Marketing Automation: What You Need to Know

thinkstockphotos-482557164Marketing automation” is more than just a buzzword – it is a very real practice that is empowering marketers around the world to accomplish more than ever in a shorter amount of time. At its core, marketing automation is a term used to describe a set of software, technologies, and other platforms that automate marketing on certain channels. These can include e-mail, social media, websites, and more. The idea is that by automating certain repetitive tasks that, while hugely important are also time-consuming, you unlock a host of additional benefits that can’t be ignored.

Reaching Customers on a Deeper Level

Targeted marketing has always been the bread and butter of many businesses in terms of increasing customer engagement. People don’t want to feel like they’re just one of a million different people being marketed to simultaneously – they want to feel like your business is taking time out of its busy day to speak to them directly. This helps increase the effectiveness of your marketing materials and is also a great way to take an average customer and turn them into a loyal brand advocate at the same time.

The issue here is that this historically takes a lot of time – or at least, it used to. Marketing automation is one of the best tools that you currently have to reach your unique customers in a meaningful way. Previously, you would have to manually segment customers based on things like your buyer personas. You would have to spend time creating these niche groups of customers based on their personalities, their needs, their likes and dislikes and more. While effective, this takes a great deal of time.

With marketing automation, however, you can simply create restrictions that will allow your software resources to segment these customers automatically based on whatever criteria you want. You get the exact same beneficial end result, but you only had to spend a fraction of the time in order to get there.

What Marketing Automation Is NOT

When people hear the term “automation,” they often call to mind images of technological solutions or other IT developments that are designed to completely replace the jobs of human employees. While that may be true in an environment like a factory floor, this couldn’t be farther from reality in terms of marketing.

Marketing automation is not designed to be a replacement for your marketing team or the hard work they’re doing – it’s designed to be supplemental to the existing experience. Automation isn’t an excuse to hire one less employee, but to free up that employee’s valuable time to put to better use elsewhere within your organization. Maybe Thomas shouldn’t be spending so much of his day writing and sending out new tweets or Facebook updates every time you publish a new piece of content – maybe that should happen instantly so that Thomas can work on something a bit more important to your larger business objectives.

These are just a few of the major advantages that marketing automation is bringing to the table in terms of what the industry looks like today. By automating certain basic marketing functions, it’s enabling your employees to do better work in a more fundamental way. It gives them the ability to work “smarter, not harder,” so to speak.

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Change Your Leadership Style to Match Your Company’s Vision

thinkstockphotos-499208962Nobody likes being told what to do. It rarely matters who is doing the telling, you just feel that tension rise in your neck and a little rush of adrenaline as your inner 2-year old shouts, “You’re not the boss of me!” Then, that thought that you’re an actual adult enters your mind and you usually do what you’re told, because inevitably, the person telling you what to do is technically the boss of you in some fashion.

When it comes to getting things done in business, someone has to be told what to do, otherwise, nobody would know what to do, right? While this statement has some truth to it, there are effective ways that you can direct people without channeling your inner dictator and incurring the seething wrath of your employees.

Successful leadership styles are not the same as they were twenty years ago. Employees no longer respond favorably to top-down directives. They want a more collaborative environment where their ideas are valued. They want to feel as though they have some sort of stake in the game. If you see your company as the next Google or Zappos and want to attract and retain the talent to match, you may already have that inkling that autocratic and directive leadership styles just will not do.

Today’s employees are more responsive to a democratic and more participative leadership style, where creative thinking and individual ownership of projects is emphasized. With this type of leadership style, it is not the leader or boss who is central to the decision-making process, rather, it’s the group. Think podium dictatorship versus collaborative round-table.

For an example of this, imagine your company designs and builds laptops:

Podium Dictator calls a staff meeting and tells everyone that this year they want the new model to be something no one has ever seen before. Something game-changing. That is why this year you are going to build triangular-shaped, green laptops. Collective eye-rolling ensues and everyone files back to their desks like prisoners in a chain gang. These employees will either polish up their resumes or begin the soul-sucking task of putting a bad idea into production.

On the other side of the coin, the round-table leader asks for a meeting and describes the grand vision – the design of a game-changing laptop. Regardless of how badly this leader wants a triangular-shaped, green laptop, this leader understands that they have a creative and powerful team of designers who know what game-changing really means. This leader asks for ideas. The designers around the round table feel empowered and their creative juices start to flow. Concepts are thrown up on a white board. Truly revolutionary ideas begin to form. There may even be some green involved…

You can see the difference pretty clearly, right? The collaborative leader has just empowered the group to create while the dictator has told the group what to do. Who will have the happier employees and the better product?

This new generation of leaders is able to hire talent that fits well within this new working model. They are able to clearly articulate their vision, manage expectations, and keep the project on track within that vision. They also have the self-control to allow the process to happen with the team that they’ve built. Micromanagers need not apply. When employees feel they have more control over their working environment and schedule (within the confines of the greater vision, of course), they truly want to make the company’s vision a reality.

Frequency in Marketing: Striking a Balance Between Quantity and Quality

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As marketing professionals, we hear it time and again – one of the fastest ways to turn a prospective client into someone that wants nothing to do with your business is to contact them too many times in too short of a period. People don’t like to be bombarded with marketing materials – it makes them feel overwhelmed and can be quite off-putting. Despite this, quantity is still important, as you always want to keep your brand at the forefront of their minds. Contacting too frequently can give the perception that your materials lack quality, however, which is why striking the right balance between the two is so important.

The Google of it All

Search engine giant Google has made a number of significant changes to its algorithm in recent years, starting with Panda in 2011. These updates have regularly been designed to penalize low-quality sites that spam the Internet with content, weeding them out of the top portions of search results to be replaced with sites that are actually relevant to what Google’s own users are really looking for. Despite this, Google still places a high priority on sites that update regularly. A site that posts one blog post every day is seen as more authoritative than one that only posts once a month.

So what, exactly, is this trying to tell us when it comes to quality versus quantity?

The answer is simple: while both are important, your marketing campaigns need to be crafted with an eye on relevance and value first, everything else second. Period. End of story. Google’s own representatives have said time and again that the search engine is designed in such a way that so long as you are constantly putting well-designed, high-value content out into the world, everything else will essentially take care of itself. We’re inclined to agree, but we’re willing to take it one step further – we don’t believe that this logic begins and ends with Google.

Taking This With You Into the Print World

Even though Google’s stance on quality versus quantity exists exclusively in the digital world, it’s still a great set of best practices to take with you when crafting print marketing materials, too. By taking the rules and guidelines set forth by search engines like Google and applying them to all of your marketing materials regardless of channel, you’re building a much stronger foundation by which you can put your best foot forward to both prospecting and existing customers alike.

Essentially, just because you won’t get penalized by Google for sending a customer a print flyer through the post office twice a week doesn’t mean that you should. Google’s “rules” are built on a tremendous amount of study into things like customer preferences and buying habits. The playing field may change (as your print materials don’t affect your SEO in any way), but the logic that those guidelines were founded on remains the same. Google spent a huge amount of money figuring out that Mark from Atlanta doesn’t like it when businesses send him high volumes of low-value materials twice a week, so use what Google is trying to tell you to your advantage.

Frequency in marketing is always a delicate balance to strike. Quantity is important, as making contact too infrequently can quickly cause your brand to be forgotten by even the most loyal customers. You should never place a bigger emphasis on volume than on quality, however, which is why quality should always be your number one concern. If you focus on creating the best marketing content that you can first, everything else will fall into place pretty naturally.