snake oil anyone?
Marketing automation can produce benefits, but not without some lessons along the way PHOTO: Wesley Fryer

Depending on your perspective, content marketing and marketing automation can be either snake oil or the greatest thing since sliced bread.

The Skeptics Say 'Beware the Hype'

On the one hand, you have the skeptics. For example, Dave Scott of BNGDesign notes, “Be careful you don’t get sucked into the hype of marketing automation. You should avoid buying business automation tools [just] because your peers are buying them.”

Doug Kessler of Velocity Partners agrees, writing that, “Content marketing has been on the steep climb for the last few years. For those of us wedded to the discipline, it’s been fast, furious and fun. But … things really are about to change. Many companies — perhaps most — will start to become disillusioned with their content marketing investments. Some will pull the plug [while others] will cut back sharply ….”

And then there’s Dan Lyons, author of Disrupted, who literally wrote the book about his time at HubSpot: “… the official line is that HubSpot hates spam and wants to stamp out spam. We want to protect people from spam. Spam is what the bad guys send, but we are the good guys. Our spam is not spam.”

Now, Let’s Hear From the Zealots

On the other hand, you have the zealots. The Marketing Insider Group says, “No matter what field you are in, no matter what sort of content your users are interested in, developing a content marketing program to tie it all together is the only way to go.”

Dayna Rothman writes on the Marketo blog, “According to the Aberdeen Group, [best-in-class] marketers are 67 percent more likely to use a marketing automation platform, with 87 percent of top-performing firms using this technology .… Pretty impressive, right?”

5 Lessons We’ve Learned Along the Way

At AIIM, we’ve been on this crazy marketing automation and content marketing journey for about six years, the first two years with Marketo and the last three plus using the HubSpot platform. And while I would definitely put myself at the “sliced bread” end of the sliced bread-to-snake oil continuum, I have not arrived at that position without some lessons learned along the way. Here are five:

1. Marketing automation is demanding

Generating enough content to fuel a marketing automation program is hard work. Marketing automation programs have a voracious appetite for content, and unless you’re willing to commit to it, don’t bother with a content marketing and marketing automation program.

2. Choose an appropriate marketing automation platform

Note the word appropriate. Most of the major platforms — Eloqua, Marketo, Pardot, HubSpot — have outstanding functionality, given their price points. But make sure you understand whether the platform you choose is appropriate for a company of your size and, even more important, the size of your marketing staff.

For us, a 25-person non-profit organization, Marketo was too much software, and we were never going to optimize it without spending money we didn’t have on professional services. HubSpot has been a good fit for us.

3. Be sure to plan for multiple users

Our platform is so easy to use that just about any of our staff can use it without a lot of training or IT involvement. It has been so easy, in fact, that after three and a half years, we badly need to clean up and organize what everyone has put in there. We really should have anticipated and planned for this eventuality, given our work in ECM land.

4. Get ready for IT’s diminished role

If this is your first major venture into the SaaS world, be prepared for how it will change your view of enterprise software. There is a revolution going on in who buys enterprise software (the business, not IT), how it is likely to be paid for (by the drink, not by the gallon), and how it is sold (by application and process experts, not technology experts).

We experienced this firsthand as we rolled out our HubSpot implementation, essentially without IT involvement.

5. Stay open to reassessing your legacy systems

Marketing automation has changed how we now view our previous core business platform. We are in the association business and associations typically base their entire business upon an AMS (Association Management System) platform. Three years ago, we viewed our AMS as the ultimate system of record where all engagement data and information should ultimately reside.

Our thinking now is that our most valuable customer information such as how many forms have been filled out, what documents have been downloaded, what web pages have been visited and what emails had been opened, originates in HubSpot and is most effectively utilized if it remained there. We are still wrestling with the implications, one of which is that we are likely to be showing our AMS the door in the next year or so.

So snake oil or sliced bread? What's been your experience? Share in the comments below.