4 Tips for Choosing a Marketing Automation Tool

The selection of a marketing automation tool is not an easy process. There are a ton of factors to consider — from integration to process to workflow and much more.

For the past few months, I’ve had the chance to work with several companies on either improving their marketing automation processes or defining the need for a marketing automation tool. From those conversations, here’s four key tips for walking through the marketing automation tool selection process.

Tip #1: It Starts with You

Like many technologies, there is a clear buzz in the market around the rollout of marketing automation tools in the media sector. That buzz makes it easy to say, “I need this to solve my problems.”

But, the question publishers must ask first is, “What problems am I trying to solve?”

Like any other technology rollout, the successful rollout of a marketing automation tool starts with first defining your needs. It’s easy to say, “I need drip marketing capabilities” or “I need a marketing automation tool to improve subscription renewals.” But, if you’re going to succeed, you need to be a lot more specific up front. Take the time to walk through the areas where you see marketing automation as an option and walk through potential workflows. For example, if you’re sending an email promotion to generate event attendee registration, there are several flows to consider:

  1. A user opens, clicks, and registers
  2. A user opens, clicks, but doesn’t register
  3. A user opens, but doesn’t click
  4. A user doesn’t open

In each case here, you can set a different workflow and a different messaging scheme.

In the case of a subscription renewals, you may want to set up a process where a user receives a special pop-up message to re-subscribe if their subscription is up or to subscribe if they are not one already.

These are both solutions where marketing automation can help. But, they may only be a few of the scenarios you have. So, to the best of your ability, identify the different use cases. You can then use these use cases to set up proof of concept campaigns with vendors during the RFP selection process.

Tip #2: Easy Workflow Set Up

One way in which today’s marketing automation tool vendors excel is in the breadth of features they offer in their product. But, that large feature set is a blessing and a curse. Just like many analytics tools, it’s easy to get lost and overwhelmed by the amount of capabilities found in today’s modern marketing automation products.

But, no matter what tool you use, one feature stands out more than most — the ability to easily set up workflows. Workflows lie at the heart of the marketing automation tool and are the keys to building a successful automation campaign. When looking at tools, search for one that offers a visual experience where workflows can be created or adapted by dragging and dropping blocks. This makes the workflow process more intuitive to a user and quicker to implement.

Most modern tools offer this capability. If you’re looking at a tool that doesn’t, you may want to look at additional options.

Tip #3: Get a Dedicated IP Address

Here’s the number one mistake some publishers, especially smaller ones, make when selecting a marketing automation tool. Marketing automation tool providers will push for all emails to go out through the tool. They have good reason for it. If you’re going to truly automate marketing efforts, then it’s critical to understand how users are interacting with all emails.

However, this is where some publishers have made a big mistake. To save on cost, some publishers are leveraging one of the shared IP addresses from the tool provider. That means that your emails are traveling on the same channels as other marketing partners that may not be following the same best email practices you are. So, if they do something wrong, it can have a direct impact on your marketing efforts. And, when you add in a higher-value email product like a newsletter to the mix, then you are opening yourself up for potential issues from both an editorial and business perspective.

Are DMA Conference Exhibitors Reinventing, Too?

From 1987 to 2008, I had attended every DMA conference, always enjoying the experience of reconnecting with long-time associates, hearing presentations to continually learn, and meeting with vendors who might be good resources for clients. Last week I found myself looking at the conference through a different lens as I walked the exhibit hall to learn from the exhibitors.

It had been five years since I last attended a DMA annual conference. I decided to return last week. If there were a score card of how direct marketing service providers are reinventing what they sell to end-user companies, one measure of that could be taken from the exhibit hall.

From 1987 to 2008, I had attended every DMA conference, always enjoying the experience of reconnecting with long-time associates, hearing presentations to continually learn, and meeting with vendors who might be good resources for clients.

Last week I found myself looking at the conference through a different lens as I walked the exhibit hall to learn from the exhibitors.

The first thing that astounded me was the shrinkage of the exhibit hall. The program listed 241 exhibitors. While I don’t have access to the number of exhibitors from, say, a decade ago, it feels like it was about one-third the size that it used to be.

The second thing that struck me was the type of exhibitors who were there. I’d generally divide into one of three camps:

  1. Traditional direct marketing vendors, mostly supporting direct mail. The convention program listed 112 exhibitors self-identified as in the Direct Mail and Print Services category. Add in some of the dozens of firms supporting Data Management (who weren’t already listed under Direct Mail and Print Services) and easily over half—perhaps two-thirds—of the exhibitors supported traditional direct mail marketing channels.
  2. Technology companies offering online services to direct marketers accounted for a significant representation as well. An exact count is difficult to infer because of vendors listing themselves under multiple categories including Affiliate Marketing, Content, E-commerce, Mobile, Online Advertising, Real-Time Automated Technologies, Search and Social, but the representation was strong. These are firms that, in my opinion, generally did a poor job of communicating how they support direct marketers. As I spoke to several of them, they glowed over their technology but didn’t connect their technology to how it would generate response. It feels like they want to attract business from direct marketers, but they don’t speak our language. Many technology companies seem to be in love with their buzz words on their booths, but failed to give the passer-by any clue of what their technology would do for me to build sales. At the expansive exhibit of one of the most recognized software companies in America, I quickly spotted three typographical errors on their big screens. Their exhibit booth staff was also the least friendly and willing to explain what they offer direct marketers.
  3. Vendors that effectively blended offline and online. Only a few exhibitors, it seemed, truly attempted to be a one-stop shop where offline could be linked with online media. Those exhibitors were the ones doing business at the conference. They were the ones who were the most positive about returning next year. In one case, a long-time DMA conference exhibitor who has reinvented his service offerings, said last week’s conference was the best ever for them. This traditional direct mail services provider had teamed up with a technology firm so their booth felt like two spaces, but they seamlessly referred clients to each other. More importantly, they linked online technology with the ability to use direct mail for specialized messaging.

It appears there is work to be done by many vendors to update their services to keep up with what direct marketers must do to survive. And technology companies have a lot of work to do to understand the nuances of direct marketing. For vendors who want to grow and prosper in this field, if they haven’t already, they need to reinvent just like the direct marketing customers who they want to serve.