We've been hearing a lot lately about Marketing Automation and how businesses can provide better web experiences to their customers through its use. But what is Marketing Automation? A feature? A platform? We asked our panel this very question and received some very interesting responses.

The Question

What exactly is Marketing Automation -- a feature or platform?

The Responses

Tom Wentworth - Acquia

TomWentworth.jpgTom Wentworth is the chief marketing officer at Acquia, responsible for global marketing strategy and execution. He has spent most of his 18 year career in the web content management, most recently at Ektron where he served as chief marketing officer. Follow him on Twitter and read his Acquia blog on content management and digital marketing.

Here's how I think about a platform -- you work in a platform. A platform is designed for a specific business function like marketing, sales, HR, finance, etc. Platforms connect to other platforms, so integration is key.

The important part of the definition is that a platform is something you use every day, and plays a critical part in the success of your role. For example, the Acquia marketing team lives inside of Marketo, setting up programs, writing emails, scoring leads and analyzing results. Marketo is the first application we open in the morning and the last we close at the end of the day. It plays a pivotal role in making sure we're passing the best leads to sales at the right time, while nurturing our earlier stage prospects.

Marketo integrates with Salesforce.com, which holds all of our lead and customer data. And we've tied Marketo to our web content management system (Drupal, of course!) in order to collect leads from form submissions on the website. Marketo, and marketing automation platforms in general, are designed to work the way marketers think and work. Just like Salesforce is designed for Sales and Workday is designed for HR and Finance.

WCM vendors adding lightweight marketing automation features to existing products are doing so to "check the box", meaning they are able to answer an RFP response with "yes, we do that" without regard for the actual usefulness of the feature. WCM vendors will often claim that you'll "only use 20% of the product anyway", which underestimates the importance and sophistication of marketing. I believe that marketers are more comfortable with technology than ever before, and don't want to be locked into a set of features they can't grow with over time.

The main issue for feature-oriented approaches from WCM vendors is they miss the mark on the user experience. Marketers work differently than content managers, and require a user experience that's fit for purpose. Marketers think in terms of programs, campaigns, and results. Compare the user experience of a platform like Marketo or HubSpot to the WCM vendor offerings and the "platform vs. feature" difference is clear.

As a CMO, I see marketing automation as one of the most important investments a company can make to grow revenue. Don't fall into the trap of evaluating products using "feature checklists", instead make platform investments that give your company the greatest chance to innovate and succeed over the long term.

Jon Miller - Marketo

jon-miller.jpgJon leads strategy and execution for all aspects of Marketo's thought leadership and content marketing programs. Before co-founding Marketo, Jon was Vice President of Product Marketing at Epiphany. He is the author of the comprehensive handbook, The Definitive Guide to Marketing Automation. In 2010, The CMO Institute named Jon a Top 10 CMO for companies with under US$ 250 million in revenue.

Without question, Marketing Automation is a platform.

Just take a look at what we offer at Marketo. First of all, every customer organization has an individual database that stores customer and prospect behavior and demographics. From contacting for the first time to maintaining customer loyalty, that data is securely stored on our platform's database. That data powers a workflow engine that lets marketers manage complex campaigns across online and offline channels. And we have an analytics engine that leverages a very large volume of data in a way that allows our customers to see deep analysis of which campaigns are working and which aren't.