Marketing Automation Platforms: How to Choose a Digital Marketing Platform

If you sell something online, finding the right marketing platform is essential to your business strategy. With the right solid software solutions, you’ve got the potential to expand your reach, drive more traffic to your site, and boost sales.

With so many marketing platforms and tools to choose from, making an informed decision can feel daunting. But even though it may sound like a challenge to find that perfect all-in-one, integrated marketing platform, the process is manageable if you know what to look for.

What to look for in a marketing platform

When you’re on the hunt for an all-in-one marketing platform for your small business needs, there’s one consideration you’ll want to keep high on your list of priorities: simplicity. Your job will be much easier if you can find a single service to suit all your marketing needs.

Your goal should be to find a comprehensive marketing platform that bundles everything you need into one package and gives you broad oversight of your marketing operations. For a small business, you’ll want one system that allows you to capture and segment customer information, automate your marketing messages via email and social media, and track your results. Here are a few key features you should look for.

Customer relationship management (CRM)

A powerful CRM solution allows you to manage all of your interactions with customers past, present, and future. For small businesses, customer management features can go a long way toward perfecting marketing and sales strategies.

Take customer segmentation, for instance. It allows you to group customers by preferences or characteristics, like how they joined your mailing list or what kind of items they bought. Then, you can personalize your messaging based on the information you’ve collected. This can help ensure you’re using the most effective strategies for reaching every customer.

The right CRM can aid your small business by tracking metrics, improving task management, organizing customer contact info and buying preferences, and much more. Be sure that your marketing platform delivers both improved customer insights and the management tools necessary for you to optimize your efforts.

Marketing automation

Marketing automation is key to streamlining your business’s use of resources and helps generate more sales. Automation means you don’t have to keep track of individual customers’ interactions with your brand—the software does it for you while you focus on other aspects of running your business. If you’re looking for a marketing platform that will take your efforts to the next level, you’ll want to make certain it can automate tasks like engaging customers through email, following up on abandoned carts, and providing personalized post-purchase recommendations to buyers.

With automation, you’ll be able to move prospects through your marketing funnel with greater ease, as targeted content guides them from one step to the next. What’s more, automation will make it easier for you to scale your efforts, and can even make sure that your campaigns reach more potential customers.

Digital advertising and social media management

Digital advertising is one of your best tools to bring in more customers. With strategies like social media marketing and paid search advertising, you can reach potential customers where they are, driving purchases and maximizing your return on investment (ROI)—that is, recouping the money you’ve spent on marketing initiatives.

Your marketing platform should support a multichannel approach to online advertising that allows you to combine methods like paid search, content marketing, automated emails, and social media ads. Your platform should also offer plenty of metrics, so you can make sure ads are reaching the right people and that they’re effectively driving purchases.

Along with digital advertising, whatever marketing platform you choose should offer a way for you to manage your social media accounts and collect data from followers. Social media marketing is about more than just deploying ads, and a solid marketing platform will reflect that.

You should be able to track followers, engagement, ad performance, conversions, and more for all your social media pages from a single access point. Having an overview will help you optimize and target your marketing efforts.

Landing pages and form options

Your landing pages and forms are perhaps the most important elements of your online presence. You don’t need a full website to take advantage of these destination pages. These lead-capturing tools— such as a sign-up page that follows an ad or a product page linked from one of your social media posts—allow you to easily collect customer information such as email addresses to build your audience or drive purchases.

Landing pages help you collect important demographic info about your prospects. They also provide insight into who is engaging with your offers and the overall effectiveness of those offers.

Keep in mind that your landing pages will be more effective if they’re targeted to the right audience and optimized for conversions. Use clear calls to action, inspirational or persuasive language, customized sign-up forms, and attractive design to make sure your landing pages entice customers to convert.

Retargeting

Your marketing platform should include useful strategies like retargeting. This technique allows you to deliver customized ads to individuals who have already interacted with your site.

People dislike ads if they are intrusive and low-value. However, retargeting speaks directly to customer interest to boost engagement. Used properly, retargeting promotes specific offers or products to the people most likely to be interested in them.

Retargeting is an integral part of an all-in-one marketing platform, and it’s a highly effective method for boosting your revenue.

Comparing your options

Many of the best marketing platforms have similar offerings, but each one has a unique layout, structure, and toolset worth examining in-depth.

By and large, there are 7 points you should use when comparing your options: price, features, limitations, reputation, ease of use, customer service, and reporting and analytics. Here’s how these factors will play into your search.

Price

First and foremost, you’ll need to find an option that fits your organization’s budget.

Some platforms, like HubSpot, offer a tiered pricing system. With platforms like these, you choose a plan based on the features needed. Pricing goes up when you select packages with more robust offerings.

HubSpot offers a number of plans, and pricing varies based on whether you pay on a monthly or annual basis. There is a free tier, but this comes with a limited number of features. On the low end of their paid plans, you’ll be shelling out a minimum of $50 per month (or $600 per year) to access basic features. To enjoy the more robust features of their enterprise plan, you’ll be paying up to $3,200 per month, or $38,400 annually.

What’s more, HubSpot is known for upselling you on features. Though the extra bells and whistles may sound great up front, you may end up locked into a higher-tier plan with features you don’t actually need.

For another example of how marketing platform pricing might shake out, let’s take a look at Klaviyo’s pricing structure. With Klaviyo, you pay for only the email contacts and SMS messages that you need, but that can get pricey fast. Maintaining 50,000 contacts and 500,000 monthly email sends, for instance, would run you $700 with Klaviyo.

Now, compare that to Mailchimp's cost, where the same number of contacts and email sends only runs you $320 per month on the Standard plan.

