Marketing Automation: The science of automating the business of Marketing

When I started blogging around 3 years ago, I made a promise (to myself) to never blog about my day job — with the sole reason of never crossing the boundaries (well, sorta). However, it was a bad call, not talking about what you do makes the job even harder. So, here I am, breaking the promise (I’m also running out of fresh ideas).
Marketing Automation is the science of bringing “order” to the creative chaos, which is Marketing organization, with the help of business processes, technologies, tools, systems. The high order bit of Marketing Automation is making Marketing organization accountable for dollars spent across various campaigns and it’s effectiveness across channels, segments and Business Units. The low order bit is the automation to allow the revenue generated by Sales to be tracked at the campaign source.
Why do we need Marketing Automation? The rhetoric is simple — Marketing organizations have traditionally been a “cost center”. The organization gets a percentage of revenue to spend (mostly at will!). Whatever money is allocated and spend on various campaigns and programs are never efficiently reported back.
Even if there are reports, they mostly live in spreadsheets or in vendor systems and yeah, every owner of a major marketing campaign or a program has it’s own report on it’s outcome. The outcome — Every quarter the divisional and regional bosses running like kids around the house to organize the data for their moment of truth. This gets repeated every quarter. The goal of the automation is to track the progress and the ROI of every dollar being spent on awareness, brand building, demand generation and market development.

All of this boils down to effectiveness and efficiency of Marketing department. How far can a dollar be stretched to bump up the ROI compared to peers is what effectiveness is all about. It’s given that ROI cannot be measured for all Marketing campaigns and programs. Hence, the effectiveness cannot be measured truly. True, Brand Recognition survey results depend heavily on the variables which were chosen to rank the brands (However, it can be argued that the top brands in the top 100 bucket would remain the same if we move the variables). But, what has happened that marketers have taken the “excuse” of not measuring the ROI for other areas of marketing like demand generation, online marketing, events, etc.
In the last 10 years, the Promotions mix (Promotion as in the 4th “P” of Marketing — others being Product, Price and Place) of marketing has exploded with the growth of online promotions — which has given birth to another half-dozen channels in the Marketing Communication. When Neil Borden proposed the “4P” model, products were mostly sold in physical locations and were something tangible. However, that has completely changed in today’s world of online selling. Good thing about the online part and digital marketing is it’s trackability. However, scary it may sound — Every bit of public and private information can be harnessed to make the job of marketer easier. But, that’s easier said than done. The tools for harnessing this information are available but the processes still live in silos; top it up a large enterprise marketing organization with millions of dollars at their disposal and you have a problem in hand.
At the implementation level, Marketing Automation has several individual pieces viz. set of tools to plan, track, create, execute and report; all supported by an integrated database which connects and brings the data points together. The data points could be in the form of campaign meta-data or the customer and/or prospect interactions in the online, offline touch points.
In essence, Marketing Automation’s mantra is to centralize the data gathering processes in a way that it cuts down the manual effort in the organization. There are individual pieces which have to be brought together. For example, if you are doing a search engine marketing effort, the automation around SEM is provided by the vendor (a Search Engine or a media agency) to bid, report and optimize the keyword placements. However, it normally does not tie in with other efforts around, say marketing to the partners for the same piece of marketing collateral. Marketing automation is about integration of processes and tools so that a marketer can manage all of that in a single workflow. The output and effectiveness of such an effort is enormous compared to the disjointed effort — Imagine knowing that you are search engine dollars are touching the same people who already go to your website to download that piece of information, anyway.
Marketing automation has been on the CRM scene for quite some time, but in the last few years it has picked up as Marketing organizations are being forced to get disciplined around their efforts. Also, marketers are realizing the benefits of execution tied up with planning; leading to reporting and their ability to fine tune the future offers. Marketers have realized that knowing prospect and customer behaviors improve retention and add to the bottom-line. It also unlocks the ROI which they were unable to see so far. There is also a growing pressure about cost consciousness, compliance and being competitive which is making justification for every dollar difficult.
How can you justify that you need a percent (or two) more than last year for your online webcast budget if you don’t know that the people who are attending are going ahead and evaluating your product and calling up sales to get trial licenses – and eventually getting converted to customers. You can.

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