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.

Drawing on structured corporate data from CRM systems and from electronic direct mail and mashing this information with other publicly available data (your phone’s geo-location, public census data and so on), provides marketers with a chance to deliver “right time” messaging. And this means understanding your customer’s buying behavior, and delivering the most relevant content in the right channel when it is most appropriate.

Of course, not all buyers are ready to buy when you are ready to sell. Again, marketing automation can help you manage and nurture these leads by assigning lead scores to digital records of your prospects. Email communications can then be triggered either by interaction or by timing. 

Hubspot3 does this well -- connecting the dots between different aspects of your customers’ brand experience. By connecting CRM records to online behavior -- like registering to download a whitepaper -- a marketing communication can be triggered that is immediate, contextual and highly valuable to a particular person looking to make a purchase decision.

What we know from this kind of targeted engagement is that it drives sales. Marketo, for example, tell us that engaged customers -- those who are interacting with your brand on a deeper level -- spend 40 percent more and have a net promoter score that is 30 percent higher.

A great example of this is Navitas -- the leading global education provider. Sometimes the sale of education products is like getting married -- all the family must meet your new love, they will research their history and what they have to offer in the future. They will go away to think about what is required and sometimes, months later, they’ll return to see what has changed. Finally they will commit and the marriage can proceed.

This kind of research, testing, reassessing and conversion behavior describes the lifecycle of a Navitas customer/student and family. Using Marketo, companies like Navitas are able to nurture and build a relationship with people by delivering targeted content through various channels. They can prompt action and reminders through automated alerts and content activation triggers. And all this, every interaction in every channel, contributes to the experience of the brand not just at the point of conversion or sale -- but at every touch point across the buying journey.

With marketing automation software, this happens without intervention from the marketing team and it happens consistently based on customer behavior. It’s like having a one to one relationship at a broadcast scale.

Editor's Note: Want to read another article from this month's focus? Check out Julie Hunt's Customer Focused Marketing Automation: 'Automation' is the Easy Part