Marketing automation: an in-depth introduction looking at benefits, success factors and evolutions.
Marketing automation originally referred to software developed to automate so-called repetitive tasks and was often seen as a subset of CRM (Customer Relationship Management) enabling marketing divisions to increase efficiency.
Marketing automation has shifted away from the pure automation aspect to an integrated marketing approach whereby automated workflows, pre-defined scenarios and various customer-driven triggers are set up in a connected and omnichannel way.
Furthermore, the industry evolution towards more integrations and connections between marketing automation software, CRM, social listening platforms, etc.
Another clear evolution is that towards an integration between content marketing, (web) content management, advanced marketing and even business analytics, marketing resource management (MRM) and more. The target industry (small and medium business, large organizations, business-to-business, business-to-consumer, specific niche markets,…).
The features: from automated email marketing workflows to full-fledged integrated marketing solutions (more below). The focus: while some marketing automation solutions are more about campaigns and automated workflows, other focus on internal processes, marketing resource management, etc. Connected and integrated marketing campaign management (often multichannel campaign management) whereby different channels play a role, depending on buyer personas, segments, individual touchpoints, flows and scenarios. Advanced personalization, testing, segmentation and optimization features whereby insights from among others CRM and interactions across several channels, enable a more personal and more optimized customer experience and better marketing results. Advanced list management features whereby some marketing automation solutions are often ‘de facto’ also used as CRM tools since they offer so many features in this regard. Takes into account the full customer lifecycle and provides triggered interactions providing value based on historical, demographic, transactional and inreasingly real-time touch points, long after a lead has become a customer. Connects the dots between marketing, sales, customer service and other departments focusing on a single customer view in order to continuously improve customer experiences and offer the content and messages or interactions needed to achieve business goals and optimize the customer relationship. More features and typical aspects of marketing automation in the infographic from Marketo at the bottom of this page. One of the misconceptions regarding marketing automation is that it is all about automating marketing and thus reducing the personal and human dimension. The success of a marketing automation implementation does not – primarily – depend on the selected marketing automation software either and – again – certainly is not about just “automating”.
Thinking and acting in a customer-centric way and not falling in the trap of automating for the sake of it.
The attention for and growth of the marketing automation market is driven by several evolutions in the ways people inform themselves and buy.
Marketing automation is not a holy grail and is still too often seen as a way to automate marketing.
It’s time to integrate, connect the dots and – please – drop the ‘this channel trumps that channel’ approach. All these evolutions also don’t mean that organizations will be passive respondents to customer signals and digital footprints.
That’s why traditional marketing analytics alone don’t cut it anymore and a single customer view needs to move beyond the simple lead management and funnel view.
The adagio in marketing automation, content marketing, inbound marketing, content management and even email marketing is ‘providing the right information to the right people at the right time across the right channels’. However, the best timing is becoming more touchpoint-oriented and triggered, and less defined by general best practices.


