At SequoiaCX, we often get the question…
When is it the right time to invest in marketing automation?
We’ve gotten this question frequently enough that I thought I’d go ahead and codify my response here in a blog. I hope this provides you with some context and confidence as you weigh the decision on whether to make an investment in marketing automation.
UpCity also recently published an article I wrote regarding “Is my business too small for marketing automation?,” which you may also find helpful if you’re working toward justifying the investment.
Anyway, after reviewing a range of other blogs and resources (as well as considering all of the times I’ve received this question recently)—here are my recommendations in preparation for a marketing automation investment.
What is Marketing Automation?
Marketing automation is software that enables you to maximize the effectiveness of your marketing content engine and automate your awareness efforts.
This—of course—requires that you’re already producing blogs, news articles, external PR, infographics, social media posts, or a wide range of other content formats.
Marketing automation essentially enables your marketing “team” (maybe one manager, maybe dozens strong) to execute, promote, automate, and measure the effects of your marketing engine on a much larger scale. It’s a force multiplier.
4 “Must Haves” Before You Invest In Marketing Automation
In order of importance, they are:
1) A Content Strategy
All of your marketing efforts should begin with a detailed content strategy. This is central to any successful Inbound Marketing strategy or campaign.
Your content strategy will provide guidance and vision for all of your marketing efforts. This cornerstone will help you properly communicate value, target the right audience, prioritize efforts—as well as scale content creation and marketing efforts in general.
At a minimum, your content strategy should outline the following:
What are your goals and KPIs?
Make them SMART and identify how you will measure them.
Who will be reading your content?
This should include a detailed account of your buyer personas—or ideal customers.
What problem will you be solving for them?
What is it exactly that you’re offering? What is your value proposition?
What makes you unique?
How do you position yourself to set your product/service apart from the competition?
What types/formats of content will you produce?
There are a variety of content formats you can focus on depending on your budget and internal skills or resources. Consider blogs, videos, infographics, case studies, testimonials, etc. There is no single right answer.
Video is a great way to promote engagement on social media and in your content. In fact, 86% of marketers say video has helped them increase traffic to their website AND 84% say it’s helped them generate more leads (source).
What channels will you publish on?
What websites, forums/mediums, and social media channels will be most effective to get your message in front of your target audience? For example, if you’re a B2B solutions provider—you likely want to consider LinkedIn or business content sites. If you’re targeting consumers, perhaps Instagram, Facebook, or YouTube.
Who will be producing the content?
What are the internal resources and skill sets that you have access to? If you don’t have a skilled writer on staff and your budget is limited—it will likely be challenging to produce high-quality blogs or news articles. Perhaps you have a social media manager who may not be a great writer but is highly skilled at creating short videos and generating captivating headlines… Or, perhaps it’s time to invest in a content manager, writer, and/or agency to help you scale your efforts.
Who can you get to help with awareness and spreading the message?
Before you kick off an entire content generation engine—consider the other channels, websites, or influencers who might help you further expand your reach. Posting content on your website is great, but other platforms likely receive significantly more visitors and eyes. Consider how you can repurpose content on other platforms (social, communities) or websites (guest writing opportunities, etc.). How can you make valuable resources that other sites link to? (Backlinks)
How will you manage content creation and publication?
This one is often overlooked but critically important to the ongoing success of a content marketing strategy and for automation.
How will you manage content from ideation > draft > edit > publish > promotion?
Great content engines require tools and a content calendar for planning, execution, and collaboration. We’ll come back to this…
2) A Brand Style Guide
Once you have a content strategy in place, you’ll want a brand style guide to promote your vision and ensure consistency.
With marketing automation—you’ll be seeking to achieve scale. And that means—at some point (hopefully sooner than later)—you’ll want to leverage the knowledge of other employees, consultants, and/or agency resources to contribute to your marketing efforts.
In this event, quality and consistency will become increasingly important.
A brand style guide provides important guidelines for you to promote consistency as your efforts and team grows. It will also save you the time and struggle later of trying to wrangle disparate designs and approaches into cohesive brand messaging.
Remember. Automation will enable you to scale your efforts and successes. It will also empower you to scale problems and inconsistencies.
Do yourself a favor and develop a lightweight brand style guide early on. Create a preliminary draft that you would share with any other internal OR external resources to promote efficiency.
At the very least, you can achieve this in a Word or Google Doc to get started and build or design something more formal as you grow.
Considerations (a brief outline) for your brand style guide should include:
- Brand Story (Company info such as mission, vision, audience, personality, values as well as how you portray your role in helping customers achieve their goals)
- Logo Guidelines (When/where to use, restrictions)
- Color Palette (What colors are used and how)
- Typography (What fonts you use)
- Imagery (How you communicate visually)
- Voice (Best practices, words to use or avoid)
- Circulation (Where and how your materials are used)
For more information, check out our blog on Creating Your Brand Style Guide (coming soon).
