Traditionally, marketing automation (MA) has relied on other disciplines to help improve customer interactions and business results. Customer relationship management (CRM) and helpdesk tools (among others) have always fed data into MA tools to let marketers know when, where, and how to reach out to consumers.
Today, additional technologies and practices are providing even more context to how marketers should approach customers. Artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), search engine optimization (SEO), and content marketing are all helping to drive enhanced engagements via MA tools. We spoke with Michelle Huff, Chief Marketing Officer at Act-On , about how each technology and practice intermingles with MA and what your company should be thinking about today.
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PCMag (PCM): AI has recently been the buzzword of the MA industry. Where do you think AI and ML will take MA over the next five years? What new features and opportunities will they give marketers?
Michelle Huff (MH): ML will act as marketers' co-pilot in their decision making and campaign execution process. AI will influence when, what, and where to engage with buyers and customers, predetermined by ML that can consume, digest, and compute mounds of data and turn it into actionable triggers and marketing activities. Essentially being able to predict and tailor outreach down to the best message, at the perfect time, and across the ideal communication channel.
AI will build on the foundation MA provides—a centralized engine for tracking, scoring, measuring, connecting, and learning from interactions with prospects and customers—and, ultimately, will give its users a way to anticipate and adapt engagement to their buyers' behaviors and actions. An example that we're building here at Act-On is "Adaptive Send Time," a capability that helps answer the age-old question: When do I send this email? Typically, a marketer would make an educated guess, pick a specific date and time, and maybe even do an A/B test between two options. Over time, and with some analysis, the marketer can adjust the send time of future emails based on the best historical open rates. Adaptive Send Time becomes that co-pilot for the marketer, analyzing all the data, in real time, and recommending the optimal engagement window for each individual.
PCM: We've spoken to a lot of companies that prefer to build marketing, service, and sales tools by combining multiple solutions via integration. What does a company stand to benefit by choosing an all-in-one solution?
MH: There's always trade-offs between choosing integrated best-of-breed solutions versus single, all-in-one platforms—and no perfect answer. With all-in-one solutions across marketing, service, and sales, you typically save on integration costs, shared features across the apps, and unified data for reporting. However, the challenge with the all-in-one platform is that integrations and shared features end up being the highest priority for roadmaps and innovative features often take a back seat. It becomes easier for the vendor to justify capabilities that have broad appeal versus adding capabilities that solve problems for just one type of user.
Best-of-breed solutions, on the other hand, have to stay focused on their core users, continue to add innovative features to stay competitive, and remain flexible to integrate and fit into existing tech stacks. Either way, with the role of marketing expanding to address the full customer life cycle—from branding to demand generation to expanding the customer relationship—some level of integration is important to show marketing's performance and impact across the business.
PCM: As we review new MA, e-commerce, and CRM tools, we've noticed that many offer built-in SEO packages as well. Can you talk about the intersection of these disciplines, and how good MA and CRM can help improve SEO?
MH: Most companies today are creating and using content to attract prospects and maneuver them into an active buying cycle. Because content so heavily impacts whether a company gets found and known online, having SEO audit tools built into the systems that marketers are using to create and publish the content (let's look at MA and landing page creation or CMS and blog publishing) is an added benefit. It's additional reassurance that your content is structured, written, and formatted for optimal searchability. Search engine marketing can be considered a hard skill—the frequent algorithm updates and changes in how content is valued—requiring marketers to stay up to date on the latest SEO updates. So, if an SEO audit tool is built into the technologies they use, they can lean on the system to ensure they are getting the most impact out of their content programs.
PCM: How do MA and content marketing play together? What should companies be doing to make sure these two disciplines are working in concert?
MH: Content is what fuels a marketing automation strategy; think of content as the petrol and the MA system as the engine powering the car to its destination. An MA strategy is only as effective as the content strategy behind it. Companies need to work on 'persona development' to make sure they understand who their target buyer is, and then must identify topics/themes relevant for that buyer persona that align with and communicate the company's value proposition. Then they'd want to begin to map the content to the buyer across the various stages of the decision-making process. Different types of content are better suited for top of funnel versus bottom of funnel, and are used strategically to move the buyer down the sales funnel.
PCM: Live video on Facebook and Twitter has become an integral part of companies' marketing efforts. How can companies turn live video into prolonged marketing engagements with consumers?
MH: With live video, there's also an opportunity to create a brand channel with pre-scheduled "live" dates, times, and episodes so that your followers know when to tune in; this will help to create anticipation and interest. Your customers will look forward to the events and experiences that your brand plans to share with them across the brand newschannel in a live, raw, and behind-the-scenes format. It is also about repurposing the live video being created, and publishing it out across additional channels outside of just SnapChat, Facebook, or Twitter. Develop a process by which you use the live video, and embed it in an email campaign, a newsletter, or in a blog post that provides context to the video.