What is marketing automation?

By Stellan Björnesjö

What is marketing automation?

If you're in marketing, you've probably heard of marketing automation. Many have been intrigued by the "automation" part. Is it possible to automate certain things and never have to care about them again? The answer is yes in one way and no in another, and if you do it well you'll have more to do's than ever before. In this article, we'll explore the subject of what marketing automation is and isn't, and why - despite its alluring name - it's not for laggards.


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Definitions of marketing automation

The answer to the question "what is marketing automation?" isn't easy to capture in one or two sentences, but we've collected a few examples of how leading sources are defining it. Here are the most illustrative and comprehensive definitions we've found:

  • "Marketing automation is a process where technology is used to automate several repetitive tasks that are undertaken on a regular basis in a marketing campaign." – Wikipedia
  • "Marketing automation is a category of technology that allows companies to streamline, automate, and measure marketing tasks and workflows, so they can increase operational efficiency and grow revenue faster." – Marketo
  • "Marketing automation is simply planning, launching, and measuring the results of marketing campaigns and marketing efforts across different channels." – Adobe
  • "At its best, marketing automation is software and tactics that allow companies to buy and sell like Amazon – that is, to nurture prospects with highly personalised, useful content that helps convert prospects to customers and turn customers into delighted customers." – Hubspot

The myths vs the facts

The definitions tend to underscore several myths centred around the "automation" part. Let's break down some of those myths:

Marketing automation generates leads (it doesn't)

A common misconception is that marketing automation software can "automate lead generation"; you set it up and leads will come flowing in. This misconception, unfortunately, leaves many marketers with advanced tools that automate the middle of their funnel, but no solution for capturing new leads to nurture in the first place.

Marketing automation is for spamming people (you shouldn't)

Of course, marketing automation can be misused. However, if you're using a marketing automation platform to blast advertising messages towards individuals you have absolutely no relationship whatsoever, the problem is your approach, not the methodology or the technology. 

Marketing automation is robotic (it's not if you do it right)

When automating marketing, it's easy to apply a "one size fits all" approach and send for example a series of standardised but seemingly personal sales emails to a person who probably didn't want it, expect it and can see right through it. This type of "fake personalisation" is counter-productive, but marketing automation per se isn't responsible for the poor execution. Instead, done right, marketing automation will enable marketers to adapt based on an individual's specific user profile. 

For example, you can alter the messaging to say "Hi Anna, would you like to book a meeting with one of our experts?" when Anna is identified by name, is a qualified lead, and her company is on the list of target accounts. For unknown or unqualified contacts, the messaging is more generic and adapted to the earlier stages of the funnel to avoid the "fake personalisation" trap.

So what is it that marketing automation does?

To answer this question, we have to broaden our perspective. When a company first starts, the number of prospects are low, and interactions are often personal. You work towards getting to know all of your potential customers personally. As the business grows, it starts to get increasingly difficult to build new 1:1 relationships, so there is a need for scalable marketing (and sales). That's when marketing automation comes in.

In more detail, please

Ultimately, marketing (and sales) should generate more revenue for your company. The focus of marketing needs to be to drive traffic to our .com/.xx, convert that traffic into leads and (assist sales in) closing those leads into customers. Where marketing automation makes a difference is the conversion and closure stages of this process.

Helps marketers increase sales qualified leads (SQLs)

In the conversion and closure stages, focus from the company's perspective is moving leads from the top of the marketing funnel through to being sales-ready leads (a.k.a. Sales Qualified Leads, SQLs) at the bottom of the funnel. Prospects that have shown interest in our brand receive targeted content and messages designed first to build trust, and then conviction that we are the preferred choice. Marketing automation helps guide the prospect from first interest through to the sales process (and with coordination between marketing and sales can assist during the sales process too).

Why automation isn't for lazy people

Automating manufacturing processes shifts jobs away from the assembly line to the design, configuration, monitoring and maintenance of robots. Implementing a marketing automation system will have the same transformational impact on the marketing department; it will shift focus and efforts to tasks related to the automation, making you and your marketing organisation more productive. To increase productivity or efficiency hence doesn't automatically mean fewer resources needed in the marketing department or that you can sit back and relax. On the contrary, done well more resources will be needed than ever before, and those resources won't work with manual tasks but rather higher-value undertakings driven by the opportunities of automation.

Want to know more? Through our marketing automation guide: what, why, when and how to use it you'll find much more to read!

Stellan Björnesjö
Online Strategist at Zooma since 2012. 15+ years of experience as a manager, business developer and specialist within online and e-commerce.
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