As marketers, our job is to tell great stories that help move people to action. But, in an age of content oversaturation, a great story is no longer enough to keep make people open, read, and act on our emails. To create any kind of impact, you need to be sure you’re not only telling a great story but telling the right story to the right person at the right time.
To cover our bases, many of us have long relied on the “spray and pray” approach—i.e. create LOTS of content, send it out WIDELY, and then pray that it lands and draws. But, as content personalization and dynamic content become commonplace, this approach won’t get you very far (especially with opt-out processes made so easy in the post-CASL landscape).
So, what’s a marketer to do? How should we be approaching email in order to meet leads and customers with content in a way that engages instead of annoys? The answer is all about getting personal, so let’s dive right in (and don’t miss your exclusive content at the end of this post!).
What is marketing automation?
By now, we’ve all either heard of or deployed a marketing automation strategy. But, for the sake of clarity, let’s get a solid definition on the books. Marketo, a leading marketing automation platform focused on account-based marketing, including email, mobile, social, digital ads, web management and analytics, defines marketing automation as a software platform that “streamlines, automates, and measures marketing tasks and workflows.” Using this kind of platform, brands and companies can become more efficient, increase revenue, and become more powerful and profitable.
Sounds like the solution to cutting through the content clutter, right?
Could be. But let’s take a step back for a second and ask ourselves a few questions.
- What kind of workflows are we talking about?
- Wouldn’t automating creative thinking and outreach in fact kill the creative part?
- Can automation and lead nurturing really increase content consumption and engagement?
Answer: It depends.
Thinking, planning, doing
If you think about strong marketing and sales strategies, the approach can be broken down into three phases: thinking, planning, and doing.
Think of these phases as a framework for addressing the evolving needs of a prospect or client at the various stages of his or her journey. Depending on where they are in their journey, different kinds of content and approaches will resonate with them.
Let’s break it down. Imagine your sales team is focused on a vertical-based marketing strategy. They’ve narrowed down to a set of target industries as well as identified the pain points and purchase triggers for each segment. To engage these segments, your marketing team has created compelling content to serve as lead magnets for the sales approach and the two teams—sales and marketing—are aligned on the right touch points for the approach and nurture.
What’s described above is all about the thinking and planning phases of the account planning. In this phase, the teams are focused on understanding the target industry or vertical, and take time to plan an approach that can be executed, measured, optimized, and refined.
This is where the creative, upfront work is required, and it must be done by a “real person”. Automation at this phase would limit the potential for creativity and vertical- or account-based consideration.
Now, let’s talk about the doing phase. In this phase, the team is executing on the plan. Communications are drafted, sent, and followed up on. Content is personalized by segment, engagement is tracked, leads are followed up on, and cadence is adjusted. This phase is crucial but, on the whole, fairly tactical.
So, knowing the requirements of these three phases, let’s take a stab at answering the questions above:
- What kind of workflows are we talking about? Anything repetitive (initial outreach email), administrative (account preference updates), or predictive (scoring leads/accounts for lead journey state change—i.e. MRL >> MQL >> SQL).
- Wouldn’t automating creative thinking and outreach in fact kill the creative part? Yes. Automation really shines in situations that require high responsiveness but low business acumen. Think lead-magnet download thank you email vs. call follow-up email.
- Can automation and lead nurture really increase content consumption and engagement? Yes. In fact, we know that nurtured leads make 47% more purchases and that 20% more sales opportunities can be generated when leads are nurtured with personalized content. (WOW!)
With all this in mind, the case for strong marketing automation is clear. So, time to start hammering out emails to send out, right? Wrong. Before entering into the thinking and planning phases, it’s crucial to make the strong distinction between plain old email marketing and marketing automation strategy.
The face-off: email marketing strategy vs. marketing automation
While both tools use email as the primary channel to engage with your audience, email marketing tracks only the actions taken by recipients of your email blasts. Marketing automation software, on the other hand, monitors every digital interaction a lead or user has with your business. It also compiles all that data into an activity history that gives a 360-degree view of your users and their digital footprints.
Both email marketing and marketing automation systems can be useful tools for any marketer to start conversations and make connections with the people in their database. The choice of which type of tool is right for your business depends on how much you want (or need) to accomplish with your leads before they make it to the sales team.
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To help you make an informed decision, we’ve pulled together the 5 key differences between email marketing and marketing automation in a handy PDF. It’s all yours—just fill out the quick form below!
Want to know how to create email marketing strategies that engage your customers instead of annoying them? Our Content Strategy team is ready to help. We’d love to chat about your goals, so get in touch today!