Digital Marketing Automation 2022 | Context, Examples, Challenges

Olga Annenko know-how, tech trends

Marketing automation geralt bakground picture

The explosion of marketing technology (martech) has been one of the main drivers of marketing’s evolution over the last decade. Just compare: The Chief Marketing Technologist blog has been tracking the industry’s growth for ten years and when it first released its yearly marketing technology landscape overview in 2008, the chart contained roughly 150 tools. In 2021, Scott Brinker, the owner of the blog, said that he didn’t even bother updating the chart from 2020, which estimated there were over 8,000 martech solutions available at that point.

The martech industry is likely to continue growing and innovating, and this means that B2B marketers now more than ever have to look for ways to streamline and simplify their tech stacks, either by reducing the number of employed solutions to more manageable numbers or by finding efficient tools to enable continuous data exchange between them.

In this article, we want to explore how digital marketing automation is the answer to the latter approach, how it is done properly, and who should be in charge of it. But let’s start with the basics.

What is marketing automation in general?

When you google what digital marketing automation means in general, more often than not you’ll find that this term is referred to marketing software or technology that lets you automate marketing operations and activities as well as campaigns across various channels. The keywords here are ‘software or technology’. Such definitions lead us to believe that there might be one (or maybe, just a handful, at most) digital marketing automation tool that can help us automate a variety of marketing-related activities.

But let me challenge this thought. Yes, in an ideal world we shouldn’t deploy too many platforms and tools. In an ideal world, all datasets and processes that belong to one specific part of marketing, say social media or SEO, should be handled in one single tool. But the reality looks very different. For SEO purposes alone, I use 7-8 tools, and I’m the only one in my team who takes care of SEO. For email marketing, we have Leadfeeder, Hubspot, Intercom (we used to have MailChimp on top of it but moved away from it a few months ago), and our partner-agency who helps us with email marketing deploys yet another tool. And we are not a huge company. See what I’m trying to get at?

The more people there are in the marketing department, the larger the company is, the higher is the probability that people use at least two different tools for the same workflows. New tools are coming either through acquisitions, partnerships, joint ventures or simply because a subsidiary in Europe prefers to deploy another marketing application to comply with local data regulations than its parent company in the US does.

Consolidating all marketing activities in just a handful of software applications is a sweet idea, but its implementation is nearly impossible. Therefore, let’s take a step back and treat digital marketing automation not as a tool, or software, or technology, but rather a strategy or an approach if you like, to share as many datasets as possible between as many martech-related tools as possible. If you’re now asking yourself “what for” – good, because this brings us to the next question:

What is an example of digital marketing automation?

Of course, digital marketing automation can range from very simple tasks such as a series of emails to onboard new customers, or customer re-engagement activities, to more complex ones such as lead routing and handoff process. While the likes of automated email campaigns can be indeed handled in one single tool, the latter is a more complex scenario that, if done improperly, can result in lost opportunities and deals.

Imagine an organization that has several regional sales territories, each of which is responsible for following up on contact requests depending on personal availability and the lead’s geography.

The leads, generated by the marketing department, are coming through several channels: a webinar-registration page that is handled via GoToWebinar, a website contact form built on Gravity Forms, and a quotation request by actively emailing to a generic, role-based email address [email protected] that lands in Outlook.

To create a single point of reference, all of that lands in one single inbox, from where the marketing department should perform a proper qualification, maybe even feed the leads into a CRM system such as Hubspot, and then hand them over to sales reps based on their geographical location. Can you already sense the chaos, follow-up delays and lost opportunities? And by the way, this is not an entirely hypothetical scenario. I admit I have spiced it a bit for more drama, but the underlying storyline was inspired by this blog article.

So, what would be an example of digital marketing automation with respect to such a scenario?

First of all, we would need to automate the data transfer from all three touch points to the CRM system, where we can perform the necessary leads qualification through the so-called data enrichment. We could do that either by querying a custom-made database or other third-party services such as Sales Navigator, Swordfish AI or Voilà Norbert. Next, we would need to alert the responsible sales reps based on the geographical location of the leads – for example, either by sending them an email or a notification in Teams. The whole process will look like this:

sample-digital-marketing-automation-flow
Sample marketing automation flow for routing of leads

The marketing team is happy because they can reduce the amount of manual work, the sales reps are happy because they get notified about new leads without any notable delay or confusion – it’s a win-win situation for both parties. And lead routing is just one example of digital marketing automation that is complex but incredibly effective and time-saving. Lead enrichment, lead nurturing, lead scoring… – there are so many other opportunities.

What are the challenges of digital marketing automation?

Let’s recap: digital marketing automation is an awesome thing because it helps align sales and marketing departments more effectively, reduces the manual overhead not only for marketing but also for sales colleagues, improves lead generation and lead management, and enables better data quality and data management overall. But. It is no accident that digital marketing automation is such a notorious topic, and the number one reason is poor quality of automations and missing data integrations (yes, technically, two reasons, but they go hand in hand).

Many software providers try to accommodate the needs of marketing specialists by offering additional features to automate lead nurturing campaigns, standard marketing workflows, lead scoring… Yet the recent report from Oracle shows that there is still a gap between the vendors’ offers and the actual demand from marketing, with 50% of marketers wishing for an easier integration of the software products they buy with the company’s existing content management, customer relationship management (CRM) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems as well as to e-commerce storefront.

With 75 tools per company on average (not a joke, the number is taken from a 2021 podcast episode by Zoominfo with Scott Brinker as a guest), there are many integrations to expect.

And if that integration is not provided by the software vendor, who is supposed to build it? Well, oftentimes, the marketers are suggested to automate their workflows themselves. In fact, there is a whole range of services and tools such as Zapier, Workato, Integromat and Co that offer the so-called digital marketing automation recipes – pre-built automations for specific business processes such as “create a new lead in CRM X from the website form builder Y”. And that’s great!

But can they cater for just about any integration scenario you’ll need? Probably not. It depends on several factors, some of which being: the availability of the required connection points (e.g. is there a connector for, say, Swordfish AI?), the complexity of the workflow you want to automate (do you need data enrichment? Specific data validation? Sophisticated data routing?), the level of the technical understanding and user permissions required from you (do you need to provide an API key… A… what??).

Why you’ll need your IT for proper data integration

If you’re reading this article, and you managed this far (kudos to you), and you have a complex marketing workflow on your hands that you want to automate – I’m sorry to break it to you, but you’ll probably need help from your IT department for that.

And then your IT department has a choice – do they do that manually, connecting each marketing tool by hand or do they use a dedicated middleware such as an enterprise integration platform as a service for that. Am I advocating now for our integration software tool? You got me, fellow marketer, absolutely. Is it worth the try? Oh, yes. Just check out how Krombacher, one of the leading German breweries, used the elastic.io iPaaS to create a 360° customer view with complex automation workflows that are event-based and work in real-time.

There are enough tips out there on how to implement the concept of digital marketing automation successfully. But if I may add just one more – include your IT department early in the process. They will be thankful to you for helping them avoid the accumulation of shadow IT and you will be thankful to them for helping you automate your marketing activities smoothly and error-free.


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About the Author

Olga Annenko

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Olga Annenko is a tech enthusiast and marketing professional. She loves to write about data and application integration, API economy, cloud technology, and how all that can be combined to drive companies' digital transformation.


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