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Can You Keep the Human Touch When Using Marketing Automation?

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Can You Keep the Human Touch When Using Marketing Automation?

Marketers, we find ourselves in a quandary: We want to automate as much of our marketing as possible, yet we don’t want any of it to feel automated.

We’d love to be able to just set it and forget it. But great content marketing is designed to build relationships (that drive revenue). And unfortunately, automating our communication can make that goal harder – not easier – to achieve.

#ContentMarketing is designed to build relationships. Automating communication can make that goal harder, says @DrewDavisHere via @CMIContent. Klicka för att tweeta

Sure, there are tools designed to automate posts on social media profiles and even the direct messages sent through LinkedIn. We can also choose to automate our most valuable interactions, such as our welcome emails and thank-you notes.

But when we do, the resulting messages don’t feel authentic. They lack personalization – a critical factor in relationship-building and revenue generation. In fact, research from McKinsey found companies with the fastest rate of revenue growth were more likely to prioritize personalization in their communication.

So, as much as we may want to put tasks on autopilot to increase productivity, we wonder how much our relationship-building efforts might suffer if we do.

What should marketers automate?

I’ve spent the last three months wrestling with that question, and it turns out I’m not the only one.

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Even in 2017, 43% of marketers stated the most important objective of a marketing automation strategy is optimizing productivity. It’s not hard to understand why. The average marketer spends 1.25 days each week on non-core tasks, according to new research from Airtable. That’s 25% of our workweek spent managing, organizing, approving, reporting, gathering, and shuffling our marketing campaigns and content through the marketing mill.

Marketers spend 1.25 days each week on non-core tasks, such as organizing, approving, reporting, etc., according to Airtable research, says @DrewDavisHere via @CMIContent. Klicka för att tweeta

That’s 1.25 days we could reclaim by automating the right stuff.

Where do we start?

What is the “right stuff”?

Here’s what a few experts had to say on the subject:

“Automate the admin, the mundane, the data collection. Animate the rest with personality,” suggests Patrick Lyver, founder and president of the webbdesign agency Kleurvision Inc. “It works for me, and there are a lot of tools that can help.”

Automate the mundane and animate the rest with personality, says @patricklyver via @DrewDavisHere @CMIContent. Klicka för att tweeta

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Gloria Lafont, president of Action Marketing Co., agrees: “Automation does not mean set it and forget it, nor eliminate the human. It means eliminating as many repetitive tasks as possible in the marketing implementation, so you have more time to focus on making the relationship-building more effective.”

Automation does not mean set it and forget it, nor eliminate the human, says @GloriaLafont via @DrewDavisHere @CMIContent. Klicka för att tweeta

Our team set aside 30 days to experiment with ways to follow Patrick and Gloria’s advice. By embracing three simple, strategic ideas, we found an approach that automates mundane, repetitive tasks without eliminating the human touch.

HANDPLOCKAT RELATERAT INNEHÅLL:

1. Start with recently acquired customers

My core belief is all good marketing starts with the customers you’ve got. Instead of starting our automation activities with prospecting, social media, and lead generation, we focused on the processes implemented immediately after acquiring a new client.

From the instant we sign a new deal until the final invoice is paid, our team identified 49 separate multi-step automations that could save us time. More importantly, those automations allowed us to craft a unique, consistent, and high-quality client experience.

Designing these automations was surprisingly easy: List every little interaction, task, and deliverable in the client relationship. We just had never tried to formalize or automate them. It’s stuff we’ve done manually for a decade. It’s second nature. Then, we used our CRM’s built-in automation workflows and Zapier to turn each task into a tiny automation.

How much time did we claw back? It’s hard to say precisely, but I’d guess four to six hours per week. That’s six hours we can now spend on marketing instead of managing.

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Yet, we have also recognized that to achieve marketing success with these automated efforts, we need to maintain a high-touch, highly personalized experience for our customers.

That brings us to our second strategy:

2. Ready-to-personalize communication

Any CRM can “personalize” an email or text message: Simply insert {first name} here, add {company name} there, and schedule it to be sent.

However, I am unaware of a CRM or even an AI tool that’s genuinely aware of the communication nuances across different client relationships. For example, some of our clients are “business-casual” communicators. Their emails feel like they’re wearing shorts to the office:

  • They use extra exclamation points and emojis.
  • They send short, punchy text messages.

Other clients communicate with all the formality of a black-tie affair:

  • Their messages are crammed with corporate lingo.
  • Every imaginable stakeholder gets cc’ed.
  • Even their email signatures include legal disclaimers – just in case.

