Marketing Automation Is Not a Panacea

Marketing automation platforms are incredible, sophisticated tools for helping companies connect with and engage customers. They offer powerful capabilities that enable marketers to automate complex workflows, create triggers based on behavior, and deliver personalized content to an individual based on her needs, wants, and preferences. And through the analytic modules of marketing automation applications, we can measure the impact of our programs, attributing sales to specific activities, which over time helps to create a more impactful marketing plan that allocates dollars most effectively to maximize resources and reduce waste.

But, marketing automation is not a panacea. There are gaps it cannot (nor should) fill, and marketers—both B2C and B2B—must be prepared to handle those gaps without the use of a slick app. In some ways, in making the process to connect with customers more streamlined and automated, we have forgotten to put ourselves in the shoes of the customer. It’s a brand New Year, which makes now a good time to remind ourselves that marketing is still, and always, about communicating and connecting with customers in the way that they want us to.

So, where does marketing automation fall short?

1. Adherence to preferences—both explicit and implicit. Given that the average person spends approximately five seconds when making a decision to opt in or out of mailing lists or contact choices, preference management is paramount. Preferences can be both explicit and implicit. For example, a customer signs up to receive an e-newsletter. You, as the email channel owner, expect that individual to receive, open, and hopefully read that newsletter. But what happens when the customer doesn’t open it—or worse, deletes it or opts-out? He’s told you he wants to receive your newsletter, but his behaviors belie his stated preferences. When addressing preference management, you’ll need to:

  • Consider your user experience and the channel (Web, phone, mail, social, etc.) for capturing preference information. Are the choices clear and intuitive? Can people pick from options that closely align to the information in which they are interested?
  • Ensure that you can and are capturing explicit preference information from the various sources and that you have the tools to adhere to them. Nothing is worse than collecting self-stated preference information that you don’t use.
  • Continuously monitor preferences. You’ll want to watch for implicit behaviors to ensure you’re getting the desired result (in the case above, opening and reading the newsletter). By monitoring, you can optimize the way your preference options are presented if the intended behavior isn’t what you expected.

2. And the corollary—over-communicating. Marketing automation makes it easy, almost too easy, to communicate with our customers. Once we know someone is “marketable,” we sometimes have a tendency to over-communicate. We have our “acquisition streams” set up and ready to go. But remember, more is not always better. I recently opted-in to receive communications from a brand for which I have a strong affinity. When I registered, the brand, unfortunately, asked me little about my communications preferences nor did it capture any information about my specific likes. And no sooner had I provided my email address than I was barraged by an influx of mail—and I’ve been receiving messages from various sister brands even though I have absolutely no interest in most of them.

Remember: Be judicious, regimented, and disciplined with your contact strategy to prevent overlapping, inconsistent, and excessive communication efforts.

3. My favorite: Managing data. If your data is not clean and standardized, then all of your programs and campaigns—which are major investments for your organization—amount to wasted dollars and unsuccessful marketing. Effective customer data management necessitates a platform that is designed specifically to capture data from multiple inputs and then run them through essential (and likely complex) cleansing, standardization, and matching routines. Customer data management is mostly science, but it’s also part art, and most, if not all, marketing automation platforms are not equipped to handle the complexities and volumes of data marketers find themselves facing. In B2B, for example, a marketing automation application is not going to create that “best record”—the aggregation of data from various sources (prioritized based on credibility and recency of the source) —to give you a more complete picture of your customer.

Look, I love marketing automation and really am so impressed by how sophisticated these platforms have become. In some ways, they have made the marketer’s job that much more complex because they make it easier to execute very complex campaigns. But remember, campaigns alone won’t deliver successful outcomes; you need preference management, a thoughtful communication (read: not over-communication) strategy, and a sound customer data management practice. As you evaluate your marketing efforts, remember these critical items that cannot and should not be automated through an application.

Michelle Boockoff-Bajdek is VP of consulting at Quaero.

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