We marketers are very busy people. In today’s challenging economy, with its rapid digital pace and customers empowered like never before, the demands are never-ending. So, we love things that make our job easier. Or at least appear to.
According to one definition:
Marketing automation is the use of software to automate marketing processes such as customer segmentation, customer data integration (CDI), and campaign management. The use of marketing automation makes processes that would otherwise have been performed manually much more efficient, and makes some new processes possible.
In plain English, marketing automation uses data (like your web analytics) to do some of your marketing tasks for you. Herein lies the problem I keep running into: Your decisions and those of your marketing automation platform are only as sound as your data.
I’ve seen marketing automation software that helps your email marketing, your ppc bid management, segmentation and personalization, and others. As Jeff Sexton recently pointed out, if you have the wrong analytics it could cost you 30% of your sales. Can you afford that today?
A few weeks ago we were helping a client optimize her website and we wanted access to her historical data. All she had was the analytics from her marketing automation vendor. Now the fact that you could only access these analytics using Internet Explorer (we are mostly on Macs) was one failure, but the main failure was that it looks like the analytics was an after-thought by the vendor. Anyone can throw up some reports on a screen — but the issue is, do they tell you anything meaningful? There was virtually nothing to make you smarter as a marketer. Today’s smart marketers understand the value of data-driven decisions. Unfortunately, this vendor’s reports provided in an abstract way what happened but did not provide the vital statistics to diagnosis and prescribe any sort of optimization to the company’s efforts.
I was talking to friend who is a superstar B2B marketer. He was telling me about this new enterprise PPC bid management software he was evaluating. He deals with thousands and thousands of terms so automating the bidding would be a huge help. He told me about the slick interface and the bidding rules, etc. Then I asked him the question that made him stop like a deer in the headlights.
“Have you checked out the data reporting behind the algorithm? What actionable insights does your ppc automation vendor provide you?”
Of course, vendors will shout “proprietary formula” and we marketers fall for this marketing B.S. We don’t need the complex details behind it but we do need to get a sense of what and how they look at data, keyword attribution, etc. What metrics do they value most? If you fall for the “black box” how do you and the system continue to learn? How do remove it if you are unhappy with the vendor? How do you create your internal best practices unless you have a clear picture into what is happening?
Without good data at the core, you may just end up with a mechanical turk. You need data to share in your organization and data that tells you details of what you’re doing and how to improve it. Also, beware of bad software that takes what you need done and tries to completely automate it. Just because it is automated won’t guarantee it is optimal for the way a good marketer works.
The point of marketing automation is to free you up to do more of what you are really good at by letting the glorified calculator do what it is really good at. Good marketing automation lets you use your insights about your customers in ways you couldn’t before; bad software takes those decisions away and prays that the computer will do it for you. Keep in mind we have created a computer that has barely beaten a great human chess player, despite its intricate and complex algorithm – and we’re still far off from a computer to beat the best human poker players. Do you really believe that some algorithm is going to be better than you at creative marketing insights?
Without solid data, scientific method and reporting, how does your marketing automation software show you it is making money? Whether or not you are using marketing automation, you still need access to great metrics. In the case of marketing personalization, how do you know if the efforts are working if there aren’t control groups to measure against? How do you control for other external factors?
Don’t get me wrong — I am an advocate for marketing automation. But only if there is a core focus on the insight derived from data, not the automation, first. Analytics must be at the foundation and not an afterthought. You can identify first generation automation tools by their focus in on automation first and reports second. Today’s next-generation state-of-the-art tools have to have great metrics and analysis at their core and are focused on helping you optimize your business; that is, making you more money and proving their value to you.
Please feel free to tell me more about your marketing automation love fest or worries.
P.S. Full disclosure: like my good friend and analytics evangelist Avinash Kaushik, I work for and sit on several advisory boards of companies that use data as their foundation for marketing optimization and automation.