May 26, 2015

How to Use Marketing Automation to Build Buyer’s Journeys

It’s been said so often it’s nearly a truism: customers don’t choose companies based on product or service benefits alone; they choose them based on experiences. Focusing on touchpoints — whether digital, in-person, on the telephone, etc. — may improve KPIs for those specific interactions, but unless the entire saga is consistent, the buyer won’t be engaged.

Make each interaction with your brand a logical, coherent experience

This process of creating a holistic journey for the customer remains a difficult process for marketers. Managing multiple channels through siloed data sources, negotiating standards in follow up and branding with sales, and putting the content in front of the right person at the right time are just a few of the obstacles that marketers face when building a journey for their buyers.

Luckily, the tools marketers rely on have become increasingly sophisticated. When calibrated correctly, marketing automation software can help you construct more effective, more useful buyer’s journeys that will make each interaction with your brand a logical, coherent experience, rather than another note in the cacophony of digital marketing.

Here’s how to set up your buyer’s journey with a marketing automation system. (Not sure you know which system to use? Check out our Buyer’s Guide or Product Selection Tool.)

Build a Complete Content Funnel

Every buyer’s journey begins with content, because consumers now value self-service research. On nearly any topic, consumers prefer to do their own research rather than call upon a salesperson to assist them.

This means you need to create content for every stage of research that your customers go through. If you don’t have educational resources for each area of the buyer’s consideration, your audience will find other sources and potentially drift away from your company.

If you’re still developing your content strategy, use keyword research to identify the questions your audience is asking and benchmark demand in each stage.

Use a keyword research tool like SEMRush or Google Keyword Planner and start analyzing search volume around topics that relate to your business. SEMRush is particularly good for this type of research because it recommends similar results. Study these to identify the different stages of research.

marketing automation keyword research

Results for the keyword “marketing automation” reveal interest as well as different stages of research

Note the difference in intent of someone searching for “what is marketing automation” versus someone searching for “marketing automation tools.” The former is likely trying to feel out the whole marketing automation industry, while the latter is seeking specific tools to automate marketing.

Naturally, you want to have content for both types of researchers, because you want to instill trust at each level of the buyer’s journey. This is only one method of identifying various buying stages, and it’s by no means the only one you should employ, but it is a good starting place.

Once you have your customer journeys mapped out — plural because it’s likely you’ll have a few different personas with different needs — it’s time to create campaigns in your automation system that deliver the content that matches the needs of your audience.

Use Lists to Represent Different Needs

Marketing automation software relies on email lists to determine which customers receive which emails. You need to create lists for each stage of the funnel and set up rules that move prospects in-between lists as they build momentum and make progress towards the latter stages of the buying process.

Prospects will be matched with the appropriate list based on the information they download. For example, a prospect who downloads a buyer’s guide is in a much more advanced stage of research than someone who simply signs up for your newsletter.

The key to keeping your lists relevant is to set up if-then rules within the automation platform that automatically update prospects lists based on their behavioral. If a prospect that initially signed up for your newsletter clicks on the blog post about marketing automation for small business, they should be moved a new list which delivers content that’s appropriate to that need stage.

Here’s an example of how to employ this type of behavioral segmentation in automation platform Act-On (the behavioral section starts around 1:30).

Avoid the Vacuum Fallacy

The previous tactics are critical to delivering relevant content to your audience at scale, and they can also account for the actions your prospects are taking outside of your email marketing campaigns. This is one of the main advantages behavior-based lists have over autoresponders: they don’t assume that every prospect is relying solely on your marketing content.

Prospects will add to their research in any number of ways, quickly making non-dynamic lists irrelevant. By using more behavior-based logic, you can set emails (or in some cases social media messages) to send once a certain criteria is met, even if a prospect doesn’t fill out a form.

Say a prospect reads three blog posts on A/B split testing on landing pages in one week. Instead of sending them that same blog content in an email, you can set automation rules to trigger a message that offers a comprehensive guide to A/B testing.

