- Is it possible to automate the “entire” marketing function?
- Key content themes: Marketing Automation, Artificial Intelligence, Personalized Content
Marketing Automation is one of the dominant trends in the business world right now. About sixty percent of companies are already using marketing automation in some way, and most who have it plan to increase their commitment to the platform. With an ROI of about 5:1, it is an attractive investment that can be leveraged in various capacities by companies large and small.
Although every business’ needs are different, it can sometimes be helpful to envision a hypothetical “blue-sky” situation, without material or bureaucratic constraints. Such an exercise can provide leaders with a rough philosophy or ideal to work towards, while stimulating thought about new possibilities.
Today, we’ll be examining what a marketing automation system might look like if implemented to its absolute fullest capacity. As we shall find, the technology to achieve this ideal is mostly within reach, and it is likely that some well-resourced businesses are already approaching or have achieved this level of sophistication.
In this post…
- The essence of what marketing automation is and does.
- Relevant features of the technology that enable our “blue-sky” exercise.
- What an ideal marketing automation system might look like.
- The impacts this kind of system would have on the business.
- What you can do RIGHT NOW to take advantage of marketing automation.
What is Marketing Automation?
Marketing Automation is a term that refers to a group of technology solutions which allow marketers to partially or fully offload tasks to a software system, which may or may not be augmented with artificial intelligence.
Automation technologies are capable of things like automatically personalizing content based on customer data, segmenting audiences, leading customers through email workflows, and even managing digital ad buys based on real-time factors. This represents a significant development in marketing’s ability to craft sophisticated customer experiences while minimizing work that would otherwise be time-consuming – like dynamic personalization for large lists or managing ads in real-time.
The essence of marketing automation is letting the computer take care of the time-consuming and repetitive tasks, while marketers focus on more “human” work like strategy, content creation, and the management of human-to-human touchpoints like live chats on websites, social media, and webinars.
Features of Marketing Automation Technology
There are four relevant features of marketing technology that are relevant to our vision, and a fifth that may become a reality in the near future.
Feature 1: Personalized Emails at Scale
Perhaps the most common use of marketing automation technology has to do with sending personalized emails at scale, and also managing the emails that customers receive based on certain triggers, their buying habits, or their open and click behavior. This personalization is moving beyond simply addressing the customer by name – offering dynamic content automatically is possible, as well as edits of core content to adjust tone.
Feature 2: Automated Content Pathways
Depending on how customers interact with your emails, they can be sent down sophisticated chains of branching emails that are designed to nurture leads with content they are likely to engage with, at a cadence they won’t find irritating.
Feature 3: Computer-Assisted Data Interpretation
One of the advantages of computer-style intelligence is that it can retrieve, process, perform computations on, and derive insights from large amounts of data. A fundamental part of marketing is the development of customer insights, which requires a great deal of research. Crucially for research purposes, artificial intelligence is now becoming quite adept at interpreting the significance of data, and can therefore be used to simplify the research process by delivering relevant information to marketers in the form of reports and notifications.
Feature 4: Dynamic PPC Management
Unlike human beings, who can usually only pay attention to one thing at a time, and for limited durations, an artificial intelligence is always on – and is capable of multitasking. This allows certain marketing automation solutions to manage PPC ad buys for marketers, and even generate dynamic ad content automatically, saving marketers a great deal of time on PPC management and optimization.
Future Feature: AI-Generated Copy
Although some may argue that this technology already exists, in our opinion it has yet to reach the level of sophistication and reliability required of B2B marketing and sales. On one hand, artificial intelligence is already capable of generating poems, essays, music, and recently even complex and intriguing visual art (have fun). On the other, the implementation of AI-generated content has very dangerous pitfalls, mostly including racism and conspiracy theories, although the intelligences are improving every day. So, this level of content generation is likely in the near future – perhaps in two to five years for most businesses.
The “Machine Maven”: A Perfect System
Julia, a new researcher at a marketing agency, slipped on the VR headset that her manager handed her and leaned back in her chair. For a moment, her vision was pitch black.
“Okay, so we’re going to switch on the interface,” her manager said. “Some people get motion sickness, but usually you adjust in about a minute. Ready?”
