition.