Workflow Automation Is Cool Again—Marketing Gets Serious

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Automation: the way forward.
Automation: the way forward.

Remember that awesome vacation that you took in the early 90s? And remember how you made sure you got the best possible price? If you were like my family, you personally called every major airline and hotel to check availability and prices. This process took hours and sometimes days to complete. Then, in 1996, a new startup named Priceline set out to improve this workflow for the consumer. At its core, Priceline—and many others that have followed—is a workflow software company that's gone on to revolutionize the travel and vacation industry.

Workflow automation—whether driven by the rapid advancement of technology or simple business economics—is essential for virtually any business or company function that seeks to increase scalability, improve resource flexibility, enhance customer experience or generate greater profits. Marketing is the next industry primed for disruption and adoption of advanced workflow automation. The manual processes and redundant workflow that exist today are costing brands millions of dollars per year and most don't know it. This has accelerated in recent years because of the hyper-connected nature of digital audiences: always-on consumers and business pros that use multiple devices and access numerous channels for information. Modern digital marketing is complicated, ironically very manual, and requires working with and across often disconnected systems and processes.

The industry is beginning to see workflow automation adoption take shape in single channels such as programmatic display, but zoom up a few more levels to the CMO's cross-channel view and that's where the opportunity for advanced workflow disruption is the greatest. CMOs are investing in technology, streamlining processes, and retraining teams of marketers to drive new levels of engagement and create revenue. Successful companies are reducing friction and showing metrics of 20 to 30% time, as well as significant resource savings, by automating everything from media buying to campaign management to customer analytics.

Let's dive into how different types of CMOs and marketing organizations are thinking about and benefiting from advanced workflow automation.

VC-backed startups

So you just raised money to scale your startup and now you want to invest in marketing to tell your story and acquire more customers. You have two choices: Staff an internal marketing team to develop your inbound and outbound marketing programs or contract an ad agency to manage the process for you.

Most venture-backed series A, B, and even C companies choose to handle the strategic, creative, and media buying process in-house. And their reality is, the more they spend on media, the more people they need to hire to manage the workflow. This includes sending and reviewing RFPs, distributing insertion orders, managing multiple creative assets, campaign operations and trafficking, planning and buying, billing, and reconciliation. By streamlining many of the manual processes, workflow automation software allows them to decrease costs, scale quickly, and capitalize on additional opportunities with newfound agility.

Large brands

We're starting to see some of America's largest brand advertisers show an appetite to move portions of their marketing in-house. Procter & Gamble, Kellogg's, Kimberly-Clark, and Unilever all elected to fence off their data and build in-house demand-side platforms. This is in part due to the CMO's sensitivity to controlling the usage and access to owned data, as well as a result of the sheer cost of managing this media from the outside. Siloed media buying teams are not unique to media agencies; many of the same silos exist inside brand marketing departments as well. And while moving data and media buying in-house may be a right step toward reducing costs and increasing brand control, a brand's much larger cost is the amount of redundant workflow that exists across all of its disjointed marketing efforts.

Media companies

Adslot and Digiday recently published a study titled RFPs a Time-Sink for Digital Publishers. The study found that North American publishers spend up to 1,600 man hours per month responding to RFPs, costing them 18% of their total sales budget. On average, publishers win only 35% of those RFPs, 25% of which are lost after the campaign records poor performance. In addition, as media companies move into marketing services, hundreds of hours are spent manually synthesizing and collating campaign and customer data to send over to their clients.  Workflow automation software gives publishers the ability to automate the RFP process, campaign management, and program analysis, while connecting all of their owned media sites into a single media management platform.

Agency media planners and buyers

I recently met with a media planning team from a large agency that represented multiple business and consumer brands. They shared that the majority of each Friday is spent reconciling reporting data for their clients. This literally means logging into various systems, exporting data into excel spreadsheets, crunching the numbers, and creating charts and graphs for clients. Which leads me to a question: What would you do with 20 to 30% more time? The prevailing answer is focus on business-critical areas such as brand strategy, planning, and optimization, and/or expanding client rosters.

Workflow automation software is starting to deliver significant marketing ROI.  With the time saved, perhaps you may even have time to book a vacation on Priceline!





Jeremy Bloom is cofounder and president of Integrate and a 2013
Direct Marketing News 40 Under 40 award winner.

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