THE BLOG
12/27/2016 07:05 am ET Updated Dec 28, 2017

How Marketing Automation is changing the game in 2017

Marketing automation isn't your average fancy buzzword. Starting off with Eloqua in 1999 and still going strong with multiple new platforms cropping up in every nook and cranny, it's clear that marketing automation isn't a passing phase - it is here to stay. In fact, a study by Gleanster reports that 90% of respondents report regular and periodic use of marketing automation for large-volume email campaigns. First, let's understand what marketing automation is and why businesses need it.

What is marketing automation?

According to HubSpot, marketing automation refers to the software that automates marketing actions. Marketing departments must automate repetitive tasks such as emails, social media, and other website actions. The technology of marketing automation makes these tasks easier.

Marketing automation combines marketing campaigns across all channels--from direct mail and phone campaigns to online, social and mobile initiatives. It combines insight-focused capabilities from your CRM, lead management system, web analytics platform, and other systems to create something that's more than the sum of the parts.

Why do businesses need it?

Today, marketing is all about time management. It boils down to who gets the first mover's advantage, who engages with customers more often and who converts leads faster. Digital marketing has set a fast pace to lead conversion and businesses have no time to lose on customers that may not convert at all. Sifting through leads consumes time and energy that can be utilized more effectively. Likewise, juggling between multiple platforms also takes up valuable time, for organizations delving into digital marketing.

This is where marketing automation steps in. It has revolutionized the way organizations are managing their time and targets. Marketing automation allows marketers to shift their focus to the best possible prospects that can be converted, thus saving time and energy.

With marketing automation, marketers engage customers with tailored content based on their profile data and purchasing behavior. The more personalized content your lead receives, the more time they will spend on your site. This leads to collection of valuable data that can help you convert the leads into customers - and of course, future cross selling.

With Facebook and Google changing their algorithms to promote the most original and relevant content, marketing automation has become even more of a necessity. Marketing automation distributes your content in a smarter, more organized way. The goal is to attract potential leads to your site, track and profile their interests and present even more relevant content to convert them into sales.

It builds a valuable database for leads in your CRM system. Once connected with your CRM system, the software can help you update the lead's information over time.

Setting up alerts when the lead is visiting your website in real time can be immensely helpful. Think about it, emailing the lead within an hour of them visiting your website can increase chances of a sale. With a marketing automation software, hot leads can be followed up on, straight away. And optimizing your marketing automation for the right results guarantees success.

What does the future hold?

With new avenues of digital marketing opening, marketing automation platforms (MAPs) must evolve, in order to stay ahead of the game. Here are some ways marketing automation software will influence business in 2017:

Smart and specialized marketing automation platforms

Marketing tech companies are continuing to specialize their MAPs, focusing on their clients' primary needs--and then finding specific technologies that address each of them. Rather than trying to combine everything in one huge marketing automation system, tomorrow's MAPs will be smarter and focus on smaller applications for each stack of tasks.

2017 will see the rise of machine learning automation, as opposed to rules based. The problems incurred with previous rules based automation, such as, any error going out to thousands of people, has forced MAPs to improve. Machine learning marketing automation, on the other hand, keeps getting smarter. It uses data to make proactive decisions. Rather than reacting to past data or campaign success, proactive (i.e., predictive) marketing uses data to determine what will create future growth.

With the need to create the most original and relevant content, smart and machine learning marketing automation will become crucial to the success of online businesses.

Artificial intelligence and account based marketing

2016 saw explosive growth in account based marketing (ABM) adoption. More than 70% of B2B companies are now focused on driving ABM programs, according to a study by SiriusDecisions. The ABM Leadership Alliance also released a research on the state of the ABM market, which found that ABM marketing now outperforms other traditional marketing methods. B2B marketers also experienced a 171% increase in their average annual contact value (ACV), when using ABM strategies like selecting target accounts, defining budgets and outlining team structures. This growth is expected to continue and evolve with the advent of artificial intelligence (AI) in ABM.

The most valuable use for AI in marketing is to enable personalized conversations with customers, knowing their goals, ambitions and profile. This type of personalized communication eliminates spam, which often plagues marketing today.

In the next year, AI will allow these personalized one-on-one conversations to grow beyond a group of people. Each of your website visitors can expect to have a unique conversation with the brand, based on their specific needs. Dynamic ad copy, one-to-one emails, customized website and mobile experiences, AI will make hyper-personalization possible at scale.

Another way we can expect to see AI push ABM to the next level is through the creation of entirely new B2B marketing technologies that will complement and support ABM solutions, for example, a B2B business concierge - a completely automated and customized buyer's journey throughout the funnel, driven by AI.

All about the customer

Marketing automation will become central to the customer experience, extending beyond the marketing function alone. In fact, leading marketing functions are already using marketing automation in new ways, including internal communications, customer satisfaction initiatives and channel optimization. The most successful companies have divided the responsibility of automating between sales and marketing with CRM integration.

The focus will shift to customer loyalty, i.e. retention, because it costs more to acquire new customers, as opposed to retaining loyal ones. In 2017, a focus on retention will make all customers micro-influencers. Their loyalty to brands will promote purchases among their own networks. Marketing automation programs will need to step up the personalization game when it comes to loyalty programs. They will need to be part of a multichannel experience, so that wherever your customer interacts with your brand, they will be treated like royalty.

As time goes on, marketing automation will continue to evolve, with more features, capabilities and integrations - but you need to make more strategic decisions about which features best suit your needs, support your processes and capabilities - and most importantly - deliver brilliant experiences for your customers.

Before you jump on the bandwagon, figure out why you need to invest in an MAP. Do not invest in marketing automation without a plan that is fully in line with your marketing and business goals. Otherwise, you might as well fire shots in the dark.

Make sure you have well-trained resources and talent dedicated to your marketing automation platform. Many employees have limited knowledge of MAP features and options available to them. Both, marketing and sales teams should be invested in your marketing automation platform to avoid finger-pointing and blame games.

The bottom line is: marketing automation improves communication, leading to interested, engaged and loyal customers.