Then, there are clients that fall somewhere in the middle. I call this style “the mullet of marketing” – all business up front and party in the back.

These nuances matter in communication. They’re what supplies that human touch we’re so afraid of losing when we automate.

So, instead of sending pre-written, generically personalized emails directly from our CRM, our team generates ready-to-personalize messages.

Ready-to-personalize or RTP messages don’t get sent directly from the CRM to the client. They require a manual step added into the account management process: For each campaign, the account manager receives a notice that a draft needs their attention.

The CRM has already filled in all the critical customer data – such as first name, company name, and amount due. All the account manager needs to do from there is add some brand personality to the message. It could be as simple as popping in a few emojis, removing the exclamation points, or asking how the customer enjoyed their long weekend or a recent vacation.

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Then, they hit send, and off it goes.

RTP has transformed our perspective on how powerful marketing automation can be.

Yet, that still leaves one last element of our approach that still needs work.

HANDPLOCKAT RELATERAT INNEHÅLL:

3. Create a single source

Zero percent – yes 0% – of marketers have a single source of truth for up-to-date information on marketing activities, according to the Airtable report.

On average, Airtable’s 300 survey respondents report they must reconcile between nine and 11 data sources to build a holistic view of their marketing activities and audience insights.

That’s a ton of work.

Any marketer who’s attempted to marry their Google Analytics with their customer database, email marketing platform, social media insights, and a pipeline of opportunities has faced this nightmare head-on.

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Fortunately, there’s a solution: customer data platforms. CDPs used to be for massive enterprises blessed with a vast IT staff capable of building custom connectors for proprietary platforms.

But that was the old days.

Today, any company (even yours) can use free (or low-cost) web-based tools to build your own CDP.

We’re planning to use those tools to reduce the number of platforms needed to run reports and find new insights. We’re confident those insights will help us find the perfect balance between automated efficiency and authentic communication that builds client relationships. So, that’s next on our list.

With our initial 90-day automation experiment closing, we’re excited to see if we can achieve similar results when communicating with our prospects, leads, and open opportunities.

All tools mentioned in the article are identified by the author. If you have a tool to suggest, please feel free to add it in the comments.

Get more advice for content leaders in the Chief Content Officer digital magazine. Subscribe today to get it in your inbox every quarter.

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Omslagsbild av Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute



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MARKNADSFÖRING

Varför interna kunder kommer att döda din innehållsstrategi

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Why Internal Customers Will Kill Your Content Strategy

I see one mistake derailing great content marketing strategy again and again in my rådgivning practice.

Businesses set up their content teams as internal agencies to serve internal ‘customers’ in other departments.

Why is that a problem?

Sometimes this approach incorporates some priority planning. Usually, this planning involves internal “stakeholders” who decide the significant themes or the priority for tackling content requests.

But just as often, no planning or prioritization occurs. The content calendar is a to-do list based on ad hoc requests from various other teams. And the content team becomes Kinkos, racing to churn out assets as orders pour in.

Eventually, the content team fails to live up to expectations, the content is imbalanced, and the creators and producers burn out.

So, when the content strategy needs a reboot – and it will – how do you align the new content approach with internal customers’ expectations?

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First, stop thinking of them (or letting anyone else think of them) as your customers.

To reboot your #ContentStrategy, stop thinking of internal teams as customers, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. Klicka för att tweeta

Stakeholders are investors, not customers

In marketing, we throw around the term stakeholders to refer to people affected directly by your efforts. That list is long – content and marketing touch almost every other function (business leaders, IT, sales, communications, public relations, product, and external groups like partners and investors).

But a funny thing happens when I ask the content team if they consider themselves to be stakeholders in sales or comms. The content team leaders laugh softly and say, “Oh no, they’re our customers.”

That’s not ideal. I once worked with a B2B company where the content marketing team existed to respond to the product marketing team’s requests for “thought leadership” to accompany new product launches. But the product marketing team viewed thought leadership as lightly veiled customer success stories or fact-filled technical schematics of how their product worked.

How did this approach work? Not well. The product marketing team loved the content. But the potential verklig customers didn’t.

Content teams achieve consistent success only when they’re elevated to stakeholder status. In other words, content strategy and content marketing teams only succeed when they lead strategic content efforts alongside their peers instead of serving as on-demand content production resources.

#ContentMarketing teams succeed only when they lead strategic content programs instead of producing on demand, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. Klicka för att tweeta

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Marketing and content teams are skilled practitioners of a professional discipline. They’re not there to “service” the stakeholder groups but to learn, align, and work with them. Those groups are invested in content’s success because it means that, as a result, they succeed.

