Where possible, we try and avoid buzzwords and fads in what we do, but sometimes they just won’t go away and become a genuinely dominant force to be reckoned with. In the digital marketing sphere, Automation is one of those increasingly important buzzwords, and shows no sign of stopping. With the introduction of digital assistants (such as Alexa, Hey Google and Siri), automation is becoming more and more integral at home and in every day life – and even planes run on auto-pilot, so why shouldn’t your content marketing?
We’re not talking about full-on, complex AI, but simple and effective ways of automating mundane and repetitive digital marketing workflows, like email communications and content scheduling, to allow you to take a relatively hands-off approach to delivering marketing messages to your potential and existing customers at the right times.
We regularly dive in to assist our own clients with integrating automation into their workflows through a wide range of software and cloud based solutions, from CRM systems to social media & data flows, and it can be amazing how investing time into planning and implementation can make sales processes much more efficient. This means our clients can free up time for valuable team members to deliver more impact through their work, and assign more time to develop other areas of their marketing practices. Marketing projects, business development and sales can place huge demands on your human resources – automating a range of tasks frees up time that can be better spent on delivering strategy and client interaction. Automation can deal with customer communications, nurture leads, schedule and post content to websites and social media channels, and even impact market research & analytics, leading to increased productivity and improved efficiency.
The case for automation is strong according to research delving in to what can be expected in 2020, with almost 45% of marketers believing that automation implementation will become more important as a skill in the next 12 months (which is handy, because we’ve been entrenched in automation flows for some time at Wonderful!). However, before implementing marketing process automation, it’s important to establish the workflow to allow you to prepare for new processes (and to ensure the automation delivers results!).
We’ve picked out 4 of the key steps to understand before your automation should be switched ‘on’:
1. What are you looking to automate?
It’s very easy to get caught up in they hype around things like automation. Everyone’s doing it, so you feel you should apply it to your business operations (particularly in marketing); but you really need to start with what you’re looking to automate. Does your operation hinge largely on repeated action? If so, you should try to work out which of your teams’ tasks are the most repetitive. Within digital marketing or content marketing tasks, something as simple as automating your response emails can significantly reduce admin (hint: be careful not to make them sound too automated! No-one likes an obvious auto-responder). You should plot all of your current marketing tasks, and analyse which are the most time-consuming and most easily automated.
Getting a grip on the right tasks to automate, and the workflow a team member would take to deliver this is absolutely vital, as exploring this allows you to decide if the task should even be automated in the first place.
Tasks you may wish to automate could include initial enquiry email responders, or email workflows; CRM lead-flows (with time delays & interactions triggering reminders, interactions, qualifying leads in/out, etc); or even automated cross-platform data flows (such as triggering a notification in an internal communication platform like Slack when a lead is updated within a CRM system, which in turn triggers an action within an Email platform, or updates a proposal/deal) – and the list goes on!
However, care should be taken not to dehumanise the process entirely, particularly in marketing, as nurturing customers in their journey with your brand often requires different actions and interactions based on behavioural actions (‘triggers’). Tasks at the extreme end of customer interaction, like complaints or complex queries, should probably not be automated (not yet anyway, not until AI is fully humanised!). Take customer complaints which arrive through social platform messaging (e.g. Facebook messenger) as an example; having a bot-automated response to these may end up exacerbating a negative experience your customer has already had with your brand, and within certain eco-systems like Facebook this leaves your business open to very publicly visible criticism, negative reviews and a loss of advocacy.
2. How are you going to automate them?
Having identified a need and the specifics of automation requirements within a business (and the effect this will have on the business), implementing automation should ideally be carried out by experienced with builders of automated systems and processes. There are a huge range of different automation tools available on the market today, particularly those which can facilitate automated tasks within existing systems or between seemingly unrelated platforms. Drilling down into which solution is the best for your requirements can be challenging, particularly when just getting started with automation – of course, this is where we would usually come in!
Some of the most commonly used platforms and integrations on the market to allow you to automate your marketing activities include:
- CRMs like HubSpot, SalesForce (Pardot) and Pipedrive
- Email platforms such as ActiveCampaign and Mailchimp
- Social schedulers and monitoring such as Hootsuite, Marketo, ContentCal and even SEMRush
- Hybrids & cross-platform integration widgets such as Customer.io, Zapier and Drip.
- Reporting (we’ll come on to this later)
You should also be aware that, in addition to some of the aforementioned, there may be industry-specific software solutions available in your space. We investigate these fully before selecting a platform for our clients, and the majority of platforms offer a free trial, which allows us to test the software in your unique environment with your specific automations in mind so we can evaluate which is the best fit. This is where our exhaustive briefing process and pre-discovery phases are absolutely vital, as moving the goal-posts on project requirements once investigation has been undertaken into the automation platforms most suited to delivery is a huge challenge.
3. Who does this impact in your team?
Digitising processes and starting to automate functions is often a contributory cog in the wheels of digital transformation for some businesses (read more about that here), and inevitably it will change how certain team members work within your operation. In fact, some digitisation and automation practices have been known to render entire departments or roles redundant! However, more often than not they are actually used to the benefit of the team as they make more mundane or repetitive tasks redundant and allow those team members to concentrate on more impactful work.
To avoid dehumanisation of team members as well as customers the introduction of new software and processes requires an investment in training for applicable staff, as it is ultimately them that will be setting processes up, as well as triggers, flows and more. It’s important for team members to understand how automation fits into their working day, and how their role might be refocused as well as the benefits of introducing automation to elements of their role. Often, ensuring these team members have advanced buy-in to any new automation process, as well as the opportunity to thoroughly test out new systems, will go a long way. It will give them the capacity and space to think about how best to exploit the features and benefits whilst also giving the team the opportunity to raise any concerns they might have, such as potential interactions which may make the automation ‘fall over’ and break.
Marketing automation is fast-becoming an increasingly important skill for marketers to have in their portfolio (the ability to create automation, manage flows and adapt to the changing environment within which the automation lives), so many are being up-skilled by their employer (or choosing to do it themselves). Being able to visualise and translate customer journeys into automated flows, predicting customer actions, and therefore the response/reaction the brand needs to take through action is key, and an intrinsically human trait which needs to be fed into all automation processes.
4. How effective is the automation process?
As with all marketing activities, automation should not be left to just ‘tick over’. Monitoring and analysing the impact allows you to adapt and learn, constantly tweaking to optimise performance. Automating reporting as an element of your automation can be a vital part of your project – allowing you to easily gather data on the success of your new processes. Whilst most agencies and individuals might recommend a periodic review of what’s working well, what could be improved, and the impact of automation on key metrics, Wonderful builds live dashboards to track the effectiveness of the campaigns, allowing clients to make appropriate adjustments in a timely fashion.