Marketers long for automation and currently have tools available like Marketo, Eloqua and HubSpot to help. Some see the emergence of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) software helping marketers automate and gain an analytical edge on their customers. In fact, RPA took center stage at the Martech Conference East in Boston earlier this month, where it was the topic of one of the opening day keynotes.

What is Robotic Process Automation?

According to Constellation Research Shortlist report on RPA released last quarter, the practice of Robotic Process Automation “trains software bots to interpret the user interfaces of applications through demonstrative steps.” The robots can do data entry, for instance, or complete business processes without the need for human intervention or effort. The bots can be trained, according to Constellation, by using low- or no-code approaches that allow “configuration through visual process maps or process definitions.”

RPA robots can connect to other digital systems. It incorporates intelligent automation using machine learning and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to help with things like application interpretation, transaction processing and manipulating data and predicting future outputs.

Gartner's recent report, Forecast Snapshot: Robotic Process Automation, Worldwide 2018 (fee required), forecasted the RPA software market would grow by 41 percent year over year through 2022. By the end of this year, 60 percent of organizations with more than $1 billion in revenue will have RPA at the pilot or deployment stage, according to their predictions.

Related Article: Busting 8 Robotic Process Automation Myths

Marketing or Still Business Process Case Studies?

Constellation’s Alan Lepofsky, author of the shortlist report, sees the RPA market merging with the business process management (BPM) tools. Constellation Research cited its requirements for RPA vendors:

  • Attended operations
  • Unattended operations
  • Server‐based solutions
  • Data pooling and collection
  • Bot development
  • Control room
  • Reporting tools and analytics
  • Resilience
  • Macro or scripted automation
  • IT automation business process management 
  • Plug‐in architecture tools
  • Integration
  • Automation management features 
  • Product versus services focus
  • Input/output options

Digital Lead Extraction

Is RPA really happening for marketing? So far the attention for RPA software has been on human labor extraction for back office and contact center use cases and less on revenue generation, according to Craig Le Clair, vice president and principal analyst for Forrester who covers RPA. “But,” he told CMSWire, “this is changing.” Le Clair cited RPA use cases with digital lead extraction, where data is pulled from, say, Salesforce, and categorized by geography and account size. It is then combined with other data from core systems and put in a queue for sales follow-up. It’s been also used to organize responses from campaign management systems, he added. “RPA has also been used to change an agent on contract or account requested by the policyholders or the agent/broker dealer,” Le Clair said, adding RPA can help produce relevant files organized and provisioned. In this case, Le Clair said that means a “faster turnaround with improved accuracy.” 

R Ray Wang, principal analyst and co-founder of Constellation Research, told CMSWire in an interview last year that RPA exists in practically any business function you can automate with a software robot. "It's in everything," Wang said. "Anything from customer experience testing, to what’s happening with something like insurance claims testing algorithms. If you can program a software requirement into it, you can pretty much do it."

Related Article: 7 Ways Robotic Process Automation Can Succeed

This is About AI for Marketing

Benjamin Bloom, research director at the Marketing Technology and Emerging Trends domain at Gartner, said he puts RPA in the context of AI for marketing. It's a "set of capabilities rather than one particular application," he said. Referring to the Gartner Hype Cycle for Digital Marketing and Advertising, Bloom said Artificial Intelligence for marketing "is still making its way up that first slope." Gartner predicts it will take five to 10 years for AI for marketing to reach "mainstream adoption maturity."

Marketers are excited about the prospects, he added. In a recent Gartner survey on marketing technology (login required), marketers chose real-time marketing and AI and machine learning as the two forces having the most impact on marketing. That impact's driven by the quest to overcome some of the barriers that have inhibited marketers from deploying automation throughout their campaigns, Bloom said. "Think of the batch and blast style," he said. "It's very challenging for you to do that at scale using a manual selection process."

Flexible Bot Interfaces

Neeti Mehta of RPA vendor Automation Anywhere spoke about the positive impacts of RPA on marketing processes in her keynote on stage at the Martech conference. She has some believers. Scott Brinker, chair of the conference and author of the Chief Marketing Technologist blog, told CMSWire he hadn’t heard much about RPA in marketing until Mehta’s talk. Afterward, he told CMSWire, “One of the things I found most exciting about Neeti's talk was the realization of just how flexible bot interfaces can be.” Brinker believes the marketing technology industry has “barely scratched the surface of this new UI paradigm.” 

Learning Opportunities

Brinker added he was fascinated by the examples Mehta described of layering bot helpers on top of a company's existing systems and silos, spanning them and presenting a common, natural-language interface to any user. “It's both conceptually simple and remarkably powerful,” he added.

RPA in Marketing: 'Human Enablement'  

Mehta told CMSWire that RPA can integrate with marketing applications and platforms in order to, for example, pull out relevant data and save marketers from having to pull reports manually based off the data. With time saving, this allows them to “keep that customer-centricity that you really want, which is the ultimate game.” She said her own marketing organization uses Robotic Process Automation.  “And we see it across the board,” she said. “It just depends on which division feels the pain points. So we see everything from marketing to HR, to accounting to sales operations. They all have things that are repetitive that need to be done continuously. And those things need to be automated. The way we look at it is, it's human enablement.”

Related Article: Robotic Process Automation: This is Just the Beginning

Rule-Based Process Within Structured Data 

So exactly what is the glue that leads to marketing use cases within RPA? Richard Milam, CEO of EnableSoft, which provides RPA software, said that several of his team’s customers use RPA to marshal data into and out of systems like Salesforce to accomplish marketing initiatives. “Anywhere there is a rule-based process involving structured data,” he added, “RPA is and will be a huge accelerator."

Bots Relationship to APIs

Mehta told MarTech conference attendees that while API integrations allow MarTech systems to connect, bots can interact with the systems just like humans. “API integration,” she said, “takes a while and takes focused effort from the organization in order to get that integration done. Not to mention the process might change by the integration is actually done. What the Robotic Process Automation technology has brought to us is that level of automation is almost instantaneous.” RPA automates at the user interface level, database level and API level, she added.

Related Article: Robotic Process Automation's Reach Expands in the Enterprise

Database Leads, Demand Generation Reports

Mehta described at MarTech some examples of RPA in marketing. She cited the effort to reel in thousands of leads into a marketing database. Partners need to be assigned to these leads, which Mehta called an “extremely manual process.” Marketers can use RPA by building in business logic to the robot, defining it and allowing the robot to surface the right lead to the right partners.

RPA can also do to data what algorithmic trading did for the business and trading industry, Mehta said. RPA can be used for demand generation programs so that reports are automated every five minutes and passed off to sales.

What's Next for RPA and Marketing?

What's ahead for marketers using RPA? Forrester's Le Clair predicted that combining RPA with AI building blocks like chatbots and text analytics will open up more marketing use cases to generate new revenue and improve the customer experience.