April 28, 2015

Marketing Automation Terms (And Why They Matter)

Written by

Marketing automation software can help businesses grow opportunities by extending the abilities of marketing teams, but many businesses still have yet to deploy a solution.

According to Raab Associates’ data from 2014, 60 percent of companies with revenues in excess of $500M have adopted a marketing automation solution. Smaller companies though, often don’t understand marketing automation basics, let alone where to begin when selecting a platform.

Below, we’ve compiled a list of ten common marketing automation terms, and their definitions. Understanding this terminology will help you better grasp the market as a whole, and decide if marketing automation is something that makes sense for your company.

Inbound Marketing

As opposed to traditional outbound marketing tactics such as cold-calling, buying advertising, or purchasing contact lists, inbound marketing focuses on attracting customers naturally. This is usually done by publishing and promoting content that answers questions from users, but also can involve search engine optimization/marketing (SEO/SEM), free trials of your product, social referrals, or other strategies.

Content Marketing

Closely related to inbound marketing, this subset is focused solely on the generation and promotion of quality content that your potential customers will value. Examples of frequently marketed content include: blog posts, white-papers, case studies, press releases, demo or explainer videos, podcasts, and more. Content is most often marketed via email or on your own web site, but it can also be marketed on other sites (i.e. guest blogging) or social content platforms like Youtube, Facebook, and LinkedIn. To find out more about content marketing strategies, check out our podcast about how you can use marketing automation to improve your content.

Email Marketing

One of the more familiar terms associated with marketing automation, email marketing involves sending a message to a current, previous, or potential customer via email, after they have opted-in, or consented, to receive marketing emails. While there are standalone email marketing tools, email marketing functionality is increasingly being included with most marketing automation suites. To learn more, read our article on the 5 keys to effective email marketing.

Social Media Marketing

Many marketing automation platforms now include features that help manage and monitor your company’s social media presence. Social media marketing campaigns are frequently used to promote content, seek out feedback, or otherwise directly engage with your past, current, or potential customers on a medium where they can easily share or refer others to your promoted content, called a ‘social referral’ — think of it as ‘word-of-mouth’ advertising for the web.


A lead, or sales lead, is defined as a person or company that has demonstrated interest in your company’s products or services. For inbound marketers, leads typically occur when a person finds your content (either through a search engine or other site) and then opts to either receive additional content or requests a service. This conversion usually occurs only after a visitor has had multiple interactions with your brand or content.

Drip Campaign

Most often associated with email marketing, drip campaigns are a tool used to automatically push (or “drip”) pre-selected content to a user over a pre-determined period in order to move them through the sales process. The type of content they receive will often be tailored to their actions on your site (such as which articles they read, or sections of the site they visited), and where they came from (such as a landing page, versus a guest blog post). When dealing with a large customer database, drip campaigns are best constructed to automatically select and push content based on specific user behaviors or buyer personas.

Buyer Personas

Marketers create buyer personas in order to better understand how to best reach various potential buyers. A buyer persona should be much more than a simple description or profile of your potential customer. Good buyer personas identify the specific needs, concerns, pain points, and attitudes of a person considering your product — and how you can best convince them that your solution is what is needed. Trying to design a marketing campaign without actionable buyer personas is akin to going canoeing without a paddle — you won’t go very far, and you’ll likely end up on the rocks. To learn more, check out our podcast on the importance of buyer personas in marketing automation.

Audience Segmentation

When marketers design buyer personas, they are segmenting, or separating their target audience into various groups that will help when creating drip, email, or other campaigns. Audience segmentation allows you to create more personalized content and campaigns, which in turn strengthens your relationship with potential buyers. Typical ways to segment your audience include by area of interest (or industry), job title, geographic region, or other unique qualifiers.

Lead Generation

Sometimes called demand generation, lead generation can be simply defined as creating or identifying customer interest in your company’s products or services. Ultimately, lead generation should be the goal of any marketing automation deployment. To learn more about how marketing automation programs can influence this, see our article about using marketing automation to generate leads.

Lead Scoring

Many marketing automation platforms assign scores to potential leads as an indicator of their purchase readiness or decision-making authority. Scores are usually determined by demographics (i.e. job title, company type/size, etc.) or by user behavior (i.e. downloaded a specific marketing asset, filled out a form, etc.). Lead scoring can be an effective way to help sales teams easily identify the best prospects to call, but in order to be successful you’ll need to identify which traits or actions are correlated with sales opportunity for your company. This often requires a detailed analysis of your lead generation activity.


It’s important to remember that marketing automation software is not designed to replace your marketing department, just the inefficient spreadsheets or other information silos that can make communications with customers or other departments difficult. When deployed and used properly, a marketing automation system extends the abilities of your team, helping you scale your sales process and keep leads rolling in.

There are hundreds — if not thousands — of other terms closely associated with marketing automation software and the various functions it performs. If you’re still not sure how to choose a marketing automation solution, you can browse our previous articles on marketing automation, or our marketing automation software guide. Also feel free to give one of our Technology Advisors a call (877)822-9526 — their expert advice on marketing automation platforms is 100 percent free and tailored to your unique requirements.

Free Download

Marketing Automation Buyer's Guide

Get My Free Guide