A beginner’s guide to marketing automation

After content marketing, marketing automation is probably the hottest topic in B2B marketing this year. But, while the concept of marketing with valuable content is fairly intuitive, the premise of marketing automation feels far from. Marketing is hard enough, why would I want to automate it? And, what does that even mean anyway? Jason Mlicki from US marketing agency Rattleback answers your questions here.

Automation drives insight from your valuable content

If you’re an avid reader of this site, presumably you’re already predisposed towards a marketing approach based largely on educating and informing your potential clients through the use of valuable content. And, if you’ve been doing this for some time maybe you’ve discovered a rather large and frustrating gap at the heart of this model.

So, you’re monitoring your site analytics closely – you can tell which content is driving the most site traffic, what your best sources of traffic are, and which social platforms are the best places to share your content. But, the growing gap you might be seeing takes the form of the questions you can’t answer.

Questions like:

  • Specifically, who is consuming which content and when?
  • Which types of content (both topics and delivery formats) are most likely to attract your ideal clients?
  • Which valuable content is leading to the best opportunities and ultimately real revenue for your firm?

Marketing automation helps you answer all of these questions and more through user tracking.

Once a site visitor converts through a form or clicks through an email, user tracking gives you a linear view of which content they consumed and when. Unlike Google Analytics, automation gives you this information at a micro-level by connecting the data to each individual user. As a result, as a visitor moves through the buying process and eventually becomes a client, you can track that information back to the first point of entry and conversion – closing the loop on which content is most likely to lead to good opportunities and new business.

Automation helps you connect more effectively with potential clients

Have you been following Ian Brodie’s Project 10K – a very public goal of growing his email database to 10k registrants this year? It’s an interesting approach to client acquisition – let me show you first-hand how I’m growing my pool of opt-in subscribers. But, it creates an interesting question – when an email database grows to some meaningful scale, how are you managing this collection of followers?

When an opt-in database gets to this size, it very quickly becomes unwieldy to spend much, if any, time cultivating the people within it. Yet, in a perfect world, you’d like to wouldn’t you. You’d like to cultivate each and every one of these prospects personally. You’d like to share relevant content with them that’s helpful, useful and similar to the content they’ve already read. Smart marketing automation helps you do this through a combination of automated programs and lead scoring.

With automated programs you can deliver follow-on, timely content to a site visitor based on content they’ve previously consumed. Maybe you saw that a prospect downloaded a research study your firm conducted; with automated programs you can follow-up with similar content in a timely manner. And, these follow-ups can be scheduled and automated so that whether that visitor downloads your research today or 4 months from now they get additional, valuable content from you when it’s most relevant.

With lead scoring you can score site visitors based on who they are and the actions they take on your site. As a visitor accumulates points, you can establish triggers in your system to notify you when they reach a certain threshold. Over time you’ll see which content users are most likely to consume as they get closer to an inquiry. By applying points to those behaviours, you can timely identify the small group of people within your large database that warrant direct personal outreach.

Suggested Further Reading

To learn more about marketing automation, check out the following resources:

 

About the Author

Jason Mlicki

We’re grateful to our friend Jason Mlicki, Principal of U.S. based marketing agency Rattleback for this guest post. His agency consults firms on how to improve client acquisition through the use of valuable content and the development of integrated web systems. See: www.rattleback.com.

How about you? Are you thinking about automating your content marketing efforts? If you have any questions do leave them as a comment. Jason would be delighted to answer them here.

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4 Comments

  1. Hi Jason – Definitely agree that marketing automation is kind of the next frontier. And it’s becoming increasing affordable for us small guys too.

    I would say though that even at halfway toward my 10K goal, personalised nurturing of people is still somewhat possible. For every email I send out I get people replying back, thanking me or sharing their ideas and it’s still possible to reply to them all.

    If I ask a question of everyone it’s almost manageable depending on the question. I must admit I sent out an open ended question a few months ago and got so many replies it took me pretty much a full day to keep my commitment of replying to every email personally so I won’t be doing that again in a hurry!

    looking forward to your webinar series.

    Cheers

    Ian

    Reply
  2. That’s really good to know Ian. Thanks.

    As we too get bigger I can see the benefits of further automation but I guess there’s always a concern that automation will kill the human element that’s so vital. You seem to have the balance right. I certainly don’t feel ‘automated at’ with the information you send out.

    Some companies get it wrong. Check out this experience where dumb sales follow up after I downloaded a ‘free’ ebook set me ranting: http://www.valuablecontent.co.uk/should-sales-follow-up-content-marketing/. That’s not an issue with the automated aspect per se; it’s how they chose to act when the system told them I was a prospect.

    I agree that automation is the next frontier but it’s a tricky one to cross.

    What automation tools would you recommend?

    Thanks again for the comment. And good luck with Project 10K.

    Sonja

    Reply
  3. Ian,
    Thanks for the positive feedback. I think you’ve both jumped on the “automation” element of the software (for obvious reasons, given the name of the category) and the pros + cons of automating different messages to your audience. I think this element of the software has proved very beneficial to consumer companies over the past few years. Like you, I’m not entirely enamored with this element of the software and we’re treading very slowly into this process both for our agency and our clients.

    However, for professional services firms (folks that are selling advice and a service to a company or business), I actually think the “granular insight” you can derive from the tool and the different ways you can apply that insight are far more valuable. Here is a link to a blog I wrote on this subject, and below that are a few specific suggestions:
    http://www.rattleback.com/should_consulting_firms_use_marketing_automation

    1. Better Web Experiences for Your Ideal Clients.
    Because automation lets you user track individual people, you can study the behavior of the specific people who actually become your best clients (before they become your clients). Often, we’re finding that the behavior of that one person that our clients truly covet a relationship with can largely differ from the behavior of the general web population.

    When we design websites we tend to look at the behavior of the larger population. What are they most looking for? Where do they go first? Second? Third? But, in most professional service firms we really only need a handful of new clients to be successful. Really we should be designing our websites around how our ideal clients behave. What are they looking for? Where do they go first? Second? Third? Automation becomes the tool that can help us get the insight we need to do that (I’ll be writing about that later today and will post a link soon).

    2. More Relevant Experiences for Everyone
    For most small to midsized professional services firms, websites are still pretty much static experiences that are uniformly the same for most site visitors. While we’ve introduced dynamic elements (twitter feeds for instance) for the most part we’re still delivering largely the same information to everyone who visits the site. But, increasingly, web users expect more. I call this the Amazon Effect. Because Amazon knows so much about me based on things I’ve looked at or purchased in the past, it can largely drive my web experience every time I visit. I know every site I visit is tracking me, and I’m starting to expect that they’re going to use that information to deliver me some value.

    In the next few years, I think automation will make elements of this possible for midsized firms and possibly even small firms. We’re already capable of delivering Smart Calls-to-Action on the sites we build that ensure that no site visitor will see the same call-to-action twice. The next step is really to apply this thinking to the “relevant content” of a site. So, you read our article on Positioning Your Professional Services Firm? You, might also like the research study we did on the same topic….You already downloaded that, well then let me offer you the webinar we did on the same topic….and, we can do that all directly on the site page while the visitor is there (rather than through email after the fact).

    I hope this helps. Thanks, Sonja, for allowing me to contribute to the Valuable Content community.
    Cheers,
    Jason

    Reply
  4. Now THAT is powerful Jason, and really does add significant value to the vistor or repeat visitor – and therefore to the professional services firm. You’ve opened my eyes. Thank you.

    Reply

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