What’s the first thing you think about when you picture ‘marketing automation’? Is it robots taking over human tasks? Automated emails? Workflows? Automated campaigns? And where does a good story fit into all of this? We explain what marketing automation is, various approaches to it, and how it can save time – while improving lead generation, internal communication, and sales close rates.
Estimated reading time: 8 minutes, 1 second
Let’s start at the beginning: a definition of marketing automation
Put simply, Marketing automation is: “A process where technology is used to automate several, repetitive tasks, that are undertaken on a regular basis, in a marketing campaign”. Sounds simple enough; if you use any kind of technology to prevent having to do repetitive marketing tasks, that’s marketing automation. Theoretically, this could apply to everything from sending out mass emails, to printing a whole bunch of envelopes for snail mail, to using mail merges.
However, that’s not what we mean when we think about marketing automation. As you probably already know, we’re HubSpot fans. It’s not only because their marketing automation tool is designed, first and foremost, to make any routine marketing process simpler and more repeatable; it’s also because once you’ve started using their automation platform, it’s so much easier to get information out again. In turn, this information can make marketers more savvy about what they choose to do (or not do) by hand, and what they choose to automate in future.
Marketing automation saves time
One frequently cited reason for moving to any automation platform is the ability to save time. Marketing automation is no exception. According to email marketing automation provider, Adestra, “74% of respondents claimed that the time they save by automating their marketing process is the biggest benefit they experience. A powerful MAS (Marketing Automation Software) allows marketers to accomplish two or three times as much as they could without a system in place—if not more.”
It does much more too:
80% of marketers using automation software generate more leads. (LinkedIn, 2016) ( Source)
75% of all businesses that use a marketing automation solution see a positive ROI within the first year. ( Source)
80% of marketing automation users saw their number of leads increase, and 77% saw the number of conversions increase. (VB Insight, 2015) ( Source)
So yes, marketing automation software is a bit of a no-brainer. But, like any tool – it’s not what you have, it’s what you do with it that counts.
An award-winning automation example
One of our clients, Suzuki, has won multiple awards thanks to the marketing intelligence we’ve helped them apply to their business. We built them an impressive marketing engine, that ticks away beneath the hood. It hasn’t just improved their marketing and sales processes, it has actually delivered concrete results.
Now the question, how did this automation work? Not only did we automate their emails,improve their campaigns, and build workflows [if you’re not sure what these are – here’s a helpful HubSpot article], but that wasn’t all; We built a human connection between them, their customers and prospects – using automation, and the power of stories.
Automation is only as good as the stories you use
At Spitfire Inbound, we’ve teamed up across the oceans with the author, CEO, and marketing storyteller extraordinaire, Gina Balarin – these are her thoughts about why stories and marketing automation are a match made in heaven:
“How good are your customer stories?” Gina asks. “And are you using them? Hopefully, if you have happy customers who love what you do, you’re collecting those stories and using them in all your marketing – across the funnel and beyond.”
“Unfortunately, if you’re like most overwhelmed, time-poor marketers, you probably scramble to find the stories you need when a campaign comes around, but don’t have the time to seek them out and store them for future use. This is a big mistake.”
“When companies use their customer stories as the basis of their marketing, or as a way to enhance their marketing, amazing things happen; Suddenly their marketing becomes more credible and believable. After all, it’s not the company talking about how great their product or service is – their customers do it for them!”
Now, imagine if you could use your customer stories – be those case studies, recommendations, quotes, videos, written testimonials, or even blog posts – as part of your automated marketing. What would happen? Quite simply: the level of credibility would go up, your marketing content would become more human and engaging, and whatever you’re selling would feel more ‘real’ as a consequence.
While using the odd case study or customer quote in your marketing here and there is a great starting point, the real depth and breadth of human connection is amplified when you draw on your customers’ experience across the whole buyer's journey - but that means you have to:
Interview them about their experience,
Save all that information somewhere, and
Use relevant parts of those stories in appropriate context, for prospects like them.
So now you’ve got the stories, but how do you use them within your automation tools?
No matter how you define marketing automation, there’s a way to leverage the power of your customer stories in all of it.
Think it’s just emails (even though it’s so much more!)? Use snippets of customer quotes to support the argument you’re making in your email!
Think it’s all templates and workflows? Use the content you have to tell the right story, to the right person, in each template or workflow.
And, of course, use your customer stories (or elements of them - like quotes or numbers) on your website. It may even be possible to intelligently ‘drop in’ the right content for the right buyer or the right stage of their journey using smart content - another great example of automation.
Automation isn’t about doing the same things faster. It’s about getting more personalised, more efficiently:
At Spitfire Inbound, we’re quite far along the automation journey – we’re a HubSpot Gold certified agency partner after all, and we’ve been doing this for nearly half a decade – but what we’ve realised along this journey is that it isn’t enough just to automate a process without thinking about it. Automation should happen only after the research has been done, the process has been thought out, and the tests have been put in place to choose whether one approach is better than the other.
But once this effort has been put in place, it’s easy to tweak, refine, and improve the processes. Then things simply improve over time. We like to use automation to build better, more personalised relationships with our prospects – just more intelligently, and at scale.
How does marketing automation work in reality? Two examples:
Using our own marketing as an example, at Spitfire Inbound we encourage our prospective customers to download a reporting template. Once they click ‘get my copy’ we could just put our response into an automated email workflow saying ‘thank you for downloading this, now contact us’. But we don’t. Instead, we’ve created 10 different emails that we can use to send to someone based on their industry, job title, lifecycle stage etc. and a human chooses which of these 10 emails are better to use.
We don’t start from scratch each time we respond – but we make a choice. Later, once we know which choice is working more effectively, we can automate it.
Another example comes from Initial, one of our clients who does an annual campaign for national handwashing day. We’ve learned to change and improve this campaign year on year, by doing iterative improvements. Thanks to our automation platform, we’ve already got the fundamental processes and infrastructure in place to run the campaign effectively, meaning we can tweak the messaging each time we do it.
Using automation tools allows us to customise the content, the messaging, and the angle. And, because we’re using automation tools, we are able to analyse what we did and see what worked, what didn’t, and why.
In conclusion: storytelling, humans and automation
When you combine an in-depth knowledge of customers with technology and stories, the power is almost unbelievable!
Automation templates can keep prospects engaged, so they are intrigued to read each new chapter as they go through their own journey. This helps us evolve their engagement – from a cold prospect to a hot lead using intelligence like segmentation – and make it personal. At Spitfire we extensively utilise smart content, list segmentation, templates, sequences, and workflows – all part of the automation tools available through HubSpot.
In this way, automation can enable hyper-personalisation – but only when we get it right! Once we’ve done our homework, put automation tools in place, created frameworks and templates, tested all of it, applied intelligence, and – most importantly – used real-life stories as part of that marketing, the result is amazing human interactions, and great sales conversions.
Let’s end off with a great example about how our award-winning customer uses automation.
Every year, on the anniversary of their new car purchase, we send our Suzuki customers a ‘Happy birthday to your car’ email. It’s a great way to remind them about the annual car service, but because it’s engaging and human, we get the most amazing responses: people send us photos of their car, say thank you for thinking of them, tell us their car’s name, or even explain why they’re sad that they’ve sold their car – but tell us how much they love the Suzuki brand.
None of these real, human engagements would be possible without the thought, care and – perhaps even love – we put into the automation process. And that’s the power of automation and storytelling, when it’s done right.
Together, they’re a match made in heaven.
Want to make the most out of your marketing automation efforts? Use our Reporting Template to keep track of valuable metrics in your marketing plan.