You Have Been Assimilated: The Future of Marketing Automation

You Have Been Assimilated: The Future of Marketing Automation

A few years ago I conducted extensive research on marketing automation. I interviewed product managers, solution directors and even CEOs from all of the major – and many of the minor – vendors in the marketing automation industry. It took months of work, compiling the lists, conducting interviews, assimilating information and writing up the results. And even as I was wrapping up the report, I was stunned to learn of yet more entrants into this crowded industry, each with new talking points, approaches and philosophies. It seemed that software was, indeed, eating marketing.

There are tons of marketing automation solutions out there

In every interview I would be amazed by the power of almost all of the platforms and the technical thinking, and equally surprised to find so much variation in the features, functions and future directions. Some platforms prioritised the management of marketing – helping marketers budget, plan and allocate resources. Other platforms created powerful systems for email marketing, lead nurturing and scoring, allowing for rapid scaling of campaigns and activations. Another group of technologies focused on events and the features needed to manage them from a drop-dead date backwards.

There were integrations with analytics, sales automation platforms and various flavours of CRM. Sometimes these platforms could be integrated easily. Sometimes it could cost thousands of dollars and considerable resources.

There were the big players offering powerful “marketing clouds” integrating or patching the various feature sets. And there were niche specialists delivering incredible value for small websites running WordPress.

Clearly “marketing automation” was a broad church … and this $1.2 billion industry was on a growth trajectory.

Yet with a few obvious exceptions, there was little consideration of the role of marketers in the world of marketing automation. It was like we were rushing head-long into a world where the role of the marketer was evaporating. Perhaps, as in this video, the future for marketers is one of assimilation – all technology none of the personality.

You have been assimilated

Is marketing automation just a glorified email blasting system?

One of the problems with marketing automation is that these systems have evolved from a core email marketing base. In interview after interview with marketers, it became clear that the vast functionality available through marketing automation systems is largely untapped. The same is true of almost every piece of software that you now have access to.

Take a look any number of applications on your computer – or even your phone. How much of the functionality are you using? When SoftWatch surveyed over 148,000 employees across 51 international companies, they found that 70% of employees only use Microsoft Office products for viewing or light editing. That is, the powerful features and functions are largely untouched and underutilised. It is likely that – unless you are a “power user” – the same situation applies to your marketing software.

But there is a light at the end of the tunnel. And that light is you.

Agile marketing meets predictive analytics

I have written extensively on the role of the marketer in the face of technology innovation. And the more that I read, write and experience the changes that are taking place FOR marketers and IN marketing, the more I am convinced that we are seeing two worlds coming together. Not only is the technology evolving, so too are our creative approaches to using it.

While technology and analytics can help adjust and optimise the work of marketing, it has some way to go to match the marketer’s cunning understanding of the consumer’s heart and mind.

But this means that the work of marketing also needs to change. We need to restructure our teams so that they work less like a silo and more like a multi-dimensional team. We need build out capabilities across the five dimensions of future marketing capability:

  • Marketing foundations
  • Technology foundations
  • Content production and publishing
  • Data analytics
  • Social mindset

And we also need to reinvent our processes. This is not just a matter of shifting from a “campaign” mindset to an “always-on” mindset, we need to infuse these new teams with new ways of working and new tools to get that job done. This means taking a leaf out of the book of the software world and creating “lean marketing plans” rather than three month or year-long programs. It means reducing our cycle times so that we use our marketing automation platforms to activate the processes that take our focus away from delivering outstanding customer experiences.

Just imagine if we could use the data (that we mostly already have) to visualise the blockages we have in our customers’ journeys. Imagine if the software could then trigger an intervention – perhaps a call from a sales or customer service team. Or even if the software could re-configure itself based on the customer’s history, letting us know at the end of the day that a problem had been resolved.

Of course, this is already possible. Available. But often not implemented. And it is not implemented because we don’t have time in our “busy-as-usual” professional lives.

Time is not a “blocker”

Startups have plenty to learn from marketers – and marketers have plenty to learn from them. One of my favourite techniques is prioritisation. The rule for prioritisation in the agile team is that “time is not a blocker”. If you cannot complete the allocated task within the time allowed, then the task has to be de-scoped or de-prioritised. This simple technique means that whole teams can focus on particular activities.

And this – in the world of marketing and marketing automation, simply means one thing. You have to choose. You have to prioritise. And focus.

It’s not just about the technology

The future of marketing automation is upon us. We will continue to see more features, capabilities and integrations – but we will need to also make more strategic decisions about which features best suit our needs, support our processes and capabilities – and vitally – deliver brilliant experiences for our customers. We need to lead the changes that we want to see, advocate for them and create the change and training programs that will help us transform the business of marketing. After all, it’s not just about the technology.


Subscribe To Firebrand Ideas Ignition Blog

Sign up to receive our new blog posts via email. You'll get all the latest articles on digital, marketing, social media, communications, personal branding — and lots of career advice

Search Website