How the Digital Marketer Must Change as Automation Grows

The 2017 digital marketing technology landscape

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As the hype around marketing automation fades and evolves into a regular part of the marketer’s job description, evaluation and adoption of automated technology and platforms (“Martech”) is growing to become a competency requirement for marketers across our industry.

88% of companies are already using marketing automation or plan to use some form of automated tech over the next two years. That’s at a clip of 31% growth over last year.

Marketing automation is here (it’s been here for a while) and it’s not going anywhere. As the number of tools, platforms, and opportunities grow for marketers, we must change how we think, how we work, and how we communicate as our potential reach spreads even further through automation opportunities.

A few thoughts on how digital marketers must change as automation grows in our industry.

The need for intellectual curiosity is as strong as ever

As the already enormous marketing automation and overall Martech space continue to grow, we as marketers not only have to learn how to rapidly evaluate the potential value and viability of new options but also how to operate our shiny new platforms and toys once we do say “yes”. How should we be thinking about evaluating every piece of new technology and every nice-to-have feature, from new data, to new lead scoring, to new bot-based messaging?

This all starts with clear, strategic goals.

Marketers must know what they want to get out of their automated technology before exploring and learning about what’s out there. Simply put, you have to have a north star. Only once that’s established does it become all about tactical tool evaluation, deployment, and execution. As Unbounce put it in a great podcast interview with the VP of marketing from Uberflip last year: “A fool with a tool is still a fool.”

What’s imperative is that we not try to learn the ins and outs of every single new thing that hits the market. That’s simply not going to happen.

What’s vital is the ability to quickly identify what’s needed based on your strategic goals, what’s going to get you there, and what’s not going to get the job done.

Waste and repetition are bad. Failing to plan your communication is worse.

While automated marketing platforms take away much of the repetitive, tactical work previously making up much of our day to day, marketers must begin to think more strategically at every step before they scale up message distribution.

For many marketers, we now have the ability to streamline a lot of everyday tactical to do’s of communicating with prospects and customers through automated platforms. Programmatic media buying, customer relationship management, email outreach, social publishing, and even social listening for automating community management are areas where marketing automation can be effectively leveraged. (We’ll hold comment on chatbot driven customer service for now.)

Effective deployment of these tools can mean a lot more time for all the bigger projects we want to tackle that have been held hostage by the pressing demand of day-to-day tactical tasks.

As those everyday tasks and time requirements are slowly and surely reduced through Martech, we can and should shift to a more strategic mindset. To beat this point into the ground: you didn’t download the 7 productivity apps on your phone (not judging) so that you could spend more time fiddling with apps. You did it so that you could have more time to do the things that were more important to you, and would make a meaningful difference in your work and life.

Market analysis, competitive differentiation, customer persona mapping, and personalization of messaging based on deep segmentation. This is where we need to live and, if we’re successful, the way that we use these automation tools themselves should become even more effective. It’s a virtuous circle.

Those strategic pieces, which can commonly be passed over in favor of ever more tinkering with tools, should become the mainstay of your work and can be the difference in what sets you apart from your competitors. There’s a great article on Medium by Graham Gnall about how and why to automate yourself out of a job that makes this point perfectly.

Data literacy for marketers is no longer optional

Farfetch CMO John Veichmanis (among many others) put it perfectly in an interview with Digiday: “Data is the New Marketer’s Currency”.

Regardless of specialty within our industry, marketers must understand how to collect and read data available to them. Most importantly, the interpretation of that data from raw numbers into insightful, actionable decisions is what brings all of this together.

Veichmanis goes on to say in the Digiday interview:

I’m definitely not a data scientist. But there’s a huge appreciation of what that team can do and deliver… Our job is to build meaning around the data to serve our customer more appropriately. That goes back to the basics of what marketing is: understanding consumer preferences… Ten years from now, any marketing team at any level will have those capabilities.

As a rule, platform-centric numbers and statistics are great for their convenience and reporting tailored to whatever the tool does. However, I will challenge that those pre-packaged dashboards and tool sets are built to highlight platform wins and in the worst case to sneakily hide potential pitfalls.

Marketers must be able to tag a website and pull their own data outside of any automated platforms they are using, whether you’re a giant with a 20 person analytics team, or working in a startup and wearing every marketing hat imaginable.

If you’re on the latter end of the spectrum, Google Analytics is the best free tool out there for this.

From the information available within Google Analytics (again, for free), every marketer needs to be able to find data, understand what it means post hoc (what pattern of behavior do the numbers indicate), and be able to turn that data into actionable, clear insights that can guide proactive decisions.

Those insights and actions should come full circle to drive evolving strategy within your automated platforms.

Proliferation of Martech is not without risk

Considering for a moment the incredible wave of entrants into marketing technology over recent years: if we look hard, there are probably at least a few dozen ways to achieve every single part of our digital communication plan. For some of the more common tasks, there could easily be a hundred or more tools that offer a particular feature.

That can be dangerous.

Go back to that north star of clear business goals. We have to learn to cut through the clutter of bells and whistles and look clear-eyed at what’s most important to driving your strategy, meeting your business goals, and ultimately what’s a distraction.

Once you’ve made the commitment to a new platform that has the features and functionality that can drive the results you need, we have to know when it’s working and when it’s not. And we have to be able to evaluate that based on data available to us outside of these marketing platforms. Again, whether it’s an analytics team that’s in lock-step with your marketing group or your own review of carefully tagged Google Analytics data, you must be able to answer without hesitation:

  1. “What did the tool actually deliver in context of our overall marketing and communication mix?”
  2. “Where did it fall short of expectations?”
  3. “What can and will we do about it?”

Where to from here?
When the marketing technology roadmap and the results are both running like clockwork, it’s time to get back to the essence of what makes great marketing. Whether that’s taking a look at your positioning, your brand pillars, your content strategy, or anything in between, getting to this higher leverage work and letting it guide your (wonderfully automated) day-to-day execution is where we need to live.

That’s when the fun starts.

Chad Kearns

Vice President of Marketing Services
Vice President of Marketing Services

As the vice president of marketing services, Chad is responsible for leading Portent’s marketing, sales, and services teams. He is dedicated to ensuring clients receive top-notch service and results, and is continually looking for ways to improve and expand Portent's expertise. When not at Portent, you can find Chad hiking, skiing, playing soccer, and spending time with his family.

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