The Gist

  • Strategic planning. A marketing automation strategy requires setting clear goals and objectives, and identifying the target audience to create targeted, engaging campaigns.
  • Platform selection. Choosing the right marketing automation software is essential for success, considering features, functionality, and price.
  • Personalized approach. Brands must map out customer journeys, deliver personalized content, and set up automated workflows to effectively engage customers at every touchpoint.

Marketing automation is redefining the ways that brands connect with their customers. By using technology to automate repetitive marketing tasks and workflows, brands can streamline their marketing operations and fine-tune their campaigns.

However, creating a successful marketing automation strategy requires careful planning, implementation, optimization and analysis. In this article, we'll discuss the essential steps in the creation of a successful marketing automation strategy.

What Is a Marketing Automation Strategy?

A marketing automation strategy is a plan that uses software to automate repetitive and time-consuming marketing tasks and workflows. This plan helps businesses streamline their marketing processes and optimize their campaigns while delivering personalized and relevant content to customers at each stage of their journey. 

The strategy typically includes a range of automated tasks, such as lead generation, email marketing, social media marketing, customer segmentation and analytics. The primary goal of a marketing automation strategy is to improve marketing efficiency, increase revenue, build and enhance customer loyalty, and enhance customer engagement by delivering targeted and personalized content. The success of a marketing automation strategy depends on how effectively it is implemented, measured and optimized.

Related Article: What Is Marketing Automation and How Does It Help Marketers?

Step 1: Define Goals and Objectives and Identify the Target Audience

To get started on the creation of a marketing automation strategy, brands must initially define their goals and objectives. Campaigns that are designed for lead generation, customer acquisition, eliminating shopping cart abandonment, or other goals will each be designed specifically for those goals. The goals and objectives of the marketing automation strategy should be aligned with the brand’s overall business goals and objectives. 

Identifying the brand’s target audience is another critical element in building a successful marketing automation strategy. Brands need to understand who their target audience is, what their needs and preferences are, and how they interact with the brand. They should conduct market research and analyze customer data to gain insights into the target audience. This will enable them to create targeted campaigns that resonate with their audience and drive engagement.

Related Article: 9 Ways Marketing Automation Will Grow Your Business in 2023

Step 2: Choose the Right Marketing Automation Software

Choosing the right marketing automation platform is essential to the success of the marketing automation strategy. It is important to select a platform that is best suited to the brand’s goals and objectives. Brands should consider the marketing automation platform’s features, functionality and price before making a final decision. Some of the most popular marketing automation platforms include:

  • HubSpot – A marketing, sales and service platform, Hubspot includes marketing automation tools such as email marketing, lead management and social media management.
  • Adobe Marketo Engage – A cloud-based marketing automation platform, Marketo Engage features lead management, email marketing and marketing analytics. Adobe Sensei GenAI adds generative AI functionality to this platform. 
  • Salesforce Marketing Cloud Account Engagement – The Marketing Cloud Account Engagement platform, also called Pardot, provides lead generation, lead nurturing and email marketing.
  • Oracle Eloqua – A B2B marketing automation platform, Eloqua features campaign design, lead scoring, real-time firmographic data and integrated sales tools.
  • ActiveCampaign – A marketing automation platform, ActiveCampaign supports email marketing, marketing automation and CRM.
  • Keap – A CRM and marketing automation platform, Keap supports lead generation, email marketing and ecommerce tools.
  • GetResponse – A marketing automation platform, GetResponse supports email marketing, landing pages and marketing automation.
  • – An automated messaging platform, enables marketers to create and send data-driven emails, push notifications, in-app messages and SMS.
  • Dynamics 365 Marketing – An automated marketing platform, Microsoft’s Dynamics 365 Marketing features generative AI, and enables brands to engage one-on-one through personalized journeys that are triggered through customer interactions.
  • Act-On – An automated marketing platform, Act-On includes lead scoring and segmentation, marketing attribution and reporting, automated nurturing programs, advanced email and SMS marketing, and multichannel lead generation.
  • ActiveCampaign – ActiveCampaign is an email marketing, marketing automation, and CRM platform that features customer segmentation functionality, dynamic content creation and successful deliverability.