“Yep,” replied Julia. As the pixels flickered to life in front of her eyes, she found herself hovering the middle of a high-resolution starry expanse, faced on one side with a six-foot-high virtual dashboard, with data updating in real-time.
“You see it?”, asked her manager.
“Yeah. This is really cool,” said Julia enthusiastically. “And you were saying I can move this stuff around?”
“Take your controllers, point to two corners of a screen, and pull out. It’ll expand so you can look at it more closely. Also, if you press the button under your right index finger, you’ll be able to access more data and see what our Maven is up to.”
When defining a hypothetical perfect system, we should first establish some guiding principles for what constitutes “perfect” in the context of marketing automation. For purposes of simplicity, we’ve narrowed the list down to three.
One of the gold standards in artificial intelligence is the Turing Test, which is considered to be passed when a human cannot tell whether they are communicating with another human or a computer. It follows that the first goal of the perfect marketing automation system should not be to “pass” this test, as customers would consider such a practice deceptive, but to provide the kind of personalized experience and attention that could be expected from a close one-on-one relationship.
The second goal of the perfect marketing automation system is to automate as many presales touchpoints as possible, as much as possible. As we shall discuss, eliminating much of what is currently considered “marketing work” will not eliminate marketing roles, but prioritize new types of skills and new kinds of work.
Finally, the perfect marketing automation system will provide an unprecedented level of presales excellence, making it enjoyable and easy for buyers to become acquainted with your business, gather information, and deepen the relationship.
We have termed this perfect system the “Machine Maven”. In addition to automating large portions of the customer insight process, which is possible already, the Machine Maven will be capable of interpreting the brand of a business, including tone, values, and visuals, and then generating personalized content and delivering it to customers entirely automatically. Some possibilities for the future could include:
- A faster shift away from style guides to style guidelines, allowing artificial intelligences and marketers to establish parameters of brands and innovate within those parameters in real-time, in much the same way that clever social media teams riff on brand themes in response to current events.
- Fully-automated email campaigns, including a great deal of content creation. This would include both visuals, which are personalized to the buyer’s tastes, and written content, which can be written by AI or curated and remixed from banks of human-generated content. Additionally, complex workflows and paths can be constructed to nurture leads without a marketer having to conceive of or build them.
- Sophisticated ad retargeting strategies, with visuals personalized to the buyer’s tastes and content based on where they are in the buyer journey. Ideally, this would besynchronized with other channels to maintain awareness of, and respond to, their behavior and needs.
- Sophisticated reporting for marketers and leadership, which would include real-time dashboards, automated daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annual reporting, and notifications regarding buyers that require human attention.
- A strategic function of the AI which scrapes web data, news articles, industry reports, competitor activity, internal customer data, and the social media firehose to maintain full industry awareness and communicate insights to marketers. This AI could even serve as a partner during the strategic development process by automating parts of the primary research process, performing calculations on likely outcomes, and providing feedback to marketers about potential paths. Once this type of AI becomes technologically feasible, it is possible that research firms, archives, and perhaps even governments will begin offering data as a service (DAAS) to feed the Machine Maven with insights.
- A system for identifying buying triggers, presenting relevant calls-to-action, and handing them off to either marketing or sales for human interaction.
- A sophisticated AI chatbot on the website which is indistinguishable from a human, although it would be marketed as a virtual company representative – perhaps an “avatar’ of the company. Not only would this chatbot be able to answer detailed and complex buyer questions, the personality of the responses will be able to be aligned with the brand tone, or even the mannerisms and personality of the CEO. Much like other functions of the Machine Maven, this intelligence would deliver calls-to-action or connect the buyer with a human when it deems appropriate, deepening the relationship on behalf of the company with minimal supervision.
- When voice activation and virtual reality become more appealing than they are currently, it could be possible for marketers to view and manipulate data in a Minority Report style environment and collaborate remotely with enhance visual capacity. Aside from being fun and very cool, being able to interact with data in new ways may make it easier for marketers to make sense of complex data sets and develop useful insights. Remote work would also become a bit more enjoyable, as future virtual reality environments could lead to virtual meeting rooms in full 3-D.
