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What is Marketing Automation?
by Michal Leszczynski last updated on 0

What is Marketing Automation?

It’s easy to feel out of your element when you first come across the concept of marketing automation.

There are thousands of marketing automation platforms available in the market – all of which have different dashboards, specialize in various marketing channels, and use their own terminology.

For those who are just entering the scene, all of it can be intimidating to say the least.

In this guide, I’ll try to show you that marketing automation isn’t some far-out space technology that’s reserved only for large companies with even larger budgets.

Below you’ll find the essential theory, real-life examples, and answers to some of the most burning questions regarding the process of automating your campaigns and using marketing automation platforms.

Think of it as your marketing automation FAQ.

Table Of Contents

Free Guide: Building a Business Case for Marketing Automation

What is marketing automation?

In simple terms, marketing automation is software that helps you automate various marketing and customer engagement activities.

What sort of activities do we have in mind?

Here are several examples coming from Dr. Dave Chaffey of Smart Insights:

Some key marketing automation capabilities for you to consider:

Automatically building marketing lists using landing pages that offer content assets to profile subscribers.

Automatically welcoming prospects with relevant email messages – these are messages personalized to the attributes of the individual.

Automatically reviewing interactions with emails and on-site content, then segmenting intent to purchase based on lead scoring and automatically serving ads or offers based on this information.

Automatically following up on prospects with nurturing messages to boost intent to purchase.

Automatically qualifying leads against preconfigured metrics and passing to sales without human interaction (this capability is only really relevant to B2B).

Automatically sending ongoing personalized messages delivering promotions and content based off the person’s attributes, in order to encourage customer loyalty.

What are the benefits of marketing automation?

Even though marketing automation platforms have become much more affordable and automated emails get more than twice as many click-throughs as regular emails, it’s worth knowing why marketing automation tools are worth the cost.

The chart below shows the top benefits of marketing automation as ranked by marketers who took part in the Email Marketing and Marketing Automation Excellence 2018 study.

Biggest benefits of marketing automation - chart from Email Marketing and Marketing Automation Excellence 2018
Biggest benefits of marketing automation – chart from Email Marketing and Marketing Automation Excellence 2018

Based on the study results, we can see that the top three advantages are that marketing automation helps you 1) save time, 2) generate more leads, and 3) increase your revenue.

But how does marketing automation help you achieve these goals exactly?

Let’s put together the capabilities we’ve mentioned a moment ago along with the study results and consider three different scenarios.

1. Marketing automation helps you serve your audience better

Let’s say you work for a higher education institution.

Your school offers a variety of different courses, all designed for a different kind of audience.

To be sure that everyone signs up for the course that suits their needs best, it’d be worth first talking to your prospects in person then providing them with all the necessary information.

Unfortunately, at some point your scale won’t allow for that.

The absence of this service, however, increases the chances of students signing up for the wrong courses, getting lower grades, and eventually dropping out.

One way to overcome this problem is to run automated campaigns that deliver the right kind of content to the individual prospects based on various cues, e.g. the pages they’ve visited, files they’ve downloaded, or courses they’ve signed up for.

See, with marketing automation, no matter how big your audience is, you’re able to keep a personal approach throughout the entire customer lifecycle.

More relevant communication leads to more engaged customers. That, in turn, usually leads to higher returns.

2. Marketing automation platforms help you save time and money

Now let’s imagine you’re a real estate agent.

People come to you to buy or sell their property. Every meeting starts the same way: you ask them a bunch of questions so that you can tailor your offer to their needs.

It takes time.

And it doesn’t end there, as after the meeting you’ll probably want to follow up to make sure you’ve answered all their needs and will close the deal.

All of this, like many other tasks we do in business, could be carried out (often more swiftly and accurately) with the use of a marketing automation tool.

The more activities you delegate to your software, the more time you’ll have for the kind of projects that require personal attention and ones that could potentially have a higher impact on your business.