Kashif Naqshbandi, CMO at Revolent, a Tenth Revolution Group company, told CMSWire that one of the biggest successes his business has had in terms of marketing automation is implementing Pardot (Salesforce Marketing Cloud Account Engagement) as part of the company’s martech stack. “We’ve been able to create bespoke email campaigns that target customers and prospects, maintaining contact with them throughout the sales funnel in a way that is specific to exactly where in the cycle they are,” said Naqshbandi. 

Naqshbandi said that using marketing automation has taken the guesswork out of what his company does and allows them to have a much more data-led approach. “The leads are validated and then passed to our sales team when the user is ready to be approached, meaning we’re sending better quality leads than we ever have before,” said Naqshbandi. 

Step 3: Map out Your Customer Journey

The customer journey map is a holistic representation of all of the experiences that customers have when they interact with a brand. It includes every touchpoint, interaction and engagement that a customer has with a business, from their initial awareness of the brand to post-purchase customer support inquiries. Understanding and mapping out the customer journey is a critical aspect of creating an omnichannel, personalized experience that builds connection, trust and loyalty. A customer journey map enables brands to better understand the different stages of the customer lifecycle journey and how they can use marketing automation to engage with their customers at each stage of the journey. 

Jamal English, marketing expert and CEO & co-founder of EDM Lead Network, an online and offline performance marketing solution provider, told CMSWire that the customer lifecycle journey is something that is very segmented right now, where people are only thinking about a portion of it versus all of it. "Marketers should start with the point of interest of the consumer,” said English. “The next step would be to evaluate the customer's needs when they actually request information; then how do their needs change when they are connected to an agent? Finally, when the agent actually goes through the sales process, how will the customer's needs change when a customer service team takes over that customer?” English suggested that the key is to take the time to understand the needs and preferences of your target customer throughout each part of the lifecycle.

By delivering the right message at the right stage in the customer journey, brands can engage the customer and enhance their loyalty to a brand. To effectively map out the customer journey, brands must identify all of the touchpoints that occur at each stage and how they can use marketing automation to engage with their customers at each of the touchpoints.

Step 4: Deliver Personalized Content

Personalization is a critical element of building a successful marketing automation strategy. Customers today are more likely to engage with content that is relevant to their specific needs and preferences. According to a 2021 report from McKinsey, 71% of those polled expect brands to provide personalized interactions, and conversely, 76% are frustrated when this doesn’t occur.

Brands that create content that resonates with their target audience and is customized to the customers’ specific interests can build deeper connections with their customers. To achieve this level of personalization, brands need to use customer data to segment their audience and deliver targeted content at each stage of the customer journey. 

Once it has been used for a while, the marketing automation platform can help to fine-tune audience segmentation. Marketing automation tools collect and analyze customer data, including demographic information, browsing behavior, purchase history and preferences. This data is used to enhance and improve customer profiles and audience segmentation based on their characteristics, interests and behaviors.

Learning Opportunities

Marketing automation platforms can then generate dynamic content that changes based on the customer's profile and actions. This can include personalized product recommendations, tailored email content or targeted website experiences, ensuring that each customer receives content that is relevant and engaging to them.

Step 5: Set up Automated Workflows

Automated workflows serve as the foundation for successful marketing automation strategies by enabling brands to provide timely, targeted messages to their audience. These workflows enable the delivery of tailored content to customers at every touchpoint throughout their journey. 

There are several workflows that are useful for marketing. Customer onboarding workflows provide tips and resources for new customers, while abandoned cart workflows remind customers of items left in their carts and offer incentives to complete a purchase. Lead nurturing workflows engage potential customers throughout the sales funnel with targeted emails, and upsell and cross-sell workflows encourage customers to buy complementary products. Win-back workflows reengage customers who haven't made a purchase in a while with targeted emails that offer exclusive discounts or promotions. Using these workflows enables brands to engage customers at various stages of their journey. Although these workflows are among those most commonly used for marketing, there are many other workflows that can be effectively used in a marketing automation strategy.

