It’s an age-old question: Just because we can, does that mean we should?
You can apply this thought exercise to almost any context, but this is perhaps no more relevant than in today’s marketing ecosystem. Here, technology has provided marketers the power to automate virtually any process or workflow from conception of ideas (such as content marketing ideas) to the execution and evaluation of campaigns.
It’s a foregone conclusion that today’s marketing managers need to work faster, more efficiently, and with increased efficacy to compete in a global, diversified marketplace. And while technology such as smartphones, apps, tablets, and other devices and software have made it easier than ever for marketers to produce, publish, monitor, and evaluate content on nearly a 24/7 basis, the question must be asked:At what point does the shift toward automation and away from personalization do we see diminishing returns? Should marketing professionals be wary of how much they rely on automation in terms of engaging with potential customers or audiences?
It would be naïve to suggest automation has completely destroyed the human element in reaching and motivating audiences or customers, but it would also be just as short-sighted to say personalization is a dinosaur-era component of successful marketing in 2020. The trick is to identify the concrete benefits of both personalization and automation and then create the perfect blend of each to connect and resonate with consumers in the most effective way possible.
The case for automation in marketing
At the 40,000-foot view, marketing automation can best be described as any resource, tool, or solution that gives companies the power to streamline marketing workflows or processes to increase the efficiency of marketing budgets, experience more robust ROI, and grow their footprint in their given industry or field. This, of course, also includes analytics and reporting tools that allow marketers to analyze and share results to tell a more compelling and convincing story through data.
Today, marketing automation includes a wide variety of elements, from automated email marketing to social media publishing suites to text message-based software. If we understand that creating content and messaging is perhaps easier than it’s ever been, then the overarching case for automation in marketing resides in allowing your company to influence as vast and varied consumer base as possible with much less financial investment, time, and manpower.
Part and parcel to the holistic argument for marketing automation, marketing managers can also experience significant advantages via:
- Scalability: If lucky, companies encounter a significant problem as their marketing campaigns (and the success thereof) grows: marketing needs and demands quickly outgrow the resources and capabilities a company currently possesses. This is where marketing automation saves the day in terms of helping you scale your marketing efforts and campaigns to meet your current customer needs with relatively few challenges or learning-curves. Automated marketing solutions that can service your short and long-term growth not only allow you to support your customer needs today, but they also allow you to better position yourself for tomorrow’s customers by providing peace of mind that you’re equipped to handle increased, nuanced, or complex workloads.
- Enhanced collaboration between sales and marketing teams: If not necessarily at odds, the sales and marketing teams often have a lukewarm relationship at best. The disconnect between the two often stems from the nebulous nature of the buyer’s journey from the lead stage to the conversion stage – each side claiming the other has dropped the ball at some point. Marketing automation solutions provide greater end-to-end visibility where both the sales and marketing teams can track the buyer’s journey, understand the obstacles along the way, and work collaboratively to ensure customers move through the pipeline feeling well-served by the company at-large.
- Analytical insights and forecasts: Even the most creative-minded marketer understands we live in a data-driven world and industry. Numbers don’t lie, and marketing managers rely on detailed reporting and analytics to evaluate the success of a campaign and demonstrate to customers their innovative approaches to content indeed move the needle. Marketing automation gives companies real-time insight into campaign performance, overall spend, and a bar with which to judge concurrent campaigns, but they also offer predictive analytics where marketers can better understand how a campaign will perform BEFORE it’s even launched.
What about the human element?
OK, Mr. or Mrs. Marketing Manager, you have the latest and greatest marketing software solution at your fingertips. You’ve done the training, the on-boarding, the research, and now you’re set to execute the most effective marketing campaigns your company has ever seen with just a few keystrokes or mouse-clicks. Just plug and play and let the algorithms take over, right?
No, not quite. Because even though marketing automation helps you essentially increase the volume or reach of your voice, you can’t forget that today’s customer still likes to be addressed personally as opposed to a greeting tag your email automation software creates.
Think about this example: Remember going to the gift shop at a museum or zoo and seeing racks of zoo-branded keychains with first names on them? Remember feeling oddly excited when you found a keychain with your name on it? Weren’t you more likely to buy a zoo-branded keychain with your name on it than that same keychain without your name? This is a super-basic example, but you get the idea that humans are conditioned to respond better to messages that make us feel like individuals rather than a nameless mass.
For this reason, as well as several others, you still need to emphasize personalization and the human element of marketing if you want your campaigns to succeed in today’s automated world.
- Better content creation: Understanding your audience on a personal level gives you the insight to create content that is more suited to them. Yes, this sounds basic, but so many of the misfires in marketing campaigns stems from the one-size-fits-all mentality that marketing managers can fall into. While automation may help you better identify specific audiences or segments of your consumer base, personalizing the content relative to those audiences is where the rubber meets the road with it comes to a campaign.
- Deeper relationships with customers: If you demonstrate you understand your customers and can effectively personalize marketing campaigns to their needs, challenges, and opportunities, the relationship with that customer deepens, which likely provides more collaboration opportunities down the road. Also, given the proliferation of professional networking websites like LinkedIn, creating a meaningful relationship with a customer can open up new opportunities via referrals, word of mouth, and networking.
- Gives your company an identity or face: If today’s thriving cottage industry via sites like Etsy or others has demonstrated anything, it’s that the average consumer would instead buy products or services from a company with an identity or face as opposed to a nameless conglomerate. Personalization of your marketing content makes your consumers feel more connected to your products and services and makes them feel ‘at-home’ when browsing your website, engaging with your social media, or working with your sales and product team to complete transactions.
Blending automation and personalization
It’s easy to think of automation and personalization in today’s marketing landscape as two distinct arenas; in fact, where marketing managers most often get into trouble is by conceiving automation and personalization as a zero-sum game where only one of the two can reign supreme. But the truth more closely resembles a blend of both automation (the tools, the power, the amplification) and personalization (demonstrating your ability to truly know and understand the customer) that rules the day. While automation helps companies identify new audiences, place them in more accurate and definable buckets, and engage with them more efficiently, personalization of content and messaging is what coaxes the consumer through the buyer’s journey.
If automation is the vehicle in which a customer travels, personalization is the driver ferrying the customer from Point A to Point B, and companies need both a robust, reliable vehicle and skilled, personable driver for successful passage.