There are a lot of definitions around for Marketing Automation. Vendors will often talk of it being a one-stop shop (theirs) to improve your effectiveness across multiple channels. The authors behind Wikipedia articles assure us it has to be a hosted or cloud-based solution (Unica anyone!). We have been working with Marketing Automation for many years so let’s explore what it actually means to the organisations that have tried to implement MA along with the pitfalls, successes and business change that entails and see if that leads us to a definition of what Marketing Automation actually means to us.
At a high level, what are the components that make up a successful MA program?
A customer-centric approach across both inbound and outbound activities. If a contact feels personal and relevant, the customer does not care whether they are being dealt with in an automated or manual way. If things start to go wrong or they are caught in an avalanche of mixed messages from multiple processes, then they will quickly turn away.
Software (of course). Some definitions will tell you that it requires a single platform. Realistically though, many organisations put together their MA on a variety of platforms and software as long as they can all have a mechanism to share data as part of the process. These solutions do not as yet have a generic ATM module for example. There will normally be a trade-off between best in class capability for bespoke components vs ease of integration into a MA stack.
Marketing Program. The approach you take will be affecting multiple areas of your business and will probably require a sequence of activities to reach some well-defined goals. Some areas of your marketing program will lend themselves more to being automated. One main aim of automation is to allow you to focus more time and energy on those high value areas that are more of a one-off or greater effort around analysis for future activity.
Business processes will need to be updated. Areas that required a lot of manual handholding in the past will no longer need doing but instead there may be new types of checking, content and approvals to feed into the MA machine.
Channel owners in your business will need to work with the program to ensure the requirements for MA can be met by the currently available solutions (will you know that a message has been received for example).
Product Managers will need to be engaged in the process, taken out of potential silos which is a relatively large issue in general.
Quality, personalised content will need to be updated over time to keep messages relevant and fresh to your customers. The scale will be dependent on your activities of course. A team for a large retail company providing booklets of vouchers to millions of customers may require a different degree of activity here than the team responsible for birthday mailings. Swapping out content into a machine in full flow will need careful consideration.
Business Partners will have their own processes and systems that will all need to be plugged in and synchronised with your automation. This can often lead to a situation where the process is pseudo-automated, giving the impression to the outsider that everything is seamlessly being triggered but in fact somewhere in the middle, an important component is relying on someone manually pulling a lever every day. Call centres and branches will need to be aware of potential changes to their pipeline.
Support network. We rarely come across a system that never fails so system design needs to ensure that failure of a component doesn’t end with an unrecoverable pile of customer messages or response.
Data Quality. One of the big issues we often hear about is that the data either isn’t up to the job or is not reliable enough to be used. While this is normally an issue that needs to be prioritised through your IT departments, it will need to be considered when prioritising your automation program as well. Failures will then feed into your support network above in which case, the ability to seamlessly pick up where you (for yourselves and from a customer perspective) left off.
Reusable components. Not essential for MA and good practice in general but as you go on your automation implementation journey always look forwards when creating content, systems, processes, interfaces etc. Automation of the next step or evolving and updating an existing process will be far less painful.
The ultimate goal of course is to allow your marketing activity to be driven at the push of a button and left to run. In reality though, it’s about balancing the parts that can be automated with those that cannot to provide a seamless and great customer experience for interaction with your brand. The efficiencies that you gain by doing so will allow your teams to focus on the high value new projects and continuous improvement. The key can often be to quickly demonstrate the return on early automation activities to justify the investment by your management teams to tackle this goal.
In the next instalment, we will follow up by taking a deeper look into some of these subject areas. If you are interested now or If any of the above has resonated with you for your organisation and you’d like to find out more then please feel free to get in touch to hear how our experiences can help with your automation challenges.
Also, if you are a Unica customer watch this space as we introduce a series of articles looking in more technical detail at various aspects of Marketing Automation in your world.
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