Let’s humanise marketing automation

CYBORGg marketing automation

Marketing Automation is not an extinction level event for marketers

There is a growing belief among computer scientists that machines will soon reach the condition of “artificial general intelligence” and match humans in their intellectual capacity. The Future of Life Institute in the US and the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk at Cambridge university, among other august bodies, have been set up to explore the risks to humanity. In the here and now of digital marketing, we are struggling to come to terms with the implications of marketing automation. Is it the answer to our real-time prayers or the beginning of the end for marketing jobs as we know them? Is resistance futile? Only time will tell. In the meantime, it is worth exploring all options in pursuit of better customer experiences. Marketing automation has the potential to:

  • Reduce marketing costs to minimal levels
  • Increase ROMI to optimal levels
  • Streamline marketing operations
  • Engage customers in real-time

But before marketing automation can be put to work, you have to work out what you want from it.

It’s not a tech problem or a people problem, it’s an objective problem

As discussed in The Rise of the Micro Marketing Machine, marketing automation is developing a “Skills gap that is even greater than the tech gap.” The first gap however is not the embryonic skills of the marketing automation professional but rather the project initiator’s ability to assess the potential of the rapidly expanding range automation tools and platforms.

If you look at the potential candidates in terms of revenue, the hierarchy might look like this:

  • Eloqua
  • Infusionsoft
  • Hubspot
  • Teradata/Aprimo
  • Unica (now part of IBM)
  • Marketo
  • Simplycast
  • Silverpop (now part of IBM)
  • Pardot
  • Act/On

If you look at the potential candidates in terms of customer numbers, the hierarchy might look like this:

  • Infusionsoft
  • Hubspot
  • Teradata/Aprimo
  • Unica
  • Eloqua

If you look at the potential candidates in terms of recommendations by 1000 marketing automation users, the hierarchy might look like this:

  • Hubspot
  • Salesforce
  • Marketo
  • SAS
  • Eloqua
  • IBM
  • Act-On
  • InfusionSoft
  • LoopFuse
  • Silverpop

You may notice the absence of names such as Adobe Marketing Cloud and Microsoft dynamics CRM et al? The fact is, the number of mergers and acquisitions combined with new entrants brings a constant state of flux to the sector and makes any list practically redundant at the point of publishing.

So you could simply opt to go with the current leaders in the field, throw your lot in with the fast rising contenders; put your trust in the high-performers or start with a niche specialist. The permutations are overwhelming. The key is to narrow down your options by considering the following questions:

  • How does marketing automation fit into our long-term business plans and marketing strategy?
  • Do we clearly understand how to balance outbound and inbound content marketing contexts that automation will create?
  • Can we identify a primary marketing automation tool or system or collection off tools from different systems that is right for our business, capabilities, systems, silos and resources (financial and human)?
  • Have we mapped and aligned our sales, marketing and CRM processes to such an extent that stakeholder buy-in for a marketing automation system is an equally desirable decision for all stakeholders within the business?
  • Does our data deliver a single-point view of the customer or is data dispersed across a collection of legacy-driven in-house and necessity-driven cloud-based data points?
  • Is your marketing automation agenda driven by the need for brand activation and acquisition optimisation; sophisticated lead nurturing and qualified conversion control or personalised retention activities that recognise and reward customer advocacy, collaboration and loyalty?
  • Do you have the systems and people in place to align data use, content development and analytics across web, email, mobile and social channels?
  • Are you a customer-centric and media-neutral thinker, capable of detecting the key issues in any market context, defining precise and realistic objectives, creating inspirational strategies, delivering actionable and accountable tactical plans and providing detailed cost projections, response metrics and ROMI accounts?

By questioning our motivations regarding our desire for marketing automation and being realistic about capabilities and the potential benefits and difficulties, both practical and political, we stand a better chance of surviving the transition.

When considering the implementation of marketing automation projects, it is also worth considering three equally important factors: time management, striving for achievement and situational optimism.

Time management

Leaving aside the months of due diligence in assessing potential marketing automation partners and systems and gaining approvals within your business, there are other time-consuming factors to consider, such as: synching the platform with the CRM system; creating email, landing page and form templates; setting up email DKIM and SPF validation systems; developing DNS mapping for landing pages and tracking codes for the content management system, building testing experiments for landing pages, training users to set up, run, evaluate and report on test campaigns before a system-wide roll-out.

Striving for achievement

During this time, pressure for the successful delivery of your marketing automation project will increase in direct proportion to the proximity of the rollout date when investment without quantifiable return reaches its peak. Remaining focused on the original (hopefully scope-creep-free) objective helps reduce mounting anxiety, but having prior buy-in from a well-informed CEO and senior stakeholders together with constant updates on progress against burndown project management charts will ease pressure on you and your rapidly expanding team.

Situational optimism

As John Lennon once said, “Life is what happens when you are busy planning something else.” In pursuit of a problem-free transition to a life in marketing automation, mistakes will happen. The Econsultancy article, When Marketing Automation Goes Wrong, points out a long list of wrong massage, wrong person, wrong time faux pas. At such times, the leaders of any marketing automation project will be faced with hopefully temporal personal doubts and potential told-you-so criticism from resisters. Remind yourself that the French phrase faux pas literally translates as “False step” and that as Confucius advises, “Even the longest journey begins with but a single step.” Recognise the error as an opportunity to learn and move on. As Sir Kenneth Robinson, a celebrated educator and star of several of the most popular Ted talks states, ‘If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original. And therein lies the bottom line: the goal of marketing automation is to find the most original solution to each individual customer requirement in any given moment. This requires technology and human resources to work together in ways that is the stuff of dreams for previous generations of marketers. For me, The Power of Dreams campaign by Honda serves as a reminder to all of us climbing the foothills of marketing automation – it’s not how we see the world that drives us but rather how it could be. Hence the development of the CYBORGg collective, a group of digital marketing specialists dedicated to the humanisation of marketing automation. In our opinion, resistance to the essential role of human intelligence in marketing automation is futile.