Getting to grips with marketing automation

Marketers need to get to grips with marketing automation or risk becoming an endangered species, but they should not get complacent either and let the technology do all the work.

Marketing automation

Marketing automation is a fast growth area. Research firm SiriusDecisions’ 2014 report on the market, released this month, says that “by 2020, the marketer who doesn’t understand how marketing automation should be used to drive demand creation will be an endangered species”.

Its data suggests that 80 per cent of the highest-performing companies it surveyed use marketing automation. 

Yet research by VentureBeat and RazorSocial suggests only 48 per cent of companies that have implemented marketing automation would do so again, even though they are achieving a positive return on investment averaging 28 per cent. Marketers, it seems, are still getting to grips with this discipline.

It will be of little comfort to any marketer stuck behind one of its member’s vehicles this summer, but the 107-year old Caravan Club is in marketing automation’s fast lane.

Caravan Club
The Caravan Club had embraced automation to engage and recruit members

The club has 375,000 active members and attracts up to 50,000 new supporters every year, and marketing automation in the form of its ‘nurturing programme’ is the society’s new secret weapon for engaging its latest recruits.

“New members are 25 per cent less likely to re-join the following year than those who have been members for a long time,” says head of member marketing Tony Lewis. “Marketing automation is used to give people a better understanding of our products. With new customers we must find ways to drive value without throwing the kitchen sink at them marketing-wise. We need to introduce them to services and benefits in a consultative way, when they need to hear about something and not before.”

The nurturing programme ensures new members receive a personalised welcome pack in week one, a note to research some of the Club’s 200 sites in week three and an introduction to core products in week four. Reminders to try different services are sent at strategic points over the next few months, and in month 10 new members receives a customer care phone call.

“A decade ago, blanket direct mail was seen as junk and dismissed by consumers. Today, email can have the same effect if it is not relevant. Automation helps us to send time-appropriate messages and offers to the right people at the right time,” says Lewis.

The Caravan Club’s marketing automation is a collaboration of data analysis tools, combining FastStats and Pure360 software. Lewis says technology helps brands with small marketing teams. He manages three marketers and between them they send up to 17 million emails and 4 million items of direct mail each year.

Automation recording artists
Automation is helping recording artists to interact with fans on social media

Another supporter of marketing automation is media and information firm Thomson Reuters, which has invested in the Oracle Eloqua Marketing Cloud to build relationships with customers and grow revenues.

Director of marketing operations and analytics Kim Yeatman says automation helped Thomson Reuters align its sales and marketing teams, improve the lead generation process and increase the number of leads being passed from marketing to sales by 23 per cent. The result has been a 175 per cent jump in revenue attributed to marketing-generated leads.

“Automation technology requires marketers to completely change their mind set,” says Yeatman. “They have to plan every aspect of their campaign end to end to ensure they optimise response capture and handling at every stage.”

The company’s brands host a number of events each year and have seen a big improvement in registration management because of reduced administration time. “We took this a step further for a recent invitation-only event where our marketing team was worried that email invitations might be forwarded to additional colleagues who we could not accommodate on the day. Using the technology, we could automate the process of event registrations so only applications from people on the original guest list were accepted.”

Software products and technologies that enable a brand to improve its results across multiple channels by automating processes have become increasingly popular in recent years. Numerous analytic tools for inbound and outbound marketing activity have been launched to help brands boost their lead generation as well as their customer relationship management.

For example, uses marketing automation to track and optimise the performance of its different online platforms.

The holiday rentals website has boosted conversions by 77 per cent year on year, slashed reporting time and outperformed usual peaks in its revenue by 350 per cent, according to its digital marketing manager Dan Taylor-Edwards. It is using cloud tools from Marin Software.

The company previously had to manually stitch data from internal sales tracking tools to other data in Excel. It took around 10 hours a week but that time has been reduced by 90 per cent.

Marketing automation can be particularly effective for social media campaigns. Specialist recruitment consultancy Carrot Pharma Recruitment is trialling  social relationship management platform HootSuite to generate insight data and social leads. Marketing manager Jo Dionysiou says brands have had to change how they use social media as a way to produce leads.

New Scientist
New Scientist publisher RBI has been using marketing automation since 2008

“In the past, we avoided marketing automation and kept everything manual because of the costs,” she says. “When we first put our brand on social media everything needed to be genuine and organic to build relationships, so we were against using software. But things are changing and with the growth of tools such as Google+ and LinkedIn, it is more difficult to get content across all those platforms manually.”

Record label Interscope Geffen A&M (IGA) is similarly using automation for social media, which is one of the key marketing and communications channels in helping artists to interact with their fans. Lee Hammond, vice-president of digital, has run multiple automated marketing campaigns as part of the label’s wider marketing strategy. Artists include Lady Gaga, Eminem and U2. 

