Guide to Marketing Automation

What if the time your teams spend on rote marketing tasks could be transformed into high-value strategic work? What if your marketing campaigns landed at the ideal time for maximum engagement for every single customer? If you want to make it happen, it’s time to talk marketing automation.  

Here’s what you’ll get in this piece:

What is marketing automation?

Marketing automation is the practice of using software to streamline operations and deliver more personalized experiences to customers. By automating routine tasks and workflows — like email marketing, mobile messaging, social media posting, lead scoring, and tracking metrics — brands can both maximize efficiency and create ultra-targeted cross-channel campaigns that enhance experiences throughout the customer journey.

If you want to reap the benefits of data-driven marketing, automation is crucial. The enormous amount of customer data brands collect can easily become an embarrassment of riches. If many of your marketing functions are manual, the sheer volume of information makes it impossible to do something meaningful with it. But with marketing automation software, you can funnel your data into workflows that respond to customer behavior in real time. That saves you time and money — and enables personalized customer experiences at scale.  

When it comes down to it, marketing automation is the foundation for efficiency (of your operations) and effectiveness (of your campaigns) in cross-channel, data-driven marketing. 

What is a marketing automation platform? 

Marketing automation platforms (MAPs) have been around in some form for a couple decades — email marketing automation sprung up as soon as brands realized the inbox was a viable marketing channel in the dot-com era. These days, a MAP is a robust tool that enables the key marketing automation features brands need for multi-channel engagement. 

As one of the fastest-growing tech industry verticals, with a projected 2023-2031 compound annual growth rate of 9.6%, marketing automation software options abound. 

  • Some MAPs are comprehensive solutions that try to address every aspect of marketing and sales, often aimed at large enterprises
  • You’ll also find targeted solutions for specific industries (like healthcare or hospitality) or small businesses
  • Other MAPs, like Customer.io, combine a powerful messaging platform with CRM-like capabilities and data integrations with other best-of-breed marketing automation tools

Whatever MAP you choose, it should enable you to leverage four cornerstone features of marketing automation: data, messaging, analytics, and integration. 

Key marketing automation features

Customer data warehouseA central repository for all your marketing data: every customer’s attributes, interactions, and behaviors throughout their lifecycle. This is a goldmine for your marketing automation strategy.
Multi-channel automated messagingA platform that enables you to create and deploy triggered campaigns across all the channels (like email, SMS, push, and in-app) and devices (including desktop and mobile) where you can connect with customers.
AnalyticsTools that measure the impact of all your marketing efforts. In addition to messaging campaign performance metrics, you want the capability to run and analyze tests, as well as leverage insights from your web analytics.
Martech stack integrationDon’t choose marketing automation software in a vacuum! Your MAP is a core component of your overall martech stack, so ensure it integrates seamlessly with your CMS, CRM, and other martech tools.

The marketing automation process: how does it work?

Marketing automation is all about data: collecting, ingesting, analyzing, and, ultimately, applying it to increase your ROI. The process for marketing automation forms a self-perpetuating loop of optimization. 

  • Gather data. Every time a customer interacts with your brand, you get a useful droplet of data. Feed it all into your MAP: website visits, social media engagement, newsletter sign-ups, app usage, email and SMS conversions… if you can measure it, you can use it!
  • Start segmenting. As customers are getting to know your brand, you’re getting to know them too. Use your data to build a holistic profile of your audience members and create segments based on their characteristics and behaviors. Consider things like where they are in the customer journey and what actions will push them further along. Lifecycle marketing stages are a great way to start shaping up segments. 
  • Build automated workflows. This is where the rubber meets the road for your marketing automation strategy. Build out targeted campaigns triggered by customer attributes and behaviors: the right messages, at the right moment, in the right channel to engage your audience. Once you create campaigns, your marketing automation software does all the heavy lifting: data flows in, the personalized messages are triggered, and performance metrics feed back into the system.  
  • Test, iterate, and optimize. With your efficient marketing automation process chugging along, now your teams are freed up to focus on high-value strategic activities. Build testing, experimentation, and analysis into your workflow, and use your insights to iterate and grow your automated marketing campaigns. 

Benefits of marketing automation

More efficiency for your teams: check. Better experiences for your customers: check. Now let’s dig a little deeper into the benefits of marketing automation from both angles.

