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Debunking 5 Marketing Automation Myths

Associations, Communications Strategy // Marketing automation is definitely doable for associations - so we're here to debunk five myths you might be believing.

Shayna McGroggan
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In my quest to educate on marketing automation, I run across a lot of misconceptions. These take on a life of their own, and often feel like epic myths that would give Homer a run for his money. Someone always has a story about some other marketer, from some other organization, that had some sort of major difficulty or near catastrophe, caused by a malfunction of an automated campaign. Or they stumbled upon an unforeseen dead-end that prevented them from automating. More often than not, these issues are over-exaggerated marketing urban legends.

So, let’s uncover some epic legends and debunk some myths.

Myth #1: Marketing Automation Is Far Too Difficult

I’ve seen other pieces like this one that address exactly this point, except the ones I have seen sugar coated things, slightly. Of course, they are going to tell you marketing automation isn’t difficult, because it shouldn’t be. If you aren’t careful though, you can make things needlessly difficult.

Automated campaigns should relieve tedium. They should help you elevate your interaction with your members and subscribers. Automation helps you do bigger and better things you were not able to accomplish on your own. Here’s the deeper truth: you’re making it difficult for yourself.

Trying to build complex campaigns on the fly is a great way to turn marketing automation into a headache. Here’s the simple fix: plan out everything ahead of time. Make sure you are budgeting time for the planning process and expect that to be the longest part of the process. Story board your campaigns, inventory your content and segmented subscriber lists, and always look ahead at any possible ways your campaign logic could break. Anticipate and resolve the problems before you have them with rigorous testing.

I didn’t say this was an easy or quick fix, but it’s simple if you follow your plan. Problem solved.

Another way you complicate things for yourself is not understanding where and how your data points originate and how subscriber records are formatted and stored.

Any campaign you run is only going to be as good as your data. If you don’t understand your data, then you are handicapping yourself and complicating things again. The solution? Educate yourself on your data points. Are you using web tracking data? How are subscriber lists stored in any integrated databases? Which of that data can be accessed by your marketing automation platform? If there’s anything about the data you are not totally clear on, make your life easier. Check campaign logic and automation rules you’ve built in, and ensure they don’t hinge on what you haven’t figured out yet. There are always work-arounds.

Myth #2: Our Data Is Too Messy for Marketing Automation

Let’s rewind and repeat: your campaigns will only be as good and as sophisticated as your data. I’ve talked to many marketers that hear this and immediately shut down to incorporating marketing automation. If your subscriber database is a mess, you aren’t alone! A lot of organizations struggle with this, and the prospect of cleaning things up can be daunting. Maybe subscriber records are outdated, and maybe there’s no consistency or organization as to how the records are kept. While this isn’t ideal, again, this problem is not unique to any one organization.

Messy data is no advantage when building out automated campaigns, but it doesn’t have to be a roadblock, either. Try tackling the most obvious first: create an automated campaign to help you with the cleanup.

Through the use of some personalization codes, send a campaign to your subscribers showing what information you currently have on them. Ask if it’s correct and direct them to a form they can submit to update their record themselves. This requires having a form that is somehow integrated with your subscriber database, but odds are your AMS/CMS provider or even your integrated communications platform will be able to set you up with this. At the very least, it’s an easy first step in a potentially arduous but ultimately vital data cleanup project.

If that’s more than you are ready to tackle, automation can help you standardize how your subscriber data is collected and used going forward. And at the very least, you can still create some useful campaigns just by knowing little more than a subscriber’s email address and their activity tracked by your marketing automation platform.

If all you have is the most simplistic data, you can still create simplistic yet affective campaigns to increase your touch points with subscribers. Even just keeping your brand in touch with them in the most basic of ways will help them stay connected with you.

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Myth #3: Automation Is Not Perfect and Can Cause Costly Mistakes

This is one of my favorite marketing automation urban legends. Someone has a friend, whose brother-in-law’s dog walker’s hairdresser’s neighbor is a digital marketer. And they sent an automated campaign that accidentally went to the wrong subscriber list, with the wrong information at the wrong time, and it was incredibly embarrassing and cost their company millions. We’ve all heard something like this.

