Ultimate guide to marketing automation

What sets winning businesses apart from the rest?

While there could be a number of factors, a common thread is marketing automation.

After all, 40% of companies claim to have increased revenues, and 77% of them also saw higher conversion rates because of marketing automation.

Having said that, even today thousands of businesses rely solely on email marketing to generate results. They send out emails to everyone on their list hoping the messaging resonates with some and that they will then make a purchase.

Does it work?

It may in a few cases, but usually you end up marketing to someone who is not interested in what you are sharing, or worse, you could be annoying your list and causing them to unsubscribe or mark it as spam.

This is where marketing automation can help. It can allow you to nurture your leads through the entire buying process, delivering targeted personalized messages that address their concerns and needs. In other words, effective marketing automation takes into account the changing needs of your customers, their behaviors and their interactions with you across all your marketing channels. This gives you the context you need to better understand a customer or prospect’s challenges and how to guide them down the funnel.

So what is marketing automation?

Marketing automation refers to the tools and tactics used to optimize and automate marketing actions that are often quite repetitive such as emails, social media and other website actions. The tools and technology that automate these functions make performing these tasks easier.

A simple example of marketing automation could look like this:

  • You send an email invitation to a targeted list of people to download a new ebook.
  • You send a thank you email to all the people that downloaded that ebook.
  • A few days later, you follow up with those who downloaded the ebook and offer them a case study related to the same topic.
  • When someone downloads the case study, the contact is flagged as a qualified lead for your sales team so that they can follow up with them.

To create effective marketing automation, you should collect data from multiple channels. Then use the same channels to send the marketing message as well. In other words, it utilizes the different channels to influence a buyer’s decision.

What types of automation do companies engage in to build a competitive edge?

In this guide, we’ll go through 5 key areas where successful businesses use marketing automation.

  1. To scale the personalization of messages
  2. To scale engagement and consistency
  3. To segment customers and leads
  4. For consistency in communication
  5. For lead generation and revenue

Personalization

WP Curve welcome emailPerhaps you have had this experience – upon signing up for a service or product, you probably have received a personalized welcome email. Netflix, for example, sends out an email with a list of suggested movies to watch based on your preferences.

You could send individual, personalized emails when you first start out and deal with a few clients. However, as those client numbers steadily increase, it will become difficult if not impossible to reach out to every single customer.

This is where marketing automation can help. In automating email messages, you can send out emails that are personalized at scale.

For example, at WP Curve, we currently send out this welcome email.

Tips

Use the recipient’s name – A customer’s name is one of the easiest pieces of information to gather. So customize your messages with their name.

Segment your list – Use the information gathered to identify separate buyer personas and segment the list accordingly to personalize the messaging.

Continue to gather data – As you define your segments, continue to collect data and information about your leads and customers to further refine your processes.

Be responsive on social media – People are taking to social media platforms to research and inform themselves before making a purchasing decision, so don’t overlook social media activity – be ready to respond to questions and provide the best content to fans and followers.

Create communities – Consider creating communities around topics that are of interest to your target audiences. Ask your existing customers which communities they would like to be added to and distribute relevant content to those communities. This helps create an element of exclusivity and personalization. You can use Google+ circles and LinkedIn groups for this.

Tools

Streak – Streak provides a CRM function within Gmail. This makes it great for connecting with people who will likely have an interest in your content. It also helps automate personalized responses to individual emails.

Nimble – This is a social interaction tool that also provides CRM functions. You can use the browser extension to discover all the social media networks of an individual and pull them all into the record of that person on Nimble. You can also sync it with your calendar to better manage your meetings and build relationships with leads and customers.

Intercom – This widely used tool shows you who is using the tools and enables you to connect with them by using behavior-based emails and messages. In other words, it enables you to reach leads and customers promptly with messages that are relevant for the leads’/customers’ context.

Building engagement

Personalizing messages based on actions your customers take is a great way for your business to engage and connect with them in a context that is relevant to them.

Twitter followersYou can trigger personalized messages based on a whole range of customer actions and can reach people at the time they are needed, thus making the messages feel a lot more in tune with the customers’ needs and less robotic.

For example, Twitter provides an email with suggestions of people to follow based on those who have followed you recently.

Another use of automation comes into play in building relationships. The fact is relationships build over time, and it can be hard to find the time to build one-on-one relationships with each of your prospects and customers.

drip-campaign-for-nurturingEmail drip campaigns can help with this. They are essentially a series of emails scheduled to be sent out once someone subscribes to a particular resource or giveaway.

