Popped into a session hosted by MITX yesterday morning, What Can Marketing Automation Do for You? The panelists were Jim Williams of Eloqua, Christopher O’Donnell of Hubspot, and Bill Stone of RenaissanceOPTI.
Given my interview with Steven Woods last week on marketing automation as a solution to the explosion of marketing touchpoints — as well as Eric Wittlake’s thoughtful commentary, When Did Automated Dialogue Trump Real Conversation? — I was eager to hear other perspectives.
Bill kicked it off by reminding the audience of the underlying disruption motivating marketing automation: as buyers have gravitated to self-service information gathering on the web, salespeople have become increasingly disenfranchised as a company’s “ears to the ground.”
No offense to the sales profession, but most folks don’t want to talk with salespeople, especially early in their consideration process — the web has given them an alternative channel that they control at their pace, on their agenda.
So if you want to learn about your prospects and what interests them, what you’re doing right (or not), then you need to listen to their digital body language that dominates the majority of the modern sales and marketing funnel. And that — along with mechanisms to respond to such signals — is the heart of marketing automation.
When is marketing automation appropriate?
Jim remarked that he is often asked, “Is personalization the opposite of automation?” In some abstract sense, being more automated sounds like it would be inherently less personal.
“The inverse is true,” he insists. “The more data you collect, the better job you can do.” The caveat is that you have to actually do something intelligent with that data. The onus is on you, the marketer, to take those signals of interest and use them to present prospects with more relevant and timely information and offers.
The bar is being raised on customer expectations in this regard.
People don’t want fake personalization, inauthentic or creepy emails with, “Hi, [first name]. How’s the [hot/cold/rainy/sunny] weather in [city] this [morning|evening]? How ’bout them [local sports team]?” Instead, they want more meaningful communications that are relevant to their expressed interest and needs. A useful white paper or research study. An insightful article. A case study to which they can relate.
Carpe content, boys…
If you lean in and listen to your web analytics, like the class of Dead Poets Society, you can hear echos of your prospects whispering, “I want to carpe content, seize the content. I want to self-service my purchases as much as possible. Make my experience extraordinary…”
With that in mind, Christopher offered two requirements for marketing automation to be “appropriate:”
- You need data by which to segment your audience — in particular behavioral data about the choices individual prospects have made to express their true interests, rather than traditional demographic segmentation data.
- You need energy and creativity to have a message for these segments — if you don’t have a better message for a segment than your generic baseline, then the effort on segmentation is wasted.
It’s this second point that led the panel to emphasize the huge opportunity for agencies in the marketing automation era, as there is often a dearth of compelling segment-specific content. If agencies could extend their vision and domain beyond the realm of awareness and early-funnel interest generation into deeper engagement and nurturing stages of the buying cycle, they could inject much needed creativity into the middle of the funnel.
You must give in order to receive
Jim and Christopher both agreed that the best nurturing strategy is giving: offering people lots of great content, at many different points in time — and for each prospect, keeping track of which content they choose to consume.
Avoid asking people for information in forms. What’s your budget? What’s your timeframe? Do you have purchase authority? Sales, and its earlier funnel brethren marketing, no longer has the leverage to interrogate prospects this way.
Instead, take a more passive approach to progressive profiling, by being clever in what you offer people. There are two ways that you can structure this to reveal segmentation insight:
- Send many different individual content offers, new things every week, via email and social channels, where each offer emphasizes different characteristics — different pain points, appropriateness for different buying stages and roles, etc.
- Embed choices into each particular content offer, such as a choice of a comparative buyer’s guide of marketing automation platforms versus a high-level thought leadership piece on why someone should even consider marketing automation.
In both of these scenarios, the choices prospects make — which content offers to respond to, which alternatives within those offers they pick (or pick first) — reveals fuzzy but powerful segmentation cues. This behavioral segmentation technique can be used effectively with multi-step landing pages and more creative and robust post-click marketing experiences. (What my company enables.)
The evolution of the marketing organization
“Time is the marketing department’s scarcest resource,” said Christopher.
Given the segment-centric content marketing mission described above, the key to successful marketing automation is to invest wisely in identifying segments, understanding what they want, and testing what compels them to engage and take action.
“You want to develop content that has repeat uses,” he advised. “If your team gathers together every week to come up with the weekly email, a one-shot deal that is specific to that week, gets blasted to everyone, and is never sent again, then you’re doing it wrong.” Instead, work to create a terrific piece of content for a specific segment, and then re-use that content for that segment for weeks or months ahead; meanwhile, you move on to develop the next amazing piece of content for another segment, and so on.
This emphasis on segments, over particular media channels or tactics, suggests a reconfiguration of the marketing organization — taken to its extreme, perhaps something like this:
Overall, it was a great discussion. Any thoughts you would add?