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The Future of Marketing Automation

The Future of Marketing Automation


Less than half of marketers are currently using marketing automation, but the technology has potential to radically shift your approach to marketing—and vastly grow your ROI on campaigns. Mathew Sweezey, principal of marketing insights at Salesforce, explains what marketing automation is and does, how it relates to content and what’s coming next (hint: it has a lot to do with a little thing called artificial intelligence, which is already shaking up the marketing industry).


Let’s start by laying the groundwork. What is marketing automation?

Marketing automation is a piece of technology that allows a business to do three key things. The first is behavioral-based tracking, or being able to track each individual’s interaction with a brand’s marketing; the second is using that data to automate personalized marketing experiences; and the third is being able to tie those outcomes to specific revenue opportunities for the company. (Watch a video on marketing automation here.)

What are the key things brands should be focusing on in their marketing for 2020?

Moving forward, brands should be focused on three things: experience, experience and experience. The reason I say that is because 80 percent of customers say the experience a company provides is just as important as the product or service it sells, according to Salesforce’s State of Marketing, Fifth Edition.

Brand experience has been big for a while, so how is this a change from years past?

We’ve all heard of experience, but the reality is we all don’t execute on it. Now it’s about the actualization of experience into business strategy and actual tactical execution. We’re seeing a change in the role of executive leadership, and really the roles that marketing is being tasked with: The old idea of “experience” was, we’re going to make an ad immersive. Now, high-performing brands are redefining marketing, where they’re owning the entire experience across the customer journey. Take Amazon Web Services or Stanley Black & Decker as examples. They’re not creating a single experience but a large, connected experience, which enables them to stand in front of their prospects over a longer buying cycle.

Can you go into more detail on one of those examples?

Black & Decker is able to track each prospect and customer interaction with marketing content across their digital landscape. Then, it uses a marketing automation platform to leverage personal data to create a next best experience for each person. The experiences could be an email, a call from sales, a content offer or a specific call to action; it is not a single experience but the sum of many personal experiences that guides the prospects forward and drives demand. Within the first year of implementing connected experiences, Black & Decker reduced the length of the sales cycle by 30 percent in its industrial storage business, and by an additional 25 percent by year two. 

How do marketers make that larger, connected experience happen?

Marketers need to have to have a centralized customer data set. This becomes apparent when you look at how many different tools a marketing organization is using to create an experience. On average, brands might have 15 different tools in their marketing stack—and the problem is, they all use unique identifiers. It’s only when you have that single source of truth for all your tools to utilize that you can execute on a seamless experience.

In addition to getting in front of prospects longer, what other ROI can this provide?

Companies doing this are seeing radical changes in how they actually go to market and the outcomes that marketing teams are able to produce. For example, RX Bar, a protein bar company in Chicago, tracked individual interactions from each customer based on behaviors they exhibited on its website at different times. They then leveraged that customer data on an individual basis to create automated programs that automatically knew when to engage, as well as when to have its sales team reengage.

How does marketing automation come into play?

Marketing automation technology is 20 years old, but only 40 percent of brands are currently using a marketing automation platform—which means 60 percent still don’t even have the basic tooling to actually create experiences that are consistent and holistic. From a cost perspective, most of these technologies are within the scope of what brands have the capability for; the problem is creating the understanding within leadership that they must shift their marketing from a department that simply creates messages and forces them out, to owners and sustainers of all experiences. In the age of intelligent marketing, marketers are responsible not only for bringing in leads and telling stories, but for guiding the entire customer lifecycle—and that’s a lot to manage. In the past, marketers leveraged the power of reach; that was how they increased effectiveness. Now, automation is the scaling factor.

What are the most common misconceptions about marketing automation software?

I see four common misconceptions. The first is that they’re only used for the enterprise. The reality, however, it that just like email marketing, it started off with the enterprise, but it’s become very accessible for businesses of any size.

The second is that many brands believe that to use an automated system, they must have a lot of content and don’t have enough content currently. But actually, most brands do have a sufficient amount of content—through blog posts, social media, white papers, infographics and more. Most of those content pieces can be broken up and used in nurturing campaigns, then augmented with third-party data that already exists online.

Third, some people think marketing automation is complicated and difficult—but in reality, it’s the opposite. The best marketing automation solutions are intuitive and can help marketers deliver ROI quickly.

Finally, the last misconception is that marketers think they have to have their entire plan figured out before they get started with marketing automation. In fact, the truth is that marketing automation is meant to grow with your business. When you have the right solution in place, you can clearly see ROI and results based on where you are, with the opportunity to scale as your business becomes more complex.

 A third misperception is that brands often think they must be creators of all the content they share. The best brands are not only creating content; they are also connecting people to great curated content that’s relevant to their audience, such as blog posts, articles, videos and more.

Can you expand on what you mean by connecting people to content?

Take the basic concept of a retweet. That’s something we’ve all engaged with, and it specifically states that the creator of that tweet is not the creator of that content. The power of the internet to allow everyone to publish created a problem: There’s so much content, it’s hard to find anything that’s relevant. Because there’s a massive ocean, brands have an opportunity to help people find great content—and be a valuable asset and resource to them by doing so.

How does content tie back into the first key benefit of marketing automation, which is behavioral-based tracking?

Before we had behavioral-based tracking, marketers had no clue who was coming to their website and who was engaging. The thing that behavioral-based tracking provides a brand is clarity of exactly who’s engaging with the brand and what’s relevant to them—with that information, you can become extremely tactical. Say you have prospects, and maybe they’re not sales ready, but you want to create more sales-ready prospects. If you know there are specific people asking specific questions, you can tailor content that is served directly to them in real time to help them get to the next step. You know who they are, what they’re looking at and can guide them toward the next steps of the sales process very easily.

What is the value of marketing automation programs long term?

There are new concepts such as nurturing, which allows marketers to create personalized programs that are only delivered to single individual. It’s not just a single email; these are long programs that could last months and span multiple mediums. The power there is extreme—to be able to create a particular experience for an individual across an omnichannel presence that guides them toward next steps is huge. Every marketer’s biggest problem is to prove what works, and marketing automation makes reporting on what is working very easy.

How can Salesforce Pardot help brands develop their programs?

Pardot is a marketing automation platform that allows marketers to create all the marketing assets they need, such as emails, landing pages, etc., and integrates with their website. It provides them with behavioral-based tracking and the tools to create automations and nurturing programs to move those prospects, wherever they may be on their journey, to the next steps, then ties all those outcomes back to the revenue, as it’s tied into the CRM and part of Salesforce. It automatically knows who’s close to buying, and how much and what for, and can attribute that money specifically to those marketing actions.

You talked about the importance of having a single source of truth in data. How does Salesforce help marketers achieve that?

Marketers have so many different pieces of technology and data sources. One of the major benefits of Pardot is that it’s built on the Salesforce platform, which allows there to be a single source of truth—a customer 360, if you will—because all the tools can integrate easily and share that record.

What should customers expect with marketing automation in 2020 and beyond?

Marketing automation is crazy powerful. Moving forward, we expect to see more and more brands using it, creating more customer journeys, more personalization and just more. It becomes very difficult for marketers to manage that volume of work, so that’s where artificial intelligence comes in. AI is being combined with marketing automation to provide some pretty radical benefits, allowing marketers to gain deep insights to know exactly where to focus and how to fix programs that may be underperforming. This technology is going to allow marketers to hone their programs and even go further afield, directing them to new possibilities they haven’t even thought of yet.

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