“Dad, what is marketing automation?”

Marketing Automation Cloud

A quest to answer the question ‘what is marketing automation?’.

My daughter asked me to explain marketing automation during a family dinner. And if you ever had a kid asking you about a specific topic, you probably have experienced that these questions aren’t always easy to answer as you believed they were.

With this post I’ll share a definition and my top 5 critical success factors for successful marketing automation projects. Let me start with a very simple definition.

Marketing automation is all about using software to automate marketing activities.
– HubSpot.com

Automate marketing activities

Marketing technology platforms (≈ software) are designed to automate repetitive processes and leverage prospect or customer data. Often affecting multiple marketing activities -both B2B and B2C- of an organization like:

  • Advertising/Lead generation
  • Sales/eCommerce
  • Reputation Management
  • Customer Relationship Management

5 Critical success factors for marketing automation projects

Like most marketing technology projects, marketing automation often starts based on the excitement over its promise:

  • Improving lead generation, conversion rates, overall revenues and/or customer loyalty
  • Reducing acquisition/production/service costs and/or churn

However marketing automation frequently has a negative return on investment. In many cases it just simply does not produce the result that is needed to justify the investment (in time or money) it requires to implement.

Here are my top 5 critical success factors to help you make your project a successful one.

1. Don’t believe the hype, but focus on the business problem

Marketing automation projects often start based on the excitement over features and benefits of a technology. And as a tech fanatic myself, I do understand that technology generates excitement. But technology should always solve a business problem. Or at least, not create a new one.

No matter how exciting the technology is, the goal should always be solving a business problem without creating a new one. And not the technology itself.

2. Digital savvy team and leadership

The phrase ‘digital savvy’ is not a synonym of ‘IT expert’. Digital Savvy really requires a specific set of skills and knowledge. Especially if using ‘marketing cloud solutions’ or ‘hybrid cloud solutions’ (= cloud solution combined with an on premise solution). 

Client dependent data and communication protocols, API-management, data privacy and limited customization capabilities are common topics within marketing automation. It requires a certain digital maturity to determine the impact on the scope, investment and outcome of the project.

3. Data architecture and harmonization

Marketing automation projects often combine multiple platforms. Both new and legacy systems. Each offering their own data architecture and taxonomy.

Even common field names (keys) like ‘Order’, ‘New Customer’ or ‘Product’ can have a different definition in each system. It could even hold a different value that the field name implies.

A detailed and practical understanding of each data set is proven to be critical in various marketing automation and big data projects.

4. Consider Scale 

Despite the promise of marketing automation, it only has a big impact on a larger scale.

Even AI (=Artificial Intelligence) requires engineers to help the system to “learn the right things”. For example by adding new data sources and/or input values. But even relatively easy personalization platforms will only have a positive return on investment at scale. Considering the investment it requires to analyze and optimize each personalization effort. 

5. Organizational ecosystem

Potentially this is the most critical success factor of the list. The average marketing automation project is nothing less than a change project. Affecting workflows and processes of multiple departments. And potentially even the organization as a whole.

Without covering all the details on change projects in this post, I summarize some questions that should be answered when initiating a marketing automation project.

Does my marketing organization operate in separate departments?
– Does this technology impact >1 department (process/tooling)?
– Are all related departments sponsor of and/or contributor to the project?
– Do all these departments benefit from this new capability? And how?

Does it offer a clear business objective?
– Are the required changes and benefits clear and easy to communicate?

What changes are required for adopting and maintaining this new technology?
– Are the employees involved ready, willing, and able to adapt and adopt?
– How do we enable these new capabilities (knowledge transfer, training, etc)?
– How scalable is my organization (outsourcing vs insourcing)?

Happy to read your comments or questions. And if you like to discuss your marketing automation project with me, feel free to reach out via email or connect via Linkedin.

Additional resources

For your convenience I have added some additional resources about marketing automation below.

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