“A major part of our job is building a connection between bands and fans. You have to engage fans more deeply these days and build experiences. You can’t do that on social networks alone,” he says.

IGA works with San Francisco-based Livefyre. Its technology helps companies to create online communities where people can chat about their favourite artists and access content, for example. 

Hammond says that previously, artists used to produce content in their social channels but fans could not easily discover it. “By automating social content on their websites, our artists can keep their social presence and websites current while ensuring fans can easily access any updates.”

However, Hammond stresses that automation does not mean IGA can take its hands off the wheel.

“Now we have integrated the platform we do not simply relax and watch the content roll in whether it’s relevant or not. Although artist content is not moderated, we do moderate fan content because we want to showcase the best. Some of our bigger artists might draw thousands of fan posts but we may want to only highlight the 100 best photos.”

Automation should always mean efficiency as well as relevance, meaning a solid case for investment is required. The aim has to be to nurture prospects with personalised and relevant content that will convert people into long-term advocates of the brand, so that the income earned per customer grows over time. 

“It is easy to over-complicate and gold-plate your requirements, but this is prone to high development costs while your ability to change in future is limited,” says The Caravan Club’s Lewis. “Clean data is crucial. You can set up automated processes, but as soon as the quality of the data becomes questionable your outcomes will be spurious and your ability to know in real-time that something is broken is restricted.”

Using marketing automation software must never mean sitting back and letting the technology do all the work. A brand needs a strategic plan and must be able to adapt its marketing activity and campaigns based on the results. There is always a risk of becoming complacent and relying too much on the technology. “You must still test different messages with different segments, so it is vital to have robust reporting,” says Lewis.

One marketer sceptical about using marketing automation is Fujitsu UK & Ireland marketing director Simon Carter. He says brands must be careful otherwise customers will think a brand is just a machine churning out marketing messages.

“I am cynical about marketing automation,” he says. “Digital marketing is great, but don’t forget the basics and become too robotic as a brand when marketing. In B2B, one-to-one, personal relationships remain incredibly powerful.”

He adds: “Marketing automation can lead to marketing budgets being cut when actually you need more money to make the technology more effective. We use technology only to see who has visited our website but will always follow up personally.”

Technology gives marketers options to improve campaigns, and automating different processes will make sense to many brands, so long as they are not too reliant on the software.

Case study: Reed Business Information 

Reed Business Information
RBI used email automation for its XpertHR brand

Business publisher Reed Business Information (RBI) has been using marketing automation since 2008. It has enabled the company to create award-winning programmes for its magazine brands that include Hairdressers Journal, New Scientist and events such as Salon Live.

The company has also won awards for its XpertHR brand’s automated email nurture and lead generation programme. It included dynamic content and options for self-selection so that people could choose different topics within the initial email.

Prior to this campaign, non-targeted emails were sent to XpertHR’s entire database and the sales team had to work through large quantities of cold data.

RBI marketing director Lawrence Mitchell says using automation technology means his brands can offer valuable content, which encourages people to move through the purchasing process. “You can plot the buying process and then map content to each stage and build the programme within the marketing automation system,” he says. “It enables and underpins all of our marketing communication activity these days.”

But does it make his marketing team complacent? “The reverse is actually true because it lets marketers think about how to engage with their ideal customers more appropriately.”

Mitchell does accept that adequate training is needed if marketers are to become experts in using any system. “Training is vital if you want to make full use of the technology. We use it for prospecting for new clients and upselling. Our marketing team know that the technology enables them to communicate in a more targeted way than would otherwise be possible.”

Case study: 

PKR polka

Gaming website is using marketing automation technology during the FIFA World Cup to reduce its advertising spend in countries where it knows gamers will be watching the football. The website allows users to play poker in a virtual reality setting with 3D graphics.

“Fewer people will be playing online poker in England when Roy Hodgson’s team is in action and the same will be true across the world when specific teams are playing, so some of our campaigns will go dark,” says acquisition marketing manager Adam Coulter. “We are looking at where we can save money and spend our budget more effectively.”

About 85 per cent of’s online ad buying is automated. It uses MediaMath’s digital media buying platform to gather consumer behaviour insights and build them into its marketing strategy. The brand’s cost per acquisition of a customer has almost halved since it switched to more efficient automated buying three years ago. also uses marketing automation for prospecting and remarketing, and it is planning sport-specific campaigns in various countries during the World Cup.

“The technology gives us the self-service control we need to plan global and local campaigns. It used to be difficult to target smaller sites in Russia, for instance,” says Coulter. “We also need a platform that gives us site transparency so we know where our ads are appearing, and strong data reporting by the hour and by each website.”

Coulter rebuffs the idea that his marketing team could rely too much on marketing automation. “With access to so many publishers we must be more attentive about where our money is being spent. We are no longer focused purely on premium publishers,” he says. “There is a lot of work to be done analysing data and tracking performance at the back end, and automation allows us to do this more effectively.”