The Myths and Realities of Marketing Automation

By Dalal Haldeman, SVP, Marketing & Communications, Johns Hopkins Medicine

Dalal Haldeman, SVP, Marketing & Communications, Johns Hopkins Medicine

Marketing automation creates opportunities for organizations to dramatically focus the impact of their marketing and communications. While much has been written about how best to improve efficiency, target and service to customers, such assertions have created a perception that marketing automation will be cheaper and easier—while raising the odds for greater profits.

The reality is that marketing automation is very valuable but requires significant investments in a new infrastructure and in personnel with the right skills. Support for these changes has to be achieved on an enterprise scale and marketers must gradually introduce these concepts. That requires an incremental familiarization of team members with marketing automation technologies, new responsibilities and new skill sets. Only then can the organization demonstrate the impacts to return on investment and the ability to report and pivot their work with available data.

"At Johns Hopkins Medicine, marketing automation has created opportunities for increased customer engagement through more timely communication"

The rewards of this approach are plentiful, and organizations that fail to adopt it will see their customers drawn towards competitors who are better equipped to quickly respond to their needs and to the ever-shifting digital landscape.

Benefits of Marketing Automation

Data provided by customers offer the greatest asset of automation, enabling targeted communications based on their attributes. According to MarketsandMarkets and Ascend2’s research, marketing automation usage will continue to grow, with 71 percent of companies using marketing automation, as of 2016, and projected revenues forecasted to reach $5.5 billion in 2019, from $3.65 billion in 2014.

At Johns Hopkins Medicine, marketing automation has created opportunities for increased customer engagement through more timely communication. We have indeed experienced time savings in daily tasks. However, we reinvest that time savings in strategic thinking and decision-making that strengthen integration with customer relationship management and identifies opportunities to expand our impact.

Getting Started in Marketing Automation

Marketing automation is not just about e-news communication. In fact, your team is likely already employing automation strategies. Do you schedule social posts in a tool like Hootsuite or Social Studio? Do you send e-mails triggered by online form submissions? Are you already tapping into automation powerhouses like Facebook, programmatic ad buying and Google AdWords?

The incremental approach to automation centers on a goal to reach people in meaningful ways that positively impact your brand perception and that support your institutional business objectives. At Hopkins, we have evolved one tool at a time, identifying data sources, creating a data governance model and infrastructure, and focusing on campaigns in which we can clearly define success metrics.

We know that our customers use multiple channels and devices before making a decision. Therefore, communicating across multiple channels with personalized content is imperative.

How We Automate: Six Tips

Here are six effective ways we found useful to provide values to our audiences:

-Scheduling of Social Media Posts: We use a social media management tool to schedule all our social posts for the week. By scheduling posts in bulk, we free up time each day to listen and respond to our community in real time. Additionally, our data infrastructure enables us to tag all posts with meta-data—“neurology” or “customer complaint,” for example— that support our reporting and analysis.

-Dynamic Content: Our emails are developed on a single template with interchangeable content blocks. This approach saves development time and enables us to display targeted content based on the attributes of the recipient. For example, physicians receive the same basic content with customizations based on their specialties, location (whether domestic or international), and other factors.

-A/B Testing: Our automation approach includes A/B testing of designs, subject lines and content, and can yield surprising results. For example, we have learned that general subject lines often outperform ones specific to the content within each issue.

-Journey Building and Lead Nurturing: We create a journey path that adapts to our customers to ensure that each touchpoint makes sense for the individual. For example, if a subscriber is not opening or clicking on e-news content, we will serve an ad in Facebook to see if that garners interest. Learning where audiences are most likely to engage and re-engage with our content enables us to shift away from ineffective methods that might cause brand fatigue.

-Drip Campaigns: We are experimenting with drip campaigns to create a cadence of communication with our audience and to gather more information over time.

-Google AdWords: In addition to the automation Google already uses to optimize ads, we also add scripts onto our Google AdWords Campaigns that better control how much we bid. By adjusting our bids hourly based on campaign performance, desired position and budget parameters, we’ve encountered more engagement that is measurable.

Marketing Automation: Four Myths and Realities

Myth: Marketing automation is plug and play.

Reality: Expect to invest your team’s time in planning effective customer journeys and in developing a data infrastructure that will support those journeys. In addition, expect to continually improve your communications based on real-time insights about your audience.

Myth: Marketing automation is for email only.

Reality: Marketing automation should be thought of holistically. In addition, this means that marketers and colleagues from various units need to come together to approach their work more cohesively. This includes our own marketing team, our patient experience colleagues and our operations and information technology colleagues.

Myth: Marketing generalists will gain time and readjust to employ marketing automation effectively.

Reality: You need to do a SWOT analysis and embrace new roles and responsibilities. Staff will need training. New roles to introduce technical and analytic skillsets are also likely needed. Collaboration will be key to success, and an open mind to learn and assume new roles.

Myth: Marketing automation is spam and reduces personalization.

Reality: Marketing automation, especially integrated with your CRM, offers the opportunity to reduce message fatigue by understanding how many times you are touching your customer. Carefully considering the customer journey, increasing personalization, and limiting exposure are important components of success. These are elements with which marketing automation tools are intended to assist, but strategy and forethought remain equally important pieces. Again, as I said before, precision marketing is not just about technology, but it is about people, strategic thinking and teamwork. The customer is king.

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