If you operate a small business, you’ve undoubtedly heard the term “marketing automation” by now. The phrase is both promising and confusing; the promise of being able to automate one’s marketing strategy is enticing, yet it seems when you take a closer look nearly everyone has a different take on what marketing automation means. What is marketing automation? What is automated, and who sets the processes up? Does it even work? The following attempts to answer the question “What, exactly, does marketing automation mean for small business?”
What is marketing automation?
In broad terms, marketing automation is any practice that automates a marketing process. Specifically, marketing automation is when you employ the power of software to automatically conduct tasks. Here are some examples of marketing automation:
- automatically sending emails to customers at different points during the sales cycle
- automatically tracking and updating contact information
- automatically segmenting customers into “likely-to-buy” lists (lead scoring)
- automatically tracking online analytics and providing reports
These are just a few examples; there are dozens or even hundreds of additional tasks and processes performed by marketing automation software. Moreover, the field is still in its infancy; there are hundreds if not thousands of additional tasks that could be automated (more on that shortly).
Why should your small business invest in marketing automation?
Marketing automation software takes the place of manual labor, and as a small business you know quality manual labor – employees and contracted help – can be expensive. When you have relatively simple, yet time-consuming and tedious tasks, you’re wasting money paying employees for such menial – yet critical – work when they could be performing tasks to help grow your company. Let’s say you want to launch an email marketing campaign to promote an ecommerce product with the campaign to span five emails over a four-week period. Under traditional circumstances, you would have to:
- have the emails designed and coded
- manually add relevant contacts to your email list
- manually send those emails
- manually track how many responses you receive (and never know how many emails were opened, bounced, or clicked)
- manually check for sales and fulfill said sales
As you can see, operating such a campaign is time-intensive if you do it yourself, potentially expensive if you pay an employee to do it. This is where marketing automation comes in: some software, such as InfusionSoft, can handle all of these tasks for you. You spend a few minutes setting up the campaign parameters, and the system handles the rest – and even generates reports to allow you to track campaign efficacy and return on investment. Time is money, and it’s even more critical to the success of the smallest of businesses than large corporations. When every dollar and every minute count, marketing automation can free your time and reduce your marketing investment. That’s why small businesses should invest in marketing automation.
What’s missing from marketing automation?
As I previously stated, there are hundreds if not thousands of tasks that could be automated. For example, the vast majority of marketing automation centers around email marketing, although social media is often given weight as well. What about print marketing? Direct-mail print marketing continues to be one of the most powerful marketing strategies on the planet, yet marketing automation software tends to ignore it completely. Here’s what I would love to see in the near future:
- marketing automation software that performs all the “usual” marketing automation tasks but also incorporates direct-mail print marketing
- a marketer could choose to send, say, a sales letter or a postcard to a list that’s also receiving its email campaigns
- the marketing automation system handles the list creation, assists in artwork development by providing customizable templates, and sends the print job out for printing and mailing
- the marketing automation assigns each piece a custom URL for customer response
- customers land on custom pages automatically generated just for them – including the use of each individual customer’s name
- the marketing automation system then tracks those who respond, gives them lead scores for future marketing use, and tracks purchases and campaign return on investment
Incorporating print into “standard” marketing automation tools could bolster campaigns and make them more powerful than ever, thereby yielding greater profits than ever before.
The future of marketing automation
We’re just seeing the early stages of marketing automation and what it can do. In the near future, we will see print integration to marketing automation tools. We’ll likely also see channels such as TV and radio added, in addition to a greater emphasis on mobile marketing channels. Small businesses that get on board with marketing automation will be able to market more efficiently – campaigns will be cheaper, yet far more effectively, resulting in greater return on investment and profits than ever before. Small businesses that do not employ marketing automation, however, risk being left behind as they won’t be able to keep up with their more efficient, budget-minded competitors. Marketing automation isn’t just a buzzword; rather, it describes a marketing strategy that will undoubtedly become the norm over the next few years. Maintaining a competitive edge means your small business must strive for efficient, profitable operations, and marketing automation is one way you can achieve that end.