Marketing Automation is something you’re going to hear more and more about. At its core, marketing automation is using software to automate various marketing actions based on customer behavior. That’s my completely made up definition! Do you like it?
In the broadest sense these “marketing actions” could refer to email, text messages, good old snail mail, social media updates and messages, phone calls, and many other channels I’m sure I left out. For the purposes of this article, we’re going to think about marketing automation and how it specifically relates to email marketing.
This post contains affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosures here.
I am certainly no marketing automation expert, but in the past six months, I’ve tried to learn and implement all I can. What I’ve found is that turning an online business into a finely tuned and automated marketing machine is no easy task. Like everything else in the blogging world, marketing automation strategies are best implemented one step at a time. What seems confusing and complicated at first quickly becomes second nature. At that point, more and more advanced automation techniques can be used.
Because marketing automation is such a broad topic with so many different tools, platforms, software solutions, and strategies, this article is meant to give you a brief overview and answer some key questions for you.
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How does marketing automation differ from normal email marketing?
In a perfect world, marketing automation will allow you to provide a custom experience for each email subscriber and website visitor in order to more effectively nurture the relationship and turn them into a paying customer.
Let’s look at the example of webinar registration emails...
With run-of-the-mill email marketing, a blogger may decide to email his list three times in order to drive signups for a particular webinar, maybe one email seven days before the event, one the day before, and a final email and hour before the live event.
What happens if one of your subscribers singed up of the webinar after the first email was sent? Many times, that subscriber will receive the final two un-needed registration emails. That’s certainly not an ideal customer experience.
A slightly more advanced technique would be to add webinar signups after the first email to a separate list or tag in the email software, and then exclude these people when manually sending the final two emails. That’s certainly a better experience for the subscriber, but it involves quite a bit of manual and time-sensitive work. There’s nothing automated about it.
True marketing automation will look much different. It will provide a better customer experience all while being more effective for the intended purposes.
Here’s an example of using marketing automation to drive webinar signups:
All three registration emails will be composed well ahead of time and given a lot of attention. The blogger will then create a customer journey that triggers at a specific date and time to send the first webinar registration email. If the subscriber clicks through and registers, they are automatically added to the webinar list and will receive a confirmation email with the relevant event details. Upon the initial email open of the first registration email, if the customer is not already enrolled in the free email course that is a funnel for a related digital product, they are sent an email with an offer to sign up. Since the subscriber is already in their inbox, emails sent precisely when another is opened can receive open-rates of over 75%.
In this case, the marketer used the registration email not just for driving webinar signups, but also for adding more subscribers to their free multi-day email course.
Later in the week, the automation journey checks to see if a subscriber signed up for the webinar after the first email. If not, they get a second email. If yes, no further action is taken. This same process happens the day before the webinar. The customer experience is a good one as no subscribers receive offers for actions they have already taken.
During this seven-day webinar registration drive, all known visitors on the blog who have not yet signed up for the webinar are shown a pop-up dialog box on the blog, customized with their first name, asking them if they’d like to sign-up for the webinar.
During this entire process, no manual action was needed from the blogger. Once the process was started, everything else happened automatically. Not only that, the customer experience was a good one. Everything happened at just the right time, including the additional offer email while the subscriber was already in their inbox.
During this process, the smart marketer is monitoring signup rates and email open rates as well as email timing. The numbers will inform decisions for future webinar registration drives. Not only that, this particular automation journey can be duplicated with a few clicks and email tweaks.
Keep in mind, the above example is just for webinar registrations. It doesn’t include registrant on-boarding journeys or attendee follow-up emails which are critically important. It also doesn’t include the dozens of other funnels, free courses, paid courses, eBooks, on-boarding, or subscriber nurturing funnels that can be implemented with marketing automation. This webinar registration example is just a tiny slice of the giant marketing automation pie.
Can you see the difference between standard email marketing and marketing automation?
Is marketing automation “set it and forget it”?
The ideal of marketing automation is very different from the reality. It’s not even close to set it and forget it!
It takes time to map out and implement automation sequences, and the more complex the journey, the greater the likelihood of something going wrong.
When I first started building automation journeys, I made a lot of mistakes that resulted in non-functioning automation series. Not only that, customer needs are constantly changing. Automation needs ongoing attention.
I spend more time now with email marketing than I did before I knew about marketing automation. It certainly hasn’t saved me any work. The difference is that now our marketing is much more effective, timely, and relevant to our audience. It’s worth putting in the effort and time for increased business income and a better customer experience.
Yes, on some level, marketing automation could potentially allow Abby and I to ignore our systems for weeks or even months at a time and still effectively market our various digital products. But why would we do that? There are always things we could improve and there are always minor issues to fix.
Does marketing automation solve all marketing problems?
There are a lot of positive business results from implementing a smart marketing automation plan, but if you don’t have enough visitors, subscribers, or existing customers, all the automation in the world won’t make a successful business.
