What Marketing Automation Really Means for Associations


Associations, you produce a lot of content. Long before the corporate world started yammering on about the power of content marketing, you knew. association marketingYou knew from decades of experience in leveraging useful content to engage your audiences.

In the last handful of years, technology has offered new ways to magnify the reach of your content and to measure the roi. You’re likely reading a lot of tech terms being tossed about, especially marketing automation. As one of the most popular and effective marketing approaches these days, everyone wants in on this highly searched keyword. With the way some tech firms use the term, you may be wondering what it really is, or what means for you, an association.

Marketing Automation is Automating Your Marketing

That’s it. That’s all it means. It’s automating your digital marketing. Automation includes moving parts like landing pages, calls to action, forms, content assets, nurturing emails, analytics, reporting, and more.

You automate to be able to do more. Do it more efficiently. But the real goal is to lower the cost of acquiring new members/attendees/subscribers.

You can automate in one of two ways:

  1. You use an integrated marketing platform, like HubSpot, Marketo or Pardot.
  2. Or you link together the technologies from different companies to enable the automation

Which sounds easier? If you guessed #1, then you’re right.

And that’s exactly what Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah thought in 2006 when they created HubSpot. Their goal was achieved: one platform that integrates your email marketing, website marketing, content marketing, social marketing, analytics, and more so that you can automate your marketing.

Their vision led to the era of Inbound Marketing. And today there are five or six leaders in the space of what are called ‘integrated marketing platforms.’ These platforms are required to fully automate your marketing.

Or you attempt to do marketing automation by getting 3-4 companies’ technologies to “talk to each other,” that’s option #2 above. You can imagine why this is the harder road – but it was done for years by many companies.

There are a lot of pitfalls when trying to get different platforms to work on one goal. First is an easy example: when any platform has an upgrade there is an opportunity for your delicate daisy chain to break. When there is a problem, no one company is responsible for all technologies to continue to play nice. So, this option is the most precarious as you are relying on companies who are not considering the other companies you use when they make their business decisions. Further, it is costly as you may need to pay for the technologies to be integrated together.

But that doesn’t stop a technology company that offers one tech solution, such as an email marketing platform, from claiming that they offer marketing automation. And where does that leave you in understanding what full marketing automation is? If you’re not an expert yet, you may think you are weighing two equals. But you wouldn’t be looking at two similar options even though they use the same terminology.

The linking-companies-solution can’t mirror the full capabilities of one integrated platform. To explain, let’s look at the building blocks of marketing automation through a fictional, yet likely, marketing scenario.

The Marketing Landscape:

You have a blog (of course you do, who doesn’t). You have audience personas, and they’re based on data because you know your stuff. You’re trying to increase early registration for an upcoming Summit before the reduced rate expires.

You have an idea for a blog post series that will share some data from the report about a new study that your association conducted. It’s known that the report goes on sale each year at the Summit; it always sells well.

The blog post will share a few of the data points in the gorgeous infographics that the report is known for. One of your personas, Sharon, while an ideal fit for the Summit, attends less often than what your data concludes she would benefit from, but she always buys the report. But she doesn’t get the reduced price that attendees are offered; she buys it later when it goes on sale to the public.

The Plan:

  • Write the blog posts.
  • Conduct a recorded interview with a member who always buys the report about why they value it and how they use it.
  • Create a poster with infographics that show a comparison from the last two years of one or two data points from the report.
  • Place a call to action (CTA) for listening to the interview audio at the end of the post.
  • Create an ebook to include the executive summary of the report, transcript of the audio, and the infographic poster.
  • Have a smart CTA at the end of the audio offering the discounted rate to anyone who is registered to attend. For those who are already registered to attend, they will see the CTA to download the infographic poster.
  • Promote it in social media­­­­.

The Marketing Automation:

Here is where the automation part comes in. For those who read the blog post but who have not yet registered they will see CTA “A,” whereas those who have already registered will see CTA “B”. That’s marketing automation in the form of smart CTAs.

After they click on either CTA, they will go to a landing page. On that landing page there will be a form and after they submit it, they’ll see a thank you and be presented with another related content offer. Here the automation includes CTAs, landing pages, forms, list descriptions, nurturing emails and predefined ‘if this, then that’ workflows. E.g., if they download this ebook, send this email two days later.

For those who listen to the audio, but didn’t yet download the ebook, they will receive an email two days later offering them the ebook. Here the automation again requires an ‘if this, then that workflow and calls for your website marketing and email marketing to be integrated in one platform.

Actions like these and their other behaviors create an automated way to segment your audiences in order to better target your marketing. Their actions place them on pre-defined lists and then you segment your marketing and automate your marketing by using those automated lists.

But in order for your audiences actions and behaviors on your website, interactions with your emails, and social engagement to segment your audiences for more targeted marketing – for better results – then it all has to be integrated together.

Once integrated, your audiences can show you to what degree they are interested in your offering. Someone might not be open to buying a book from a sales email, but they might be open to your offer to download a free Executive Summary. And that summary might just make them realize they want to read this book.

To nurture your broad audience of unknown interest (leads) from free Executive Summary to making a purchase (buyers) requires a lot of moving parts. Those are what you automate. And it runs at 2am if that is when an individual is ready to start looking at what you to offer them.

From Forrester Research: Companies that excel at lead nurturing generate
50% more sales-ready leads at 33% lower cost. If we translate that marketing-speak into human, it means you get more people to buy what you’re selling and have it cost you less time and money to get the sale.

What more could a marketer want? Except maybe this:

Companies that automate lead management see a 10% or greater increase in revenue in 6-9 months. From Gartner Research.

By Monica Bussolati

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