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Toni Bowater at The Union gives a practical insight into marketing automation.

It’s likely you’ve already seen at least one over-enthusiastic salesperson at a roadshow or expo by now, gesticulating wildly about the easy wins to be had with marketing automation.

Call it personalisation, ‘hyper’ segmentation, or ‘marketing to an audience of one’, but in the simplest sense, marketing automation is just using purpose-built platforms to give you extra insights about your customers and make automated decisions based on those insights.

The theory is that this kind of platform will save time, make your team more efficient and cut production costs. In reality, it’s often difficult to manage, and optimising your new drip programme falls by the wayside while you’re dealing with everyday emergencies. All of a sudden, it’s been six months and you have no idea what kind of a difference your birthday programme is making to your bottom line.

If you’ve invested in a platform or a software, you’ll also need the resources either in-house or in an experienced agency to manage it. This is just as important an investment as the technical side, because you could otherwise end up with a fancy automation suite that sits gathering dust. It isn’t enough to allocate budget for the set-up and integration – you also need to be able to monitor your programmes and adjust accordingly.

What are the practical applications?

At their best, marketing automation platforms mean that you can have all your marketing efforts feeding into the same place. This includes website visits, email engagement, PPC and display clicks, social interaction and sometimes even bricks-and-mortar visits.

If your business is lead generation (i.e. the hard-slog process of one-to-one marketing), this means you can gradually start ranking your leads (AKA customers) based on all their interactions with your company. Your sales team can begin to prioritise live leads that are showing signs of engagement and can also be alerted when lapsed leads are showing an interest again. You could even start lead scoring, where you assign points to certain activities and weigh them based on importance.

In the retail world, the automation opportunities lend themselves well to browse abandonment and basket abandonment. You can also tailor email programmes based on previous purchase activity, for example, a welcome programme that includes messages such as “never shopped with us before?” vs. “How did you enjoy your purchase?”.

As with all superpowers, responsible use comes with restraint.

Just because you can bombard your customer with every product they’ve ever viewed in the history of your relationship, doesn’t mean that you should. A tailored advert showcasing a certain brand or type of product because you know what the user has previously purchased is relevant and useful. Having all your communications in one place means you can skip the irrelevant information your lead has already heard. Your customer shouldn’t be aware of what’s going on in the background – if they are then you’ve already gone wrong. Feeling like a number on someone’s list is a turn-off. Feeling like you’re being followed around the web by a gang of overzealous cookies is even worse.

The beauty of marketing automation is using it to extract meaningful data, which you can then use to make your customer’s journey easier. It’s not a short-cut to relevant content, but it can allow you to distribute relevant content to the right audience at an appropriate time. The platform is just the start – with a creative approach, you can use your data to tell an engaging story to your customers.


  • Collect all and every interaction with your brand, whether it is clicks, emails or phone calls. This gives your sales team a comprehensive overview when contacting a customer or lead.
  • Decide on your KPIs before setting up any type of automation – how will you deem it to be a success?
  • Segment your audience into relevant groups that would benefit from tailored communications.


  • Forget about your programme once it’s been set up – keep optimising it!
  • Pester your audience. Use your engagement data to know when to scale back communication. Don’t be a creep.
  • Get too comfortable – question assumptions about your data and devise a testing schedule to keep learning new things about your own customer journey.

If you’d like to speak to someone at The Union about how marketing automation might fit into your business, please get in touch with us at Union Digital.