English told CMSWire that automation workflows specifically for reengagement are critical as well, and provided the following example of how a reengagement workflow would work: A consumer reaches out to his business, and they are unable to assist them right away. “Immediately, they'll get a text message from us notifying them that we aren't available right now to assist them.” The next day, the automation sequence starts at the time that they were told that it would start, and the automation begins to engage the customer. “That customer gets connected on the phone through automation, and then they get routed directly to one of our verifying agents.” English explained that the live agent is on the phone talking to the consumer using all the information provided initially, verifying all their information, and deciding the next steps to assist the customer. “That would be an example of an automated and human-integrated element.”

Shafqat Islam, CMO of Optimizely, a digital experience platform (DXP) and content marketing platform (CMP) provider, cautioned that brands should practice restraint when using marketing automation to send emails or other marketing content to customers. “Keep in mind: just because you can automate does not mean you should spam your customers with a high volume of content. AI [driven content] shouldn’t be a replacement for thoughtful use of your customers’ time,” said Islam, who explained that many people ignore marketing emails outright, with the majority of messages falling into spam or newsletter folders. “With this in mind, brands need to create content so valuable that audiences can't ignore it,” said Islam.

Step 6: Measure and Analyze Campaign Results

Implementation is just the initial phase of the automated marketing campaign. To understand the success or failure of such a campaign, brands must assess and analyze campaign outcomes. Through the use of analytics tools, often which are a feature of marketing automation platforms, brands can monitor performance and obtain actionable insights.

Automated marketing campaigns often include email messaging and direct marketing. To ensure that they provide the best results, the strategies must be optimized based on key performance indicators (KPIs) that have been obtained through analytics tools. These KPIs provide insights into the campaign’s effectiveness. Some of the key metrics that brands may be interested in include:

  • Open Rates – Measures the percentage of customers who opened an email. 
  • Click-Through Rates – Measures the percentage of customers who clicked on a link in an email. 
  • Conversion Rates – Measures the percentage of customers who took the desired action, such as making a purchase or filling out a form. 
  • Bounce Rates – Measures the percentage of emails that were undeliverable. 
  • Unsubscribe Rates – Measures the percentage of customers who opted out of receiving future emails. 
  • Return on Investment (ROI) – Measures the revenue generated from the campaign compared to the cost of running it. 

The Challenges of Marketing Automation

With so much involved in the creation of a successful marketing strategy, there are challenges throughout the process — but none are insurmountable. Like any other endeavor that depends on customer data, the results of an automated marketing strategy will largely depend on the quality of the data that has been used throughout the process. The data must be up to date, it must be structured and it must be accurate. 

Other challenges include the integration of marketing automation platforms with other software in the martech stack or legacy systems that are still in use. Being able to determine which elements should be automated, and those that should not, is also a challenge. "The biggest challenge, as with most forms of automation, is recognizing which aspects of the overall process can be smoothly automated, which parts require continued testing and optimization, and which parts still require the human touch," said Naqshbandi. "With the actual content that makes up marketing efforts, the human element remains vital as effective marketing is dependent on factors like voice, tone, and emotion."

Other challenges have to do with the functionality of a marketing automation platform, which provides ample opportunities for marketers to send SMS messages, texts, emails, push notifications, etc. The temptation to use this functionality often results in customers constantly receiving what they rightly consider to be spam. “Avoid annoying your customers by tightly managing your marketing calendar and segmenting by persona, product, business, etc.,” said Islam. “Discern when and how to connect with customers, whether that’s an email on the weekend, a push notification during the workday, or a well-timed ad on their favorite social platform.”

The benefits of marketing automation are worth facing the challenges that it presents. “Leaning on marketing automation can not only boost meaningful customer engagement, but also free up time and resources for marketers to be creative,” said Islam.

Final Thoughts on Marketing Automation Strategies

There are many steps involved in the process of creating a successful marketing automation strategy. Brands need to define goals, target audiences, map customer journeys, create personalized content, establish workflows, analyze results and continually optimize campaigns. The rewards of marketing automation make the process worthwhile, as such a strategy can help to drive revenue growth, improve customer loyalty and create an exceptional customer experience.