Marketing automation: The new age of email marketing?

marketing automationMarketing automation has become a recent buzzword and you may have wondered exactly what it means. Here, we look at what marketing automation is, how it is changing email marketing and the kind of content you need to create to excel at automated email marketing.

What is marketing automation?

The term ‘marketing automation’ is actually used to describe a range of different automated marketing technologies. It was first used in relation to email marketing when email technology became more sophisticated and automated features were added. Now many different companies use the term to describe all kinds of programmable marketing tasks – but in this blog we will be focusing on the use of automation for email marketing.

How does it work, exactly?

When deploying email marketing, you can automate tasks that would have previously been tedious and repetitive. For example, instead of manually sending out a welcome every time someone new signs up to your email, you can set up an auto-responder that automatically sends a welcome email out each time there is a sign up.

You could then send the same contact a series of emails over a period of time. For instance, you could serialise a guide or book over a sequence of emails. Taking automation to the next level, rules could then be used to automate the sending of emails based on pre-determined triggers, for example if someone had purchased a certain product, you could target them with complementary content and products, or if someone had clicked on a certain link you could email them similar content.

Email marketing software also offers automated personalisation of content – this could be as simple as adding the recipient’s name, or entire emails personalised to the recipient, with dynamic content based on their preferences. Despite the name, email marketing automation is not just a robotic process – each email campaign still needs a hefty amount of human creativity to set up and manage.

Marketing automation tools

There are a wide range of marketing automation tools available, from email marketing software that allows auto-responders and personalisation, to complex automated systems. Select the tool that is right for your business by consindering the complexity of your automation requirements, and whether you would like your email automation to integrate with any other marketing activities.

Standalone email marketing automation – These are email marketing specific marketing tools such as MailChimp, DotMailer and Constant Contact. Some offer only basic automation, while others allow you to set up sophisticated campaigns with hundreds of triggers and personalisation options.

Marketing automation suites – More advanced tools like HubSpot, Marketo and Infusionsoft automate a range of marketing tasks, including email marketing. They often include additional features such as customer relationship management, analytics and lead tracking.

Why use it?

Used correctly, marketing automation can help nurture your website visitors into customers – gradually increasing their awareness and trust in your business. High quality content received from your business demonstrates your market expertise, keeps customers engaged, and keeps you front-of-mind next time they come to make a purchase.

Marketing automation also allows you to deliver a personalised service that simply wouldn’t be feasible for businesses otherwise. For example, at a certain length of mailing list, sending individual personalised emails becomes impossible. While email marketing used to be about mass-mailing all your contacts at once, marketing automation allows you to share more relevant content at the most appropriate time.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that, once set up, you will automatically attract new prospects and grow your list. Marketing automation doesn’t do marketing strategy for you, it’s just tool that uses advances in technology to help you market your business more efficiently – and it may not save you marketing planning time. In order to be successful with automated email marketing, and to see benefits in terms of attracting new customers and retaining existing ones, you will need to invest time into targeting and analysing campaigns, as well as creating and designing the ongoing content required to keep your campaign going.

Creating content for marketing automation

We’ve seen that marketing automation is not a replacement for marketing strategy. It also requires investment into creating quality content to get results. There are three main types of content you will need to create:

1. Content for lead generation

The first and, some would say, most crucial step, is creating content that will get people to sign up to your email list. Building a list where everyone has opted in to receive your emails will yield much better results than purchasing a list of people who don’t want to hear from you. The type of content that might attract visitors to your website includes quality articles and blogs, and you will then probably need to offer an incentive to visitors to sign up for your emails. This could be something like a template, guide or email series.

2. Content for nurturing your list

Once you have started to build your list, you will need a bank of quality content to keep the people on your list engaged and interested. Relevant, value-adding content will encourage people to keep moving down your sales funnel, and staying as repeat customers, while lacklustre emails are likely to lead to a large number of unsubscribes.

Before you start sending automated emails, ensure you have enough useful and informative content ready to go to sustain your campaign. Consider what type of content your list will find most valuable – is it possible for you to offer a click-through for recipients to access a downloadable report, ebook or factsheet, for example? Such interesting click-through content will bring more recipients from email into active engagement on your site, and avoid always directing them just to your home page.

3. Email content

Finally, don’t forget the importance of creating compelling content for the email itself. From the subject line to the call to action, each word in your email needs to work hard to encourage the reader to open, read and click your email. Email content gets even more tricky when you are using personalisation and dynamic content, as you need to carefully consider how everything will fit together.

Take the time to plan and design your content with your recipients in mind, and your marketing automation campaigns will reap your business real rewards in customer loyalty, and ultimately, revenue.