Internal stakeholders (also like investors) can serve as independent sources of information. They can offer details to inform priorities and insight to improve processes, and cooperation to attract new investment. Or they can also sabotage every effort you make and profit from your misery.

So, interviewing and getting stakeholder alignment is critical when implementing a new approach to content strategy or content marketing.

Here are three steps you can take to treat stakeholders as investors in your process and get alignment on your proposed approaches.

1. Segment your investor stakeholders

One of the keys to getting alignment is to identify the different types of stakeholders that will be critical to ensuring traction for your new content approach:

Influencers. Get input from and align with stakeholders who hold an influential position or control your budget. Influencer stakeholders may not have much to do with the content or even care much about it. But unless you win them over, your cause is sunk.

Champions. These cheerleaders will stand behind you, support your efforts, and be early adopters of new ways of doing things. Identify these quickly (some might also be part of the influencer group).

Detractors. You’ll potentially encounter two categories of these naysayers. One set includes people who oppose change because they see nothing in it for them. The other set consists of those who are apathetic. When you ask about their participation or agreement, they say something like this: “Well, it’s not no.” They sit back and see how the politics play out before helping or actively detracting.

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Decision makers. Decision makers are just what they sound like – they’re the people who make decisions that help or prevent your efforts from turning into success.

Participants. These individuals have an active stake in your approach and will be responsible for making it work. They have functional expertise in one of the adjacent areas your content strategy will affect.

As you might expect, people may share multiple attributes. You may have champion influencers or detractor participants. The key is to not view them in terms of how to get their nod of approval or “buy-in” to the content team process. Instead, see them as investors in an additive piece of your shared process.

2. Design discussions, not interviews

Once you’ve identified who’s who, it’s time to meet with them to gather information and gain alignment.

Remember, every objection to change is an explicitly stated fear of uncertainty.

A common mistake in stakeholder alignment is to hear objections from detractors as “customer” requirements that you must meet to pass their approval. But the objections may be simple concerns about their own challenges that, once addressed, disappear.

Another mistake is to consider approvals from champions as full-throated agreements. The approvals might be lukewarm – like the “not no” detractor response.

Stakeholder interviews aren’t focus groups that show you what your customers need. If you treat them that way, don’t be surprised when those same stakeholders don’t care about all the features you added to your service – even if they were the ones to suggest them.

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So don’t design your discussions solely around what information or requirements you need to gather to complete your business case or plan. Instead, use the chance to uncover what each stakeholder needs to become an investor in your mutually beneficial approach.

With that understanding, you’ll gain the ability to lead them, leverage them, or learn from their needs.

3. It’s a process, not a project

The investor relations part of your job begins once you get your initial buy-in and continues throughout your tenure in whatever role you have.

You’ll have multiple discussions with stakeholders before you’ve built your case, once your case is approved, after implementation has begun, and again as you manage your overall process.

I remember one successful, award-winning content marketer hearing her project invoked as a best-in-class case study for the zillionth time at Content Marketing World and saying to me: “I wish somebody would tell my stakeholders that. I’m still fighting for budget, relevance, and buy-in every single day.”

HANDPLOCKAT RELATERAT INNEHÅLL:

All customers are stakeholders, but not all stakeholders are customers

Now, of course, customers are the one missing group in my list of stakeholders. And they’re the critical stakeholder in any marketing content strategy.

But they’re a different class of stakeholder. Don’t conflate them with internal stakeholders.

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Don’t conflate internal stakeholders with customers, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. Klicka för att tweeta

The strategist and author Eli Goldratt once wrote, “Tell me how you measure me, and I will tell you how I will behave. If you measure me in an illogical way, don’t complain about illogical behavior.”

Seeing content teams as internal vendors built only to delight internal customers sets the wrong objective. It encourages the idea that all internal stakeholders are the same as customers – and that success means meeting all their needs.

But while all customers are stakeholders, not all stakeholders are customers. Most are better treated as investors – a key constituency that benefits from a co-created approach to content as a strategy.

Don’t serve them. Instead, lead them. That’s how you’ll make their investment of time, money, effort, and information more and more valuable.

It’s your story. Tell it well.

Get Robert’s take on content marketing industry news in just five minutes:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=videoseries

Watch previous episodes or read the lightly edited transcripts.

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Prenumerera till arbetsdags- eller veckovisa CMI-e-postmeddelanden för att få Rose-Colored Glasses i din inkorg varje vecka. 

Omslagsbild av Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute



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