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The benefits and challenges of marketing automation

By Mark Grainger

The benefits of marketing automation, or increasing your marketing automation capabilities, can be huge for your business. As we’ve written previously, adopting automated marketing solutions can increase productivity, profitability, and help you to more effectively reach your unique customers in meaningful ways. There are many benefits of marketing automation, but it can be a daunting prospect to establish, and is not without its challenges.

Whether you buy or build a marketing automation tool, it’s important to know all of the facts and learn to avoid the marketing automation fails that could befall your business if you don’t go into the process fully prepared.

The benefits of marketing automation are numerous; it frees up your team’s time, allows for better reach and tracking capabilities, and can greatly increase the revenue of both small and large businesses alike. Before throwing yourself in at the deep end though, you need to identify the marketing automation programs that suit your business and your ambitions and then learn how to ultilize them on a day-to-day basis.

Nicola Millington is the founder of FP Comms, a marketing company that focuses on building the brands of ethically conscious SMEs. In order to do that, Nicola and FPComms have become adept at showing clients the benefits of marketing automation and highlighting the platforms and programs that best suit individual needs.

“We use quite a wide breadth of systems because we work with so many different sectors. Every sector has got its audience demographic, and within each of those businesses we have to cater for those audience demographics,” explains Nicola.

“We use the normal platforms like Hootsuite to help program and schedule their social media, to things like Followers Assistant on Instagram, which helps you to manage the number of followers you have, to the likes of MailChimp or Constant Contact, which is our preferred platform. Constant Contact is a really good email automation system because it gives a more professional look. People use Mailchimp as it’s free but we like to use a higher standard from the beginning.”

Although there are plenty of platforms that are free to use (up to a point) or offer trial periods, Nicola believes that you need to pay for a more premium service to truly reap the benefits of marketing automation.

“With marketing it’s about perception as well as performance. Because we are working with clients who have the intention of always acting at the higher level, not starting with the mentality of those who think of just using freebies. Use the freebies to test the mechanism and see if it connects with the audience by all means, but using free platforms is never a long-term strategy for our clients. A platform like Constant Contact, which only gives you a 30-day free trial, starts with a strong usability, not a rudimentary level. You get to start at a higher level of quality from the beginning and that’s a massive difference. All of the platforms that we use, whether it’s Hootsuite or anything else, we use from a paid subscription level because it fulfills our needs and the needs of our clients better by giving stronger performance.”

With so many free options for marketing automation available for businesses, you would be forgiven for wondering why Nicola insists on her clients using premium solutions and platforms. As well as boosting revenue and improving success, FPComms fully believes that using paid services alters the mindset of the businesses it represents, moving them away from the ‘free marketing’ idea of social media and email use and preparing them for the next step.

“We think that these tools are just there to help you move on to the next level of growth. What happens with automation platforms too often is that people get stuck in the SME mentality, when they need to be pushed to the next level. When you’re stuck in that mentality, your business stays in the same place too.

“People try to stay within the confines of what are offered as freebies by the likes of MailChimp, so x-amount of free engagements before you have to pay for the service subscription. You should always be thinking about who your audience is, what you’re trying to achieve and go for it. Don’t be hesitant to increase that audience level because the freebie is your restriction. It shouldn’t be your restriction if you’re focused on growing your business and serving a wider audience. You should be pushing to expand that audience level quicker, and that will help you grow.”

The crux of Nicola and FPComms’ argument is that, whilst helpful in the short term, free-to-use platforms can be detrimental to a company’s growth by encouraging working to restrictions instead of pushing to reach as much of an audience as possible. “When faced with the kind of economics it takes to expand or grow, it feels like a shock,” adds Nicola. “Whereas if you’ve been growing with it as a process along the way it doesn’t feel like as much of a shock”.

Email automation is a fantastically useful tool for marketers, with a great many positive aspects. Depending on the behavior of recipients, you can plot out and action content that suits tailored customer journeys, dependent on their level of interaction. Targeting your audience at the right time and with the right messages not only boosts engagement, but also lets you nurture leads from awareness into buy-in and purchase.

CandidSky is a marketing agency based in Manchester, and the team there has been using email marketing automation for clients to great effect, as marketing manager Vicky Aitken explains: “Email automation still requires the same amount of work in setting up the emails, but it’s concentrated at the beginning of the campaign. Also initially it does take considerable time and effort to set the journey up correctly.

“At CandidSky, we’ve found that the benefits of marketing automation software are that it can free up marketeers’ time and energy. By setting up the emails in one go, more time can be spent elsewhere on creative campaigns, social media for example.”

When organizing an automated email marketing campaign however, you must still be mindful of the reactions of your target audience, as Vicky explains: “There can be an issue with multiple campaigns being scheduled. There can be a real risk of too many emails getting fired out, leaving a disgruntled contact that scrolls down to the unsubscribe link. If you are running multiple campaigns, you also have to be extremely cautious that your data has no duplicates across various email lists, or they too will be bombarded.”

One of the biggest benefits of marketing automation tools comes from reaching specifically targeted groups. Not only that, but tailoring content to each of these groups can pay huge dividends with a minimum of time-consuming work.

Origym is a center of sporting excellence which specializes in providing courses and qualifications for personal trainers. Focusing on reaching those who require post-graduation support has seen Origym take a competitive lead over its rivals in the industry. As Luke Hughes, Managing Director at Origym, explains, it is a lead that has been supported by a strong reliance on marketing automation.

“Sending automated emails tailored to current students, graduates, and all of our different course strands, allow us to segment newsletters, and send relevant information to interested parties,” says Luke. “We can therefore easily send relevant job opportunities and work experience openings, for example, to the portion of our large student body who can best use that information to their advantage.”

This shrewd use of marketing automation to capitalize a need in the target audience is something that business owners and marketing heads should strive towards. For Origym, it is an approach which is allowing for horizons to be broadened with ease.

“In recent months marketing automation software has allowed us to expand the reach of our online content. By producing online resources, articles, and case studies for our blog, we have been able to transform prospects and casual readers on social media into real, tangible leads and sales. We do this in part by gathering email addresses through social media adverts, and then sending automated content to individuals we feel would best respond. This would not have been possible without a thorough marketing plan, which of course includes regular schedules of emails and newsletters.”

As you can see from the experts and business owners who have weighed in on the benefits of marketing automation above, placing your trust in software and programs that manage data and post content on your behalf can provide your business with a boost that you would otherwise struggle to achieve.

The power to create unique users, track engagement, and grow your business both naturally and autonomously is definitely something that should be embraced, but results cannot be expected to emerge overnight.

In order to really reap the benefits of marketing automation, you must be committed to learning from experience, deploying trial and error, and putting the work in to make sure the content and systems that you are automating work to their highest capacity. Marketing automation is not a quick fix to immediately boost business, but it is very often a meaningful step towards better customer engagement and profitability.

Looking to implement marketing automation in your business? Sign up to the FRG Technology Consulting blog for more hints and tips. 

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