Marketing Strategy

How to pick the best marketing automation system for your business

I first heard of marketing automation when I was working with Myntra. Before Myntra was acquired by Flipkart, before Flipkart was acquired by Walmart. And my first thought was - well, it can be pretty disastrous if left in the hands of someone who doesn’t live and breathe data. My thoughts even today, aren’t much different.

Simply put, marketing automation like autopilot. You automate some of the repetitive processes involved in executing your campaigns so that you free up your bandwidth for more strategic work. You are still pretty much in control of the direction you want your marketing to move towards, but a lot of grunt work happens on its own. It is not unlike a team of analysts and marketing associates handling your day-to-day mundane tasks for you. It is just faster and more economical since now a piece of software is doing the mundane jobs that you would have otherwise needed a team for. I compare it to a team because the basics are the same.

Your team would be doing their jobs based on a set of pre-defined tasks you would have assigned them to undertake on a daily/weekly/monthly basis, and they would be performing those tasks based on a set of guidelines you may have defined for them, or their work.

The same way, marketing automation follows a set of rules and conditions you configure it to work with.

How successful your marketing automation processes would be more dependent on how clear and well defined your rules, conditions and guidelines are, irrespective of the automation tool you use. And if you have your rules and guidelines defined well, that can help you pick the best automation tool that suits your needs. So today, let us take a peek under the hood and try to see how we can leverage marketing automation to the fullest extent possible.

Marketing automation is just a tool to execute your broader strategies better

Many people make the mistake of looking at marketing automation systems as a silver bullet for whatever problems they are plagued with in their marketing and growth. That is the wrong way to look at it. Just because you have a sharp pencil does not make you an artist capable of coming up with incredible sketches. Marketing automation tools are no different. They can be an important part of your arsenal, but your overall approach and methodology to marketing, and your broader growth strategies will still come from you.

You can not compromise on the basics and expect your automation tool to pick up the slack for you.

How can marketing automation help you?

There are a lot of threads a marketer looks at every day. From building email campaigns to sending personalised messages to A/B testing different marketing copies, graphics and landing pages, there is a ton you need to stay on top of. All day. Every day.

Marketing automation systems help you do all this in a faster, more efficient and more streamlined manner.

Take the simple example of personalisation. According to email marketing SaaS business Campaign Monitor, emails with personalised subject lines witness 26% higher open rates, and if the body of the email is personalised as well, it witnesses as much as 6 times higher transactional rates. Naturally, your audience reacts better when your messages are personalised to the degree where they can find it relatable. Email marketers have been sending personalised email campaigns for years now. When I was at Myntra, we used to send personalised messages to small targeted segments of our consumer base based on their transaction history and these emails would perform way better than any of our other campaigns.

Personalisation comes in many shapes and sizes, and you will need to experiment with different avenues to assess which means work the best for your business. Identifying these different possible personalisation modes is where your strategic thinking and data driven approach would be helpful, but executing these personalisations to assess the actual results is the part where marketing automation comes in handy.

What kinds of businesses need marketing automation

The first category is a no-brainer. E-commerce. From sending cart abandonment emails to trying to reactivate dormant customers (to drive them to transact again), e-commerce businesses have been employing various customer engagement tactics for a while now. And marketing automation can make a lot of that work easy to execute, measure and analyze.

But, it doesn’t matter whether you are an ecommerce business or not, if you have been working on a growth strategy for your brand, marketing automation can aide you in your efforts.

Do you run a community and are looking to not just attract new customers but keep the existing ones engaged? Marketing automation can help you set up a better onboarding process, and help you drive average engagement up, without ticking off your regular users.

Do you run a blog? You can set up automation to bring back old subscribers who haven’t visited you in a long time.

Are you a content creator selling e-books, courses, digital goods? Automation can help you send out targeted campaigns to just the sections of your audience which would find your latest product the most relevant and useful.

Essentially, it doesn’t matter what you do, you can use automation to speed up your growth. It is limited just by your imagination. If you can come up with concrete ways that can help you achieve growth, automation can help you execute those approaches faster, better and in a way that helps you measure the success of your initiatives.