Marketing automation benefits for your brand

  • Reduce costs. Marketing automation can cut marketing overhead by 12.2% (source) and cost per lead by 33% (source). 
  • Scale your team capacity. Take the monotonous stuff off your team members’ plates and empower them to tackle more ambitious goals. And it’s not just about gaining time; cutting out tedious tasks increases mental energy — which is exactly what you need to capitalize on your team’s talents. (Bonus: employee engagement and retention tend to rise when people have more rewarding work.)
  • Improve accuracy and consistency. Human beings get tired, take breaks, make mistakes — as well they should! People aren’t robots, which is why leaving data-intensive and repetitive tasks to the machines is a smart move. Marketing automation software keeps your operations consistently correct.
  • Enable cross-team collaboration. When you build marketing automation processes that work across interrelated functional teams, the silos come tumbling down. Marketing, sales, and customer success teams can access a shared pool of data, and everyone’s efforts can work in concert from a customer’s very first touchpoint to lifelong loyalty.  

Marketing automation benefits for your customers

  • Keep it personal (and scalable). Customers crave authentic, personalized experiences: 80% say they’re more likely to patronize brands that offer personalized experiences (source), and 60% actually withdraw their loyalty if they get non-personalized content (source). While “automatic” might sound like the opposite of “authentic,” what marketing automation actually does is put the customer’s personal experience at the heart of every campaign. Imagine you’re a language learning app. Manually emailing a discount code to your whole audience will seem generic to everyone. Automatically sending a coupon code for Spanish 102 when a customer aces their final Spanish 101 lesson makes that individual feel like the center of your world. 
  • Deliver a unified experience. With cross-functional teams accessing data stored in your MAP, every customer touchpoint can feel custom-made for each individual. Imagine this: a customer buys a smart thermostat on Monday. Tuesday, they get an SMS message letting them know a cold snap is on the way for their zip code. Wednesday, they call support for installation help and the rep greets them by name and is ready info on the specific model they bought . Thursday, they visit the website to request a sales demo of the company’s commercial smart heating system and the form is pre-filled with their info. Friday, they’re feeling cozy inside and out: they interacted with three completely separate teams at the company, but all they experienced was one awesome brand.
  • Serve up relevant content. If you’re listening to your data, you know what your customers want: their behaviors state it loud and clear. Use marketing automation tools to serve it up every place they cross your path. Transactional emails that show purchase history and related products, app home screens that put their most-used features at the top, online ads featuring products they viewed on your site… you have countless possibilities to deliver the information that matters to each individual. They’re more likely to engage and to feel like your brand is relevant to their lives.

Marketing automation strategy 

Because marketing automation simplifies your operations, it allows you to implement sophisticated strategies more easily. Consider the difference between these two automated onboarding campaigns for a fintech budgeting app:

  • A six-email series encouraging the customer to take three next steps: create a savings goal, link their bank account, and set up automatic monthly deposits into their savings account. The first email is sent the day they sign up, and the rest go out every two days until all six have been sent, regardless of whether the customer has taken any action. 
  • An event-triggered campaign with the same six core emails, but multiple branches and messaging channels based on the customer’s behavior. If the customer completes all three steps, the campaign stops. If the customer doesn’t open the first or second email, they get a push notification instead of another email. If the customer opens an email but doesn’t click through, they’re greeted with an in-app message reminding them to create a savings goal the next time they open the app.

Both campaigns take advantage of automatic messaging tools, but the second one is an example of how a thoughtful marketing automation strategy can support data-driven marketing that builds deeper engagement. Every action the customer takes (or doesn’t take!) is a data point you can use to make your campaigns more personalized. 

Personalization, ultimately, is the driving force behind a successful marketing automation strategy. Sure, you could create time-delayed campaigns with a single trigger and a “set it and forget it” approach. That will give you efficiency gains, but leaves the biggest benefit of marketing automation on the table. When you bring multiple customer attributes and actions into your workflows, you create the deeply personalized experiences that can turn customers into your brand’s lifelong ambassadors. 

Marketing automation best practices

As you’re building out your marketing automation strategy, keep these approaches in mind to get the most out of your campaigns:

  • Start with your customer journey. Every person who encounters your brand goes on a journey with you — and you’re hoping it will be a long one. Just like any initiative, marketing automation strategy will be most effective if it’s in service of building that relationship. Know who your customers are and the steps that will take them where you want them to go. Build your campaigns around those moments and actions that matter most. (If that sounds a lot like lifecycle planning, that’s because it is! Marketing automation is one of the most powerful ways to nurture customers long-term.)
  • Engage all your stakeholders. To realize the promise of data-driven, personalized experiences for customers, your marketing automation process must meet the needs of all the teams using it. Ask people which routine marketing tasks they’re doing manually and find out where teams aren’t able to easily share data. While you’re at it, invite your teams to come up with the goals they’d pursue if marketing automation efficiencies gave them more time to think bigger!
  • Leverage multiple channels holistically. Look at the entire landscape of communication channels: email, SMS, in-app, mobile push, desktop push. Consider the different kinds of messages in each campaign — in which channel will they be most relevant to a customer? You campaigns will be most effective if they give people a consistent experience across multiple channels.
  • Use customers’ preferred messaging channels. Another reason it’s important to build campaigns with multiple channels in mind is that personal preferences dictate where customers will engage. If someone regularly opens your SMS messages but never opens your marketing emails — stop sending them! You’ll get better results if you meet customers where they are, and your marketing automation platform can detect their preferences.

B2B vs. B2C marketing automation considerations

While delivering value over the long term is universal, B2B and B2C businesses have somewhat different considerations for marketing strategies — and, therefore, their automation software needs.

Building close relationships over a long sales cycle is common for B2B brands. Customers need time to evaluate a complex product and manage multiple stakeholders’ needs. B2C brands, on the other hand, are generally focused on quick conversions online — then ongoing engagement to build loyalty. 

B2BB2C
Decision-making processComplex; multiple stakeholdersStraightforward, often emotionally driven
Sales cycleSlow: months (sometimes years)Fast: Days or hours (sometimes minutes)
Conversion processSales teamOnline
Funnel focusTop of funnelAwareness through acquisition and retention
Key marketing automation needsCampaign tracking, lead scoring, lead qualificationMulti-channel messaging, robust analytics

5 marketing automation examples

How will you put your strategy into action? There are endless possibilities! Here are five examples of marketing automation use cases to get you started:

  • Welcome: This is your chance to start off on the right foot from the first engagement. If someone hands over their email address or phone number, take the opportunity to make a personal connection from the start. 
  • Onboarding: The moment a customer converts is either the start of lifelong loyalty or the beginning of their descent into churn, so don’t leave them hanging! Marketing automation can create an onboarding experience that cements the value of your product or service in customers’ lives.
  • Lead nurture: If you have a long sales cycle, marketing automation can make all the difference in building the trust necessary for conversion (especially in B2B marketing). And it can keep leads engaged without adding extra manual outreach from your sales team. 
  • Renewal: A marketing automation strategy can be a game-changer for subscription-based services at renewal time. You have heaps of data about how customers have been using your service: now’s the time to show them how much value they’ve been getting with hyper-personalized messaging.
  • Re-engagement: Sometimes silence speaks volumes. If a lead or customer starts to disengage from your brand, bring them back with a marketing automation workflow that triggers just-in-time outreach before they ghost you for good. 

How to choose marketing automation software

Before you start signing up for MAP demos, take a moment to get clear on your goals for implementing marketing automation in the first place. Think bigger than just marketing and sales. What are the high-level business problems you need to solve? What’s your company’s roadmap? What does your complete customer journey look like, including after they’ve converted and exited the sales funnel? 

Once you understand the specific problems you’re tackling and opportunities you hope to pursue, you can set some specific goals. Let those be your guide when you start evaluating different marketing automation software options. Features and functionality need to enable the outcomes you want to achieve. Don’t get overly focused on bells and whistles that don’t deliver real value. 

Also keep in mind that innovation is rapid in this space: platforms are continually building out new marketing automation features. So as long as the core functionality you need is there, focus on whether a vendor is a strategic fit for your business. Does their product roadmap align with where your strategy is headed? Do they develop long-lasting relationships with their customers? As you’re moving through their marketing and sales funnels, do you see them effectively using marketing automation themselves?

By combining a far-reaching look at your business landscape with a focus on a lasting vendor partnership, you’ll be well poised to make marketing automation a meaningful part of your martech stack.

How to implement marketing automation

Once you put a MAP into place, make sure you get the most out of it by:

  • Training all team members from multiple departments on the software
  • Retiring outdated processes and implementing new, streamlined ones
  • Identifying KPIs and implementing regular metrics reporting
  • Determining who on your teams will be the subject matter experts and evangelists for your foray into marketing automation

Finally, one of the most important resources for successful implementation is your MAP’s customer success team. They’ll want you to get the most value possible from their solution, and should be happy to offer support not just on the technology, but on the big-picture strategy that will help you meet your goals. 
Of course, we’d love to support you in your quest! Whether you’re evaluating options for a MAP or still exploring whether marketing automation is right for you, our friendly experts will gladly walk you through how Customer.io could support your needs. Book a demo today!