While the promises of marketing automation have been heralded for more than a decade, for too many marketers, their experiences with onboarding and platform implementation are frustrating, compromised, and disconnected from the story they were sold.
And there needs to be more emphasis on how important it is to put in place the right data architecture if brands are to really maximise any marketing automation ROI.
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Globally, the global marketing automation market was worth $4,438.7 million last year according to Delhi based P&S Intelligence. The firm says the sector is projected to reach $14,180.6 million in 2030, at a 12.3 per cent CAGR over the decade.
According to the authors of its Global Marketing Automation Market Report, "The major reasons for the rising demand for these solutions are the growing practice of digital marketing and rising number of people using social media. Moreover, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are adopting these solutions to achieve marketing efficiency and cut costs."
The researchers forecast that the spending on digital advertisements will increase to $450.7 billion by the end of this year. "Hence, with the growing adoption of digital marketing, companies are using marketing automation software for lead generation and scoring, customer relationship management, cross-selling and up-selling, and targeted segmentation."
Marketing leaders we have spoken to since the launch of Digital Nation last month identified benefits such as improved customer journey mapping, campaign orchestration and personalisation.
According to Racquel Collard, head of marketing at ethernet cable provider 4Cabling Australia, “Since we've had marketing automation in place, we've made budget constantly. Whenever we tweak it, we find that we do get a little uptick again, and it's just, it's lots of little steps, but it definitely all adds to the whole.”
Karen Ganschow, head of data sciences at Aware Super, meanwhile says marketing automation helps Aware super deliver personalised experiences to its members by ... "Using our understanding of our members and their context, what segments are in what part of their life stage and how we can make sure that we're giving them the right support for their particular situation."
At Parrott Analytics, VP marketing Samuel Stadler says it "allows us to really scale up across channels, across campaigns, across ad types."
But marketers like Collard, Ganschow and Stadler also described a recurring clutch of frustrations dealing with market-leading vendors that can be encapsulated as feeling over-promised, oversold, and under-serviced.
In this week’s minidocumentary, for instance, Digital Nation Australia features three customers who between them have experience across at least 7 different marketing automation solutions.
Not every problem can be sheeted home to vendors. Instead, brands acknowledge the need to get their data architecture story sorted and to ensure they tackle organisational data silos as well as technical ones. And due diligence needs to undercover accurately the kinds of staff overheads required to maximise value from the systems.
But the vendors don't help their customers — or ultimately themselves — with what are described as poor onboarding programs, oversold platform functionality, and high system complexity.
Collard, who has been responsible for a range of automation integrations across businesses in multiple sectors, told Digital Nation Australia, “The data integration is always the piece that makes or breaks you.”
She says, “It's lovely if you've got a fabulous looking marketing automation system, and it says it can do this, and it can do that, and it can do this. But if you don't have access to the data that triggers those journeys, then you're dead in the water anyways.”
Karen Ganschow echos this sentiment saying that the emphasis on data is “gold”.
“None of this works unless your data is in really good shape,” says Ganschow.
“If there are any issues there, that’s really hard to unravel from, so all of this learning works as good as your data. And so the obsession about collating quality data and cleaning it and making sure it's as best as it can be, can’t be underemphasised.”
Collard says that time, money and energy is wasted on marketing automation solutions as well as consultants when basic data infrastructure is not in place.
“You've got your automation supplier, you've got your business unit or your IT people and then you've got a consultant sitting in the middle going ‘Yes, of course, we can do all of this', but they don't know your data, the way you know your data,” she says.
“It’s never as simple as they say it’s going to be and I’ve never had one that hasn’t gone over budget and over time.”
According to Collard, there is a “massive disconnect” between providers of marketing automation solutions and the business users. Describing a Welcome Journey, as an example, she highlights the promises of providers falling short of customer expectations.
“I find a lot of the time with suppliers they're telling us, ‘Of course you can do it’. And you know, ‘We've got this great plugin API’, but the API's that come standard aren't necessarily the ones that you need. And then you've got to do formula fields. And you've got to do all of these workarounds. And that's when it starts getting quite complicated for something that should be simple, like a Welcome Journey,” says Collard.
“I've never been able to use one template out of the box ever.”
Parrot Analytic’s VP Marketing Samuel Stadler says that the biggest challenges that he has faced using automation tools is when they aren’t intuitive and require manpower to run.
“I've used multiple marketing automation tools, and some of them are terrible,” says Stadler.
“The types of products that I knew would be difficult to work with in a high performance, high growth, relatively young enterprise are the ones where you need an entire person just to run them. Certainly, Marketo comes to mind.”
