2014: The Year Marketing Automation Gets the Recognition It Deserves

shutterstock-144078886A recent article in VentureBeat said that marketing automation tools had only a 3 percent penetration rate at non-tech companies. Meanwhile, marketers are clamoring for ways to act upon data.

More or less, the weakest link in the chain of digital analytics has been the “make necessary changes” part. It’s now been several years since marketers began to understand that having the information alone really didn’t help the business. Recommendations became important. And after recommendations, then action.

Action is messy. It hasn’t had much to do, until recently, with automation. It required getting marketers, developers, creatives and business owners to agree on what changes were needed based on the data. And then the often too-laborious process of actually implementing the changes and trying to tell if there was a meaningful difference in the before and after states. Too often these efforts fell apart in partisan bickering between teams and refusal of many to take risks.

When we talk about marketing automation today, we are referring to SaaS offerings like Eloqua, Hubspot, Leadsius, Act-on and others that build a form of call-and-response matrix into marketing efforts. The easiest way to understand this is to compare it to what used to happen if you were reading a comic book when you were a kid, and saw an ad to “send away” for something either free or cheap. You would do that, and then you’d get more offers from the same company in the mail, as they hoped you’d soon spend more.

Much more dimensional and sophisticated versions of this are being played out by marketing automation tools, and according the the VentureBeat article, there’s plenty of room to grow.

A recent example of how one company is addressing a call for marketing automation is Tealium’s AudienceStream. Tealium already has a key foothold in the tag management industry, and that puts it at an important juncture of data collection. AudienceStream links the collected data from many sources (legacy of Tealium’s TMS) and allows the marketer to quickly set rules, thresholds and triggers that communicate via new APIs to marketing-action software already in the market. In other words, an AudienceStream powers an Eloqua. Once the rules are set, AudienceStream can communicate with a tool like Eloqua and help determine what message goes out to what user without continuing human intervention.

We’re not at the stage yet where entire site pages and app screens are being re-made on the spot based on very fresh data. We are at a stage where certain updatable modules on sites, and certain marketing messages can be automated and substituted based on data. The reason why this market sector has such growth potential is that it actually fixes a real problem.

While we’ve had lots of time to gnaw on old chestnuts like page views and unique visitors, we’ve hardly gotten to a point where we can say we’ve got organized, incremental methods that improve marketing velocity. And we know that most of the friction comes from friction between different teams with different agendas.

Marketing automation has no agenda except to respond to data and seek a return on marketing content. It frees up humans to do more strategic work. It may have only a small percentage of the market today, but as marketers get more and more familiar with successes based on these tools, that percentage is likely to begin growing rapidly in the near future.

Think of 2014 as the year when marketing automation finally got some of the recognition it deserves.

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