Research Reveals Most Marketers Miss the Mark with Marketing Automation

6 min

How do marketers miss the mark with marketing automation — or even the fundamentals of email marketing? Let us count the ways.

Are you using email marketing to create a better customer experience? Philip Storey, the founder of Enchant, doesn’t think so. He says…

“Ultimately, most marketers are still using email as an advertising channel and thinking about volume instead of quality. To take things to the next level, brands must put their customer’s different needs and desires at the forefront of their email communications strategy. The goal is to create the ultimate customer experience in the inbox—one that generates the highest ROI.”

Of course, there are a lot of digital marketing channels. So you may not worship at the altar of email marketing, or its more advanced offspring, marketing automation.

But that would be a pity. Or, at the very least, it’s a missed opportunity.

You see, email—one of the earliest digital marketing tools—is also the most effective tool of them all.

I’m not making this stuff up. I’m about to lay a heap of research findings on you that come from a study collaboratively produced by Smart Insights, Content Marketing Institute, Holistic Email Marketing, and your host, GetResponse.

We’ll examine several of the insights from a study and report titled, Email Marketing & Marketing Automation Excellence 2017. The research involved 2,510 marketers. This is the real deal.

Which digital marketing channels work?

And the winner is… email marketing.

email marketing excellence report

The first couple of findings in the research indicate email is the digital marketing channel most rated as “excellent” and “good” and the least rated as “poor.”

Combine the “excellent” and “good” ratings and email nudges past social media marketing, SEO, and well, all channels.

What makes email so muscular?

One, leads. Two, sales. Three, conversion.

Yeah, these things tend to raise the ears of modern marketers.

top benefits of email marketing

The marketers surveyed in the study rated leads, sales, and conversion the top three benefits of email marketing. Of course, marketers covet every other benefit on the list above as well.

Unsurprisingly, when asked which channels they plan to increase their budget for this year, email marketing was the runaway winner.


The study I’m sharing with you offers the acronym “CRITICAL” to explain eight ways to improve your email marketing. I’ll spell it out for you…

  • C is for Conversation—Your email should prompt dialogue and encourage interaction.
  • R is for Relevance—Does your email meet the specific needs of the recipient?
  • I is for Incentive—Give readers a clear reason to click-through.
  • T is for Timing—Closely examine the timing—and frequency—of your deliveries and how they relate to other campaigns.
  • I is for Integration—Your emails must be consistent with your brand, reinforce the company’s messages, and integrated with the big picture.
  • C is for Creative (and Copy)—You need to perfect the writing and design including structure, style, offers, and calls-to-action.
  • A is for Attributes—You need to master the main attributes of email such as subject lines, from lines, and format.
  • L is for Landing Page—The overall success of an email campaign relies on sending recipients to an effective landing page.

4 ways to up your game with marketing automation

 Marketing automation isn’t even a decade old but has become an established category of marketing technology. For the reasons pointed out before, it’s garnered a ton of attention as its proven to be a smart way to integrate marketing communications across the customer lifecycle.

However, it’d be foolish to conclude most companies are using marketing automation to its potential. The numbers indicate otherwise.

marketers measure the effectiveness of email marketing

Do the math, based on the study, and it becomes clear the majority of respondents haven’t got all that far. In fact, only 27.5% rate their effectiveness with marketing automation as good or better.

Let’s take a look now at four ways you can up your game.

1. Collect more important metrics

email marketing metrics

Measuring effectiveness is the foundation of marketing automation. Here’s the bad news…

  • Nearly 24% don’t focus on any metrics.
  • Less than 15% use mid or low funnel metrics (e.g. leads, sales, revenue), which means they are unable to see outcomes beyond the click.
  • The most popular metric was increase in subscribers, which may be meaningful but isn’t a direct result of email marketing.

Additional data gathered indicated only 14% track by segment and only 15% use attribution numbers to compare email with other channels.

Your takeaway here should be you need to step-up your measurement efforts beyond tracking opens and clicks to evaluate and improve your automation. Doing so will require integrating your marketing automation platform with your website to determine meaningful outcomes.


2. Start targeting

types of segmentation used

Now there’s an unfortunate pie chart. It reveals over half the users of marketing automation do ZERO targeting. Advanced personalization techniques, such as lead scoring, are ignored by 93.4%.

The point is: targeting is about making your message relevant and relevance is everything in marketing today. As the report says, “If you don’t have an email targeting strategy, create one.”

“Marketers are still thinking about campaigns as broadcasts to their entire database, instead of opportunities to create a truly valuable connection with people. Ultimately, most marketers are still using email as an advertising channel and thinking about volume instead of quality. To take things to the next level, brands must put their customer’s different needs and desires at the forefront of their email communications strategy.”

~ Philip Storey, founder of Enchant

3. Check your communications strategy

The email marketing and marketing automation survey asked participants to indicate what type of email communications they employ.

email marketing communications

Basically, the results stack-up in order of simplicity from top to bottom with standard newsletters leading the field and sales promotions right behind.

Unfortunately, only 17% reported using event-triggered email. Suffice to say, the potential to improve your email communications strategy is immense. Your next step could be as simple as moving down this chart toward a more data-driven form of email marketing.

Don’t have a welcome campaign? Start there.

“We talk about the customer journey as if it is something we all have taken care of with some simple autoresponders. We forget that it is not our journey but the customer’s. A welcome email, for instance, is the easiest triggered email in the book. During onboarding, the foundation for the customer (email) relationship is created. The new subscriber has let you know they are interested in your and your brand.”

~ Jordie van Rihn, email marketing consultant at Email Vendor Selection

4. Test your email marketing

email marketing testing results

 I can hardly bear to show you another graph, especially this one, but I must lay this on you, the ugliest data collected in the research, in my opinion.

Look at that top line. 51% don’t test their email marketing—at all! Next: only 27% test subject lines. I’m currently rubbing the top of one index finger with the bottom of the other in what I hope is the international signal for “shame on you.”

This is a problem. And the percentages suggest it’s one of your problems. Let me be brutally honest…

Testing your email marketing is easy. It’s ridiculous not to do it.

Again, simply take the next step. Test subject lines. Test offers. Test layouts. You pay for this functionality. Use it.

When you graduate from email testing 101, test landing pages, performance by segment and frequency. None of the above testing tactics are difficult. All of the above are helpful.

Get some ROI out of your marketing automation

Marketing automation offers many opportunities to deliver more relevant 0content to customers and improve conversion. Are you taking advantage of its capabilities? Here’s the data gathered when the survey’s participants were asked how they’re using marketing automation.

marketing automation applications

The numbers clearly indicate most marketers can step-up their marketing automation efforts.

What’s holding marketers back? We asked.

marketing automation challenges

As you can see, it’s rare the challenge is the technology itself. Nor is lack of buy-in from management.

The top three challenges are securing budget, quality of customer data, and the knowledge to setup automation features.

If you’re ready to increase your ROI on marketing automation, GetResponse is ready to help.

Barry Feldman
Barry Feldman
Barry Feldman is a prolific writer with 25 years of experience bringing his clients' online presence to the next level through copywriting and content-marketing creation and consulting. He writes and educates clients on online marketing on The Point and on many other sites across the web.