Marketing automation is a hot buzzphrase right now, but what exactly does it mean and why should marketing professionals care? Cloud-based marketing automation software provider Marketo attempts to provide answers to these and other questions in its latest guide.

From the Definitive Guide to Marketing Automation

Appropriately enough, the report begins by defining marketing automation, which Marketo explains is a category of software that “streamlines, automates and measures marketing tasks and workflows.” It enables activities such as lead generation/nurturing/scoring, segmentation and cross/upselling at any scale. Common features include email marketing, social marketing and marketing analytics, although Marketo cautions marketing automation is not simply another name for email marketing or a tool to deliver spam.

Essentially, Marketo's “Definitive Guide to Marketing Automation” says marketing automation provides a platform for advanced, large-scale performance of nurturing relationships with leads who aren’t ready to buy, retaining and extending customer relationships, aligning marketing with sales and both proving and improving the ROI from marketing activities.

Using Google Trends analysis, Marketo states that marketing automation, which has existed since around 1980, gained traction in the 1990s and peaked in 2004 before reaching a low point in 2007 and then starting a climb where it is now near its 2004 peak in popularity as a search keyword.

While the dotcom boom and bust of the 1990s and early 2000s initially drove and then reduced interest in marketing automation, Marketo credits three key trends as leading to the resurgence of marketing automation as a hot IT trend. These are:

  • buyers taking control of the product research process and demanding real-time, personalized service as a result of e-commerce,
  • the need to maximize revenue effectiveness and analytical accuracy in the wake of the 2008 recession and
  • the emergence of SaaS, providing marketers with access to complex IT solutions with little or no infrastructure investment.

Common Features Include Email, Social Marketing 

Marketo reviews a number of common features found in most or all marketing automation systems. These include:

  • Email/Online Marketing -- Marketo says email is “often the most important online marketing channel” and can be even more valuable as part of a marketing automation platform that includes landing pages and forms. Marketing automation platforms typically but do not always replace an email service provider and email functionality varies by vendor.
  • Lead Management -- Referred to by Marketo as the “bread and butter” of marketing automation, lead management includes a wide variety of activities such as segmentation, obtaining a single (multichannel) view of the customer, lead scoring/grading, and CRM integration.   
  • Marketing Programs/Lead Generation -- While almost all marketing automation solutions offer lead management, somewhat surprisingly many do not offer (or only offer limited) broad marketing program management/lead generation functionality. Those that do often provide capabilities such as event marketing and importing/exporting of prebuilt marketing programs.
  • Social Marketing -- Increasing in popularity in the last few years, social marketing includes features such as social listening/tracking (monitoring social media commentary for positive and negative brand mentions), social marketing campaigns and social analytics (examining data on who your followers are, who shares your social messages/promotions, etc.)
  • Analytics – Reporting and analytics are a crucial component of almost every marketing automation application. Specific analytical capabilities can include Web analytics, SEO/keyword analytics and basic keyword reporting as well as more advanced analytical practices such as revenue cycle metrics.
  • Resource Management – Some marketing automation solutions include marketing resource management functions such as budgeting and calendaring.
  • Infrastructure – For larger enterprises, some marketing automation solutions offer infrastructure capabilities such as user roles and permissions and API integrations.

The Core Business Case 

Looking at “hard” ROI justification to invest in marketing automation technology, Marketo research indicates that marketing automation solutions save time and money by reducing the need for human resources and outsourcing as well as simplifying the approval process. In addition, marketing automation allows optimization and measurement of marketing expenditures and can drive revenue growth through improved customer relationships and engagement. 

Looking to the Future 

Marketo predicts that in the future, marketing automation vendors will start offering functionality to help marketers earlier in the funnel, such as generation of new leads. In addition, Marketo expects marketing automation solutions to continue adding social, mobile and localization features and to generally expand their capabilities to encompass Big Data and predictive analytics, leading to more dynamic personalization that sends specific messages to specific consumers at specific times and locations.