10 steps to start your marketing automation journey


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Digital marketers are experiencing some of the most difficult times they will face in their careers. While marketing teams are having to adjust to reduced staffing and new stay at home work procedures and policies, consumers and businesses are having to tighten their belts and focus on essentials. Everything is changing at a pace that can be really hard for marketers to keep up with. In my conversations with clients, some teams are more impacted than others and one of the biggest differentiators is how well they’ve embraced marketing automation.

In times like these, marketing automation should be viewed as a strategic imperative for business continuity. Why? Because when the business is stressed it allows teams to continue operations with minimal human interaction. Simply put, marketing automation provides the freedom to focus on the most pressing issues without having to spend cycles on day to day minutiae that can bog down even the best of teams. It can seem daunting, but instead of trying to boil the ocean let’s look at 10 ways you can start small and then build on those efforts that produce tremendous results over time. 

  1. Identify your goals: Everything starts with a goal. Goals should always be “SMART”: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound. Goals that don’t meet these requirements are only setting you up for failure.
  1. Lay your foundation: Data is the foundation that all marketing automation is built on. You need it to identify and define your audience segments as well as for content to personalize your communications. You can’t send an abandoned cart campaign if you don’t know who has abandoned those carts.Likewise, that same campaign will be much more effective if you’re able to show the items in the cart. Once the data elements are identified, you can validate that it’s accurate, remediate it, and cleanse it if needed.
  1. Create great content: This step means great content to draw customers in as well as great content to send to them. In a perfect marketing automation plan, you’ll want content that draws customers to you so you can identify hand raisers (people likely interested in knowing more). This should drive increased lead captures and allow you to more effectively market your goods and services to those that show interest.
  1. Lead scoring and engagement: Now that your content is ready, you need to have an ability to analyze and measure people’s interests in your goods and services. This is typically referred to in the B2B world as Lead Scoring, though the same principles apply in the B2C world as well. Having robust lead scoring rules allows you to easily identify and separate window shoppers from people with an intent to purchase. Likewise, understanding engagement is critical as customers will often waiver based on where they are in their journeys. For example, a sudden renewed interest is a great indicator of an intent to purchase. Identifying these hand raisers will allow you to capitalize on that interest and hopefully close the deal.
  1. Flexibility: Any automated campaigns, whether single emails, multi-wave, or even 6-month long nurture journeys, should be designed with flexibility as a key element. This will allow you to make rapid changes to the journeys as required. For example, messages designed before the Covid-19 pandemic can often come across as tone deaf or uncaring these days. So being able to quickly adapt to a changing world is critical to the long-term success of a marketing automation plan.
  1. Personalization: Personalization is critical, though be careful not to overdo it which can come across as creepy. The best personalization is often where the customer doesn’t even realize the content they are seeing has been tailored to them.
  1. Multi-channel: Leverage as many channels as you can in your marketing automation efforts. When choosing a channel for any type of message, I often recommend two primary factors: urgency and preference. Urgency is important. For example, people will often see an SMS message faster than they check their email. So, a 30-minute flash sale alert sent through SMS will often drive a lot more traffic than an email, which may not be seen until well after the sale is over. However, others simply prefer email or push over SMS. So identifying and leveraging a preferred channel can help better personalize communications.
  1. Test, test, test: Marketing automation campaigns should rely heavily on testing content, the frequency of contacts, and the intervals between contacts. Not only should different subject lines and content elements be continuously tested, but also the order in which the content is sent out. For example, if a three-step journey sees the highest results after the third email, what happens if you swap the third email into the first position? Does it help or hinder?

    Testing should always include a hold out or control group as well. Control groups are very important to identify just how successful the marketing effort is.
  1. Analyze: All the data in the world is worthless if there isn’t a way to analyze the results. It’s imperative that marketers have the ability to judge success or failure prior to initiating any automated marketing campaigns. It’s equally important to monitor and track the campaigns so that sudden dips and spikes can be identified and either rectified or capitalized on.
  1. Optimize: The final item on the agenda is to optimize. A plan for continuous improvement should be created and acted on. This will allow for periodic review and improvements on the campaigns so that positive results can be grown over time.

Beginning your marketing automation journey can seem difficult, but the hardest step in any journey is always the first one. Start small, use these tips to guide you on your way, and you’ll find this particular journey to be an amazing one.

For more tips on optimizing email, check out the rest of our Brilliant Basics series.

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