Every day, professional service companies such as training or coaching firms, lawyers, architects, HR businesses and recruitment agencies are becoming more attuned to the power of marketing automation platforms like ActOn and Marketo.
Automation is starting to be looked at as the pinnacle of marketing effort – the thing that’s going to make campaigns work much harder – more targeted, more timely, and ultimately driving up response rates.
It’s all in the name. Automation. It implies that you put stuff in, churn it through the mill (a bit like a marketing sausage machine) – and at the other end, out come sausages. That’s metaphorical sausages, not literal ones.
But like a sausage machine, what comes out the other end is directly related to what you put in.
In the world of L&D (where we at BH&P spend quite a lot of time), there are lots of people, generating lots of content. And most of it is very similar.
The UK training market
There are at least 15,000 private training providers in the UK. A wide range of learning options are on offer, which often overlap with other areas such as personal development, meaning that training providers may define themselves in many ways. In addition, the boundaries between different types of delivery are themselves being eroded by the use of learning technologies and blended learning approaches.
The market is very fragmented with many small businesses and freelancers – only 1% of training providers have over 250 employees, although there is consolidation at the top end, and a growing number of global training corporations.
Why automation won’t make your marketing more effective
There is a huge difference between being ‘effective’ and ‘efficient’. Marketing automation platforms are exceptionally good at making your marketing campaigns efficient, but they are rarely the reason campaigns are effective.
Let’s say you are planning a campaign promoting your leadership offer.
As an L&D business, you know your leadership solutions are brilliant. Big brand names buy your service, and get great results. Your programme design is unique, and your facilitators are experienced, quickly developing a rapport with participants. So all you need to do is to write some case studies, perhaps craft a piece of opinion leadership, knock up a few blog posts and add some testimonials to your website. Then stick it all into your marketing automation sausage machine.
If only it was this simple.
Marketing automation platforms will never, ever, make your marketing more effective. Perhaps a surprising comment coming from a marketing automation practitioner, and advocate of anything that allows you to get the right message to the right person at the right time. Here’s the logic.
Campaigns need several things to make them effective:
- Insight – research and planning to understand the challenges your core target audience is facing
- A unique proposition – absolute clarity on how what you are offering is different from all the other 14,999 UK training companies
- Creativity – a way to articulate that message that will stand out from the other hundreds of marketing messages that an L&D decision-maker receives every day
None of these things can be automated.
How marketing automation can help you become more efficient
Marketing automation is a great way of controlling a marketing process automatically, reducing human intervention to the minimum.
A straightforward example of automation would be to automatically send an email to taster event attendees 24 hours after the workshop with a follow-up message and link to a feedback form. (Incidentally, you can also use this as a simple way to collect post-learning happy sheets – automation systems can seem expensive, but if integrated with your CRM, can be used for all types of communication, not just marketing).
A more sophisticated example might include triggering a direct response campaign when a subscriber interacts in a certain way with content on social media or your website.
BUT if your message is not unique then it doesn’t matter how efficient your marketing system is. Your content will simply not stand out.
With a manual process, it’s easy to see how a marketer can reach 100% effort running just a few campaigns in tandem.
In contrast, marketing automation allows you to manage a lot more campaigns in the same time period. Marketing automation requires a lot more effort to set up in the early stages, but then the marketer’s effort reduces dramatically as the system starts to work.
As the marketing automation platform takes over in delivering marketing activity, the marketer can move on to set up another campaign.
This makes the use of the marketer’s time more efficient.
Can automation make a marketer more effective, too?
In literal terms, no.
Naturally, increasing the opportunity to run multiple campaigns, targeting several audiences, will improve the efficiency of marketing over time. However, it can also have an indirect impact on effectiveness. Not only will your team be able to address multiple challenges simultaneously, but your learnings, campaign refinements, and insights can be fed back in to make your targeting, messages and creative solutions more effective.
When time-consuming manual tasks are automated, there’s more time available for thinking, planning and research. These are the bedrock of an effective campaign.