With both a Content Strategy and Brand Style Guide in place—you’re ready to ramp up content creation efforts.
3) Consistent Content Creation OR An Existing Library of Content
Content marketing is a critical component for success. Before you invest in marketing automation—we highly recommend that you have either:
- 2–3 months worth of consistent content generation OR
- An existing library of content to use and circulate
Regardless, you’ll need a steady stream of content to make your automation investment worthwhile. Hiccups or gaps in your “content supply chain” will have downstream automation impacts.
If you’re just getting started—it’s good to work through a few months of content creation. This will allow you to fine-tune your efforts from ideation to production to promotion.
In most cases, you’ll learn a lot about customer perceptions, engagement, and how to improve in those first few dozen pieces of content and posts. This is an important time to hone your tactics, positioning, and messaging before you shift focus to scaling any inconsistencies, oversights, or problems.
If you already have a library of content—but are generating content less frequently—you may already be able to leverage a marketing automation investment. Chances are good your organization has already worked through much of the early messaging and refinement process.
That said—a renewed commitment to generating content is still important in order to drive engagement with relevant (and recent) content. You may also want to review and analyze previous content for consistency with current messaging and goals.
Regardless, if you’re this far along the path—your content roadmap will begin to take shape and help propel your efforts forward.
4) A Digital Strategy
And finally—it is critical that you have and share a vision for how content creation and marketing automation efforts fit into your overall growth and digital strategy. This includes your content workflows and the digital tools that you will leverage.
- Each organization is unique—but as you define this element, you should consider:
- Do you have all the necessary resources/skills to build, maintain, and execute your marketing automation plans?
- What solutions or platforms will you use to execute your strategic content and channel efforts?
- Do your selected marketing automation solutions integrate with existing systems like your CRM?
- Do your selection marketing automation solutions provide the measurement and analytics tools to measure and improve?
- Will your marketing automation efforts disrupt any existing workflows or team efforts? How will you adapt?
As the old saying goes… “the devil is in the details.”
There are scores of SaaS tools and services out there. The most important things you should consider when making software selection(s) are:
- Is the solution easy to use in context with our existing or envisioned workflow(s)?
- Is it scalable? Will it meet our needs in a year’s time? Two years?
- Does it integrate with your other systems and provide metrics? (Without measurement, you cannot improve.. Thank you, Peter Drucker.)
The single best piece of advice I’d give to most organizations is to choose a marketing automation platform that streamlines workflows and efforts AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE.
Many organizations struggle to find success with marketing automation or maximize their investment because they attempt to cobble together a “custom suite” of solutions to meet their variety of needs. They end up with a different solution for each: creation and posting, social media promotion, advertising, analytics, CRM, etc.
They save a little bit on subscription costs—but ultimately spend more time managing integrations, performing manual tasks, and aggregating analytics to keep the “automation machine” going. That kind of defeats the whole point of marketing automation.
Worse—even if you manage to keep this machine going—these problems further compound as teams grow, workflows become more complex, and content creation efforts scale. Now you have integrated inefficiencies and solidified expectations around subscription costs while hiding soft costs.
The answer? Choose an “all-in-one” CRM and marketing automation platform like HubSpot’s Marketing Hub.
Having a single “source of truth” and streamlined workflows on ONE platform will help you scale and maximize the reach of your content and marketing efforts…. Which is why we’re discussing this investment in marketing automation anyway.
Additional Considerations Before You Invest In Marketing Automation
Before we wrap this up, I wanted to share a few additional thoughts to help you make the most of any marketing automation investment you make.
You should also consider:
- How can you get your entire team involved in the content creation engine?
- What’s your paid advertising strategy? PPC? Social?
- Does your website have an easy-to-use Content Management System (CMS) to streamline and scale content creation?
- How does all of this impact your CRM strategy? How much time do you have to spend on integrations and syncing data?
Are You Ready To Invest In Marketing Automation?
Automation has the potential to make your marketing efforts more effective AND reduce costs per customer acquisition. On the other hand, automation can also scale inefficiencies and problems…
Perhaps Bill Gates put it best:
“The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.”
Well. I hope you’ve found this helpful. If you have any questions—don’t hesitate to contact us!
You may also find these ROI calculators helpful—if you’re at the stage where you’re looking to determine cost/benefit:
Want to learn more about marketing automation? Looking for an agency to help you integrate, streamline, and scale your marketing efforts within a cohesive customer operations outlook?
You’re in luck. That’s our bread and butter.