Another automation provider that Stadler calls out for difficulty of use, is Salesforce.
“I've also worked with Salesforce and they had just integrated Pardot. And while Pardot the product was really quite good and very useful from a workflow perspective in terms of giving you optionality to design lead nurture workflows, very nice, it did feel like a bolt on to Salesforce,” says Stadler.
“And then of course there is Salesforce itself. Sophisticated, comprehensive, but so hard to use."
“You can never do something quickly in Salesforce, it always takes much longer. And that was a lesson learned when I tried to quickly integrate return on advertising spend tracking from Google Analytics into Salesforce on a campaign basis — turned into IT project.”
“Lessons have been learned. So I actually looked for something that wasn't that.”
Stadler turned to HubSpot and says that its holistic approach is what attracted him to the product.
“I very much believe in maximum results for minimum cost both time and effort, budget expenditure.”
“It was with some hesitation to look at HubSpot, but we just started small. And it just kept doing what we needed it to do. And, you know, as we grew, they rolled out new versions, and we're now on the enterprise plan. It's working for us. And it's valuable to us. And so I'm certain that that journey would have looked tremendously different if we had selected a competitive product.”
Despite Stadler’s confidence in his current provider, he cautions the risk of over automating.
“What I think is really important from an industry standpoint when it comes to marketing automation is for marketers to stop being marketers and actually look at it through the lens of the customer, and actually say, okay, so if I was going to get inundated with email, after email, even if they're relevant and personalised, and all the ‘blah, blah, blah’, is this actually going to bring me closer to this company or push me further away? Is this going to solve a problem for me? Is this going to help create value for me?”
“The right answer may actually be to scale down your automation, and send them one email with a video that is targeted and relevant.”
Personalisation is a contested space.
In fact, in 2019 Gartner predicted that 80 per cent of marketers will abandon personalisation efforts by 2025 citing a better ROI from investments in user experience, as well as the risk of customer data management.
According to Charles Golvin, senior director analyst in the Gartner for Marketers practice, “Personal data has long been the fuel that fires marketing at every stage of the customer journey, and the drive to find new forms of fuel and devise new ways to leverage them seems to be boundless.”
“However, this quest has failed to meet marketers’ ambitions and, in some cases, has backfired, as consumers both directly and indirectly reject brands’ overtures.”
Kat Warboys, marketing director APAC at HubSpot disagrees, saying that user experience and personalisation are not mutually exclusive.
“[Personalisation] goes hand in hand with user experience, which is why I find this stat so interesting,” says Warboys.
“When we talk about user experience, from my perspective, we're talking about making things really easy, and frictionless. And personalisation has a big part to play in that knowing what the person needs to order next, or what products will complement what they bought last time is a huge part to that user experience.”
“I don't have to trawl through the website to find the complementary products, I can just be recommended it and add it to my cart straightaway.”
Warboys says that marketers are using automation 75 per cent more than their sales counterparts, with a quarter of marketers planning to include automation in their 2022 budgets.
“I think marketers really lead the way in terms of automation across these teams, and will continue to do so as a trend.”
“I think data management has an increased importance when we talk about marketing automation, but also enabling marketers to be across more channels that their customers are in, without necessarily having to throw more headcount to manage these channels,” says Warboys.
“That's the beauty of automation, we can really start to scale the service and the experiences we're delivering to customers across a multiple channel strategy, because we know that customers today really do expect companies to be in different channels.”
Talk about falling over at the first hurdle — Collard calls out onboarding as largely responsible for marketing automation failures.
“I've done integrations on four different platforms. So, Marketo, HubSpot, Marketing Cloud and Engagement Cloud, and I find the onboarding process is critical. And the onboarding process is usually the bit where it falls down,” says Collard.
Collard says that customers get “wooed” during the sales process.
“You get all the attention you need, and get told all these lovely things, and it's going to be marvellous. And oftentimes, it's onboarding that lets you down during the process.”
“They will over-promise and tell you you can do everything that you want to do, because technically, yes, somebody did do it once, but they never really look at your situation, or the data that you have available or the systems that you have in place, and say, 'well, actually, you won't be able to do this with that system', or 'you will need to change this system'.”
Collard suggests that marketing automation platforms should provide retraining for customers to get the most out of their purchases.
“I think there's a lot of tools in every system. But the initial training is usually quite overwhelming because you're usually doing platform training, you're doing your integration and your onboarding with your consultants at the same time. They never have a process where you retrain later on and just go through any of the bits and pieces that you may have forgotten.”
Salesforce and Adobe were contacted for this story and declined to comment.