Marketing automation is currently a hot topic for businesses, but what is it? Put simply, marketing automation is the use of software to automate marketing processes such as campaign management, customer segmentation and customer data integration.

Implemented correctly, the right marketing automation solution allows you to focus on your customers and accelerate buyers through your sales funnel, with considerably less man power and at greatly reduced costs. The use of automation software can help you centralise your data, deliver a more relevant and complex contact strategy and convert leads into customers, whilst also allowing you to track the success of your marketing campaigns more efficiently.

However, simply opting to implement marketing automation is no guarantee of success. There are companies that have implemented automation but still failed to achieve positive results. So, how has this happened?

The word ‘automation’ can induce a false sense of security. Whilst it should ultimately result in a reduction in manual labour, it does not mean that you can sit back and let technology do all the work. A brand needs a strategic plan and must be able to adapt its marketing activity and campaigns based on results. Those businesses who have failed to realise the potential in automation are those who have not planned every aspect of their campaign or customer journey to ensure they reach people at the right time with the right propositions. Without this planning, automation quickly becomes a waste of time, money and resource.

Technology presents marketers with options, but before investing in automation, measurable objectives must be set, customer data and behaviour must be collated and understood, and those doing the implementing must be willing to test, learn, adapt and test again.

In addition, there’s much more to automation than just online activity. If you think automation is merely a tool with which to spam your customers with emails, it’s time to think again. Bombarding customers who have just purchased from you with upsell email means they’ll quickly become disengaged from your brand. Would a simple thank you message be more appropriate?

The biggest marketing automation companies on the market claim to be automating campaigns ‘across all channels’ but, upon further investigation, ‘all channels’ tends to mean ‘all online channels’; no direct mail in sight. A recent study carried out by Royal Mail - ‘The Private Life of Mail’ - found that multimedia campaigns including mail were 27 per cent more likely to deliver top-ranking sales performance and 40 per cent more likely to deliver top-ranking acquisition levels than campaigns that didn’t include any mail. If proof were needed that ignoring this vital part of the marketing mix is a risk not worth taking, look no further.

Digital print technology is now so flexible and responsive that direct mail has a fully deserved place back in the channel mix. The surge in direct mail usage continues, with Royal Mail reporting that digitally printed (i.e. relevant and targeted) direct mail costs have fallen by 25% over the past five years. Yet, on the whole, marketing automation programs seem to be ignoring this channel.

Today’s consumer is more astute. We know more about their preferences than ever before and we know that communicating across different channels delivers results. The key to the success of marketing automation is understanding these preferences, spotting relevant communication triggers and converting these into relevant, targeted and timely messages that drive more profitable customer behaviour.

By Clare Mylan, Head of Sales, Gecko