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Marketing Automation: The Future is Out of Context

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No part of a business has escaped the disruption caused by customers empowered with digital technologies and the heightened expectations that come with them.

Marketing’s historical role of creating awareness that drives sales has become is now just one piece of a broader and more complex set of objectives. Perhaps the most fundamental change now in play is the move from campaign-based marketing to contextual marketing.

The goal now is for marketers to capture the customer’s context and engage in an ongoing loop of interactions that provide contextual insight and spark further interaction. Connecting with customers in this way requires an overhaul of marketing: different skills, streamlined processes and, most importantly, better use of marketing technology.

The Contextual Marketing Engine

The future of marketing technology involves insights, real time analytics, marketing automation and touchpoint interactions, all working together to create a contextual marketing engine.

It's with these proprietary brand platforms, built from multiple types of tech, that marketers will make the shift from campaign to context. And yet, both the marketer and his toolbox will need to undergo significant transformation from creating outbound, primarily static campaigns to real time, inbound responsive engagement.

Marketing automation today is as ill-defined as it is en vogue. For a long time, marketing automation referred only to the tools B2B marketers use to manage leads.

Today, it encompasses a wider set of tools: cross-channel campaign management, asset management (content, web and more) and marketing resource management. The interaction channels — email, mobile, and social — are closely tied into the processes and data from the automation tools, but are often grouped altogether.

Even more confusing is the increasingly blurred line between marketing technology and advertising technology, as marketers seek to harmonize their work across the entire customer life cycle.

So what’s happening in the marketing automation space today that marketers need to know about?

1. Your favorite automation vendor may not be independent for long

In the past 12 months, we saw Adobe, Salesforce.com, Oracle and IBM buy Neolane, ExactTarget, Responsys and Silverpop, respectively. These blockbuster deals — and the ones that preceded them — reinforce the importance of business critical automation tools for both B2B and B2C target markets today. Only a few small independent players remain but if you’re working with one of them, be ready to work with a behemoth.

2. Everyone wants in on the automation game

As the core of most marketers’ technology stacks, marketing automation capabilities are in some ways table stakes today. That doesn’t mean everyone who offers those capabilities is good at them, but it is increasingly likely that you’ll find ad tech companies and enterprise resource planning (ERP) companies adding basic automation functionality to their own products. On the one hand, this may be helpful but more likely, it will be confusing or redundant if marketers don’t manage what tool or vendor primarily provides which capability.

3. Automation is still stuck in campaign mode

Despite the integration and evolution of marketing automation offerings, they still primarily serve outbound-based marketing strategies. This is just as much a product of marketers’ continued focus on campaigns as it as on the technology not yet ready to provide contextual marketing off the shelf. Nods to customer-driven marketing actions, such as trigger-based campaigns, are still planned in advance and executed over a defined time period, rather than ongoing and dynamic thanks to real time analytics.

Looking Ahead

In the next twelve to eighteen months, we’ll see major M&A announcements slow as the largest enterprise marketing software providers focus on making their new products play well together in the sandbox.

At the same time, all the marketers I speak with say they expect to be doing things very differently a year from now – from a retail banker spending less on TV to an agency spending more on its analytics practice worldwide.

Almost everyone understands that the campaign isn’t the way forward, though setting the budget priorities, measurement techniques and incentives to move away from the campaign won’t happen overnight. This is just as true for the vendor providing automation technology: they will work aggressively to help marketers capture context and become more focused on inbound interactions, but this will be work in progress for the foreseeable future.

The future of marketing is about customer context. Marketing technology broadly – and marketing automation more specifically – will play a critical role in this evolution and become even more central to successful marketing in the age of the customer.

About the Author

Cory Munchbach is an Analyst at Forrester Research. Follow her on Twitter @corinnejames.

 
 
 
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