The Evolution Of Marketing Automation: Is History Repeating Itself?

Ten years ago marketing automation began its ascent to marketing technology’s pinnacle, kicking off the revolution known as “Martech.” What started as an evolution of email became the centerpiece of B2B marketing. And while email has become the workhorse for most marketers, mobile is the thoroughbred racing them into the future.

As an early Eloqua customer, I had front row seats for the beginning of the marketing technology evolution. Now, I’ve got an equally good view of the next wave of marketing. While a lot has changed in the last decade, I’m struck by the similarities between the two marketing channels — namely email and mobile messaging. Here are some examples:

1. New channels present first time challenges since there are no established best practices to guide decision-making. Just look at the two primary features of marketing automation: lead nurturing and scoring. Marketers understand that they need to be nurturing leads, but creating an effective nurturing campaign is a formidable challenge. The same holds true for lead scoring. Having a lead scoring program makes sense, but defining the point allocation and getting that formula to correlate with lead quality requires nuanced judgments and ongoing analysis. It’s not uncommon to find marketers well into their automation journeys still struggling to create effective nurturing and scoring frameworks.



In a similar way, mobile is a new channel that marketers are struggling to master. Take something as simple as a company website. How does one migrate a content-rich site into a tighter yet equally engaging mobile experience? Or consider user engagement – in-app messaging allows for a highly customized experience, but leveraging this powerful feature requires developer collaboration and forward thinking about customer use cases. Like email years ago, there are lots of questions to answer.

2. Marketing automation allowed marketers to evolve from one-off, batch and blast emails to an integrated engagement approach. In helping marketers fashion a nurturing strategy, I used to preach that it was all about frequency and relevancy. To illustrate those concepts, I analogized to dating. Like dating, you’re on solid ground as long as you don’t turn into the psycho-boy/girlfriend that calls three times a day after one date. Your frequency needs to be appropriate to the stage of the relationship and when you communicate, you need to have something relevant to say. Nothing more off-putting than someone interrupting your quality email time with something like “just thought you’d like to read about our e-commerce site’s new arrivals.” Yawn. Delete.

Mobile amplifies the frequency/relevancy issue to a new level. In an email, your recipients’ threshold for too much irrelevant content is reasonably high, meaning they’ll likely delete a few emails before unsubscribing. But the same standard doesn’t apply to mobile. While industry figures range, it’s safe to assume that about a vast majority of users won’t open an app three times. Wait too long to engage a new user, and they’re gone. Send too much, too soon and you’ll alienate them. In an unforgiving channel like mobile, your frequency and relevancy formula needs to be dialed-in early.

3. Content is everything. Whether it’s volume of content, quality of content or content for the right stage of the buying cycle, the issue of content is never far from a marketer’s mind. The evolution of channels as a source for nurturing has required marketing automation users to rethink how to create and package that content.

Mobile presents an equally daunting content challenge; how do you make it count? If most of your users only open your app twice, they better get something pretty special to keep them interested. The ease with which someone can terminate your relationship, not to mention the ridiculous proliferation of apps, means that nailing content is absolutely essential for survival. Like marketing automation, mobile content requires marketers to rethink how they attack this critical piece.

It’s taken marketing automation a number of years to mature, and there’s still a way’s to go. Similarly, marketers are trying to solve the mobile messaging puzzle, struggling with fundamental strategic and tactical questions. One thing is for certain, in the search for tried and true mobile formulas, marketers won’t have ten years to figure it out.

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