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Is the appliance of science the reason for marketing automation's resurgence?

23rd Apr 2014
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The Marketing Cloud war taking place between some of the technology industry’s major players show no signs of letting up. Earlier in the month, IBM announced its purchase of email marketing provider Silverpop, strengthening its position as a pack-leader alongside Salesforce, Microsoft, Adobe and Oracle, all of which have themselves made big acquisitions in recent months to enhance their offerings.

Indeed, while marketing automation has experienced numerous setbacks as a product category during its lifetime, its fortunes have revived spectacularly over the last couple of years, driven by the Cloud, the shifting philosophy of marketers and the consolidation of the major vendors as they sense a re-emerging opportunity.

One company in the thick of this renaissance is Eloqua. Acquired by Oracle in 2013, the marketing automation provider has seen a huge uptake in subscriptions in the last 24 months and is now positioned centrally alongside 120+ marketing tools that form part of Oracle’s Marketing Cloud.

Sylvia Jensen, herself a marketer and director of EMEA for Oracle’s Marketing Cloud, has the inside track on why marketers are now switching their focus back towards products like Eloqua’s, having been part of the team central to overseeing the company’s transition to Oracle. She believes the resurrection of automation solutions is as much a sign of the unique challenges marketers are now facing compared with 2012, as it is about the improvement in the technologies available:

“We’re seeing a lot of pressure on the marketing department now, even compared to 12 months ago. We used to say marketing was the balance between creativity and science, but I think it’s leaning much more towards science right now.

“Marketers and CMOs in particular, are under a lot of pressure to show results based on investment, despite the fact that the various different technologies across the marketing department and the organisation as a whole make this inherently difficult. This is why companies like Oracle, Adobe and Salesforce are building out Marketing Clouds – to try and help pull all this technology together and make sense of it all.”

Uniting departments

While Eloqua’s offering fits neatly with other technology products in Oracle’s Marketing Cloud, one reason Jensen believes marketers may have failed with automation tools in the past was the expectation that the technology itself would provide a complete solution to their problems. However, much of marketing automation’s success starts with alignment, Jensen suggests –  getting different departments on-board and buying into a new system and expectations for what marketing should look like:      

“There are vendors out there that sell the technology as the solution, but that really isn’t the point,” she explains. “It’s about using the technology alongside developing the right processes within the company. For instance, many marketers are looking to align sales and marketing through buying marketing automation technologies, but really this is something that needs to be organised before you buy into the technology.”

An example of this, and one successful case study Eloqua can cite, is Thomson Reuters. The multinational media provider was experiencing major headaches routing leads between its marketing and sales department in 2013, so applied marketing automation in order to consolidate its lead-building process.

It began capturing leads through Eloqua, but then had its sales and marketing collaborate face-to-face to develop standard lead terminology definitions, process responsibilities, and lead scoring criteria. This helped clarify how leads would be handled and who was responsible for them at each stage in the process.   

The lead scoring criteria was then developed to better determine which leads should be routed to sales, which in-turn enabled marketing to send the right message at the right time to leads via email, rather than taking the batch-and-blast, one-message-fits-all approach many businesses currently operate with. The marketing automation process worked; but the departmental collaboration had been vital to the success:

“As you’re trying to automate your processes, and implement something like lead-scoring, you soon realise internally that you haven’t really defined what a good lead is,” Jensen adds. “You probably don’t know what the hand-off between sales and marketing is going to be; you probably don’t know what the SLAs for sales to follow up on a lead given over by marketing are. There’s a lot of processes within sales and marketing alignment that people don’t realise need to be organised before they can use marketing automation technologies.”

Trends with benefits

Alongside the need to align with sales, marketers are now finding that automation is becoming a necessity in terms of understanding their data and the trends within it. However, while prior to 2012, marketers may have stored and segmented their own data, the proliferation of cloud computing and real-time data analysis tools have made automation packages far more critical through 2013 to 2014. Yet Sylvia Jensen believes this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what a marketing automation tool should be offering marketers:

“First and foremost, a good marketing automation package should be able to handle all the different things done within a marketing department and feed it back into a database, so you end up with a complete picture of all your customers, but then also segment data to ensure you send the right messages to the right people at the right time.

“Scalability is a problem – marketing can be a very manual process. If you can automate routine, boring processes then you can scale a lot quicker as a result. Automation definitely brings efficiency in that respect.

“The Marketing Cloud really makes marketing automation more accessible than it did a year or so ago. It’s really beneficial if a business is looking to create multichannel marketing campaigns over time, because you can integrate [automation] with so many other tools. The journey becomes for more enriched.

“As an example, you might decide you want to incorporate a webinar within your campaign. Traditionally, a marketer would send invitations out, capture registrations, export data into their email system to send ‘thanks for attending’ emails etc, and there’s all this data moving in and out which becomes very time consuming. However, with Marketing Clouds, you can integrate your systems so technologies talk to each other and the data flows seamlessly between them; you can have the email set out for your multi-touch campaign, but the minute the webinar happens the emails are triggered to send. There’s no need to send spreadsheets and data backwards and forwards between systems. It’s far better for both the marketer and the customer. You can’t really have a truly multichannel, single view of the customer when the customer’s information is across all sorts of different platforms.”

Taking marketing seriously

While some experts are now predicting that this push for a ‘single view of the customer’ might bring an end to conventional marketing, the battle for Marketing Cloud supremacy between technology’s major players also proves that the changes to the role of the marketing professional are more likely to be evolutionary , at least in the short-term.

Gartner recently highlighted the shift CMOs are experiencing towards having more technology spending power, and Jensen suggests this is what is leading the improvements being made to Marketing Cloud offerings:

“Being a marketer, I feel like the market is finally taking us seriously. Big companies like Oracle are realising that marketers are buyers with needs and problems that can be solved with technologies,” she explained.

“There’s some other areas, CRM for instance, that come before, but now the market is really developing solutions to solve even the smallest marketing problems. There’s far more options for marketers today, even with all the pressure and uncertainty that surrounds the job.”

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