Marketing automation has become an increasingly popular product category in recent years. Marketing is often difficult to quantify, and effective management of key marketing tasks can reduce sales cycles, lower customer acquisition costs, increase efficiency and -- ultimately -- increase revenue. It’s no wonder that so many marketers have embraced marketing automation as the answer to their most vexing challenges.

Most Marketing Automation Falls Short 

Unfortunately, marketing automation tools are dependent on the team that implements them, and if not done correctly, can do more harm than good. Prospects and customers can feel bombarded by emails that fail to address their current reality. Such emails typically end up in the trash and can devalue your brand.

Perhaps the biggest limitation of marketing automation is the fact that most systems were developed at a time when email communication dominated the online marketing mix. The growth of social media and the fragmentation of the Web across a wide range of devices, networks and applications has relegated email to a far less central role and given consumers more options for interacting with brands.

Most vendors have attempted to address this by integrating with legacy communications channels, such as phone, SMS and direct mail -- as well as optimizing them for social media and mobile delivery. But despite these efforts, the majority of features provided by marketing automation systems are structured around email communications.

As a result, most marketing automation vendors have failed to effectively address one of the most significant touchpoints in the customer journey -- the connection with Web Content Management (WCM) platforms.

Most marketing automation vendors provide the ability to build and deploy targeted landing pages. Yet, these landing page tools are based on rigid, page-based Web authoring approaches and are poorly integrated with the rest of a company’s Web content. The online experience does not begin and end with a landing page, and most Web publishers seek to deploy information-based, dynamic publishing techniques across their entire Web property.

But perhaps the biggest limitation of marketing automation is the tendency to treat prospects as a passive audience for a company’s marketing messages rather than being active in a complex, multimodal conversation.

Of course, marketing automation is not the only tool at a smart marketer’s disposal. Other techniques, such as inbound marketing -- which attempts to attract potential customers with the intelligent placement of compelling well-crafted content -- can do a lot to address the shortcomings of a strictly automated approach. Inbound marketing is closely related to content marketing, and, when used in conjunction, the two can bolster a company’s brand and deliver relevant experiences to customers across any channel including offline.

However, inbound marketing is more of a strategy than a product category. And while there is no shortage of documented best-practices, there is a lack of established tools and techniques for lead nurturing, lead scoring and targeting -- let alone allowances for specific calls to action or aggregated metrics for ROI.

So, if neither marketing automation nor inbound marketing alone can solve the complex marketing challenges of a multi-touchpoint world -- what is the answer?

Learning Opportunities

I believe that the best approach is a marketing solution that unites both techniques within a holistic Web Experience Management (WEM) platform.

Catering to the Full Customer Experience

By WEM, I do not mean simply mean WCM. Despite the recent efforts of some WCM vendors to rebrand themselves as WEM providers, it seems clear to me that effective experience management can only be accomplished through the smart integration of multiple marketing systems as well as other enterprise software including CRM, e-Commerce, ERP, analytics and more. Such a system would place customers and prospects at the heart of all marketing efforts and manage the cross platform aggregation of both content and contextual data.

In order to be effective, however, a holistic system must be based on an open, scalable content and data management platform that can support the integration of multiple software solutions.

Some key characteristics would include:

  1. A flexible, open integration architecture that supports multiple integration methods including direct import, importless run-time, integration of critical data and content syndication
  2. An information-based architecture that supports the dynamic reuse of content objects across multiple distribution channels and applications
  3. A single, configurable Web-based user interface that can access information from multiple systems and can be customized to reflect different marketing end users
  4. The ability to deploy entire systems -- or select complements -- in a distributed, cloud-based environment
  5. Support for both online and offline data sources.

This vision may seem idealistic, but all of the components of this kind of a solution exist today. Regardless of how one chooses to implement a holistic approach, combining the data-rich efficiency of marketing automation, the customer-centric content of inbound marketing and the flexible delivery of object-based WEM is the only way to encompass the entire customer journey.

Image courtesy of ARZTSAMUI (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: Want more from Doug? Let's revisit WEM: Stop Managing Content - Start Managing the Experience