As can be seen, the possibilities are extremely exciting and could transform the marketing function. Further ahead in the future, the sales function could experience a similar transformation as buyers, who increasingly operate with a “self-serve” mentality, may opt for a virtual salesperson rather than a real one. The same could be true of account management, with virtual account managers taking care of some front-line tasks.
How Would a “Perfect System” Transform a Business?
Although the prospects for business transformation with a system like the “Machine Maven” are tremendous, we will focus on what marketers might do with their time once a significant portion of their current role is automated. These are some possibilities:
- Strategy & Brand: If it indeed comes to pass that marketing becomes automated to this extent, the Machine Maven will be responsible for a great deal of content creation and will exceed the effort of a 50-person creative team. Although this potential is extremely powerful, the artificial intelligence will still require thoughtful direction and careful shepherding to ensure it represents the business faithfully and accurately. Marketers will be spending their time collecting primary data, working with the Machine Maven to draw insights from secondary data, establishing strategy, and translating that strategy into guidelines and parameters for the Maven to execute on.
- Content Creation: As intriguing as AI-generated art can be, there will likely always be a premium on human-generated content. Unlike the mechanized and algorithm-driven nature of artificial intelligences, human thought is noisy, nonlinear, and motivated by subjective concerns, and will continue to develop content out of reach of even sophisticated artificial intelligences. With a great deal of their day freed up by our hypothetical Machine Maven, marketers will be free to develop truly excellent content, moving the content marketing world away from 300-500 word templates to consistent and insightful thought leadership.
- Account-Based Marketing: The third thing marketers will spend most of their time doing is collaborating with sales to target key buyers with personalized content. Sales, either as part of a targeted effort or as part of an existing conversation, will be able to rely on marketing for completely custom collateral that can advance sales conversations in exactly the ways that is required. We believe that existing technology already offers enough automation functionalities that sales, marketing, and even customer service can be united like never before. With the hypothetical Marketing Maven, the lines between marketing and sales would continue to blur.
Taking Advantage of Marketing Automation Today
As mentioned previously, sixty percent of businesses are already using marketing automation in some capacity. If you are part of the forty percent that are not currently on the train, this is something you need to prioritize in terms of researching and understanding how your business could benefit from the investment.
However, as a stand-alone product, marketing automation can only do so much. In order to be used to its fullest capacity, your marketing automation software needs to connect to your Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solution in order to use and store customer data.
These are some of the solutions that we’ve decided to focus on at Marketing CoPilot:
$1800+ per month
$800+ per month
$850+ per month
5-10 person B2C marketing teams with full IT support and large email lists to manage
1-5 person B2B marketing teams with no IT support
1-5 person B2B marketing teams with limited IT support
With any of these solutions, but particularly with Dynamics 365 Marketing, it is already possible for you to automate large amounts of marketing work with the right approach and strategy. Sophisticated email workflows, rotating qualified leads to sales, automated reporting, and elements of PPC automation could save your marketing department hours per day, and if your solution is connected to a CRM, your salespeople will have easy access to a customer dossier when marketing hands the lead over.
For years, Marketing CoPilot has worked with businesses, particularly in the B2B sector, to transform their approach to digital marketing. We offer a suite of marketing services, live coaching programs, and have published a book on digital marketing strategy for marketing leaders.
Join us on November 30 for a webinar on the considerations involved with connecting different kinds of marketing automation solutions to Microsoft Dynamics 365 Sales.
Epilogue: Who’s Going to Get There First?
If you are thinking long-term and see ways in which your business could leverage aspects of the hypothetical Marketing Maven, our opinion is that you might want to switch to the Microsoft 365 Dynamics stack for your marketing automation, CRM, and even ERP. We work largely in the Microsoft sector and find the product to be robust, feature-rich, and sophisticated.
Additionally, in terms of companies who are innovating, Microsoft has been a leader in technology since it was founded. It currently has many building blocks of the Marketing Maven in its product stable, including Dynamics 365, Cortana, Azure, and even the HoloLens. It seems likely to us that if any company were to develop something resembling the marketing Maven, it would likely be Microsoft.