The Problem With Email Marketing Automation Flowcharts
A director of marketing with whom I worked on a content marketing project wanted feedback on her team’s email marketing automation campaigns. So she sent me an email automation flowchart.
It was expertly organized, with decision diamonds based on prospect characteristics and behaviors, specific cadences spelled out, exclusion lists based on prospect activity, and purchase flows. The flowchart illustrated the true and awesome potential of marketing automation to send emails based on characteristics and behaviors, instead of just batch and blast.
And before I point out the gap in the flowchart, I want to quickly mention how important it is to get key technical and operational aspects of marketing automation right, lest you think I undervalue them. They can have a huge impact. For example, when InsightSquared head of marketing Keith Lincoln was the VP of marketing for SmartBear Software, I interviewed him for a case study about how his team increased lead volume 200%. How did his team do it? Technological and operational expertise. They had to combine five companies, three CRMs, and two home-grown CRM solutions into one workflow.
But here’s the rub — because the technical and operational element can be hard and complex, as marketing leaders we can overly focus our teams and agencies on those elements. And in so doing, we can overlook the big picture. That is why many marketing automation flowcharts have a serious and all-too-common gap.
The Marketing Automation Flow Is the Highway, the Marketing Message Is the Tesla
Marketing automation, and even the most complex and well-thought-out automation and email drip campaign flows, are just an infrastructure. But like a highway, the customer experience can be very different, based on what’s driving down the road.
On my way into work, sometimes I am behind a sleek Tesla Model S that’s cruising down the asphalt ribbon with zero emissions. Or sometimes, I’m behind an old pickup truck with a broken muffler that’s spewing black sooty exhaust at my car.
The infrastructure is the same, but the customer experience is so different.
When I saw that email flowchart, the structure looked sensible enough to me. But the main thing that was lacking was a clear customer theory. (If you’re unfamiliar with customer theory, here is an example and a free tool.)
It was hard to understand what the messages in the emails were.
- Was there a clear understanding of the motivation that led to the action that enters the prospect into a drip campaign?
- And are the marketing automation campaigns tapping into that motivation with the messages prospects need at that point in the customer journey?
Using Your Marketing Automation to Power Customer-First Marketing
So what should you do if you’re building out a marketing automation flow? Build a customer-first marketing strategy by beginning with the customer needs and wants, fears and desires. And then creating a structure that serves the customer.
- Work with your team to map the prospect conclusion funnel. What do customers need to know to make the best decision for themselves about your product? When do they need to know it? What action are they taking to learn this?
- To quote Jerry Seinfeld, “Who are these people?” When you map that prospect conclusion funnel, there is likely more than one type of customer. Make sure you are accounting for your main prospect segments. For example, by taking a persona-driven approach to marketing automation, Byron O’Dell — IHS senior director of demand management — and his team generated massive increases in clickthrough rate ranging from 398% to 1,112%.
- This is time-consuming, of course. So look for ways for your team to tap into activities your organization is already doing. For example, 88% of organizations are engaged in keyword and keyphrase research for SEO. This is email send planning in disguise. If your team isn’t directly engaged in this research, find out who in your organization is and invite them to collaborate. This keyword research can help your team determine what content to deliver in your marketing automation flow. In many cases, your SEO colleagues have already built-out supporting content on your website to rank for those keywords, and you can leverage it in your emails.
- Decide where in the customer journey you can leverage this content and where you should introduce the human touch (i.e. a sales call).
- Now — unleash the MA! This is what marketing automation is built for. You’ve discovered what people want to know, who these people are, when they should know it, and what content and human interactions you have at your disposal to help them discover it. Now, use that marketing automation infrastructure to power the delivery of the right messages to the right people at the right time.
Perception (Even Internally) Is Key
In fairness, many marketers are likely considering these factors at some level in their gut when they build a MA flow. And all of this thinking may have been buried beneath the email flowchart I saw.
But, just like the traces of ancient civilizations buried beneath the modern cities of today, people only see what’s right in front of them if you don’t unearth what it is built upon.
We need to unearth hidden value when communicating with our customers.
But we have to influence value perception when communicating internally, as well. If the main source of communication about your marketing automation campaigns are flowcharts focused on automation send logic instead of marketing messaging, that type of approach will seep into your team’s thinking. You’re showing that you place importance on the company’s infrastructure and the customer is just a cog in the process. Your team’s focus turns to technology operations and away from where it really should be ...
… using technology to better serve the customer.
Daniel Burstein is the Senior Director, Content and Marketing at MECLABS Institute. Daniel oversees all content and marketing coming from the MarketingExperiments and MarketingSherpa brands while helping to shape the marketing direction for MECLABS — digging for actionable discoveries while serving as an advocate for the audience.