Marketing & Advertising

A Human Approach to Marketing Automation

Marketing automation can seem daunting. It may require segmenting customers, understanding behavioral triggers, writing dozens or even hundreds of messages, and developing complex if-then workflows.

Fortunately, like any large task, developing a successful marketing automation campaign can be done in small, simple steps. That’s the suggestion of Jason VandeBoom, CEO of ActiveCampaign, who said that the path toward marketing automation might start by engaging individual customers.

Customer Experience

The goal of marketing automation — also called “customer experience automation” and “digital experience automation” — is about creating meaningful shopping experiences at scale.

These experiences lead to loyal, repeat customers who have a higher lifetime purchase value and, likely, a relatively larger average order value than first-time buyers.

“Just the other day I was purchasing plants online,” said VandeBoom. “That’s something I can get anywhere. I received a purchase confirmation with the order, but then I also received a short email, ‘I saw you purchased this; we sometimes suggest this with it.’ It was not pushy, [rather] it felt like a person sent it.”

“I realize the message may be automated, but…I replied to it. It went to a human. We had a quick back-and-forth conversation. If you can find moments of adding that human touch to an experience,” you develop advocates for your company, VandeBoom said, adding that he spent an extra $5 to add the suggested product and would return to the site for more purchases.

If VandeBoom recommended this online store, marketing automation (along with human interaction) would have transformed him into a loyal advocate, which is much more valuable than paid customer acquisition.

When Automation Is Daunting

How did the plant company know which product to recommend? How was it able to craft a short message that felt authentically human while trying to make an additional sale?

Think about this for your business. What automation triggers would you pick? Do you treat a shopper coming from Instagram differently than one coming from Google search? Would you start an automation workflow the moment someone consummated a purchase? Would you aim at particular products? What would you say? How would that message read? What would your subject line be?

This is when marketing automation seems hard — answering all of these questions and understanding the potentially complex relationships. “A lot of brands fall down here,” VandeBoom said.

Managers “start thinking about all of these things and they’re like ‘this is a lot, I’m just going to sell more product'” to new customers, VandeBoom explained.

But giving up on marketing automation is giving up on creating shopping experiences that lead to repeat customers.

Stock photo of two digital workers in front of computer screens.

How would you set up your first marketing automation workflow? What data would you need? How many other departments would you need to interact with? Photo: Tim van der Kuip.

Start Manually

Just start. Don’t try to devise the perfect marketing automation workflow from the outset. You might not even need list segmentation or bulk messaging capabilities.

Start as if you were the shopkeeper in a small brick-and-mortar store. If someone came to the register with a flashlight, you would probably ask if he needed batteries, too.

As a marketer who wants to replicate the automation VandeBoom described, you could start by reviewing new orders and thinking like a good brick-and-mortar clerk.

If an order comes in for a flashlight, send a personal email message to that customer asking her if she would like batteries. Then see what happens.

Note whether the customer responds. As you ask more customers about batteries, identify which subject lines worked best. Record how customers responded to the battery question.

Before you know it, you would have identified an automation trigger. Based on your experience with real customers, you would have discovered how soon to send the follow-up email message and how to write it.

Replicate this approach to create many successful marketing automation workflows. The daunting task just got a lot easier.

Many businesses “try to get [marketing automation that is] very polished, very complete. They’re trying to do something similar to Amazon or Walmart,” VandeBoom said. “But I’m seeing more people wanting a connection to the brand and to the personality of the team or the business.”

Armando Roggio

Armando Roggio

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