The marketer’s world and the value of what we deliver have been in constant upheaval since the 1980s. The original culprit was the very first Macintosh computer along with PageMaker, the first program that allowed us to format pages and take them to press. Just after the launch of these new tools, I received a call from one of my best clients who said, “Yvonne, we won’t need you to create our annual report this year. I just got PageMaker for my secretary, and she’s going to handle it.” The original ads for the Macintosh featured a headline that read: “If you can point, you can use a Mac.” So, everyone now thought that doing our job was as easy as pointing.
There was the perception that this tool made it easy to create well-designed communications, ads, brochures or even annual reports. We all know how this turned out. The next year, the same client called and we were once again handling his annual report. It’s not a shock that his secretary, using this innovative tool, wasn’t able to tell the story or convey the message to suit the company.
Thus began an era when novices suddenly became publishers. Our industry began the slippery slide down the slope of terrible, raw typography that we now see everywhere, and we’ve come to accept as the norm. Why? Because many companies don’t want to pay for refined design and beautiful typography. Why? Because most people can’t see the difference.
Tools don’t replace ideas.
It took a while, but eventually there was a realization that tools don’t replace a great idea. They don’t replace creativity, design, the magic of an emotional connection or the power to change the way people think or want to buy.
In time, we accepted the computer as just another tool. It did change the way we worked. The computer made it easier for us to create layouts. And it made it cheaper to buy design services because it took less time than doing it the old-fashioned way. The computer dropped the perceived value of what we did. Still, it didn’t replace marketers. The people that were in trouble were the ones who refused to adopt it.
Next, we saw the advent of websites as a new communication vehicle. Because of my appetite for staying on the leading edge, my agency started creating websites in the mid ‘90s. They became our agency’s new differentiator. Layout and production had been commoditized, but that didn’t matter because now we could code! This became our new secret weapon to hold onto our market edge. The first websites we created wouldn’t pass muster today. But we got better. It was a nonstop learning curve that included animation, CMS systems, mobile, various coding languages, etc., and it cost us a fortune to stay on top of every new development. But I saw agencies around us shutting down because they weren’t moving fast enough. It never seemed like an option to resist what was next.
Just a few years ago, good websites were difficult to create. Now, we have a new wave of tools that make it much easier to generate a good-looking simple website. With WordPress and Squarespace, a smart high school student can crank out a fairly good website over a long weekend. These sites look good. They cost almost nothing. And because these platforms are so easy to use and inexpensive, it’s now affordable for a startup to look as good, or better, than an established player in the market.
There’s a trend here.
With each new marketing tool, it has become cheaper, easier and faster to do a marketer’s job. We see a belief that the role of the marketer is diminished. Executives expect that with the new tools, marketing departments should require fewer people. Because of these new tools, marketing should be easier.
Enter marketing automation.
Marketing automation is the combination of a rigorous methodology, a software package and a sales database. Its name is brilliant from a marketing perspective because it leads us to expect that marketing is now automatic. With marketing automation, the pendulum has swung to a point where confidence has again shifted to the tool. But, in this case, we have a different scenario. Because this time, the tool is not as easy to put to full use as many of us would like to believe. The DIY marketing movement has bitten off more than it can chew. A well-respected friend of mine, who is a VP of marketing, told me a story about being in an executive meeting with other department heads. They were discussing his business’s revenue goals. His head of R&D said to the group, “You know, we need more revenue out of marketing.” Everyone looked around and seemed to agree. Then, the CEO said, “Yeah, that sounds about right.” And the CEO looked at my friend and said, “We need more revenue out of marketing. And all you’ve got to do — you know, all you’ve got to do is use that Eloqua system. And it’s automated. And it will produce revenue.”
Same song, second verse.