Drip campaigns have been used successfully by a number of companies. In fact, Emma found that relevant emails drive 18 times the revenue and generate 119% higher click rates than broadcast messages.

The image on the right is an example of the flow of a sales nurture campaign. The idea behind such a campaign is to continue to stay in touch with a prospect and educate them, even if they are not ready for a purchase at present. It allows the person to build rapport with the prospect and help stay top of mind.

Another way to leverage automation is with receipts and other transactional emails, which we covered in our post on smarter transactional emails.

Tips:

Introduce yourself: In the first message, a customer receives an introduction to yourself to make it feel like the start of a conversation as opposed to a broadcast.

Be friendly – Using business language in your messages can be a default way of creating messages but can sound official or robotic to a customer. So consider using the kind of language that you would use to talk to a friend or colleague to create a more open and friendly way of communicating.

Don’t automate everything – Sending non-automated messages can also work well. So consider checking in with customers from time to time.

Use names – People like the sound of their own name, so use it in your messages.

Use photos – Humanize your messages with photos of you and your team and even bios.

Invite questions – Ask questions or invite replies in your receipts or messages to show you really want to connect with your customers and cater to their needs.

Tools

Autoresponders: Most email marketing services have an autoresponder feature which you can use to send trigger-based emails. We talk about out lead nurture sequence in this post.

Intercom: This tool helps you communicate with your customers at scale via your website, apps and email. You can create trigger-based messages based on actions customers take.

Segmentation of leads and customers

A tough challenge that most marketers face is understanding the customers and subscribers in their database.

A good place to start is to group your contacts by similar characteristics and then build out a strategy for each group. This isn’t an easy task and requires tools as well as a framework to do the following:

  • Define the topics and tone of emails you send
  • Plan your content strategy for each segment
  • Craft and optimize the messaging that appears on your landing pages.

Using buyer personas and lifecycle stage information will help provide the information you need to segment your list.

Tips:

Start simple – If you are starting out, keep it simple by identifying a few important stages in your funnel and 1-2 personas. You can over time add more stages or personas as you discover what is working well for you.

Nurture your relationships – Keep a focus on initiating and maintaining relationships with your audience. Your segmentation and automation processes need to aid these relationships and the delivery of high-value content to your audience.

Look beyond the inbox – While segmenting your email list audience is a good place to start, your customers are interacting across all sorts of channels. So develop a strategy that serves up relevant content across the channels each audience segment favors.

Move people down the funnel – Not all automation will be a complete solution in itself. Instead, use it to move people further down the funnel. Multiple engagements and workflows may be required to nurture them into a customer.

Tools:

LeadPages – Landing pages are critical to growing your email list and segmenting them. LeadPages offers an easily customizable solution to creating landing pages that sync with a number of email marketing providers without much of a learning curve or coding. They offer lots of templates for a variety of purposes and host the pages on fast servers.

Infusionsoft – At WP Curve, we use Infusionsoft for our customer segmentation strategy which we cover in this post.

Engagement and consistency

Engagement and consistency of messaging is a key part of social media success, especially if you want to break through the noise. However, managing social media channels can be a time-consuming affair especially if you are active on a number of social media platforms. Automation, however, can make this process easy.

How?

Instead of logging into each platform every few hours to post an update, you can gather all your content for the next few days or weeks, load them into your social media automation tool, and schedule them to be posted.

Tips:

Post at the right time – When scheduling your posts, try to find the best time to post so that it is relevant to your audience when they receive it and so that most of your audience is on the platform at the time of publishing.

Customize posts – Consider the platform on which you are posting and expectations of your audience. Apart from the nuances of each platform, your audience can have different interests and expectations, so customize your posts accordingly.

Humanize your posts – Showing a side of yourself via your social media posts can be a great way to humanize your messages. For example, this post from Derek Halpern:

Tools:

Buffer

Tools like Buffer make the process of scheduling and finding the best times to post to your audience really easy.

Hootsuite

This is another great tool that we use as part of our tool set.

Lead generation

how-to-generate-leads-with-marketing-automationThe more leads you generate, more potential prospects will become customers. In turn, more revenue is generated. However, managing your funnel can be time-consuming the more complex it is.