Optimizing the experiences of people and moving from automation on the interaction level to a personalized and pro-sponsive optimization on the individual touchpoint level is, according to me, the main challenge in marketing automation for the future, as well as the integration of business processes and the business as such within its’ ecosystem beyond marketing.
Providing the right information (content, offers,…) to the right people across the right channels beyond the right time and the traditional funnel: from right-time to customer- and touchpoint-time.
Conduct campaigns, prioritize and focus on the basics of conversion, optimization and customer experiences but at the same time don’t ignore the voice of the customer, the clear shifts and the channel-agnostic reality with more stakeholders than ever before because you want to stick to a channel-centric mentality.
Without a solid content marketing strategy to engage prospects across different touchpoints and stages of their buyer’s journey, marketing automation fails. Touchpoint-based marketing and customer experience models become increasingly important as the customer journey changes but most of all as the focus should not be on the channels and campaigns as is often the case in marketing automation but (also) on the longer-term (smart marketers move away from short-terminism) and most of all the customer experiences in a highly connected and integrated digital reality. There is a strong link between marketing automation, content marketing, content management and other platforms. A single customer view is essential as is a connected approach, also regarding other systems (CRM, content management, content marketing, social media tools,…), that often however start getting integrated in the offerings of some vendors.
Content and thus content marketing is essential here and in most other aspects of marketing automation. Marketing automation software offers a better view on analytics as it takes into account several channels, marketing investments and – most importantly – the customer as a whole instead of his “role” as an email subscriber or an anonymous website visitor. Depending on the marketing automation software, this can range from improving internal marketing collaboration, sharing of documents of collateral and synchronizing campaigns between various departments to full marketing ROI implementation. However, virtually all marketing automation software also connects with different CRM systems as the list features are most often used for and by marketing whereas the CRM system is (also) used by sales (and other departments). Without timely and result-oriented content and offers, depending on the customer lifecycle, marketing automation fails. The shift from selling to buying, along with the advent of several new digital channels, used by consumers and B2B buyers, keeps impacting the marketing automation industry and the adoption of marketing automation by organizations. While the possibility to automate often repetitive tasks is essential, the human, connected and customer-centric dimension is essential.
Gartner, for instance, predicted that by 2020, customers will manage 85% of the relationship with a company without even talking to a human. It’s time to look at the customer reality and business goals instead of at research and opinions to polarize discussions.
Prioritize and integrate around customer experiences and the proven methods in your business.
We need to move from being responsive to pro-sponsive, another key evolution we’ll see in the marketing automation space and even in marketing campaigns. Overlapping umbrella terms that in practice mainly focus on the message dimension, often even when it concerns timing (“What is the best time to xyz?”). It is already the case in marketing automation but we still have a long way to go in order to shift to the personal touchpoint perspective. Creating enough content at a reasonable cost is one of the top challenges to marketing automation, according to many marketers. This is seen in the consolidation in the marketing automation software market and in the evolutions of the solutions that are mainly about more features to connect customers and different parts of the business while connecting departments (marketing, sales,…) and processes as well. Other important features and elements are lead identification, online forms, lead scoring, etc. Most professional solutions offer advanced insight and analytics features, enabling a better customer view.


The lack of relevant and timely content is a huge challenge for most marketers and marketing tactics, including content marketing and email marketing.
Whether this will happen or not: fact is that the marketing industry and marketing automation continue to evolve and move towards an even more people-centric model, responding to digital signals and customer interactions, rather than heralding a campaign approach. Email works, basics work and new ways to interact with customers or improve the experiences across those interactions, shouldn’t be an excuse to ignore the essentials we have known since so long. But don’t let that withhold you to test and try new things, regardless of what research or opinions say. We also need to move to a model whereby the overall customer lifecycle is taken into account. Others include data quality and integration, poor marketing processes, lack of skilled staff and organizational culture. In this regarding marketing automation platforms are evolving and also facing competition from new vendors focussing more on customer engagement and experiences across the customer life cycle. Just like any other digital business and digital marketing process or software, the success of marketing automation implementations is not (just) a matter of technology or automation.
Without a customer-centric culture, supported by management, marketing automation often results in sheer auomation with little added value. We’ve been moving to a more buyer-driven buying reality for years now and it’s a channel-agnostic phenomenon.
It also doesn’t mean we shouldn’t use a proper channel mix, depending on what works best in any given context.
Yet, it is also time to close the loop with other divisions and with the customers and their networks themselves. The boundaries of the organization are blurring and so is the definition of the customer, even if we have to prioritize and remember those essentials. If you don’t build your marketing automation processes around the customer, just as you would do in content marketing, marketing automation is doomed to fail and it becomes even harder to close the loop between marketing, sales and customer value. Several vendors in the content management space have also been evolving from systems of records to systems of engagement. They’re not just connected with others (and, wake-up call, always have been), they’re also connected with our businesses across several touchpoints, far beyond the reach of the single campaign. But it’s not because someone claims “this or that” doesn’t work that it really doesn’t work. Marketing automation is part of an increasingly broader ecosystem and context where the customer and customer lifetime value are key. Change management is a must and it’s a well-known fact many organizations buy expensive marketing automation solutions while only using a limited percentage of available features and not even in the best way possible.
An introduction to the customer life cyle and models to calculate the customer lifetime value (CLV). No marketing automation without a realistic approach, a customer-centric strategy (based on touchpoints, journeys, etc.) and certainly not without a content marketing strategy.




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