Marketing automation offers companies big benefits, but, first and foremost, it’s for your customer, not for you. Implemented properly, the customer should fall in love with the interaction they have with a brand and look forward to communications that are timely, relevant and helpful.

Lisa Westhafer, director of strategy & planning, Mirum Los Angeles

Lisa Westhafer, director of strategy & planning, Mirum Los Angeles

Marketers today can automate the process of nurturing customers on predefined paths of action, or funnels, to drive conversion. And the benefits of marketing automation for a business are exponential: from reduced labor costs to deeper customer insights, to streamlining processes, to greater sales, to better organization within internal teams. There’s no argument that, with the right strategy in place, automation can propel a business’s success in today’s digital era.

But is marketing automation for you? The answer for every marketer is clear: No. It’s not for you. It’s for the customer.

Marketing automation is designed to elevate a customer’s experience.

As an individual hits a milestone within a user flow, a preprogrammed marketing action is taken that is right specifically for that segment.

That’s it. It’s not for the business to be more efficient. It’s not for data or sales. It’s not to make things easier for operations teams. It’s for the customer to fall in love with the interaction they have with a brand and look forward to communications that are timely, relevant and helpful in the chaos of their everyday lives. This then ultimately results in brand loyalty, more powerful data, simpler processes and, of course, greater sales for businesses. In fact, according to a recent article from Entrepreneur.com, 78% of marketers say automation increases revenue, and 75% of brands using automation see ROI in under 12 months.

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Customer-Centric Strategy

So what exactly is marketing automation? It’s the combination of technology and processes that allow marketers to connect with and drive customers down a path to purchase, whether that’s through email campaigns, push notifications, dynamic media, retargeting and/or other personalized content.

One of the key tenets of a successful automation campaign is your strategy; a strategy that’s rooted in understanding your customer so well that you’re intimately connected to their mindset and emotions along their shopping journey. It starts with a deep dive of your target audience by creating a customer persona, then mapping the various touchpoints your brand will have with that customer to anticipate their needs along the way. Persona development and journey mapping are two of the key strategic pieces that provide a foundation to develop a clear communication and customer experience automation plan for each step along your customer’s path to purchase.

For example, if your customer is on the pricing page of your website, would that be a good time to interrupt them with a pop-up? Maybe, if the content is designed to help them choose between the products you offer and make a decision easier for them. But if the pop-up content is guiding them away from the purchase, let’s say, to a webinar later that week, then you may have just interrupted a moment of sale and could lose that customer altogether if they never attend the webinar.

Having a customer-centric automation strategy with the right combination of journey mapping, engaging creative and a test-and-learn campaign delivery approach can help you answer these questions and ensure you’re reaching customers with the right information at the right moments. This all results in higher engagement rates that lead to an increase in sales.

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Personalized Shopper Journeys

Marketing automation platforms also provide marketers with a granular view of customers through the collection of behavioral data from media campaigns and digital properties as well as customer data from CRM platforms. And when connected to proper sales data, automation can help tie upper-funnel and lower-funnel campaigns to sales outcomes, allowing for better attribution and ongoing campaign optimization. One key way of collecting this data is by allowing marketing automation platforms to be the central point for campaign registrations from promotions or sweepstakes.

Once collected, automation data can be used to create an unlimited number of complex journeys across channels, allowing marketers to build connections by using preprogrammed intelligence to send communications that are timely and relevant, activated by user behavior. Advanced journeys can be developed like user flows based on subsegments of your audience—as an individual hits a milestone within a user flow, a preprogrammed marketing action is taken that is right specifically for that segment.

Because marketing automation platforms are always tuned into the “right signals,” customers get communications that are the most relevant and can help “wake up” a customer that has been dormant, or “gate” a customer that is being overcommunicated with and turned off to the message or offer. This again elevates the overall customer experience, and helps to prevent list exhaustion and unsubscribes from communities that took extensive investment of both time and effort to acquire.

Activating Automation

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Although the benefits of marketing automation are significant, delivering personalized, relevant customer experiences is a time-consuming task, especially when done across campaigns, brands and audience personas. Moreover, marketers switching to or upgrading their automation platforms must make decisions that require extensive evaluations around which technology will deliver the highest ROI and which platforms will best integrate with their existing systems.

So how can your organization get started implementing marketing automation? The first step is evaluating existing resources and determining if there are already initiatives happening in your organization to automate. If so, this will allow you to leverage best practices and technologies that may already be in place. You should also audit which campaigns are best suited to create “always on” experiences, and identify where you’re using forms to collect customer information that can be added to an automation flow.

Once you’ve evaluated your marketing automation opportunities, bring in your strategy experts to build a communication plan that fits your customer’s shopping journey, and involve your analytics and data teams to review your customer’s behavior. Think “omnichannel” for all touchpoints with your customer throughout their path to purchase, and implement automated tactics that are right for the moment.

Consider tactics like offering new subscriber discounts via a pop-up lightbox to capture email addresses for first-time visitors, or a push notification to regular customers when their most frequently purchased item goes on sale. Or when using email as the communication tool, create customer onboarding campaigns that customers are automatically enrolled in and, over time, may be moved into other campaigns depending on their engagement or purchase history, creating the opportunity to increase both conversion and loyalty through personalized messages.

An automation plan is a centerpiece of a marketing campaign strategy, and although it reduces administrative labor, it deserves a well-crafted strategy along with time and attention from cross-functional teams to continuously evolve. But the most important action step of marketing automation overall: remember that it is not for you.

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Mirum is a digital agency and part of global advertising and public relations firm WPP plc.