Content marketing can feel rather repetitive at times, regardless of the endless possibilities it offers. Tasks such as launching newsletters, following up leads and online advertising are often inefficient and require quite a lot of manual work. This is where marketing automation comes in.
By automating these tasks, content marketing can achieve more leads and offer personal guidance throughout the customer journey. Best case scenario is that they are converted from lead to customer quicker. A great proposition, but not without complications. It is true that you can easily get lost in the abundance of marketing automation tools, your organisation has to be adapted to it, and there are also some risks involved.
What is marketing automation?
First of all: what exactly is marketing automation? As the name suggests, it is used to automate your marketing. Marketing automation consists of software that helps marketeers by taking over repetitive tasks, enhancing efficiency and productivity as well as ensuring that campaigns can be applied on a larger scale and that messages, using data, are better targeted at specific audiences.
Common examples of marketing automation can be found in areas such as customer segmentation, where software automatically divides the target group into subgroups. Another example is campaign management, whereby digital adverts are automatically sent out when specific conditions are met, for example.
In other words, marketing automation has a very broad field of application. Several application options come to mind when we focus on content marketing. After all, automation is also very useful for making sure the right content ends up with the right audience.
Automated mailing and automated content flows
The first foray many businesses take into automating their content marketing is automated mailing. This is where a company automatically sends e-mails to people who showed an interest in their product or service and have provided their e-mail address as a result. This could entail a simple welcome e-mail. For example, if someone subscribes to your newsletter, you could send this person a short thank you e-mail, with important basic information about your product or service, what they can expect from you as a business or what is coming up in the newsletter.
But mailing automation can also be a lot more complex: it is also possible to link an entire flow to this initial e-mail exchange. You can even take a genuine e-mail course, where you get sent an automated e-mail every week, containing your lesson for that week. This brings us to automated content flows. Instead of sending one e-mail, you guide a person through a complete content experience. Everything to scale, without manual intervention.
In future, marketeers take on the creative tasks and simultaneously have automated systems carry out the repetitive tasks.
But that’s not all. Marketing automation also includes a segment called automated advertising. It is used to automate digital ad mailings. Right now, these types of advertising messages are often created manually, and then displayed to prospective customers via Google or Facebook. This too can be more automated. Automated advertising systems make their own advertising proposals based on the material you provide, such as the copy and images on your website. The system then ensures that the resulting advertisements are shown to prospective customers automatically.
The customer journey is an important element in all these marketing automation actions. A lead moves through a series of stages before it is converted into an actual paying customer. Automation of content marketing offers assistance at every corner to make sure you are building the best possible and most personal relationship with your potential leads. An automated e-mail at the right time may be the difference between converting or losing a lead.
It is no surprise that research agency Forrester predicted that the market for marketing automation would be good for 25 billion dollars by 2023. After all, it responds to an important demand among (content) marketeers: the best possible management of as many leads as possible, as efficiently as possible.
All this sounds very interesting, of course. But implementing this automation is not always easy. It is true that there are many tools to choose from, but tools alone are not enough to achieve successful results. Proper marketing automation requires you to take a close look at processes, to streamline collaboration between various department, and to adopt the right strategy.
Marketing automation is suitable for an organisation that is ready to receive it. After all, it implies you are quick and agile when it comes to testing and adapting to the circumstances. If it takes months for approval to come through in the event of an error in the automated content flow, your brand could suffer significantly.
This is linked to attracting the right skills, and an interdisciplinary internal culture. Marketing automation relies on software tools that are usually relatively easy to use, but still require some IT knowledge in some cases, and possibly some input from other departments. The introduction of marketing automation is reliant on swift collaboration between the various departments working iteratively. If, on the other hand, it takes months for the IT department to respond to a marketing issue, problems quickly add up.
So, marketing automation should be able to rely on a broader vision within an agile organisation that can respond quickly and adapt to the situation at all times. There is a lot more to it than just tools.
Marketing automation is not a ‘silver bullet’ either. Automation will not solve more deep-rooted branding or marketing issues. On the contrary, it may worsen the problem. Automating poor marketing equals spam. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that automation itself is sometimes linked to tactics such as buying e-mail databases. Content automation may help to make your marketing more efficient and personal, but if it is implemented badly, you end up pushing leads away.
It is important to keep in mind privacy legislation such as GDPR. Marketing automation often relies on gathering data on your customers, whether this involves e-mail addresses or information about their consumption preferences. Owning this data in order to run automatic processes on it also means you have to safeguard the trust of your customers. Marketing automation is meant to always add value to their lives, follow the rules, and ask for the right permissions. If you fail to do this, things can turn sour very quickly.
Automation can absolutely make your marketing more personal, on a large scale to boot. But you should not overdo it. Nobody wants twenty automated reminders from a single company in their mailbox.
Marketing automation is not a silver bullet. Automation will not solve more deep-rooted branding or marketing issues
The future is AI
The technology behind marketing automation is improving all the time, and new tools are emerging regularly. Artificial intelligence, or AI, will drive this even further in the future. For example, in the summer of 2020, research lab OpenAI brought out GPT-3, an AI program that writes text. The system is trained by a gigantic dataset of texts from across the Internet. Prompting the system by way of an initial sentence sets in motion the creation of an entire piece of text. The result is astonishingly good: the program writes easy-to-read, sometimes insightful, texts that are some cases difficult to distinguish from work produced by human writers. Someone even posted a blogpost about GPT-3, written by GPT-3 without anyone realising that the text was not written by a human being.
This could potentially mean profound changes are afoot for content marketing. Instead of engaging a copywriter for a blogpost, you provide an AI tool with a briefing which then “writes” various versions of a text. After some human editing, the client selects the best version. It is no surprise that Forrester predicts that 11 percent of all tasks in American digital and creative agencies will be automated by 2023.
Sounds somewhat threatening, doesn’t it? Will marketeers find they’ve lost their jobs to computers in a few years? Not necessarily. Despite the hype and the great results, the texts written by GPT-3 are still rather disjointed and at times completely miss the mark as prompted by the client. Certainly, a human touch is still required, both to correct the AI’s work, and to provide other aspects like correct briefing for the AI, or original ideas that the computer can work with.
A more logical future scenario would probably be for the human marketeers to take on the creative tasks and at the same time, automated systems carry out the repetitive tasks. AI might write the blogpost, but the original concept of the text and editing afterwards is still by human hands and minds. (Wo)man and machine are both playing to their strengths.