The goal of marketing automation was originally to help eradicate repeatable tasks. The idea being that if marketers could spend more time on other tasks, like planning and strategy, creative idea generation, product development and analytics, then there would be a better return on the marketing investment.

But the last three to four years has seen a dramatic shift in the way that people engage with brands. In fact, we used to call them “consumers” because they consumed our products -- but now they consume our brands. And increasingly this consumption happens online.

From Four Walls to Multi-Channel

It used to be easy to feel like we had control of our brand experience. If we had a store, we could control the environment -- the lighting, the flow through the store, the visual display and merchandising and the customer service delivered by our staff. But bricks and mortar are on the way out and digital is on the rise.

But digital itself isn't just a single channel. It covers social, mobile, static websites, dynamic sites, microsites, video, podcasts, streaming radio… the list goes on. And as those channels continue to fragment, marketers face a dilemma -- who do you serve and through which micro-channel?

And this doesn't even touch on the issue of consistency of experience. What we are seeing is a shift to digital on a massive scale -- and every view, every click and every moment spent online can be tracked, segmented and analyzed.

And we are also seeing multi-channel -- or omni-channel -- interactions taking place. For example, you might hear about a book on a TV show. You will then search for it and find it via a paid search placement. These links will take you to a review site which aggregates and compares offers. While you are out shopping, you use your smartphone to find the closest stockist and go in to check out the item for sizing. When you are happy with the size and the color, you might go home, register with the site and purchase online at a discount.

Now in this scenario – what is the most important factor?

The most important factor is the customer experience. And this is where marketing automation comes into play.

Targeted Engagement

Our recent research overview of marketing automation software revealed that many vendors are deploying cloud-based next generation marketing solutions that help marketers understand this multi-touch, multi-interaction world.