Demystifying Marketing Automations

Learn how automation can help simplify and streamline many everyday marketing tasks.

A visual from Mailchimp’s Customer Journey Builder.

As the name suggests, marketing automation is a kind of technology that lets you establish systems to automate everyday marketing tasks, reducing the amount of time and effort it takes for you to communicate with your audience in timely and relevant ways.

Marketing automation can be set up with less effort than you may think. And, it’s good for all types of businesses, since it lets you easily and consistently serve every unique segment of your audience with the right messages at the right time.

“Many people have the misconception that marketing automation is only for e-commerce businesses, but they can be used for much more than abandoned cart messaging,” says Sean Fletcher, Product Marketing Manager at Mailchimp. “They can help drive growth at every type of organization, including manufacturers, financial services firms, non-profits, restaurants, retailers, consultancies, and more.”

Learn how to use automation powered by audience data to deepen relationships and grow your business.

“Automation can help you stay closer to your customers by sending messages when they actually want to hear from you, rather than clogging their inboxes with bulk, unpersonalized email.”

What is marketing automation?

It can often seem like there aren't enough hours in the day to get everything done. Marketing automation takes work off your hands by reducing the amount of time and effort it takes to communicate with your audience. Once you set goals, determine your strategy, and create an automation, your platform does the work for you.

“Automation can help you stay closer to your customers by sending messages when they actually want to hear from you, rather than clogging their inboxes with bulk, unpersonalized email,” says Sean.

For example, you can automate things like sending event reminders, website retargeting, or an annual “happy birthday” message. It can also generate relevant email responses based on the strategy you set. Instead of having to make a one-off campaign to respond to an individual, the marketing platform will execute emails based on your strategy.

Once you build an automation, they function without needing your involvement everytime, leaving you free to focus on other areas of your business. The result is increased marketing capacity and deeper relationships with your audience.

It’s important to note that these automated campaigns aren’t intrusive or spammy. Rather, they’re informed by your audience’s behavior, preferences, and purchase history. The more you learn about someone, the smarter the automation becomes. Automation relies on data, and every interaction with your audience gives you valuable insights that show you when, where, and how often they want to engage with you.

Find your marketing automation starting point

Automations help you design a path for your audience and guide them based on what you’d like them to do. They also help you understand your audience interest and do a lot of the legwork that shapes the customer journey.

Before you begin, there are a few decisions you’ll need to make to choose the right marketing automation path for your organization. “Every type of automation is not right for every organization,” says Sean. “Which types of automations are right for you depends on your audience and your business cycle.”

As you get started on creating automations, there are a few questions you should ask yourself.

  • What are your business goals? Which automations make the most sense for your organization will depend on how you want to engage your audience and how often they need to hear from you. A customer might like occasional product updates, but not weekly sale reminders. Automations can be developed based on subscribers’ interests and the frequency they’d like to get emails.
  • Are you ready to connect? To make sure you have the data to create communications triggered to your audience’s needs and behaviors, connect your automation platform to your e-commerce store, landing page, or website.
  • When do you want to send emails? Look at the timeframe and days of the week you want automated emails to go out. These could be immediately after the triggering action, or at another specific time. You should also look at the pacing of your content and how often you want to send.
  • Do your messages sound human? Automated emails shouldn’t sound like they’re automated. Keep the voice and tone of your brand in mind, and make sure that your automated messages feel authentic and don’t sound like they were written by a copywriter—or worse—a robot.
Screenshot of Customer Journey Builder showing an automation Starting Point labeled as “A customer buys a product” with the call-to-action button of “Save Trigger.”

Understand how automations are performing

Quickly identifying which automations are—and aren’t—working will help you make informed decisions about where to put your time and marketing budget. There are several metrics you can look at to gauge who’s interacting with your marketing and what actions they took.

“Automation can help you understand what’s happening in your customer journey and deliver personal touches, so it doesn’t just feel like mass email,” says Sean. “Many of the metrics are like standard email benchmarks—you need to see if people are opening your messages, and if they do, are they then going down the right path.”

There are a number of metrics to consider when it comes to automation.

  • Opens. Are people opening the messages they receive? And, are they opening them in the right time frame to take advantage of the content or offer?
  • Click-throughs. Once they open, are they clicking on links and taking the path on your website they should?
  • Activity. Are your automations resulting in signups, purchases, downloads, social engagement, time spent on your website, or whatever other activity signals success for your organization?
  • Bounce rates. If your automations are driving people to your website, how long are they staying there? Do they visit more than one page, or do they immediately “bounce” off your website without looking around?
  • Unsubscribes. Do a high percentage of your automated messages result in people unsubscribing from future communications?

It’s important to see this information in real time so you know immediately where you’re having successes and where to improve. A dashboard accessible from both desktop and mobile is helpful to see all your important metrics in a single view.

“In your database, tag how people respond to your messages, to see how they’re responding and whether they’re engaged,” says Sean. “If they’re not, you can find different ways to talk to them.”

Screenshot of Customer Journey Builder showing an automation workflow with Sent and Opens counts noted in the Email step.

How marketing automation build relationships

There are many different types of marketing automation that help you engage your audience in numerous ways. As you consider what automations to use for your business, think about what you hope to accomplish through marketing.

  • Introduce people to your brand. Welcome automations introduce new subscribers or audience members to your brand and give you an opportunity to tell them more about yourself and build the relationship. These emails could be a one-off or a series that brings your story to life. For example, for a nonprofit, a welcome series is a great way to educate new members about your mission and ways to get involved or donate.
  • Turn first-time buyers into brand advocates. Asking a new customer to fill out a survey or thanking them for their business with a promo code on their next order shows that you appreciate their business and want to deepen the relationship.
  • Make personal connections. Date-based automations send personalized emails to people on important days to celebrate personal or business-related milestones, such as birthdays or the anniversary of an initial purchase. They can also be used for upcoming events—for example, if someone signed up to attend an in-person or virtual painting class, a reminder email the day before with details like start time, all the supplies needed, where to park, or the link to log in would be greatly appreciated.
  • Engage your audience based on their behavior. This shows you understand how they want to interact with your brand. If someone downloads a fitness app, an automated email could suggest ways to track steps or activity. If someone visits the accompanying wellness website for the first time in a few months, a “welcome back” email could re-engage the user, suggesting pages that might help them jumpstart their exercise program.
  • Keep the conversation going. Automated messages throughout the buying cycle keep your audience informed about their purchase. An order notification answers typical buyer questions based on the activity of previous buyers, while follow-up automations ask people what they thought of their purchase and offers recommendations about other items they might enjoy.
  • Send reminders. If someone visits your website but isn’t ready to make a purchase, an abandoned cart or retargeting automation could remind them of what they were thinking of purchasing. A product recommendation here might suggest something else they'd like, in case the original item no longer meets their needs.

Do more with less effort

Any kind of business—from local businesses and nonprofits to e-commerce stores and restaurants—can benefit from the ways marketing automation streamlines talking to your audience. Connecting with people in relevant ways when they need information will help you grow revenue and relationships.