By Craig Faulkner

When I look back on my 35 years in the financial marketing space I have seen a lot of “trends”. I am very wary to put much stock in any passing trend. But from time to time I get an inkling that something is really important. I had such a feeling the first time I heard the term marketing automation.

The Beginnings of Marketing Automation

While marketing automation can trace its beginnings to the 80’s it was really in 1992 when Unica first launched enterprise software that would later be identified as marketing automation. Early iterations were costly, available to only the biggest businesses and only worked with email.

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The term continued to gain popularity until 2004 when it reached its first peak. It was that year that the dot-com bubble popped. Suddenly many of the tech savvy companies who had invested in marketing automation no longer existed.

The term began to decline in popularity over the next four years until the housing crisis of 2008 sent existing companies scurrying for any strategy to regain lost capital. Suddenly the idea of an automated system that increased qualified marketing leads was VERY popular. Since then the term has increased in popularity again and now in 2016 is more popular than ever.

What is Marketing Automation?

Marketing automation is a very popular phrase these days, but what does it actually refer to? The answer could be different depending on who you talk to, but for our purposes, marketing automation is the use of programs, processes and reviews to exponentially increase a service provider’s ability to communicate with his or her clients. A great synonym for Marketing Automation is Intelligent 1:1 marketing.

1:1 marketing refers to an effort to connect personally to each client. Automation uses action based triggers to aid in segmenting prospects, personalizing content, tracking path to purchase and follow up. So rather than a way to not need to market, it’s a way to market much more effectively.

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What is Not Marketing Automation?

It’s Not Spam – Marketing automation needs to be paired with a philosophy called “Permission Marketing”. The term coined by Seth Godin refers to the necessity of gaining a prospect’s permission before marketing communication takes place. Today this is done through opt in forms, paired with value rich content and clear calls to action to act as an incentive for prospects and clients alike to share information and give their permission to receive more content.

In order to ensure permission based marketing, most automated systems have a very low threshold for spam reports. Too many and you can be blocked from the system. That’s why a permissions based marketing list is a must for any company.

It’s Not JUST Email – Even though early systems focused only on email, modern marketing automation includes client management, lead generation, social integration, mobile optimization and analytic gathering. A complete automated system creates a “closed loop” that allows a service professional to track and adjust their marketing and branding efforts. Bringing us to the last point:

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It’s Not Hal 9000 – As advanced as automated marketing is, it is not artificially intelligent. Think of it like cruise control in your car: after you set it, it will work very hard to provide you with the speed and accuracy you requested, but that doesn’t mean you get to go to sleep behind the wheel.

I’ve seen some marketing companies describe their systems as “Set It and Forget It.” I understand why the slogan is popular, but marketing automation requires monitoring and recalibrating on a regular basis.

How Can I Use Marketing Automation?

The best practice is to combine the automation of marketing with a well scheduled simple review process. I recently talked to a financial advisor named Jim McLellan who has been using our marketing automation for the last few years. He told me how at first he had relied completely on the automated video newsletter that goes out once a month, but he wasn’t converting the amount of viewers to leads he was expecting.

He began scheduling a review day 2 weeks after the monthly newsletter was sent. He looks at the prospects on his list who opened the newsletter and watched the video and spends an hour writing personal emails, following up on the subject matter they viewed and offering a free consultation. The result has been tremendous. With only an hour’s work a month, Jim has found a way to leverage the power of automation in order to increase the effectiveness of his 1:1 marketing and significantly increase his lead generation.