Why Automation Isn’t the Cure-All Marketers Want—and Need—It to Be

It creates a rift from consumers

Though efficient, automation can lead to a disconnect between brands and consumers. Getty Images

I’m not here to tell you that automation isn’t marketing’s next level. Obviously, it is. New solutions for automation and data management have revolutionized how marketing operates. Technology that replaces manual functions, streamlines campaigns, generates leads and potentially increases revenue is game-changing.

I am here, however, to reset your expectations around marketing automation. Marketing isn’t about autopilot machinery, it’s about people. Deployed on its own, digital mechanization can muddy our touch and feel for the art that adds subtlety to the science of marketing. Marketing automation alone will not convey to customers your value proposition, whether you’re part of an agency or an organization’s internal team or your focus is B2B or B2C.

Operational efficiency and productivity aren’t to be confused with who you are as a company and shouldn’t be the basis of how you present yourself to your clients. It’s not the face of your organization, it’s the backroom.

Here’s why: Automation makes it a little easier to forget that your company is the face of every campaign you launch and that your reputation and value proposition are always on the line.

Any successful marketing campaign is continuously researched, crafted, executed, led, measured, evaluated and tweaked by people who conceive processes that supersede marketing automation at just about every turn. Anything short of that makes it easy for marketers to succumb to automation’s “set it and forget it” mentality, especially for small, under-resourced teams.

Automation makes it a little easier to forget that your company is the face of every campaign you launch and that your reputation and value proposition are always on the line.

Admittedly, it’s difficult not to go there. But absent a thoughtful approach to marketing, fully automated results are often hollow or less significant than they might otherwise turn out, a whiff of marketing but not its full bloom. Personalizing email content and identifying customer pain points aren’t the same as solving their problems.

A closer look at adoption rates

Not every marketer has turned the automation corner, despite the technology’s burgeoning power, possibilities and popularity. For example, while more than 50 percent of companies by one measure are currently using some form of marketing automation, a separate study of nearly 600 marketing professionals found that roughly 30 percent of respondents don’t use any of the features of marketing automation.

Why the disconnect? Part of what can make marketing automation top-heavy is that many companies miscalculate the amount of time and money it takes to fully set up and maintain a system. Short-staffed and budget compromised organizations are particularly vulnerable because they often don’t have the technical resources to properly configure or integrate it with other platforms, such as CRM, to optimize its value.

Moreover, it’s no picnic to differentiate revenue generated from improved operational efficiencies compared to sales produced otherwise. How much is coming from where? is an important question to assess automation’s true value to your organization.

What do you really know about the customer?

Email contact with prospects is built on an if/then proposition in which a wide variety of actions by the recipient—either prospect or customer—can extend a schema, or model, out to multiple levels.

As with any electronic communication, it’s based on eyeballs: how many times an email is opened, click-through rates, responses and follow-ups. At some point, it becomes purposeful to ascend to live engagement with a salesperson.

However, the more complex the model gets as it progresses from one level to the next, the more the intricacy loses the nuance of customers’ preferences. Did they open it and not get what they want? Was the right message delivered to the right person in the right moment? Or is something else at play?

In other words, automation can make your marketing strategy robotic. Are you recycling a short set of content? What do you really know about the customer? What appears to be a personalized message isn’t really one unless your marketing and sales folks know precisely when to engage humans to impart your value proposition.

Managed marketing services

“Managed marketing services” can essentially, repurpose a practice applied to technology in which outsourcers proactively track and manage certain operations for their clients. Continuous monitoring is its centerpiece, digesting, adjusting and fine-tuning data and processes to meet the clients’ needs in real time. We fully expect customer preferences to change, sometimes for undefinable reasons and sometimes more quickly and frequently than anticipated.

So it should be the case with marketing automation. Things change far more frequently and subtly than can be captured in an automated marketing campaign, follow-up and evaluation. If you want to make the most of your marketing automation solution, build your value proposition into your operations, liberally mix in the human factor to better understand your customers and be prepared to find and interpret behavioral changes on the fly.

Curtis Thornhill is the founder and CEO of Apt Marketing Solutions.