Automation can help provide a solution to this challenge by reducing the time taken to respond to leads and to segment your leads. The infographic below covers 4 key areas to optimizing your lead generation efforts:

  • Lead scoring to improve sales activity
  • Personalized emails
  • Customized landing pages
  • Personalization and A/B testing.

Tips:

Use auto-responders – While email auto responders have been used for a while and continue to be effective, you can also use auto-responders thanks to Zapier. For instance, if a person signs up via your Twitter lead generation card, you can send the person a thank-you tweet.

Leverage your copy – For your lead generation efforts to be successful, it needs to help build a connection with your audience. The best way to do that is through your copy on your landing pages and ads. Think about how you can connect with your audience on an emotional level.

Customize your landing pages – Having landing pages that address the specific needs of your targeted audience is essential to improve your conversion rates. Automating the creation of landing pages while focusing on copy and testing will make your processes more efficient. Tools like LeadPages, Unbounce and Instapages can help with this.

Tools:

Facebook lead ads – This is a great way to target high quality leads without them having to leave Facebook. The lead generation forms are pre-filled with the customer’s Facebook data, and all the user has to do is hit the submit button.

They can work well because:

  • It pulls data that Facebook has already collected
  • You do not need to build a landing page or sign up form
  • The process puts fewer steps between your audience and signing up without leaving the platform.

Twitter lead generation card – This is an underused way to collect leads. This card also allows customers to sign up directly from Twitter. All the user has to do is say yes to the offer, and Twitter then pulls the users information for the optin process to be completed.

ZapsZapier allows you to amplify your content and messages while freeing up your time. It integrates with over 400 web apps, so you are likely to find a few ways to work smarter. We have written about how we use it for team task automation, and Courtney Seiter has written about Zapier hacks for marketers in this post.

Unbounce – This is another option for creating landing pages which we have covered in this post.

Ontrapages – This is another solution for creating landing pages. While there is more of a learning curve compared to LeadPages, it offers a high level of customization and lots of templates. Custom URL’s can be used for WordPress sites only.

Conversion funnels

We have covered a number of ways to get started with marketing automation. However, to be effective, you need to develop a marketing approach that effectively integrates multiple channels. Prospects will rarely come to your site and make a purchase on the first visit. They tend to be research driven and want lots of information and the time to make educated decisions.

Your job is to guide them through this journey, which can span a few months depending on the nature of the product or service. This is where marketing automation is crucial, in that it enables the marketer to maintain a connection with their prospects over the long term. Understanding your businesses buy cycle by deconstructing the paths that people are taking to make a purchase will help put together your conversion funnel.

Conversion funnels essentially consist of 5 critical stages – awareness, engagement, consideration, conversion and retention.

By combining email, social media and landing page automation, you can create automated conversion funnels.

For example, say you wanted to run a webinar on a dog training course.

You could schedule a bunch of tweets a week before the event and use automated direct messages to send to new followers about the webinar.

People who come to your registration page can sign up for the webinar. Upon signing up, you can tag them with a hidden field and have an autoresponder send out the first in a series of emails about the course.

They can then show up for the webinar or watch a replay where you introduce them to the course and your special offer. Even if they choose not to buy the course, you still have the subscribers on your email list where you can continue to send them new content to engage them till the next promotion.

Tips

Ask – Before deciding what to automate, consider asking qualitative research questions to understand trends you see in your data.

Design user flows – Churn is inevitable, but reducing it at each stage is important and so designing user flows is important.

Test and measure – Test your ideas by measuring, iterating and repeating. Set up your analytics to track performance. Once you have optimized the flow, think about automating it.

Tools

Click funnels – Offers the ability to set up conversion funnels like in the example above with landing page templates that are easily customizable and that integrate with Stripe. Conversion metrics show you where in the funnel issues lie and how many visitors view each page.

Ontraport – Offers CRM features, an email marketing platform coupled with apps to manage your account, and integrations with popular services like Facebook and Ultracart.

Infusionsoft – This is another option for designing and building out your conversion funnels. It is an integrated email marketing platform with the tools for lead scoring, web tracking and more. We have covered details of using it in this post on building your email list and these podcasts on personalized marketing and increasing sales with targeted emails.

Over to you

So there you have it, with the key areas that we have covered above, you can build your own marketing automation campaigns. To help you scale your content marketing efforts, we have also put together 6 simple tools that you can download below.

what is marketing automation

About

Vinay is the content marketing manager for WP Curve. Follow him @wpcurve

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