Marketing Automation's Dirty Little Secret

Marketing automation is supposed to make marketing easier, but that's not always the case. There is huge variation in the functionality of different marketing automation platforms, so much so that it becomes hard to make comparisons between them.

And when marketers have to change their way of thinking, or even of reporting results, based on how their tools work, something is definitely backwards. Letting software rule our lives has dangerous implications all around.

Things would be easier for marketers if there were some standards of how to build campaigns to communicate with prospects and customers, how to collect and manage data on those profiles, and even how to measure success.

You can read blog posts all day long. You can download e-books from the various vendors. You can even read analyst reports to understand some of the differences between the platforms, but the dirty secret of marketing automation is that many of these supposed best practices are merely opinions shared based on how the software actually functions.

This makes it hard for marketers to truly understand who the market leaders are and what features and functions are important to marketing success. Marketers need to let themselves get swept up in the whirlwind of content touting the steps to better marketing performance, so they know what questions to ask of vendors. But it also means that they have to fully understand what is possible, and how that matches their own goals, to properly inform their search.

Look for marketing automation platforms that can meet those goals, and don't use some "best practice" workaround because the software was built that way. The platforms need to match how marketers do their jobs.

Marketers live in a consumer society where easy-to-use tools are only as far away as their pocket. They want to create an automation flow on their office whiteboard and easily translate that into a marketing campaign. This visual logic should not have to be translated into complicated "if/then" statements to make it function. A drag-and-drop interface is the easiest way to add segments, emails, wait steps, and filters to campaigns. Computer language should not be necessary. Marketers don't think that way.

Everyone talks about customer journeys, but some marketing automation platforms can only handle a linear process. Marketers know that journeys are complicated. And they are anything but linear. A prospect can take many different paths to becoming a customer, and marketing software needs to be adaptive to what that journey really looks like. A carefully controlled nurture campaign could spark a prospect to do more product research or seek out customer testimonials, instead of sitting around waiting for the next email.

Campaigns need to be easy to change, because what marketer has never had something change about a campaign right after the email went out? Some programs are difficult, or even impossible, to change after a campaign is activated. Marketing is an iterative process. You have to be able to make adjustments midway through a campaign based on results.

How can a marketing automation platform rationalize that lead scoring is only based on a single campaign, and not all activities? Some platforms work this way. It means hot leads that respond to one email can suddenly become cold leads when they don't respond to the next message. Forget best practices; this does not even make logical sense. One of the key functions of marketing automation is to automatically score your leads to determine when someone is sales-ready. It has to be based on all activities and not overwritten with each new campaign.

And finally, marketing technology can no longer be siloed. It needs to be part of a larger ecosystem. That means that marketers need to easily connect software to their marketing automation platforms to manage things like account-based marketing and capturing data from hosted videos. But it also means that the tools need to connect to other computer systems across the company, like a CRM system and the corporate website, without needing IT support. Prebuilt integrations make these marketing tools function seamlessly across systems.

As marketers explore and evaluate marketing automation platforms for themselves, they need to know what they are trying to accomplish with their marketing campaigns, but they also need to ask lots of questions to uncover any dirty secrets in the software.

Kevin Akeroyd is general manager and senior vice president for Oracle Marketing Cloud.


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