Wow is there a lot of talk about automation these days. Whether it’s marketing automation, or programmatic advertising, or artificial intelligence bots that automagically write our content – more than ever it seems marketers are looking for algorithms that can help them scale and optimize their efforts.
Marketing Automation, content and data are certainly the biggest technology players for marketing departments these days. In fact one study found that Content Marketing, Big Data and Marketing Automation are the top three priorities for marketers in 2017.
Businesses of all sizes have discovered that marketing automation helps to deliver a richer set of data to optimize their selling efforts. Salespeople can now see richer sets of data to identify content that has been consumed – so that they might have more relevant conversations with prospects. Leads can be scored based on where they may be in the buyer’s journey. Visitors, prospects and opportunities can be nurtured through drip email campaigns based on their behavior and interaction. In short – while I might quibble with the term “automation” – in that marketing is a very human-scaled effort – Marketing Automation solutions have truly helped marketing departments optimize their direct marketing efforts.
So, as content marketing begins to become a larger part of our paid, owned, and earned media marketing strategy, I will often get the question: “can content marketing be automated in the same way?”
Well – yes and no. Let me explain.
Connecting experiences for richer data
One of the things I’ve noticed over the last year is how disconnected many companies’ content marketing platforms are from other parts of their buy-oriented digital experiences. Businesses spend significant money to deploy a marketing automation solution for their website, but aren’t connecting these solutions to their content marketing platforms. Put simply: marketers aren’t using Marketing Automation tools to connect their website, their blogs and their email programs.
Doesn’t it make sense that if I subscribe and give over my email address and data to a company’s wonderful digital magazine/blog, that when I go to register for the resource center, or to buy a product online, that it should recognize me? Aren’t our owned media content marketing properties part of that buyer’s journey?
But so often they aren’t connected at all. For example, I recently worked with a leading technology company in the enterprise software space. They have a whole series of blogs, written by subject matter experts. They are very well trafficked and regarded by their various audiences. But when I asked how they could track those audiences that ultimately became leads – they had no clue. The blog platforms and their websites are completely separated by technology. Further, the blogs themselves aren’t connected. So, if I love two of their blogs – I actually have to subscribe twice. All the subscriber databases are completely separate.
As you might expect – this becomes a big integration challenge for whenever they are trying to show results for why to even have a blog to begin with.
The rise of an audience development platform
In both the B2B and growing B2C space, marketing automation systems are still almost exclusively focused on connecting one website and enabling a lead-nurturing process through email. One survey found that in the B2B space, almost 80% of marketers used their marketing automation solution to help generate more leads. The second biggest use for it was to track visitors to one website, and the third most common use (69%) as for scoring and qualifying leads.
Because of the pressure to launch new content platforms quickly, many businesses are falling into the trap of creating entirely separate technology stacks to manage them. The corporate website is managed by an enterprise web content management system (WCMS). The blog properties are managed by blogging software (usually WordPress or similar). Meanwhile, the landing page and email subscriptions are managed by the marketing automation system.
As I mentioned in the case of the enterprise software company, these disconnected processes make it difficult for brands to integrate consumers from platform to platform. In other words, even if a brand is successful in getting a particular consumer subscribed to the awareness blog, there is no intelligent subscription integration between the blog, the website or any other owned-media properties.
The brands we’ve observed that are developing successful content marketing strategies are separating out the processes of “audience development” for content marketing and audience delight purposes, from the nurturing lead-development process meant to lead to a purchase.
These businesses are using Marketing Automation tools as an Audience Development platform – extending and connecting their many content-driven platforms together to create an audience, that then evolves into a marketing database, which evolves into opportunities etc.
This helps in a number of ways:
- Provides even more and relevant data to the business. We begin to track audiences from the first time we meet them, to evolving them into qualified leads and prospects.
- Provides more data to use for personalization, or targeting relevant offers to them. Businesses can use content consumption in the content marketing property as signals to optimize product sales and/or targeted offers.
- Provides for connected experiences for consumers who don’t have to re-orient themselves, or “sign up again” for different parts of their buyer’s journey.
Maybe not automated – but nurtured
If as marketers we’re ever going to take advantage of all those algorithmic optimizations for our customer experiences, we must take the first steps to get better insight about prospective consumers. And, to enable this, marketers must be able to connect their content properties together so that they build a rich profile of their audiences over time. This requires businesses to look hard at how they organize their content management and customer data collection processes. So, just like I quibbled about the use of the word “automated” when talking about the human process of marketing, I might also say that Content Marketing is, at its heart, a human-oriented process that is best when it’s managed as such.
But, can Content Marketing benefit from a Marketing Automation system to help develop and foster value to audiences? That answer is an unqualified “yes.” Yes, it can. Yes, it should.
How do you choose to automate your content marketing? Tell us about it in the comments below.