Marketing Automation Is Not the 100 Percent Solution

2012 was a game changing year for the marketing automation (MA) industry.  Major acquisitions, such as ExactTarget’s purchase of Pardot and Oracle’s procurement of Eloqua, sparked an increased interest in the MA realm and strengthened the bond between marketing and technology. However, while technology is an integral part of the marketing mix, it can’t be the sole ingredient.

“If it’s not backed up with a solid belief in customer centricity that goes beyond the process and the data, then marketing automation might just become another solution that just starts kicking out automated triggers without regard for the customer themselves – the changing needs and all the nuances associated with that,” says Wilson Raj, SAS global customer intelligence director.

With many of the chief MA players acquired, Raj predicts that there won’t be many marketing automation acquisitions in 2013. He acknowledges that a few start-ups might try to prove their worth as a target for acquisition, but expects most vendors to make marketing automation an integral part of their marketing suite.

This year may see fewer MA acquisitions, but that doesn’t negate the importance of those from 2012. Bryan Brown, Silverpop’s director of product strategy, says ExactTarget’s acquisition of Pardot only confirmed what Silverpop already knew back in 2007 when the company purchased marketing automation and lead management organization Vtrenz. “We were excited that they did that,” Brown says. “It just validated from an external competitor the choice we made years ago, and we’re so far in front of them that it just helps us.”

Both Brown and Raj agree that when technology and marketing fuse together it can help personalize the overall customer experience and help identify where the customer is on his or her journey to purchase. However, Brown says implementing technological changes doesn’t have to be an overall fix. He advises marketers to start small and test out a few technology tools before integrating them into the entire marketing strategy.

In addition, Raj says it takes a company “cultural shift” to make an automated tool deliver an individualized customer experience. To make the organizational shift, Raj says marketers need to analyze the data, examine the marketing process from an operational and execution perspective, and align the marketing process with the customer’s journey and with all of the company divisions that touch the customer’s data. He adds that this cross-company communication “free[s] up” the CMO, and allows her to dedicate more time to the brand experience and to spreading a customer-centric mentality beyond the marketing department.

“I think that changes the CMO’s role to have a broader conversation with his or her peers about customer impact and brand resonance,” Raj says.

However, just because a brand implements a marketing automation system that doesn’t mean that the company should bid their CRM system adieu.

“When someone is interacting with you in a mobile app, or they’re on your website, or they’re interacting on a social network with your brand, none of that data really fits nicely into a traditional CRM system, which is really why marketing automation can make all the data more available to inform that marketing campaigns are sent out,” Brown says. “I think the best thing is when you have a highly integrated solution–where information that’s going into the CRM system…is being sent to the marketing automation system, and it informs what you send to somebody and how you interact with them from a marketing perspective.”

Nevertheless, Raj says marketers can’t just rely on marketing automation and CRM when it comes to customers’ needs. He also says digital channels, such as campaign management, customer experience solutions, and social media, should empower customers to make decisions throughout their journey.

“[Customers] don’t care whether you’re doing an outbound CRM touch, a campaign touch, or a social business touch. It really doesn’t matter to them. What matters to them is that they’re in a particular life cycle,” Raj says. “What matters to them is what am I getting from the brand for my needs? What kind of information is helpful for me?”

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