Marketing automation: no substitute for common sense.

I have been spending a lot of time recently looking at marketing automation. Overall, I have been pretty impressed with what I have seen. These applications have developed extremely rapidly over the past few years in both usability and intelligence. The power that marketing automation solutions such as Marketo, Eloqua and Aprimo now place in the hands of marketeers is fantastic. They allow us to roll out campaigns faster than ever before, nurture leads and effectively directly measure return on investment on marketing programs without masses of manual labour and endless spreadsheets.

The long term vision of many of these solutions is to move business-to-business marketing on to a new plain entirely: revenue performance management or, in layman’s terms ‘managing a marketing pipeline just like a sales pipeline’. For every marketeer who has ever struggled to prove the return on investment for their marketing dollars, this promises to be the Holy Grail.

Once implemented, companies should be able to forecast the marketing activity required to generate sufficient incremental sales. Marketing ceases to be a cost center and finally gets the recognition it deserves as a contributor to top line growth, which is surely what any marketeers worth his or her salt really craves.

Despite this, I can see how marketing automation could become a victim of its own success, if it is implemented without strong marketing leadership, for two reasons:

  1. The reporting that it provides is, by its very nature, retrospective. The temptation to keep repeating campaigns that ‘worked well last time’ becomes very strong, because one of the key features of automation is, of course, repeatability. Campaign reporting is a powerful tool, but it must always be allied to understanding of the market and the major trends during marketing planning.
  2. The elements that marketing automation solutions can measure become the only elements considered when deploying marketing programs. The output of any program is reduced to an email, a landing page and a white paper – because they are the things that we can directly measure quickly. Other potentially more effective traditional channels to communicate our messages are ignored because they don’t provide us with the instant gratification of a click-through.

The danger is that we become obsessed with measurability and focusing all of our efforts on the programs that can be directly deployed through marketing automation, to the detriment of investment in other aspects of the marketing process. Which is great in the short term, but we may find that neglecting other important elements, such as brand investment and sales enabling leaves buyers increasingly unaware of why they would even want to engage with our companies and sellers unable to deal with those customers when they do.

The strongest B2B marketeers will have the backbone to stand up for the programs that add long-term strategic value to their business, not just those things that can be measured directly.  If awareness of what separates your business from the crowd is low, then the most elegantly crafted automated marketing programs are unlikely to help you succeed.

Marketing automation has the potential to massively strengthen the deployment and measurement of marketing strategy: but it shouldn’t BECOME your marketing strategy. It’s vital that we, as professional marketeers, are constantly proving our value to our organizations in terms of top line contribution whenever we can. But we shouldn’t forget that not everything that has value can be measured in numbers. Marketing automation is no substitute for common sense.

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6 thoughts on “Marketing automation: no substitute for common sense.

  1. Sony Joseph says:

    Completely agree with you on this…
    Marketing Automation should aid in marketing but should never become the marketing strategy or sole mode of marketing.
    Innovative concepts may not yield quantifiable immediate results but if it enhances the brand value it increases profitability in the long run.

  2. Great comments. Marketing Automation indeed is NOT a strategy. It is a tactical tool that can give you strategic advantage from information superiority.

    Not everyone with the title “marketer” within an organization is qualified to take on a marketing automation project. It takes careful planning, design, implementation, configuration, and execution.

    And then you have to analyze, share, and act upon the data it can provide. Some marketers will never get this. Some will. Like any IT platform implementation, there are many obstacles to success, from executive buy-in to training of users.

    But the marketers who “get it” and have the systems analysis, linguistic, and number crunching skills to deploy Marketing Automation will transform their organization.

  3. davidburnand says:

    Thanks for the comments, gents! I completely agree with you both.

    Joseph’s point is very interesting. I also think that a marketing automation implementation is probably one of the trickiest IT projects a company can embark upon, because it involves so many parties and demands that a lot of people come out of their comfort zones in order for it to succeed. Sales need to place greater trust in Marketing to communicate with ‘their’ customers and IT has to open its data sets up to people who are often not renowned for being data savvy in many cases. It needs a particular type of skill set within Marketing to make that work.

  4. Hi David, like the post – especially as marketing automation is so often presented as a panacea. Suspect the automation of the marketing production process is a more transformative change for a wider range of businesses and sectors. Although I would say that!
    Look fwd to hearing you at MediaExpo.
    cheers, Rob (from @CodeWorldwide)

  5. John Watton says:

    Lets not forget MA is becoming so popular because for many B2B marketers its their first chance to inject some science into their marketing. B2B marketers have, as a profession, been woefully bad at measurement, ROI and business value. So I think there’s no harm at getting too scientific. I think it’s good to redress the balance of too much fluff, vagary and subjectivity. That said, I agree you need a balance. And what doesn’t change is the “boring” stuff that always underpins great marketing – planning, insight, an appreciation of the customer and ultimately a blend of art & science.


    • davidburnand says:

      Thanks for the comment, John! I totally agree with your comments – it’s fascinating to see how marketing automation is rebalancing the conversation between sales and marketing. We are in the middle of our roll-out planning at the moment and our best flag bearers are the Sales Operations team: they recognise that there is value in the level of measurability and intelligence that Marketing will be able to provide them

      It’s a long time since I wrote this article, but one of the interesting things is how some of the leading vendors have also recognised some of the things that I pointed out: that they needed to widen out their solutions beyond email and landing pages. A lot of them are now using cloud connectors to webinar hosting companies and social media to achieve exactly that.

      Ultimately, so many companies are now rolling out automation that it is becoming a necessity, rather than a luxury. The importance of using them creatively to differentiate marketing programs is therefore likely to grow, as organisations try and set themselves apart from their competitors.

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