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Marketing automation can mean many things.

Today, many marketers send personalized emails based on triggers. The ultimate would be complete integration between the marketing automation platform, ad servers, first-party data and third-party data providers. Then, to complete things, an attribution model sitting above it that would include all those different touch points, allowing marketers to match advertising with online and in-store purchases.

No marketer or vendor has accomplished the latter; I don’t think that one single vendor will ever offer that kind of capability – although better integration among platforms using a universal ID or hashed email will someday allow it.

In the meantime – today – robust, fully-automated marketing allows marketers to streamline the marketing workflow and then measure against the right metrics. If you are fully automated, you can realize efficiencies connect with your customer and get them the right information much faster.

What robust means today

Most marketing automation programs today are trigger-based and use decision trees to automate responses to various consumer behaviors. If you subscribe to our newsletter, we send you this message. If you open the newsletter, we send you one follow-up; if you don’t open, we send a different follow-up.

Triggers will always be central to marketing automation, but we already have the ability to make them much more sophisticated than those employed by most marketers. For example, instead of simply sending out the email newsletter on the day and time most people read them, why not personalize delivery to each subscriber, sending just at the time they usually have opened it? That is just one example of a more sophisticated approach to automation.

The other aspect of a robust marketing automation program is testing and optimizing in order to understand whether it’s delivering against specific business metrics. This may require the help of an agency, services aggregator or vendor that can help identify the right metrics and help optimize the program.

We’ve seen massive uplift for our customers that have moved to the next level of automation and personalization – as much as 600 to 700 percent increases in open rates and click-throughs.

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How to get there

For a company just starting out on the path to marketing automation, the task can seem immense. The company may identify as many as 300 potential triggers, as well as a dozen potential vendors or partners. The integration issues would be mind-boggling.

We’ve developed a concept we call “incremental innovation.” The idea is to start by automating one single task or integrating with one single product rather than a whole suite. The process of getting that first thing done teaches the marketing team about what else it needs and how it could accomplish those tasks.

This first step should focus on something that can validate the automation approach to the C-suite and show results, however small. It should also be something that is not mission-critical. The first step may be contained within one region, begin with a single brand or automate one component of the overall marketing plan. It may use a single trigger, one piece of creative and one channel, tested against a single segment.

This is important for two reasons: First, it’s a lot easier to evaluate and learn from the results of a more constrained set of variables. Second, it’s not necessarily going to work the first time out of the gate.robot-automation

Fail fast for marketing automation success

The mantra of every internet startup is, “fail fast,” and that should be every marketer’s mantra as well. It’s important not to be discouraged by failure but to instead use a failure as a learning opportunity.

When we consult with marketers and ask whether they’ve tried a particular tactic, the response is often, “yes, and it didn’t work, so we didn’t do it again.”

The process of incremental innovation must include multiple iterations to test different elements of the campaign. For example, the failure of a test campaign could be due to creative elements such as the creative or the call-to-action, rather than to the automation component.

Having a robust marketing automation program is about starting small and testing your way into the automation you want. Fail fast, and find out why you failed. You’ll end up going really big quickly when you get it right.