Marketing Automation

Norman Graves
August 11, 2016 5 min read

Around about the turn of the millennium, the web switched from using pages which were largely static to pages in which the various content elements were put together dynamically to create the page. It is this technology which was largely responsible for today’s dynamic CMS systems. Content items are stored, usually in a database, and assembled into a template to produce the finished pages. Storing and managing content in this way opens up a number of important opportunities, one of which is the ability to serve different content to different site visitors depending on some criteria. It is this ability to serve content which is targeted at each individual user which forms the basis of Marketing Automation systems.
In its most basic form, users are classified into one of a number of groups, sometimes called personas, and are then served different content depending on their persona. An example would be a website selling DIY and trade materials. If the user visits a page showcasing pipes and pipe fittings, then they are more than likely a plumber and can be classified as such. If they visit a page displaying electrical fittings then they can also be classified as an electrician, or if he looks at hand tools perhaps as a carpenter and so on. As the user moves around the site, this classification can be exploited to serve up content that is specific to their particular trade, possible banner ads, special offers, etc. Classifying site visitors into the various trades allows the site to present the user with content which is more relevant to their particular trade and is therefore more likely to result in a sale. 
A question which then arises is how users are classified in the first place and how the information about their classification is stored. Classification of users is generally based on the user behaviour, whether they visit a particular page or make a purchase of a particular type. Storing information about the visitor can make use of cookies or, if the user has been through some sort of authentication process, can take place using a database. 
Simple classification of visitors into one of a number of groups or personas is fairly limited in what it can achieve but once we are committed to storing information about each individual site visitor then many more opportunities arise. One of these is lead scoring. 
Lead scoring is a technique by which visitors to a site are given a score or ranked as a likely purchaser. A visitor may, for example, be given a score for visiting a particular page, for downloading a whitepaper or for completing an online form to request information. Generally, the overall score will be made up of implicit and explicit elements. For example, visiting a particular page is implicit behaviour and indicates some level of interest in the content of the page. Filling out a form and providing information about geographic location, age or gender provides explicit information which can be used to score the lead.
Lead scoring has the overall intention of identifying hot, high value, prospects from other site visitors; thus increasing the efficiency of a sales organisation by avoiding dissipating energy on leads which are unlikely to convert into sales.
The next logical step in the process is lead nurturing. Lead nurturing builds on lead scoring and targeted content and manages the communication with prospective purchasers throughout the sales process. Using lead scoring and targeted personalised content is just one aspect of this, with other forms of communication such as emails completing the picture. Emails represent a type of outbound communication with the sales prospect and, as such, introduce the need to manage the process. This introduces the idea of a managed workflow around the automation process.
An example would be the case of an outbound email marketing campaign. The first step is to compose the personalised email around a mailing list. The email will usually contain some sort of call to action, either a reply or more likely a link to a landing page. Once the prospect views the landing page the next step might be a follow up email, a call, or some other form of action that will certainly affect the lead score for that prospect. This is a workflow and most marketing automation systems have a workflow management process. Typically, this involves some sort of graphical workflow design and management tool in which the user drags and drops elements to create the overall workflow. 
While it is clear that marketing automation can improve the effectiveness of the sales and marketing operation, it is also the case that these systems cannot simply be thrown together. Whatever the vendors might try to tell you - designing personas, choosing how to manage targeted content, identifying how to score leads, and especially designing workflows - calls for a level of technical, as well as marketing, expertise.

Written by Norman Graves