The Past, Present and Future of Marketing Automation

As we all know, marketing is always in a constant state of flux. The methods we used a year ago might not be as effective today. The tactics we employ today, might not be around next year! We saw various marketing trends come and go, and with these trends, marketers developed tools to be able to get a better job done, hopefully in an easier way.

Presenting… Marketing Automation — another buzzword!
 In this article, I will be discussing the past and present of marketing automation, as well as a couple of points to what the future might hold for us.

As a side note, the term ‘Marketing Automation’ is normally used to describe software that is designed to help us marketers market on different channels, as well as to automate otherwise repetitive tasks. I am going to take the term in a wider sense, and discuss how our day-to-day tasks as marketers are being automated, freeing us to focus on more creative tasks.

From letters and phone calls to automated e-mail shots

Let’s imagine a world without marketing automation, and go back to an age of letters and phone calls. If you were a marketer back then, you would acquire addresses or numbers, and had to painstakingly send or call each one. Furthermore, you had no way of knowing whether the letters were opened, and what parts of it were read by your prospects.

Now imagine if we didn’t have automation today. We all receive those regular, personalised e-mails from eBay, Amazon and LinkedIn… Those are all automated. Can you imagine how many people you would have to employ if these were not automated?!

The digital age brought with it new ways to market your offerings. In the space of a couple of years, marketing shifted from an outbound process to an inbound one — rather than shouting out to potential prospects, you invite them in. New tools started being developed, with the first examples even going back to 1992 (Unica, which was acquired by IBM in 2010). Social media marketing was born, blogging gave rise to content marketing and new analytics software are frequently released.

The bottom line is that marketing is gradually shifting to a more ‘personalised’ experience. The majority of the tools and software are aimed at us marketers providing that experience.

Ok… What about the types of automation out there?

I am going to describe three kinds of automation: Communication Automation, Analytics, and Social Marketing Automation.

The first kind of automation is the actual software that is described by the term ‘Marketing Automation’. It refers to software such as Hubspot, Marketo and InfusionSoft. Marketo define themselves as ‘technology that allows companies to streamline, automate, and measure marketing tasks and workflows, so they can increase operational efficiency and grow revenue faster’.

In other words, they automate actions related to the engagement of potential customers. As you can see in the screenshot from Eloqua, another example of automation software, which shows the workflow that most of these software adopt:

The second type of which I consider to be ‘Automation’ is the analytics side. A concept which we have been using for some time now is ‘Heatmapping’, which show us areas that are of most interest to website visitors (which hence, generate more heat).

One such tool which we are starting to implement is HotJar (see screenshot), which interestingly combines analytics (including heatmaps, actual recordings of site visits (wow!) and more) along with user feedback (on-site surveys to ask visitors direct questions). Other examples include CrazyEgg and obviously, Google Analytics.

However, the process is not completely ‘Automated’… In a way, you set it up, and you let it gather information for some time in an ‘automated’ way. However, someone still has to analyse the results and work on improving the experience to site visitors. Analytics thus is simply an ‘automated’ tool and the good results and ROI come with a creative and open-minded marketer analysing the results. (Perhaps, in a way, a Kenwood automates the cutting of vegetables, but it still takes a good chef to produce a good meal!)

And finally, there is social marketing automation. The tool which we use most is Hootsuite, but there are other examples such as Sprout and Buffer. In the early days of the Social Media world, the platforms were fighting for a unique set of users. However, platforms soon noticed that in reality, users tend to have not only a Facebook account, but also a Twitter and a LinkedIn account. Similarly, businesses started to be present on more than one social platform, which created a difficulty for marketers through constant signing-in-and-out of different client accounts.

Software such as Hootsuite act like a dashboard for all your social media accounts! Furthermore, Hootsuite also offers automated scheduling (which suggests a scheduling time according to the best time to post that particular content) as well as automated content suggestions (which gathers articles relevant to a set of keywords).

Honourable mentions: Mailchimp and Canva

Mailchimp: No introduction needed, probably the leading e-mail marketing technology out there, which offers ways for you to manage subscribers, design & send e-mails, track results as well as integrate with other programmes.

Canva: ‘Canva makes design simple for everyone’ — we agree with that. Even if you are not a designer, and have never touched Photoshop, Canva really makes it easy for you to design amazing graphics for blogs, websites and social media. They also provide a couple of handy tools, such as automatic re-sizing for your images (have a FB post that you want to turn into a Twitter card? Just click Magic Resize!)

Wow… Ok, what about the future.

Well… We are definitely looking forward for what the future is going to bring!

The tools mentioned above still require a certain degree of human input. Content still has to be created by somebody, right?

Well… We are already seeing the first advances into algorithmically created content. (Yes, you read that right). Companies such as Automated Insights and Narrative Science actually say things like: ‘From data, to clear insightful content’. So if you have the data, you can already get a pretty readable extract from it! What is still lacking at this stage though is human feelings such as humour and irony.

I also believe that big data will continue offering insights into, for example, better content scheduling. In other words, it will become easier for marketers to provide the content that a potential client wants at that exact moment that they want it! There are already a number of companies, such as Vertical Leap, that are doing that effectively, so who knows what the future might bring.

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