I spend a lot of my time talking to organizations about marketing automation and what it can do for them, throughout each of these conversations it is clear that many still look at marketing automation as just a fancy name for email marketing.

While email is a major component of marketing automation, it is more than just a tool to manage newsletters. Marketing automation is about managing the ever-increasing complexity of a marketing funnel or sales cycle. It’s about creating a path of least resistance for the prospect to find out about your company (services or products), do the appropriate research needed to make a buying decision, and then ultimately purchase, thus converting to a customer. Before you can activate the right automation strategy you must understand the customer journey you are mapping to and what marketing goals those align to.

Mapping Your Customer Journey

The goal of marketing automation is to map and manage the paths that customers could take on their digital journey and automate steps that normally would add resistance to the buying process, or that wouldn’t be feasible if they had to be done manually.

Marketing automation helps a marketer get as close to one-to-one marketing as possible. Sure, everyone would like to customize every step and message for every customer and their unique situation but scaling that to the masses is often impossible. Automation allows marketing the ability to provide context to their prospects throughout their digital journey and ensure they are receiving the right information at the right time.

Understanding Your Marketing Goals

Understanding marketing automation starts with thinking about the goals of marketing. In very general terms marketing is about generating awareness for your brand, eliciting consideration and interest from prospects, delivering materials to help them make the appropriate decision, and then ultimately propel a prospect to convert into a customer. Once a prospect becomes a customer, marketing shifts to a new start point and the work begins on retaining that customer while working to generate future purchases.

Once we understand the objectives and expectations for a marketing automation system, we can begin to apply how marketing automation fits in at each of these stages and how you can ensure you take advantage of your marketing tools and motions. While it may be different depending on your industry or company, let’s look at some key ways we can leverage your marketing technology tools.

**Side Note:
There are many marketing automation tools on the market, in fact I am certified in many of them. At Quisitive we are fortunate enough to work with 
Sitecore and have a deep belief that their solution offers a unique opportunity regarding Marketing Automation. I will be discussing the rest of this through the lens of Sitecore and its key concepts.

Generating Awareness

Digital Awareness
From branding ads, events, social media, and search marketing, the main goal of this stage is to get your brand in front of prospects and hopefully getting them to pay attention long enough so that you can get permission to continue marketing to them on a personal level.

Most marketing automation tools at this stage are all about capturing information from the potentially fleeting prospect and getting them into your marketing funnel. The benefit of leveraging a platform like Sitecore is that you can extend the beginning of the funnel to the website itself and start targeting content and options for lead capture based on a variety of factors, from location to what channel drove their visit to the website. By personalizing content on your site, you’re more likely to make a connection with a prospect before they move on. This gives you a little more time to get them into a lead conversion funnel.

Physical Awareness
We can also leverage our marketing events in other channels to tie the experience together. For example, events are a great way to get in front of a large amount of people, but too often the list of prospects generated gets put into excel and left to sit. Imagine a prospect comes to your booth or brand experience at an event and signs up for a contest and opts in for messages from your company. Setup properly, the marketing automation system will capture that lead, tag the event as the source, send an immediate thank you email for signing up. In addition, when they visit the website from the thank you email they’ll see a personalized experience that is congruent with the offer from the event. This begins to build a connection.

If its a multi day event, the system may send a follow-up email reminding people to stop by your booth for the big drawing, or showcasing other things going on at the event. Following the event, the system sends out an email with more information about your company, updates the hero image of the website to include a picture from the event and a shows the customer a couple paths that they can take to continue their journey. Using this concept, you can use engagement to help you determine their level of interest and their likeliness to purchase.

What about all those people who aren’t at the actual event, but might be following along on social media? As part of your campaign, you also post to appropriate social channels and offer a way for prospects to enter the same drawing or contest. These prospects are captured and tagged as part of the larger campaign, but also as non-attendees, so your can track their source. They get a slightly different set of follow-up emails because they weren’t at the event.

Now that you understand where your prospects are generating their awareness and tying those touchpoints to a digital endpoint – you can begin to move your prospects from top of funnel throughout the entire cycle with the right marketing automation steps. We will dive into marketing automation across the funnel in the next blog in this series.

Zack Wenthe (@zwenthe) is a Sitecore Marketing Strategist for Quisitive, helping companies lead Digital Transformation Initiatives. He speaks and blogs about marketing technology and strategy when not working or spending time with his family.