We’re seeing the same tidal rhythm again. With the advent of a new tool, we see executives’ confidence shifting from people to tools. Along with this, we see the belief that this is easy. The role of marketers is again devalued. We all know that it’s actually a complex time-consuming job to manage a marketing automation system. It’s not easy. It’s certainly not automatic. Yet since some very good marketers have created the illusion that marketing can now be automatic, this raises questions. If marketing is automatic, why do we need marketers? As the CEO I just described directed his VP to “just plug that thing in,” there’s the perception that all we have to do is put our tools to work. The truth is, with marketing automation to manage, marketers are more indispensable than ever. Marketing automation requires a completely new set of skills that many marketers either don’t have or secretly don’t want to learn. These aren’t skills that come naturally to most marketers.
We need people who understand data sources and how to clean up dirty data. We need people who know about SPAM-related regulations and privacy/opt-out policies, and how these impact data storage, list pulls and campaign development. We need people who can select and maintain database fields that enable granular segmentation for campaigns and reporting.
Lead management skills.
We need people who can create alignment between sales and marketing on the definition of a lead that is deemed “salesworthy”, build processes to hand off these leads, and then receive leads back from sales that have been rejected. We need people who can create the framework for scoring leads.
Campaign management skills.
We need people who understand how to facilitate the buying cycle so that prospects are triggered into sales through advancing dialogue and migration through the buying cycle.
Web marketing skills.
We need people with the skills to “watch” how prospects are behaving to determine which content may be valuable to them in a subsequent touch, or potentially what behaviors may indicate a greater propensity to buy.
The problem is that this stuff is hard.
Marketers are doing their best to adapt, but Sirius Decisions reports that we’re still not using anywhere near all the features available in marketing automation platforms because we simply don’t have the skills to do so. And 75% of marketers are learning through trial and error. Failure is a painful, expensive training program. As marketers work to become experts in marketing automation, executives look at the investments they’ve made in their new tools. History tells us that “automation” typically leads to a smaller workforce. So it’s easy for many executives to come to the conclusion that companies should be able to reduce their marketing headcount. Isn’t marketing supposed to be easier now? Isn’t it automatic? No. And no. It’s not easier. It’s not automatic. And even when we are using these new tools well, we still need creativity as much as ever. We still need a marketer’s empathy for the prospect. We still need to make people feel something. Marketing automation is a fabulous tool. It holds significant promise in making demand creation more efficient, effective and accountable. It represents a shift in the marketing field of battle for companies. It is a technology you must embrace now in order to be competitive. Yet, like all the other tools that came before it, marketing automation will one day become table stakes.
Disillusionment with the tool.
Many companies are at a point in using marketing automation where they see what they’re doing isn’t really differentiating them as they’d like. Their prospects are numb to their emails, subject lines and content. They want to know how to make the marketing more personal and more appealing. They are wondering why this isn’t easier and why it doesn’t work better. Taking advantage of marketing automation, or any tool, will only ever be a game of catch-up. In order to get ahead, we have to go beyond achieving proficiency. We have to do more than simply use the tools well. To get ahead, we have to put human intuition and creativity to work to relate to our prospects and customers in a way that creates an advantage. The battlefield will shift again soon, with even newer tools like predictive analytics, which is on the verge of changing marketing as we know it today.
You can’t automate winning.
The winners will continue to be companies that use creative thinking to do something that wins people’s hearts. We haven’t found a way to automate that. You can’t automate a great idea. You can’t automate arresting surprise or delight. You can’t automate humor or the ability to think ahead of the competition and deliver a message that is different enough to take someone’s breath away. You still can’t automate winning. When you’re in the weeds of operating the nuts and bolts of your new tools, it’s easy to lose sight of where the magic comes from. It’s hard to read the label when you’re in the bottle. Like the secretary who got frustrated with PageMaker, her new tool, we’re realizing that we still need talented, creative minds to fuel success. It’s going to take just as many, if not more marketers to put marketing automation to work for us. And we’re going to have to be smarter than we’ve ever been to use it. But that still won’t be enough. The winners will be those that value and continue to find ways to use the best tool of all: Creativity.
This was originally presented by Yvonne Tocquigny at national conference of the Business Marketing Association.