The 3 Myths of Marketing Automation

I have worked with several firms recently that are in the process of selecting a marketing automation tool. Make that a campaign management solution. One selection team asked a very good question the other day: What is the difference between marketing automation and campaign management? And, while we're asking questions: How will this software change what we do in our marketing department?

I prefer the term “marketing automation” to “campaign management.” To many marketers, campaign management denotes a focus on marketing budgets and marketing calendars — the financial and logistical side of marketing. Most of the applications on the market focus on marketing automation, not campaign logistics.

Marketing automation is the process of designing, executing and measuring marketing campaigns through the use of software applications that help to select targeted customer segments, track contacts made with customers, monitor the results of those contacts and, in some cases, model the results to better target customers in future campaigns.

Marketing users can access marketing automation tools from their desktops and can create campaigns in which output can be sent to a direct mail shop, a call center or sales force system, an e-mail server or a Web server for production and delivery of marketing communications.

Why are marketing automation tools so important today? Marketing automation enables companies to handle the volume, speed and flexibility required in e-marketing, multi-channel marketing and one-to-one dialogue via direct mail or call center in an increasingly competitive environment.

So, it seems logical that many firms are seeking a marketing automation tool. And what's so bad about that? Well, there are three myths that companies often hope to achieve with the selection of a marketing automation tool. No software solution exists to match these myths.

Myth 1: We are always at the mercy of the IT schedule to get lists of targeted customers for marketing pulled. If I buy a marketing automation tool, my marketers will pull their own lists and end our dependence on IT.

Are marketing automation tools capable of pulling lists? Absolutely. Will marketers who currently get a list by calling someone in IT to write campaign specs for them be able to pull their own lists? It is unlikely in the short term. Pulling a list is a complex exercise that requires a deep understanding of the data available in the marketing database as well as the links between various data elements. If marketers are not intimately familiar with this data, automating the process of writing the code will not help them generate targeted lists.

I often suggest that marketers gain at least a familiarity with SQL or another simple query language to enable them to use marketing automation applications more effectively. Behind the point and click of most tools lies a query-building engine. This engine eliminates the need for marketers to write code, but it does not eliminate the need for them to understand the effect of the code they are, in fact, writing.

A product manager, who has always partnered with a programmer or analyst to get the mail out in the past, will not be able to work on his or her own once a tool is implemented. Most tool implementations include staff training and development of a pilot campaign. Most marketing automation vendors anticipate that this training and development will include staff who are technically capable and data proficient.

Myth 2: My new marketing automation tool will tell me which prospects and customers to contact.

This would be quite a claim for any marketing automation application, and I can't say I have actually heard any vendor make such an assertion. However, wishful thinking by some of my clients leads them to believe that their campaign tool will help them get to the bottom of whom to contact.

Will your marketing automation application enable you to select customers to include in a marketing or communications program? Absolutely. Will this application indicate to the user which customers should be targeted and which should not be contacted? In most cases, it will not. The campaign management module of most marketing automation tools focuses on simplifying the selection process, enabling marketers to re-use standard exclusions.

However, most applications assume that analysts have performed data mining tasks and customer analytics prior to this selection process and that the results of these analyses are available within the marketing database for use in the selection process. This is not the case for every application. Some include a modeling or data-mining module. Even in these cases, the vendor may assume that the marketer is calling upon models that have already been created when they are at the point of selecting targets for campaigns.

Myth 3: My new marketing automation tool will tell me how often to contact prospects and customers.

This is another exciting claim and, again, I have not heard any vendor make this statement. Contact management is a hot topic these days as marketers try to become more efficient and seek ways to track and optimize contacts.

Will your marketing automation tool maintain contact history? Absolutely. For some companies, this is reason enough for the purchase. Will your application tell you how many times to contact a customer or prospect? Unfortunately, understanding how many times to make contact requires testing and tracking responses. The applications don't offer a shortcut.

At first, contact management seems like a simple task. Every marketer sending direct mail to a group of customers must keep a record of those customers, right? Often, the record is the file sent off to the letter shop. So, while a marketer can go back and look up who has received mail, they may not necessarily be able to look in the customer database and see what mail pieces each customer has received or how many times each customer has been contacted.

If a company is merely keeping copies of the mail files, and not necessarily in a standard format, it is difficult to use this data to develop and maintain a contact history. Marketing automation tools help by maintaining each file consistently and in an easy-to-access site. Also, tool implementations often include mapping this contact data, as well as response data back to the customer database for use in campaign and contact analyses.

Though the myths continue, I still recommend that many clients continue with their evaluation of marketing automation tools. These applications can help a company document and repeat best practices, start new projects quickly and handle more projects in less time.

Marketing automation can eliminate time and labor-intensive transport of data between systems and support increased customization and personalization. In the end, it is often the implementation of a marketing automation tool that establishes the foundation of customer relationship management in a company.

So, continue to evaluate campaign management tools to automate your marketing processes. Don't worry so much about what to call the applications; just don't get caught up in the myths.

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