Automate all the marketing things!

Posted by kdow on Jun 2, 2016 10:04:16 AM

In the last few years the world of marketing has been eaten by software. In fact, it feels like most CMO’s are now acting in the same way that CIO’s do; they know a bunch about the business goals and spend most of their days receiving demos from software vendors looking to transform the way they work & grow their businesses.

In the last couple of years there’s been a huge trend in marketers seeking out platforms & solutions for ‘marketing automation’. It’s such a deep part of the lexicon of marketers that I’ve heard so many people simply refer to it as ‘MA’! In fact, looking at Google Trends from 2004 to the present shows how steep the curve of interest has been in MA:

Searches for ‘Marketing Automation’ from 2004 to today.

There’s lots of software solutions that solve for this problem of wanting to automate your marketing. So much so that in the same period searches for the phrase ‘marketing software’ has declined!

Searches for ‘Marketing Software’ from 2004 to today.

Those two graphs together are hilarious as they’re systemic of the trendiness of marketing & growth hacking in the modern MBA graduate world. While we’re looking at these trends, comparing marketing with growth hacking demonstrates the decline in the word ‘marketing’ (in isolation) compared to ‘growth hacking’, which has had a very steep uptake in the last two/three years.

Blue line: ‘marketing’. Brown line: ‘growth hacking’.

In short: marketing automation is becoming a big trend with the newer breed of marketers, who commonly refer to themselves as growth hackers. And in my mind, while the title ‘growth hacker’ is a repugnant term for someone’s job, it represents a modern, likely millennial breed of marketing person who’s also pretty good with software. And since software is eating the marketing world, those two blend quite nicely.

So where does automation fit in?

For most people, automation is the ability for a platform to send the right message (usually an email) to the right person, at the right time and — if the platform supports it — with the right context. That’s a lot of stuff to bundle into a message for one marketing person, no matter how technical (read as: ‘growth hackerish’) they are. Multiply that by the number of contacts in the marketing database and you have a near-impossible task for someone to do manually, regardless of how well segmented the lists of contacts are.

The simplistic view behind marketing automation is that every prospect or customer is uniquely positioned & motivated to have a conversation with a brand. If you create a single swim-lane of activities to cover 100 contacts with the same message, it’s not going to resonate with every prospect/customer. Some of them will see it as spam, some will find it useful, some will scan through & delete the message. MA gives you, the marketing hacker (I’m shaking things up a bit here) an opportunity to nail the corect message to the recipient.

There are a lot of rabbit holes you can end up going down when working with MA. Independent of platforms or theories behind MA, the issue is simply understanding what person is receiving what message is relatively constant in the conversations I’ve been having with marketers. Segmenting those people into various relationship types (as in, their relationship with your brand/messaging) and then matching those relationship segments with proper messaging can be difficult.

In short, automation doesn’t automate everything. It fits nicely into the overall business structure, goals & plans but as much as it solves it also presents challenges. I reckon the biggest challenge MA presents to people is that it can do so much yet the goal is actually pretty simple; to match the right person with the right message, at the right time and with the right context. Automation still needs a lot of human interaction.

Automation needs to be smart and adaptive depending on the behaviour of the user, or even just the timing of when they enact some behaviour. If you visited and 20 seconds later a sales rep called you, it will either be incredible impressive & convenient, or creepy.

To conclude, my basic point here is that don’t think of MA as a way to press a button to achieve all of your marketing goals. Think of MA as a more efficient way to achieve your goals. It still needs a human touch. You’ll never be able to programmatically get the right message to the right person at the right time with the right context. These platforms still need humans. And marketing is still all about humans, regardless of what title you give it.