Marketing Automation Is My Frenemy

I like the term “frenemy” – if you’re not familiar with it, it is a combination of “friend” and “enemy”.  It perfectly describes my relationship with marketing automation tools because I see the benefit, I know they can help me, but sometimes I really can’t stand them.

Most people object to marketing automation because they don’t understand the power these tools provide or they’re simply not technical enough and become overwhelmed by the complexity and the capabilities.

Marketing automation is ridiculously powerful.  Being able to track, segment, target and then market to your prospects and clients based on actions that they take could easily be confused with magic by some people.  The level of intelligence that you can collect and put into play with respect to contacts in your system is unbelievable.

There was a story doing the rounds back in 2012 about Target in the US and their marketing automation systems.  The story goes that this young lady received some coupons in the mail from Target for baby clothes and nursery items.  The problem was, the young girl was still a teenager.  Her father intercepted the coupons and in a rage went to the target to speak to the manager about how inappropriate it was for Target to send this type of advertising material to a teenage girl.  The Manager apologised, said he’d look into it and get back to the customer by phone.  When the Manager called the customer a few days later, he sheepishly explained that he spoke to his young daughter and she confessed to being pregnant.

That’s a great story and frankly quite creepy.  The good people at Target happily told the New York Times that they were able to ascertain all kinds of things by mining data points about your activities in their stores and send you very targeted emails (no pun intended).

I remember reading that story a couple years back when I was using Infusionsoft in a pretty significant way.  I looked at it and thought it was pretty cool, but my systems were a long way off from that – I was struggling to get people who bought something I was promoting to drop out of one sequence and into the next.

Now though, I take that level of invasive marketing automation for granted.

About two years back, Coles, the grocery store chain we go to here in Australia upped their data mining and marketing automation game with respect to their loyalty program.  I remember sitting at my desk and getting an email from Coles.  I opened it up and in it were a bunch of items that we buy periodically on sale – things like the exact type of Olive Oil we buy and the specific Aloe Vera Kleenex tissues we used.  It was interesting, but I didn’t think much of it until a couple days later, my wife and I are at a cafe having our weekly board meeting where she writes a shopping list while we eat breakfast.  I noticed on the list she wrote down Olive Oil and tissues so I asked her about them and sure enough, we’d just run out during the week.

The technocrat in me finds that fascinating how they can sift through all of that data for literally millions of people across millions of transactions and piece it all together like that in an unbelievably well-timed marketing campaign.  In fact, it now drives our shopping because when those emails come through, I make note of what’s on sale and remind my wife to pick things up that were on the list.

The other thing it does is it engenders brand loyalty.  In our shopping centre, we have the three largest grocery retailers in Australia within a stone’s throw of each other, I often have to walk past two of them to get to Coles.  Yet, I still go to Coles every time and some of it is because of the selection of goods for sure, but some of it is because they tell me when Chocolate Madeira cake is on sale or they remind me that Nando’s Mild Chicken Seasoning is available two for the price of one.  Their marketing automation keeps me coming back.

On the other hand, it can be quite creepy and unsettling to get these weird emails.  A few weeks back I got an email from the same shopping centre I mentioned above telling me about a new store that just opened up.  That’s not really weird, I use their free wifi so they have one of my email addresses and occasionally I get marketing emails from them that I don’t read.

The creepy email was the next one they sent a week later when they told me that they’d noticed I’d not visited the new store and I really should to avoid missing out on their grand opening specials.  I was bemused at first, thinking that it was odd that they knew that I hadn’t heeded their last email, but then I started thinking about how they knew.  They were clearly tracking my wifi MAC address of my phone.  As I move around the shopping centre, bouncing from wifi access point to the next, they are able to track me with a very fine-grained accuracy and they knew I hadn’t even been to that part of the mall.

I found that unsettling and like I said, a bit creepy.  To me, that’s data collection and marketing automation taken too far.  I found myself spending time trying to figure out how to block them from tracking me which I didn’t like and was really invasive.

As a marketer, you need to really think about this if you’re going to use the plethora of marketing automation tools available to you.  These tools have become very, very powerful and if used correctly, they can really be of value to your business, but as described above, they can also become somewhat invasive.

The simple one we’re all probably familiar with is remarketing.  That’s where when you visit a website and then ads for the site or their products start appearing on every site you visit for a week or two afterwards.  Those tracking cookies are pretty much ubiquitous now and if you use Facebook you’re probably pretty used to seeing the results.

Make no mistake, remarketing works like crazy, but even Facebook and Google know it can get pretty creepy so they don’t allow advertisers to personalize the remarketed ads.  In some respects, they protect advertisers from themselves.

Where marketing automation gets crazy though is with systems like Infusionsoft and ActiveCampaign which is what I use to send these emails.  These tools are loaded with automation features that are incredibly powerful.  If you’re on my email list and you’ve opened an email recently, I can track every page on my website that you visit and I can tag your user record with specific tags that let me segment my subscribers accordingly.

For example, if you went an offer for the Casual Marketer Newsletter, but you aren’t already tagged as a subscriber, when you visit that page, I can tag you and run an automation to send you an email saying, “Hey thanks for visiting the Newsletter enrollment page, I noticed you didn’t join…”  That’s a pretty powerful piece of automation, right?  I could put in a discount offer into that email to entice you back.  I could run a whole sequence over time to try and convince you to join and if you do, then stop that automation and drop you into a whole different one.

These tools let me do things like fire triggers based on events such as you clicking a link in an email or on my website.  It’s really almost limitless the potential.

Here’s the thing… I hardly use any of it.

Oh yeah, I pay for a tool that can do a ton of cool stuff in ActiveCampaign, but even these daily emails aren’t part of any clever automations.

I know how to do some amazing stuff and I’ve installed all the right scripts on the site to do some powerful stuff, but I just don’t.

Why not?

Well, some of it is pure laziness.  It’s a fair bit of work to set this stuff up and I find it boring – once I know how to do something, setting it up 27 more times doesn’t interest me.  I just seem to lose interest pretty quickly with this stuff when it comes to setting it up.

Another reason is that for Casual Marketer at the moment, there’s not much point – I’m effectively selling one product, the monthly newsletter and some coaching which doesn’t require or need much automation.  I could do a whole bunch of clever stuff to warm people up who are new to the list and re-engage people who’ve stopped opening emails, etc, but honestly, it’s a fair amount of effort for one product offering.

Don’t get me wrong, I love marketing automation – I find it incredibly fascinating and the truth is, I’m probably going to spend a bunch of effort on it in the second half of 2016.  There is a bunch of potential to improve the way I do things – particularly with onboarding new people onto the mailing list that could lead them to become customers more quickly.

I know the potential and I understand the opportunity.  However, I also know the risks and understand that it can go too far.

And so marketing automation is my “frenemy” that I will engage with respectfully in the coming months with a sense of unbridled hope and a healthy scepticism.

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