3. Automations improve your ability to scale your business

Picture this: You’re running a boutique marketing agency catering to local businesses.

If you’re relatively new to the business, the odds are that you do most of your marketing tasks by hand.

You’re providing top quality services for your clients, but every time you sign up a new client your workday becomes longer.

If you’d like to scale your business, there are only two ways out:

  • either hire someone and delegate some of the tasks to them,
  • or start charging your clients extra.

Neither of these solutions are perfect.

The situation can change, however, if you transfer more tasks to your marketing automation platform.

These could be seemingly simple but lengthy processes such as nurturing your prospects who’ve shown interest in your work.

Or these could be more complex activities, like setting up marketing funnels using landing pages, Facebook ads, and email campaigns for your clients.

When you use marketing automation, every new client you sign won’t add as much to your workload, because a lot of the processes are carried out automatically.

This leaves you the time to acquire more customers, develop your business further and at a higher pace.

These are just three reasons why marketing automation is worth your consideration.

If you’d like to learn more, this post by Michael Brenner explores more ways small businesses can benefit from using marketing automation.

Looking for inspiration?

Check out how Alex Terrier, saxophonist, composer, and charismatic bandleader uses marketing automation to stay in touch with fans and students while touring the globe.

How does marketing automation work?

While marketing automation software can be very robust, most of these tools follow a simple logic – If X happens, then do Y.

For example:

If someone fills out a form to access an ebook on one of my landing pages (X), then the system should send them a welcome email with the access link (Y).

This is a very simplistic example, but it’s good to start with one of those before we double-down on more complex scenarios.

Marketing automation workflows

To set up automation like the one I’ve just described, you need to create what we call a marketing automation workflow.

In simple terms, a marketing automation workflow is a script that describes what the system should do if a particular event or situation takes place.

To build these kinds of scripts, most marketing automation platforms let you use visual drag and drop creators or builders.

To get a better sense of what these look like, here’s an example of a marketing automation workflow creator that’s available in GetResponse:

Marketing Automation Workflow Creator from GetResponse

Let’s now have a look at this example of a simple marketing automation workflow that we built using the GetResponse workflow creator.

Simple marketing automation workflow created using GetResponse

What you see in this picture are two elements that comprise the whole workflow. The workflow is triggered by the action specified in the top element. As soon as that action takes place, the system should proceed with the action specified in the bottom element.

Here the workflow translates to:

When someone subscribes to an email list called your_new_list using any webform, then send them a message called Welcome to GetResponse.

Building marketing automation workflows

Most marketing automation platforms, including GetResponse, let you build automation workflows in two ways:

You can either use ready-made automation templates or build your workflows from scratch.

In the first scenario, you pick a template that serves the goal or matches your campaign idea. Then, you just need to populate it with your own data, including message templates, lists, etc.

These can get you started pretty quickly. Plus, they can serve as an inspiration, especially if you’re only starting to build your first automations.

The second approach is more appropriate for those who already feel confident using their marketing automation software of choice.

You may also prefer to build your automations from scratch, if you know exactly what you want to achieve with your workflow or prefer to start with an empty canvas.

To help you understand this process better, this video here shows you how you would build a workflow using the automation templates in GetResponse:

When building marketing automation workflows, you might come to a point when you don’t know what to do next.

You might ask yourself questions like, “Should I continue and send another message to my leads?” or perhaps, “Should I take a step back and test a new approach?”

If you ever find yourself in this situation, check out this article by Andrew Davies, in which he provides some very useful tips on how you can best proceed.

What are common features of marketing automation?

Marketing automation platforms offer a variety of different features.

Here are some of the most common ones:

  • Email marketing
  • Forms and landing pages
  • Lead nurturing
  • Lead generation
  • Campaign management
  • CRM integration
  • Social media marketing
  • Lead scoring and tagging
  • Ecommerce
  • Visitor tracking
  • Analytics and optimization

While these are most common, it’s worth noting, however, that different platforms may specialize in different marketing channels.