Before we talk about the actual likelihood of this fantastical scenario, I’d like to pose a hypothetical question: If you send invitations to a party via snail mail, and you accidentally mislabel the envelopes and address them to the wrong names and wrong street addresses, do you blame the post office when strangers show up to your party and none of your friends attend?

I think you see where I’m going with this.

Even if your marketing automation platform provides templates for common campaign types, or even guides you through the campaign creation process with a survey, then every automation rule, data point reference, and logic pathway is defined by you. The automated campaign will only do what you tell it to do. This type of user error is not unique to automated campaigns. You could accidentally manually send a one-off email to the wrong subscriber list or publish something on social media weeks before it’s supposed to be seen.

The buck stops between your desk chair and keyboard. Can the scenario mentioned above actually happen? Absolutely, but the marketing automation platform is not to blame. If you are doing the proper planning, testing, and due diligence, then this is not a scary (or likely) scenario.

Myth #4: Marketing Automation Is an Unnecessary Additional Expense

Lighting your house with candles is cheaper than paying for electricity. Knitting your own sweater costs less then buying one in the store. Churning your own butter and growing your own produce will save money on your grocery bill. These are all ways to spend less money, but that’s only if you are not associating any monetary value with ease, comfort, sanity, and your own time.

Marketing automation is no longer a new-fangled concept or fad. This is becoming a real staple in the professional digital marketing universe. Do you need marketing automation to survive? No, you don’t. But it will make your job a lot easier, more comfortable, and free up time to get more done in a sophisticated manner. The value you place on that is completely up to you.

There are case studies on how automation can increase new membership and renewals, boost event attendance, and help convert purchases that would have been otherwise abandoned. This shows marketing automation has the potential to pay for itself, but only if you put it to proper use.

Myth #5: Automated Campaigns Are Creepy and Intrusive

Marketing automation provides so many opportunities to follow up with subscribers. Use automation rules to request action from people who have failed to do so in previous communications. Send more information to subscribers who have viewed specific content on your website. Remind people to complete something they started but didn’t finish. As beneficial as these examples can be, some marketers still hesitate to put them into practice.

“Won’t it come off as creepy if I send an unrequested correspondence to someone based on their profile or activity to prompt them to do something I think they will ultimately appreciate?” No.

And the reason why I say no can be explained by my favorite tidbit from our own Strategic Service Manager, Viv Swertinski.

At an on-site client event, I once heard Viv address this concern in a way we can all understand. She asked the room, “When you go to a restaurant and order a glass of wine, is it bad if the waitress asks you if you would like another glass when she sees your first glass is empty?” Through this very simple analogy, she gave a perfect example of what we see as fantastic customer service. The customer expressed interest in something and consumed it. Then there was follow-up to determine the customer’s need, based on behavior already displayed. This isn’t creepy, it’s better service.

This type of follow-up isn’t new, either. For years, we’ve all noticed that when we Google a product, through the miracle of Google Ad Sense, you suddenly start seeing banner ads for that product wherever your web browser takes you. It’s not a new concept, so incorporating it into your own marketing is not going to send anyone into shock, unless they are somehow very new to the internet.

The Automated Truth Will Make Your Life Easier

There seem to be a lot of “alternative facts” out there about marketing automation. What they really boil down to are myths inspired by uncertainty.

There is always the chance that something can go awry, or that a particular marketing style may be the wrong fit for you. There is also the chance you may have internal factors that prevent you from marketing the way you would really like to. This is not specific to marketing automation though, so don’t let fear hold you back. The automated truth is out there!

Shayna McGroggan

Marketing Automation Manager

Shayna is a former Marketing Automation Manager at Higher Logic. In her role, she provided automation strategy for clients, while developing campaigns and assisting with persona development. She delivered quality coaching in marketing automation strategy to a growing list of at least 7 individual organizations, acting as a subject matter expert by providing guidance on the creative design of client emails/landing pages and the integration of email, web tracking, community, and CRM data for campaigns.

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