What is Marketing Automation?

It’s easy to feel out of your element when you first come across the
concept of marketing automation.

There are thousands of marketing automation platforms available in
the market – all of which have different dashboards, specialize in various
marketing channels, and use their own terminology.

For those who are just entering the scene, all of it can be
intimidating to say the least.

In this guide, I’ll try to show you that marketing automation isn’t some far-out space technology that’s reserved only for large companies with even larger budgets.

Below you’ll find the essential theory, real-life examples, and answers to some of the most burning questions regarding the process of automating your campaigns and using marketing automation platforms.

Free Guide: Building a Business Case for Marketing Automation

What is marketing automation

In simple terms, marketing automation is software that helps you
automate various marketing and customer engagement activities.

What sort of activities do we have in mind?

Here are several examples coming from Dr. Dave
of Smart Insights:

Some key marketing automation capabilities for you to consider:

Automatically building marketing lists using landing pages that offer content assets to profile subscribers.

Automatically welcoming prospects with relevant email messages – these are messages personalized to the attributes of the individual.

Automatically reviewing interactions with emails and on-site content, then segmenting intent to purchase based on lead scoring and automatically serving ads or offers based on this information.

Automatically following up on prospects with nurturing messages to boost intent to purchase.

Automatically qualifying leads against preconfigured metrics and passing to sales without human interaction (this capability is only really relevant to B2B).

Automatically sending ongoing personalized messages delivering promotions and content based off the person’s attributes, in order to encourage customer loyalty.

Why use
marketing automation software

Even though marketing automation platforms have become much more
affordable and automated emails get more than twice as many
as regular emails, it’s worth knowing why marketing
automation tools are worth the cost

The chart below shows the top benefits of marketing automation as ranked by marketers who took part in the Email Marketing and Marketing Automation Excellence 2018 study.

Biggest benefits of marketing automation - chart from Email Marketing and Marketing Automation Excellence 2018
Biggest benefits of marketing automation – chart from Email Marketing and Marketing Automation Excellence 2018

Based on the study results, we can see that the top three
advantages are that marketing automation helps you 1) save time, 2) generate
more leads, and 3) increase your revenue.

But how exactly does marketing automation help with all that?

Let’s put together the capabilities we’ve mentioned a moment ago along
with the study results and consider three different scenarios.

1. Marketing automation helps you serve your audience

Let’s say you work for a higher education institution.

Your school offers a variety of different courses, all designed for
a different kind of audience.

To be sure that everyone signs up for the course that suits their
needs best, it’d be worth first talking to your prospects in person then providing
them with all the necessary information.

Unfortunately, at some point your scale won’t allow for that.

The absence of this service, however, increases the chances of
students signing up for the wrong courses, getting lower grades, and eventually
dropping out.

One way to overcome this problem is to run automated campaigns
that deliver the right kind of content to the individual prospects based on
various cues, e.g. the pages they’ve visited, files they’ve downloaded, or
courses they’ve signed up for.

See, with marketing automation, no matter how big your audience
is, you’re able to keep a personal approach throughout
the entire customer

More relevant communication leads to more engaged customers. That,
in turn, usually leads to higher returns.

2. Marketing automation platforms help you save time and

Now let’s imagine you’re a real estate agent.

People come to you to buy or sell their property. Every meeting
starts the same way: you ask them a bunch of questions so that you can tailor
your offer to their needs.

It takes time.

And it doesn’t end there, as after the meeting you’ll probably
want to follow up to make sure you’ve answered all their needs and will close
the deal.

All of this, like many other tasks we do in business, could be
carried out (often more swiftly and accurately) with the use of a marketing
automation tool.

The more activities you delegate to your software, the more time
you’ll have for the kind of projects that require personal attention and ones that
could potentially have a higher impact on your business.

3. Automations improve your ability to scale your business

Picture this: You’re running a boutique marketing agency catering
to local businesses.

If you’re relatively new to the business, the odds are that you do
most of your marketing tasks by hand.

You’re providing top quality services for your clients, but every time
you sign up a new client your workday becomes longer.

If you’d like to scale your business, there are only two ways out:

  • either hire someone and delegate some of the tasks to them,
  • or start charging your clients extra.

Neither of these solutions are perfect.

The situation can change, however, if you transfer more tasks to
your marketing automation platform.

These could be seemingly simple but lengthy processes such as nurturing
your prospects who’ve shown interest in your work.

Or these could be more complex activities, like setting up
marketing funnels using landing pages, Facebook ads, and email campaigns for
your clients.

When you use marketing automation, every new client you sign won’t
add as much to your workload, because a lot of the processes are carried out

This leaves you the time to acquire more customers, develop your
business further and at a higher pace.

These are just three reasons why marketing automation is worth
your consideration.

If you’d like to learn more, this post by Michael Brenner explores more ways small businesses can benefit from using marketing automation.

Looking for inspiration?

Check out how Alex Terrier, saxophonist, composer, and charismatic bandleader uses marketing automation to stay in touch with fans and students while touring the globe.

does marketing automation work

While marketing automation software can be very robust, most of these
tools follow a simple logic – If X happens, then do Y.

For example:

If someone fills out a form to access an ebook on one of my
landing pages (X), then the system should send them a welcome email with the
access link (Y).

This is a very simplistic example, but it’s good to start with one
of those before we double-down on more complex scenarios.

automation workflows

To set up automation like the one I’ve just described, you need to
create what we call a marketing automation workflow.

In simple terms, a marketing automation workflow is a script that
describes what the system should do if a particular event or situation takes

To build these kinds of scripts, most marketing automation
platforms let you use visual drag and drop creators or builders.

