Marketing automation – sometimes called behavioral marketing or lead management – has moved onto many companies’ radar since the Gartner Group called it a megatrend last year. It seems to be everywhere you look – as long as you’re looking in the IT industry. Yet outside of that little world, you just get a “Huh? What’s that then?” when you mention the subject. What really amazes me is that consulting firms have hijacked the subject – you still don’t hear it much about it from marketing or ad agencies. If you ask students at an advertising or marketing college about it, you just get a blank look as an answer!
That’s nothing short of misguided, in my view. So why are the consulting firms so keen on it? Well, they would be, wouldn’t they? They stand to benefit from advising companies on how to develop new processes. Sounds nice and complicated, too. Analysis of actuals, definition of plans and how to achieve them, set up project groups, develop project plans etc. It reminds me of the British Army 7P motto: “Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance”. This plays right into consulting firms’ hands. Why? Because they can sell lots of lovely man-days, of course! Then they get cracking on processes, set up a lead funnel, throw a bit of content in the top of it and watch the shiny golden leads trickle out of the bottom. Don’t believe me? You’re right – that’s the best way to fail!
In fact, marketing automation is nothing new – the basic principles were developed back in the 80s, when it was still called database marketing. As technologies evolved – such as CRM – companies started having a shot at 1:1 marketing. And with the internet, we now have the potential to do much more with behavioral marketing. We can observe our target prospects, get to know them better, align our activity to this knowledge and win them over to our product or service. Marketing automation platforms help us do this because they allow us to monitor and guide our communication across all channels. These technologies are fantastic of course – but there are a couple of things that will never change: ideas and creativity. Bad content is bad content and stupid processes are no different. The coolest marketing automation technology in the world will never turn bad content into hard cash, whereas a brilliant campaign idea may succeed without the technology. It just won’t succeed to the same extent. Sooner or later, everyone will be using these tools – they’ll have to. Because they’ll be under pressure to get more bang for their marketing buck, understand their customers better, and win them faster and more effectively. But one thing’s for sure: marketing automation won’t ever make them rich if they don’t have any great ideas at the outset.
Oh, and there’s another thing I’d like to get off my chest while I’m at it. It’s amazing how megatrends like marketing automation get the charlatans crawling out of the woodwork. Marketing automation has huge potential if it’s used in the right way. So why doesn’t anyone talk about the risks? Because there aren’t any? Get real. When it’s done badly, process-driven communication can drive the recipient crazy or even make them feel harassed. Bad communication is one thing – but automated bad communication can put people off you for life. Many of us have signed up for email updates or newsletters, only to be bombarded with too many messages. And what happens then? We get exasperated, unsubscribe and maybe even write the sender a furious email! And – most importantly – the company has lost a lot of goodwill, maybe even a potential customer. You’d be surprised how many companies in the IT industry use sophisticated marketing automation tools – they trust the technology but they’re still doing it wrong.
Today, more than ever, communication depends on expertise, monitoring and experience. I get the impression that there are more consulting firms and agencies saying they have “many years of experience” in marketing automation than there are installations of the technology. What are these consultants doing? They’re handling very sensitive data, building up target profiles, developing permission concepts – yet most of them don’t even have a data protection specialist in house or under contract. Others are poking clumsily around the central nervous system of the company’s communication – with zero experience in how best to approach the issue.
Here’s a top tip. Before hiring a consultant or service company to help you implement your automation strategy, there are two things you should do:
- Get some real references from the service provider and contact them. Try and find out what the provider did at their company and what the scope of the project was. It might have been the addition of a quick Facebook form or an extensive multichannel campaign lasting several months. But the most important thing is to ask how successful the project was!
- Make absolutely sure that your company complies with data protection laws. If a service provider is juggling merrily with your data, you should know the legal implications off by heart. If you don’t, you and your consultant will soon find it’s a minefield out there!
And here’s another tip. If you want your marketing automation implementation to succeed, it’s a good idea get your service provider, marketing agency (preferable one specializing in dialog marketing that’s experienced with automation) and your PR agency around a table. Some service providers have a deep understanding of the technology and know exactly how to integrate a marketing automation solution with your existing systems and set up the relevant processes. Your marketing agency will be able to develop campaigns, promotions and ideas and define the follow-up processes. PR can help by developing good content. With marketing automation, it’s really important to get all the actors involved at the same time. If there’s one mistake companies just keep on making, it’s implementing marketing automation in a vacuum without input from the exact people who could make it a success.
I recently met a company whose marketing automation system had been implemented by the company’s sales department. The result was that their end customers were being “automatically” harassed every day to push them to “just buy the product already”. The result? A massive flood of emails with Unsubscribe in the subject line. Needless to say, the company had never even heard of content marketing.
The moral of the story is clear: marketing automation might be great but it can’t defy the laws of physics. If crap goes in, crap comes out!
PS: In my view, marketing automation works best when you understand the future needs of a potential customer, which you could glean via social search. But I’ll be looking at that subject in my next blog post. Until then, take a look at this great article on the subject of content marketing.