It's not often that marketing automation software is used to remove an offensive word from everyday vernacular. But that's exactly what the Special Olympics has aimed to do. Using social media and marketing automation from Salesforce.com, the organization launched its "R-Word: Spread the Word to End the Word" campaign in March 2014. And already the effort has garnered 3.9 million likes on Facebook, 16,200 Facebook fans, and 1,800 Twitter followers.
These results suggest that today's marketing automation software, when combined with social channels, can far surpass the potential of earlier versions of the software. Understandably, marketers are taking notice.
The convergence of marketing automation and CRM is becoming increasingly important to marketers, as individually targeted messaging via email and social media channels has become commonplace and is empowering marketers to make the most of their time and resources. Furthermore, many vendors within the CRM industry are making moves through acquisitions and rebranding to improve their own marketing solutions. In the fast-paced digital age, the successful implementation of marketing automation systems is essential for businesses to be competitive.
"Marketing automation is now a centerpiece in terms of companies' communication strategy, their customer engagement strategy. It's gone from being an email management system to a central part of customer engagement strategy," says Bruce Culbert, partner and chief service officer of the Pedowitz Group.
The goal of marketing automation is to make automated communication feel like a personalized experience for potential and existing customers. With the influence of digital marketing permeating the rest of the industry, offline channels such as billboards, broadcast and cable, print publications, and brick-and-mortar retail are all beginning to incorporate the personalized approach of digital. "If there's anything that represents a sea change for marketers, it's that the automation story is an old one in the digital world, a relatively new one in the offline world, and the offline world is becoming more digital every day," says Jeffrey Rayport, strategic adviser in marketing services, online media, and e-commerce at Harvard Business School. "The automation that comes with [the digital world] is part of everything that marketers do," he adds.
One of the major ongoing changes in marketing in general—and marketing automation in particular—is the rise of data-driven campaigns. While having an overarching creative vision is undoubtedly still essential to any marketing campaign, the discipline has become much more reliant on Big Data analytics. This is particularly true when it comes to marketing automation, where analytics enables marketers to deliver highly personalized ads to their target audiences. According to Rayport, marketing is slowly but surely shifting from an art to a science—a process that is reflected by the increasing importance of employees with backgrounds in science and math.
"Marketing automation [has become] a bigger market because the analytics allow you to automate the right thing rather than just automating anything," says Mark Smith, president at Kitewheel. Smith also emphasizes that mobile technology has been a massive driver in the rise of real-time marketing. "In your pocket you've got this always-on connection, this insatiable immediacy that everyone now has to get an answer right away, [and] that's changed the job for the marketer," he says. With regard to marketing automation in particular, Smith says that marketers are now automating a different set of processes: two-way exchanges with consumers. Because customers expect nearly immediate answers to their inquiries, marketers' systems need to have real-time, up-to-date information on customers' recent activity.
Although the popularity of mobile technology has certainly made marketers' jobs more challenging, the ubiquity of mobile devices also ensures that marketers can access the information they need to effectively engage customers in a fast-paced environment. Mobile devices provide a wealth of data about consumers beyond the typical information, such as how many times a consumer has visited a company's Web site, what items he looked at, what he bought, etc. Now, marketers can gather information on customers' context, such as location, weather conditions, and even local events. This kind of data enables marketers to vastly improve their knowledge of customers and better target them with automated campaigns.