To get a better sense of what these look like, here’s an example of a marketing automation workflow creator that’s available in GetResponse:

Marketing Automation Workflow Creator from GetResponse

Let’s now have a look at this example of a simple marketing automation workflow that we built using the GetResponse workflow creator.

Simple marketing automation workflow created using GetResponse

What you see in this picture are two elements that comprise the whole workflow. The workflow is triggered by the action specified in the top element. As soon as that action takes place, the system should proceed with the action specified in the bottom element.

Here the workflow translates to:

When someone subscribes to an email list called your_new_list using any webform, then send them a message called Welcome to GetResponse.

marketing automation workflows

Most marketing automation platforms, including GetResponse, let
you build automation workflows in two ways:

You can either use ready-made automation templates or build
your workflows from scratch

In the first scenario, you pick a template that serves
the goal or matches your campaign idea. Then, you just need to populate it with
your own data, including message templates, lists, etc.

These can get you started pretty quickly. Plus, they can serve as
an inspiration, especially if you’re only starting to build your first

The second approach is more appropriate for those who
already feel confident using their marketing automation software of choice.

You may also prefer to build your automations from scratch, if you
know exactly what you want to achieve with your workflow or prefer to start
with an empty canvas.

To help you understand this process better, this video here shows you how you would build a workflow using the automation templates in GetResponse:

When building marketing automation workflows, you might come to a
point when you don’t know what to do next.

You might ask yourself questions like, “Should I continue and send
another message to my leads?” or perhaps, “Should I take a step back and test a
new approach?”

If you ever find yourself in this situation, check out this article by Andrew Davies, in which he provides some very useful tips on how you can best proceed.


Marketing automation platforms offer a variety of different

Here are some of the most common ones:

  • Email marketing
  • Forms and landing pages
  • Lead nurturing
  • Lead generation
  • Campaign management
  • CRM integration
  • Social media marketing
  • Lead scoring and tagging
  • Ecommerce
  • Visitor tracking
  • Analytics and optimization

While these are most common, it’s worth noting, however, that
different platforms may specialize in different marketing channels.

Because of that, some marketing automation software may offer
robust capabilities in certain aspects of digital marketing, while only
scratching the surface in others.

Keep this in mind, if you’re going to be reviewing different platforms and looking for one that’d best fit your business needs.

automation examples

Marketing automation can be used across the entire customer
lifecycle, using various marketing channels.

Here are three popular marketing automation examples you’ve likely come across:

abandonment emails

According to Baymard Institute, the average
shopping cart abandonment is currently at 69.57%.

Being able to win back even a fraction of these transactions could
mean a big increase in the total revenue an online store makes.

This is one of the ways ecommerce businesses use marketing

They track their website visitor behavior and automatically send
out emails to those who haven’t completed their purchase.

The same strategy could be applied multiple times, even using
other marketing channels, including retargeting paid ads or SMS messages.

Below is an example of an automation workflow that’d help you achieve those results:

Cart abandonment automation workflow

And here’s an automated cart abandonment email sent by one ecommerce brand:

Cart abandonment email from Asos

email series

Welcome emails are probably the single most important type of
automated email communication you should be sending.

They get an average open rate of over 80% and a click-through
rate of over 25%
, which is  around 4x the
engagement rate you’d observe with a typical newsletter.

They are so effective because recipients have already gotten used
to receiving these kinds of campaigns. They serve as a confirmation of the
subscription process going well and often deliver some additional content the
users requested.

Just as they’re effective, welcome emails are very easy to set up,
too. That’s why you see so many ecommerce businesses sending them to their new

This is a workflow example that’d send a welcome email series over the course of several days:

Welcome email series built in GetResponse Marketing Automation Workflow Creator
Welcome email series consisting of two emails and a wait element in between them

And here’s an example of one such automated email:

Welcome email example from Patagonia
Welcome email from Patagonia


Another popular way of using marketing automation is to develop
email courses, using a series of emails often called autoresponders.

An email course typically consists of a series of prearranged sets
of emails. On top of that, more complex scenarios include email reminders sent
out to those who don’t interact with the content.

Thanks to marketing automation, you can deliver the course lessons
to your audience, using their subscription date as the starting point.

This is very popular among online entrepreneurs, marketers, and
people interested in earning passive income.

What about the effectiveness? Using the click-through rate data
from our Email
Marketing Benchmarks report
, it’s easy to calculate the
engagement rates and the number of conversions you could generate with an email
drip campaign. 

Here’s what the workflow for a typical email course would look like:

Workflow delivering an email course consisting of three messages
Workflow delivering an email course consisting of three messages

And here’s an example of an email lesson:

Email course message example
Email course message example

You can find more automated examples in this article.

is a good time to start using marketing automation?

I hope I’ve managed to show you that marketing automation can
generate high returns even if you don’t have a large team or budget.

Think about how much time you could save by automating various
parts of your business, like welcoming new subscribers, nurturing prospects, or
retargeting those who abandon their shopping carts.

Even if you haven’t developed a robust omnichannel marketing
strategy in place yet, you could begin automating your marketing campaigns.

As a matter of fact, the sooner you start building marketing
automation workflows, the better.

If you’re about to adapt this approach, it’s worth reviewing some
of the most common
people make and learning what
challenges they’re facing
and how they can be overcome.

If you feel like getting started, here are two actions for you to

First, sign up for our free email course on Mastering
Marketing Automation

Over the course of 8 lessons you’ll learn how to effectively implement
automated email campaigns.

Secondly, sign up for a free trial and take GetResponse Marketing
Automation for a test drive. Without any risks, you can test the entire
platform for 30 days.

Ready to build your first automated campaign?

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