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What Is Marketing Automation? Definition and Guide

Marketing automation

Imagine if you had to individually email every person who put something in their cart and then abandoned it. How many people would you have to hire just to get this essential task done? Marketing automation software was created to automate repetitive tasks that are time-consuming and rote so that the people on your team can focus on strategic work. 

What is marketing automation? 

Marketing automation is software that automates various aspects of a business’s marketing work. Capabilities differ from among different software, but most offer the ability to:

  • Create and maintain a single database of customer data
  • Automate repetitive tasks such as welcome emails and tagging shoppers
  • Create audience segments
  • Send custom messaging to different audience segments
  • Test different messaging
  • Generate analytics reports

In essence, small businesses can automate repetitive tasks associated with executing a marketing strategy. Think: personalized messaging that’s automatically sent to customers when they take certain actions, like signing up for a newsletter or putting something in their shopping cart. 

These messages are sent based on workflows, or sets of instructions, allowing businesses to deliver specific messages to customers when they do specific things. For example, say a prospective customer visits your website and signs up to receive a promo code to their email. That action might trigger a series of emails that starts with a welcome note and a discount code, but continues on for several weeks with content that educates them about your product. 

What value can a business get from marketing automation? 

Businesses get all sorts of benefits from using marketing automation—from better use of your marketing professionals to more effective marketing messaging.

  • Freedom to focus on the big tasks. By removing manual and repetitive tasks, your marketing team will have more time to focus on the aspects of their work that only a human can do. 
  • Deliver targeted messaging. Marketing automation tools allow you to segment your audience to personalize and create more relevant experiences. Imagine: A shampoo brand has a line of products specifically for frizzy hair. As soon as sweltering summer temperatures arrive in New York City, the company can automatically email existing customers with NYC shipping addresses to promote those products that tame summer frizz. 
  • Better manage leads. By having data collected and stored in a centralized location, everyone in the company can offer better customer service. For instance, when a customer writes in, anyone on your customer service team can pull up data such as their last interaction with the company and their product preferences, to give them more personalized service. 

Best practices for marketing automation

The best way to implement marketing automation is by being clear on your business goals and then finding the right type of technology to implement your strategy. Doing so allows your business to create highly relevant content, nurture prospects, and create brand loyalty. Here are some best practices to consider implementing in your small business:

  • Set specific and measurable goals. You need to be clear on exactly what you’re looking for and hoping to achieve with your marketing campaigns. For instance, a shoe designer might want to sell a minimum of 1,000 shoes per month through Instagram and Facebook campaigns.
  • Segment your audience. Different messages will land with different buyers. Having clearly defined audience segments will help you reach different types of customers with messaging or product selections tailored to them. That shoe designer might want to email customers who have previously bought running shoes to let them know about the debut of their new trail running shoe. 
  • Map the customer journey. Visualize exactly how you want your marketing campaign to work—how will customers move through your funnel toward a purchase? For example, you might envision them seeing your ad on Instagram, then visiting a landing page for a product, then signing up for a 10%-off promo code via email before finally buying. What do you want to learn at each stage? Determine how you want your audience to enter your workflow—like signing up for a free sample—then determine how and when to move them forward.
Test and refine. Knowing what isn’t working can empower you to fix it. You can keep track of how campaigns are doing by using A/B testing—trying different messaging, platforms, even email subject lines to see what will land best for your audience. The idea is to continually test and refine until you find a sweet spot in your marketing efforts.
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