Now you’re delivering content based on the interests of your prospects and the questions they’re asking at each stage of the journey

Reverse Engineer Your Conversions

Everything in marketing is a hypothesis. Marketers must test every solution they propose in order to truly validate its merit and business value. Customer journeys are no different.

Once you press go on your lead nurturing campaigns and get a couple of conversions, look at the website behavior of the prospects that converted into leads and customers. See which areas of their journey played the biggest part and search for gaps.

Here’s an example of Pardot’s attribution model. Dig deeper into each session and see which engagement was most meaningful.

Multi-touch attribution shows where prospects enter your site

Multi-touch attribution shows where prospects enter your site

Dig deeper to see on page behavior and identify which content was most useful

Dig deeper to see on page behavior and identify which content was most useful

Along with A/B testing, this type of retrospective analysis will show you where you need to improve the experience for your customers and where you’re doing it right.

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Automation in Action: An Interview With Contently

 

ContentlyLogoHighRes

Founded in 2011, Contently connects journalists together with brands so businesses interested in publishing meaningful stories can access a pipeline of talented writers who can not just do the work, but do the work well.

To date Contently counts General Electric, NBC Universal, Google, the Associate Press, and other impressive enterprises as clients. With a roster like that, it’s safe to presume that Contently understands how to nurture prospects through the customer journey.

We spoke to Ray Cheng, Contently’s VP of Marketing, to see how the company converts leads into customers with marketing automation.

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How do you ensure that you have content that matches each step in a customer journey? Do you create the content as you map out the journey, or draw from existing Contently pieces?

Each vertical and their content needs in terms of a holistic journey is very different, but the fundamentals are the same.  These assets include top of funnel content, mid-funnel content, bottom funnel content, onboarding content, and ongoing engagement.  Most of our efforts are dedicated to top of funnel content, as we are a hypergrowth startup and our original content is our best investment for awareness.

We take data from Marketo, our Insights platform, and our headline testing tools to learn what topics, authors, types, and mediums work best to help drive future editorial decisions.  For example, we regularly publish the “State of Content Marketing” ebook which drives tremendous interest across all verticals, channels, and audiences.

If someone is sending out 70,000 emails at once and expects 30 percent of this audience to open it, they are spraying and praying.

Does marketing automation help Contently distinguish between the paths that different personas take to becoming a customer? What part does multi-touch attribution play?

“Marketing automation helps segment audiences and personas much easier because there are implicit behaviors and explicit data points that can be aggregated with simple logic that can be applied in a scalable manner.  Multi-touch attribution, especially for Contently, is extremely important, because each content asset has an attribution weight, and with the amount of content we produce, getting a true measure of return on content investment is a serious undertaking.  

We aim to make content the center of ROI, not channels, because we agree with Rebecca Lieb that content is the atomic particle of marketing”.

Customer journeys don’t happen in a vacuum, so how do you keep the experience from being too linear? Does this exceed the capabilities of marketing automation or does it just take the right automation rules?

We go by the 80/20 rule.  For the 20% that drive 80% of our results, our Sales and Account Management teams add a personal touch so that our customer journey is not a program we code.

For the remaining 80% of customers who are not ready to build a partnership with us yet, we aim to produce quality content with enough cadence to truly learn how to resonate more with individuals, which is more a function of time and patience vs having the perfect automation systems or rules.  We’ve found that it regularly takes 6-8 months for many of our prospects to read our content before they are ready to speak with our sales team!

You’ve mentioned that Marketo is often misused. Could you elaborate?

Marketo is more often underused than misused.  Marketo is a powerful tool that has many possibilities, but you need the right architect who can set it up well for now and for the future.

Many marketers just buy Marketo to send emails and build landing pages to collect lead information.  If that’s all that is needed, then there are many simpler, lower cost options to achieve this goal.  

The data that Marketo is collecting could be further utilized for smarter marketing efforts.  For example, mass emails to an audience could easily be more relevant and timely if marketers used data points such as an inferred location or the historical timestamp on when each person typically opens their emails to maximize results through batch sending.  

If someone is sending out 70,000 emails at once and expects 30% of this audience to open it, they are spraying and praying.

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