How does marketing automation work?

Do you remember the flowcharts we learnt about in school? Simple pictorial representations of conditional statements and decision making.

flowchart 1

Each choice presented a fork in the road and the path ahead would depend on the choice we made at that fork. Crudely speaking, something like this:

flowchart 2

That is exactly what marketing automation is. Decision tree and mapping of routes based on conditions.

Let’s take an example. You are a SaaS business and you are about to send out a campaign (Email A) offering a limited-time-only special price on your plans. Who do you send it out to (or who do you not send it to)? Obviously, anyone who is already a customer isn’t a relevant audience for this campaign so they should be excluded.

Do you want to also exclude users who are currently in their free trial period of product usage? If yes, you may want the messaging to be different from what you are sending to your overall subscriber base (email list you may have generated via your blog).

Do you want to send different emails to free trial users depending on whether they have just started their trial, or whether they are in the last week of their trial.

Do you want to send a version of this email to customers who have churned out in past, as a way to re-activate them?

Do you want to send a follow-up campaign (Email B) based on the results/actions taken by your audience in the first campaign (Email A).

You get the idea. There are plenty of scenarios and plenty of forks in the road. A good automation system can help you set it all up. Different rules and activities, and chart out the pathway. If you can think it, you can set it up, and then never have to worry about it again. As long as you want to run this campaign, the automation rules will trigger as and when required and follow the exact guidelines and configurations as you set them up with.

Crucial Mistake to Avoid

When you are charting out this whole decision tree, try to avoid being extremely specific. You don’t want your flowpath to be absolutely married to your current campaign. If you do that, you would find yourself doing this process over and over again, rendering the point of having an automation system fairly moot.

You want your rules to be set up in a way that they can be run in perpetuity, if needed. Think of a “new user” flowpath. Whether a user signs up today, or one signs up a year later, you would want your sets of rules to be applicable equally to both of them. Adjustments, fine-tunings etc are fine (and as a matter of fact, encouraged), just do not make it tied up exclusively to your current limited time campaign.

Data is the king

Marketing automation processes are only as good as the rules, guidelines and strategies you have based them on. And your strategy is only as good as the data that helped you formulate those. So data is crucial.

You need to constantly evaluate the performance of your existing automation processes, and at the same time analyze the data that led to the formulation of the relevant strategies. Whenever needed, make adjustments to your strategy and automation.

(You can also use the data from your automation processes to further improve your broader inbound marketing by combining automation analytics, product analytics and web analytics to present a holistic view of your business. But that is a topic expansive enough to warrant its own time, and therefore, something we will have to pick up another day)

How do you choose the right automation tool for your business?

Flexibility.

The most important thing to consider.

You want your automation tool to have the flexibility to adapt to your requirements and not the other way around. If you need to follow their pre-defined charted path, run from that product. Run far, run fast.

Versatility.

Whether it is email marketing automation or landing pages. Whether it is mapping out your customers or retaining them. You want your automation platform to handle as many different scenarios as possible, so that you don’t need to use different automation tools for each specific usecase.

Configurability

You should ideally want your automation tool to be configurable enough for it to interact with different marketing tools and platforms you use in your day to day life. You should not need to manually import the data from different marketing channels and platforms. After all, if you did that, then that’s a lot of manual work to support a process that’s supposed to be automated.

Price

Most automation platforms offer plans based on the number of customers you are planning to map out. You start with a small monthly fee, and as you grow, the pricing increases. Makes perfect sense, but that is exactly why you need to be careful. Tool A might seem cheaper than Tool B today, but how do they fare against each other when you have 1,000… 5,000… 10,000… 50,000 customers. What would have been a difference of a couple of bucks today could end up being a difference of hundreds of dollars tomorrow. And by then, you would have amassed so much data on the platform that you would hate the idea of having to migrate everything from one platform to another. So, don’t get lured by initial low costs, always look at the bigger picture.

Where do you think you could be using marketing automation in your business? Need to brainstorm ideas on how to implement automation in your own marketing flowprocess? Hit me up and lets talk about it.

That’s it for today, see you tomorrow.

Cheers

Abhishek

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