The fourth quarter is underscored by widespread expectation of promotions, driven largely by the holiday shopping season. Marketers are not spared from the frenzy, with most trying to get a jump on the buying season to achieve year-end revenue targets and clear excess inventory.

During this period, the complexities of standing out from the competition increase manyfold given the glut of direct mail campaigns. There is increased noise and it also marks one of the most resource-intensive periods.

A solution here is the application of marketing automation programs.

A well-integrated program, one that forms part of a holistic marketing strategy, takes years to develop. It is far from a quick fix for the 2022 shopping season. Yet for any business or marketer looking to ease some of the heavy lifting now, it presents the opportune time to embark on automation programs.   

Why is email automation so effective?

There’s a lot to be said for what automation can bring to your business. Not only does it create relevance and timeliness for your customer journeys at scale, but it has a great return on investment. In fact, automated and triggered emails typically have a revenue per email that is 10x to 15x higher than is the case for business-as-usual marketing emails.

Most of the time automated emails are triggered on data points you have on a customer or a specific event. An automated email can be set up in advance i.e., to be sent on a specific date, or a specified number of days after a previous email, while a triggered email requires some kind of condition to be true for them to be sent i.e, an order to be placed, which triggers an order confirmation email to be sent. Both automated and triggered emails enable a high level of personalisation and makes them hugely relevant and timely to recipients. Unique customer journeys can also be created based on customer behaviour – such as what calls to action they click on – which can in turn reduce costs and boost marketing revenue. Through automated testing and iteration, automation can help you to understand your customer and their behaviour better.  

So where to start with automation?

When starting a marketing automation project, there are several requirements to follow to set yourself up for success. First, see if you can leverage the technology you have already invested in. You may very well find that you already have systems available that can help with automation. Integration is key – especially when adopting new technology, so if you do bring in new technology it’s crucial your existing technology can integrate with it.

Second, make sure your IT department is on board regarding your automation requirements. Keep an open line of communication with them regarding your needs and any developments. Communication between teams is vital because buy-in from the different levels and functions across the organisation is imperative for success. Consider what data will be used, what fields are needed, and what reporting is required. Everyone must be on the same page!

Once your automation systems are set up, you’ll need to make sure your team is also set up for success. Training is key here. Upskill your team on the automation system and be sure to continue training new and existing staff as you move through your automation project.

Great data quality is critical when it comes to driving marketing automation success

Without best practices in data quality acquisition, deliverability and engagement will plummet so senders must start here.

But what should senders be doing to achieve this? It’s important to always validate data at the point of collection. For example, retailers often collect addresses and data in-store, from outside of the email program. This increases the complexity of ensuring consistent data quality. But with good practices in place – data validated immediately or in bulk on a regular basis – the efforts will be rewarded and evident in inbox placement and sender scores.

When dealing with large amounts of data that’s inactive, it’s better to get rid of it than to hoard it. While no business wants to delete data, there is a clear nett benefit – you’ll often find that although the numbers have reduced, total opens will have increased.

Campaign automation workflow

Automation is based on customer data and behaviour, so it’s important to understand how customers interact with your business. Start by mapping out the customer journey and then gather information on the channels they use to interact. If email hasn’t been working for a customer, perhaps try SMS with a new call to action. Ensuring your system has rule-based routing on customer data and behaviour is vital for a successful campaign workflow, alongside having fixed and relative wait times between communications and follow-ups. Do perform sufficient A/B testing – often teams will have differing opinions about what will and won’t work for customers, so testing is a sure fire way to get the right answer! And measure the outcomes based on the success criteria that are, ultimately, most important to your business.

Avoiding automation mistakes

While we could go on about the benefits of automation, it’s good to be aware of the common mistakes marketers make – and how to avoid them. Automation is very easy to let slip to the side but you must keep abreast of how you’re tracking to ensure campaign success. Look at the triggers, the results, and consider how your campaign could be freshened up. Marketing automation isn’t set and forget simply because it’s automated. We recommend a six-month review of automated content or, at the very least, once every 12 months, to ensure it remains up-to-date and relevant.

Another thing to flag is to avoid the risk of over-communicating which happens often when businesses use automation. Amidst the holiday season flurry, marketers may forget just how many automated emails a customer might receive in addition to their scheduled sends. 

And test, test, test! It’s important to test your automation internally first, and then with your customers. Make sure you’re constantly adjusting your automation to achieve the best results for your business. Track the ongoing performance of each automated stream and make the appropriate adjustments if there is a dip.

At the end of the day, even though this is automation, you’re still communicating with people so the content must still be timely and meaningful for your customer.

Guy Hanson is vice president of customer engagement at Validity.