How to overcome the barriers to marketing automation

Marketing automation has the potential to deliver targeted communication that cuts waste and maximises ad effectiveness, but marketers need to overcome several internal and external challenges before embarking on implementation.

Increasing the performance of marketing activity to make the most of budgets is becoming more important to brands, particularly when proving marketing’s worth to the board. Technology that can automate communications to cut wastage therefore holds huge potential, but marketers are experiencing certain barriers to entry.

Phuong Nguyen, director of advertising at eBay, says: “Making an inefficient market more efficient is at the core of why people should embrace the notion of automation.

“Why would you go through a 42-step process to buy a media campaign when you can do it in three steps? Why wouldn’t you leverage algorithms to help optimise a campaign versus hiring teams of analysts to crunch those numbers for you?”

Although Nguyen asks these questions rhetorically, many marketers are struggling to implement automation effectively. According to a survey of 239 marketers by research and marketing agency Ascend2, the biggest challenge is not having a clear strategy for adoption, named by 52% of respondents, while 42% suggest systems are too complicated. Over a third (38%) cite inadequate contact data as an issue and 32% are concerned that employees do not have the necessary skills for success in automation.

Regardless of the barriers, marketers do see the value of automation, with 76% of respondents viewing it as very important to overall marketing performance. Around a quarter (23%) suggest it is somewhat important, leaving only 1% who do not believe it is important at all.

Merging skills

Nguyen believes that the “most successful marketers of this era” are ones that can embrace both the creative and the analytical elements of marketing. He believes people need to be “numerically literate but they also need to [remember] that at its core marketing is a human driven discipline, influencing people’s behaviour”.

He appreciates, however, that finding people with both skill sets is a challenge at the moment, as “there aren’t a huge [number] of talent pools where you can find this blend”. He suggests the industry needs to start moving to ensure that it is possible to find people with both creative and analytical minds.

For now, eBay pairs different heads of departments to achieve the right balance; the leadership team includes head of programmatic Jean-Baptiste Goux and advertising sales director Robert Bassett, who is an author and illustrator of children’s books.

Nguyen adds: “Put them both in a room and you see the two approaches coming at a problem in a completely different way.”

Keeping the creativity in content delivery was vital for ecommerce business Wolf & Badger, which promotes and sells products from 700 independent luxury brands. Working with Ometria, a startup that aims to help retailers make better use of data, the brand segments its audience to deliver emails in a more personalised way.

Chief executive at Wolf & Badger George Graham explains: “When we push too far down the personalisation route, we find it becomes almost computer-generated marketing content, which doesn’t appeal to anyone. When we are too generic, it also doesn’t appeal to anyone, so we found a middle ground with segmented data and [created] targeted content for those segments.”

Successful marketing automation also requires sales and marketing departments to work cohesively, but a third of respondents in the Ascend2 survey believe a lack of alignment between these two teams is another barrier.

This was an issue for mobile manufacturer Nokia until recently. Head of marcom and campaign packaging Bareld Meijering says the company realised that simply creating new products and services and then pushing them out to the market was not working from a B2B perspective.

Wolf & Badger segments its audience in order to create more personalised customer emails

Working with OgilvyOne Business, the brand takes note of customer interactions and research before any contact from the sales function so it can target buyers and key stakeholders in the decision making process at the most appropriate time. This required much closer alignment between the sales and marketing teams, which Meijering describes as “the most important thing to look at but not the easiest one”.

It is not easy because a marketer must look at who to target and how to pass that information to sales so it is recognised as a marketing-qualified lead, according to Meijering. It is then down to sales to achieve the conversion, so the brand can see the journey from awareness to buying. “You need to do it together with sales and marketing,” he says.

Requirement of data

Effective management and use of data is a big topic for marketers, the value of which is only increasing. Having quality data is, of course, vital for marketing automation, but it is one of the top three barriers in the research.

Dating app TrueView has created multiple Instagram campaigns (main image, top) with targeting based on user demographics. It has developed custom bid and budget rules, which allows it to ensure the amount it spends is in line with the number of users converting from seeing or clicking on the ad to downloading the app.

The campaign, which used automation software from Marin, resulted in 62% more app installs, 44% lower cost per install (CPI) on iOS and 35% lower CPI on Android.

But digital marketing consultant Michael Merredy, who works on the app, says these results were only achievable because of the data available to the brand.

“It’s usually easier with a digital product because you can immediately see when someone downloads an app,” he says. “You can’t immediately see when someone buys something in a store.”

Merredy adds: “Data is everything, essentially, and with a digital product it’s easier to get data on what users are doing, and what they are doing with your product. It doesn’t mean it’s impossible if it’s not a digital product, it just means it can be a bit more difficult.”

However, there are pitfalls to targeting based on data because it can drive down audiences to such a degree that scaling up marketing is no longer an option.

Nguyen at eBay says this is when automation and the use of data enables brands to get so precise on predictions that the audience becomes too small, so activity has no effect.

“To do things at scale [you have to get the] balance between automation and data [but] a lot  of people are struggling to get it right,” he adds.

Automation for SMEs

The opportunity automation can provide for small businesses is what attracted Will Hattam, CMO at Archant, to look into it for the publisher’s advertising customers.

In a study that Archant conducted of its customers and non-customers from small and medium-sized businesses, it found that these companies want to reach customers in a highly targeted way but they are bewildered by therange of marketing options available to them and have no time to research.

Hattam believes that the marketing automation technologies available are helping but that a “comprehensive solution to the chronic complexity that plagues these businesses” does not exist at present.

“I do believe there are companies that are moving firmly in that direction and offer solutions that are two-thirds of what the final solution might be,” he adds. “My belief is that there will increasingly be moves towards software-based solutions that aggregate and automate marketing campaigns on behalf of small businesses.”

He suggests that the biggest challenge in today’s marketing world, however, “is the need for simplicity in the solutions that are offered”.

While the data, employee skills and strategy are all key components of successful marketing automation, choosing the right technology partner is also a huge part of the mix, but finding the right provider can be tricky for SMEs.

Graham at Wolf & Badger says he struggled to find technology partners that were “focused on medium-sized ecommerce businesses” but he believes it is vital to do so (see ‘What do you look for when choosing an automation technology partner‘).

However, after realising that the company’s data stack was the issue, the brand partnered with a data-specific provider to drive growth.

Graham says: “In the last year following the integration, [we] discovered more powerful ways of understanding the customer data; we had built a decent traffic base but there was too much data and having it in Google Analytics didn’t necessarily help us reach those customers any better than before.”

He adds: “We were able to start seeing different customer segments and audiences that we could begin to target in a personalised, segmented way. That has been a real driver of our growth over the past 12 months.”

Although marketers are increasingly looking to automation, it is vital that the technology they choose matches their specific business needs. This not only requires brands to look externally at what users want but internally at how they work with different departments, data sets and providers to achieve the desired outcome.

Hide Comments2 Show Comments
  • rob bassett 10 Mar 2016 at 6:09 pm

    2 points.

    1) I STILL write and illustrate children’s books – they’re good, you should buy them.
    2) That’s a really strange fact to highlight in the context of the article… i did do one or two things other than just drawing pictures before getting the eBay job you know!

    • Mindi Chahal 11 Mar 2016 at 10:18 am

      Hi Rob, thanks for your comment and appreciate that you have had other

      The paragraph wasn’t meant to disregard those. In our
      conversation with Phuong Nguyen he mentioned this role in particular to
      highlight the collaboration of creativity and science in relation to the

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