For nerds like me, marketing automation is so fun that it’s easy to ignore adding new potential customers to the very top of the funnel through blog visitors who then become email subscribers. The best automation in the world won’t overcome a bad content strategy.
Along the same lines, marketing automation has nothing to do with the quality of your end product. If your eBook, course, or other digital product is not effectively solving real needs for your readers, all the automation in the world won’t mean a thing.
I like to think of marketing automation as a way of optimizing the middle of your funnel and turning more subscribers into customers while providing the most custom experience possible. Don’t ignore the top or bottom of the funnel.
Because marketing automation takes substantial time and money to implement, I recommend you wait to invest until you have a consistent flow of new subscribers. First and foremost, you need to have the content and offers in place to drive new subscribers.
Irresistible digital products for sale on your own platform multiply the effect of your marketing automation, so make sure you have something for sale before you invest in automation.
What variables do I control with marketing automation?
The possibilities offered with marketing automation software can make your brain numb. To better understand the possibilities, I’ll describe the capabilities of Autopilot, a marketing automation service that Abby and I use with one segment of our subscribers.
Note: For our main email list, Abby and I use ConvertKit and take full advantage of some of the basic automation features. For more advanced marketing automation and the visual journey builder, we use Autopilot.
When building an automation journey in Autopilot, you have to think in terms of triggers, conditions, and actions. Those are the three building blocks of marketing automation. When series of various triggers, conditions, and actions are paired together, automation magic is possible!
Within these various triggers, conditions, and actions even more options are available. For example, with the plain old “send email” action, you can continue the journey on unsubscribe, open, send, click, or bounce.
Email action options
The other triggers, conditions, and actions have a similar level of customization. Can you see how endless the possibilities are?
If there was a litmus test for standard email marketing versus email marketing automation it would be the use of website activity based segmenting.
"Has Visited Page" condition
You can see above the “has visited page” condition in Autopilot. The advanced marketing automation services provide a bite of tracking code which can be added to your blog and product landing pages. If a known subscriber has visited a specific page, that information can be tracked.
With these conditions, it’s possible to send additional customized emails to subscribers who have visited the landing page of your product but who have decided not to purchase.
Maybe you have a high-value page on your site that you want all of your subscribers to visit. You can send an email only to subscribers who have not visited that specific page.
Working website activity based conditions into automation journeys is an effective way to customize your subscribers' experience.
Where do I start with marketing automation?
Everyone’s business is different so it’s impossible to give a useful blanket recommendation on where in your business to start with marketing automation.
Now that you know what options are out there and what variables you can build automation around, it’s time to start building.
The most important thing you can do is stay customer and subscriber focused. Think about your ideal customer journey and go from there. If you have a brand new subscriber, what do you want to happen next? Is there a certain page you want them to see? Is there a specific free course you want them to take? Is there a certain question you want to ask them? Start thinking about these things.
Don’t rush into building your first automation; map it out thoroughly, and make sure you think in terms of “customer journey.” For example, Abby and I have a journey for all new Building a Framework customers. We have a different journey for all of our BookBoss customers. We also have journeys for subscribers who have taken our Build Your Launch List free email course but have not purchased BookBoss. Those are just a few examples, but you get the idea.
Think in terms of your ideal customer journey.
What are some good tools for marketing automation?
This is not a software review post. If you’d like to get my take on some of the most common email marketing services, you can read this post. Some of the services mentioned have limited marketing automation features while others fully-functioning marketing automation software solutions.
Here are some places to begin your search…
For basic marketing automation you should consider ConvertKit. In fact, most bloggers would benefit from graduating from MailChimp, Aweber, or the other more basic email marketing services and start using ConvertKit. They have an automations tab with a number of options.
As you get more advanced with your marketing automation I recommend you look into both Autopilot and Active Campaign. They are both powerful marketing automation solutions. I’m an Autopilot customer but know enough about Active Campaign to recommend it as well.
Another piece of automation software that I can’t live without is Zapier. Think of Zapier as a hub for connecting various services together. I use the service to connect our webinar software to email software as well as connect payment software to our email marketing software. I could list dozens of other examples as well.
Zapier now has conditions and filters built in which makes it a tremendous partner in your marketing automation. Unlike the email marketing services listed above, Zapier is a relatively inexpensive piece of software.
Should I get started with marketing automation?
Do you have a steady influx of new email subscribers and offer some type of digital product for sale?
If you can answer yes to the question above, you may be ready to start getting into marketing automation. It’s not an overnight process, and it takes a lot of thinking on your part to build effective automation journeys.
As the blogging and online business world becomes more advanced and customers more sophisticated, marketing automation will become even more important. You don’t have to set everything up right away, but the earlier you start working towards the use of effective automated marketing journeys, the better you'll understand the process and the more successful your systems will become.
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This post contains affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosures here.