While the method of pricing may vary with the top platforms, one thing you’ll notice across the board is that plans can get expensive when you include add-ons, training, etc. Even for upgrades like additional reporting features and increased ad spend, you can end up paying hundreds of dollars more per month with services like HubSpot.

Features

Not every marketing platform has all the same service offerings, and some are essential for an effective marketing strategy. That being said, keep in mind the fact that pricier services won’t always automatically be more feature-rich.

Take HubSpot, for example. While its offerings are robust, there are other services that offer similar capabilities at a lower price. What’s more, there are some platforms that provide specific packaged services for a flat fee so you don’t have to upgrade to a level with more features than you’ll use or if you prefer a tiered pricing model.

The best practice here is to consider your specific marketing strategy and compare software options based on how they match those needs—and your budget—as opposed to just chasing down the program with the “most” features.

Limitations

Just as each platform has its strengths, each of them has their weaknesses as well.

GoDaddy, for instance, offers more limited digital marketing and automation options compared to some of its competitors, and to some, has a confusing interface that makes navigating the software a cumbersome process.

Some software solutions might fall short when it comes to their marketing platforms. Others still might have narrow targeting and segmentation options. On the whole, every option is sure to have its pitfalls, so you should keep your needs firmly in mind while making your evaluations.

Reputation

It never hurts to check the general reputation of a marketing software brand. Even if you have a good sense of what the platform is and what it does, try looking up some reviews by experts and users on websites like G2 or PCMag.

Previous and current users usually have plenty to say about the software they use, and you can get a fairly accurate read on how a platform might work for your business based on their ratings and in-depth reviews.

You’ll also want to keep a keen eye on the accolades and awards that a platform has under its belt. That sort of praise doesn’t come easy, so if a service has distinguished itself in the industry, you know it’s for a good reason.

Ease of use

Especially when it comes to digital marketing, software should simplify your life, not make it more confusing.

Ease of use is a must-have facet of any marketing software you choose. Beyond simply being a headache to navigate, less-intuitive software can also make a dent in your bottom line. Because more complicated programs take more time and money to train employees to use, they can become a net drain on your resources.

As of the date of this article, Mailchimp has scored 8.7 out of 10 in G2's user satisfaction score for ease of use. Mailchimp understands that e-commerce retailers have a lot on their minds, and trying to figure out how to navigate marketing platforms should not be a primary focus.

Customer service

When something goes wrong with your software or you’re not quite sure how certain features work, where do you go for help?

Ideally, whichever marketing platform you go with should have comprehensive customer service that can handle more than just getting you set up. This includes a wide range of options, like guides, tutorials, email support, chat support, and phone support that you can use to get yourself on the right path.

Post-implementation, you want to make sure you can fall back on those support services in the event you need a helping hand.

Reporting and analytics

The power of marketing analytics can’t be overstated. With the right data, you can figure out how your campaigns are performing. Quickly learn how you’re stacking up against your competitors, and where you should be spending time and money, then strategize a path forward.

That’s why you’ll want to prioritize marketing platforms that provide you with easy-to-comprehend reporting and the metrics you need to increase site traffic, boost your ROI, and get a big-picture view that will improve your overall business efforts.

Mailchimp makes it easy to interpret performance with peer-to-peer benchmarking capabilities, which customers can easily use to understand how their efforts compare with the competition. When you connect your online store and Mailchimp account, it’s easy to track your ROI across channels, including websites, email lists, and social media accounts.

Why Mailchimp?

When it comes to providing the features growing businesses need, few platforms fit the bill quite like Mailchimp.

A longtime player in email marketing, Mailchimp is consistently on PCMag’s “best of” lists and has won many industry awards, including 4 Gold Stevie Awards in 2020 in the Customer Service & Call Center Awards Achievement Categories. Mailchimp was recently named one of G2’s Best Software Companies of 2020.

In recent years, the service has expanded far beyond its roots in email marketing and kept pace with an ever-changing industry. Designed with the needs of small- and medium-sized businesses in mind, Mailchimp is a solution that’s manageable and scales as you do.

Mailchimp now offers a complete all-in-one Marketing Platform for managing CRM activities, automations, and other must-haves on top of robust email capabilities. The Mailchimp marketing CRM, for example, offers the core features that small businesses need to get ahead, including reporting and segmentation. Setting up customer profiles and managing audience data is streamlined, cutting out the fluff and allowing you to get right into collecting and analyzing data.

Gathering customer intel, tracking metrics, and performing A/B testing are a breeze within Mailchimp’s platform. Expert reviews have even made specific note of the quality of Mailchimp’s analytics, emphasizing the ease with which you can segment audiences, track campaign performance, and analyze your data.

Mailchimp’s other features follow in a similar vein—striking at the core and stripping away the extraneous. Ease of use is one of Mailchimp’s strong suits, and it’s only enhanced by the platform’s streamlined interface and simple-to-navigate menus.

What’s more, Mailchimp’s customer support team is always ready to lend a helping hand to paying users struggling with any aspect of the platform. Customer service is a pillar of the paid user experience.

For business owners and marketers who prefer a self-service approach, Mailchimp also offers a wide range of educational content in the form of webinars, videos, articles, and more—all offering insight, assistance, and tips on how to use the platform to its fullest potential.

By combining the most essential software features with an intimate knowledge of small and medium business processes and impressive customer service offerings for paid users, Mailchimp has risen toward the top of the all-in-one marketing platform pack. If you’re an e-commerce business looking for a way to automate your marketing and turn analytics into more sales, Mailchimp serves as an excellent jumping-off point with ample room to grow at your own pace.

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