Because of that, some marketing automation software may offer robust capabilities in certain aspects of digital marketing, while only scratching the surface in others.

Keep this in mind, if you’re going to be reviewing different platforms and looking for one that’d best fit your business needs.

Get more out of your email campaigns

Want to get a higher ROI from your email marketing campaigns? Then you need to understand the key metrics and what you can do to influence them. In this guide, we provide you with 20 ideas that’ll help you optimize your email campaigns for higher opens, clicks, and list engagement.

Download guide

Marketing automation examples

Marketing automation can be used across the entire customer lifecycle, using various marketing channels.

Here are three popular marketing automation examples you’ve likely come across:

Cart abandonment emails

According to Baymard Institute, the average shopping cart abandonment is currently at 69.57%.

Being able to win back even a fraction of these transactions could mean a big increase in the total revenue an online store makes.

This is one of the ways ecommerce businesses use marketing automation.

They track their website visitor behavior and automatically send out emails to those who haven’t completed their purchase.

The same strategy could be applied multiple times, even using other marketing channels, including retargeting paid ads or SMS messages.

Below is an example of an automation workflow that’d help you achieve those results:

Cart abandonment automation workflow

And here’s an automated cart abandonment email sent by one ecommerce brand:

Cart abandonment email from Asos

Welcome email series

Welcome emails are probably the single most important type of automated email communication you should be sending.

They get an average open rate of over 80% and a click-through rate of over 25%, which is  around 4x the engagement rate you’d observe with a typical newsletter.

They are so effective because recipients have already gotten used to receiving these kinds of campaigns. They serve as a confirmation of the subscription process going well and often deliver some additional content the users requested.

Just as they’re effective, welcome emails are very easy to set up, too. That’s why you see so many ecommerce businesses sending them to their new subscribers.

This is a workflow example that’d send a welcome email series over the course of several days:

Welcome email series built in GetResponse Marketing Automation Workflow Creator
Welcome email series consisting of two emails and a wait element in between them

And here’s an example of one such automated email:

Welcome email example from Patagonia
Welcome email from Patagonia

Email course

Another popular way of using marketing automation is to develop email courses, using a series of emails often called autoresponders.

An email course typically consists of a series of prearranged sets of emails. On top of that, more complex scenarios include email reminders sent out to those who don’t interact with the content.

Thanks to marketing automation, you can deliver the course lessons to your audience, using their subscription date as the starting point.

This is very popular among online entrepreneurs, marketers, and people interested in earning passive income.

What about the effectiveness? Using the click-through rate data from our Email Marketing Benchmarks report, it’s easy to calculate the engagement rates and the number of conversions you could generate with an email drip campaign. 

Here’s what the workflow for a typical email course would look like:

Workflow delivering an email course consisting of three messages
Workflow delivering an email course consisting of three messages

And here’s an example of an email lesson:

Email course message example
Email course message example

You can find more automated examples in this article.

When is a good time to start using marketing automation?

I hope I’ve managed to show you that marketing automation can generate high returns even if you don’t have a large team or budget.

Think about how much time you could save by automating various parts of your business, like welcoming new subscribers, nurturing prospects, or retargeting those who abandon their shopping carts.

Even if you haven’t developed a robust omnichannel marketing strategy in place yet, you could begin automating your marketing campaigns.

As a matter of fact, the sooner you start building marketing automation workflows, the better.

If you’re about to adapt this approach, it’s worth reviewing some of the most common mistakes people make and learning what challenges they’re facing and how they can be overcome.

If you feel like getting started, here are two actions for you to consider:

First, sign up for our free email course on Mastering Marketing Automation.

Over the course of 8 lessons you’ll learn how to effectively implement automated email campaigns.

Secondly, sign up for a free trial and take GetResponse Marketing Automation for a test drive. Without any risks, you can test the entire platform for 30 days.

Ready to build your first automated campaign?

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