Marketing automation sometimes sounds like a dirty word, and for good reason. When done incorrectly, it has the potential to undervalue a marketer’s database, irritate those on the receiving end of the campaign, and generate poor results. If that’s not enough to make marketers want to wash out their mouths with soap, I’m not sure what is. I guess you could ask Ralphie.

But the truth is, marketing automation holds a lot of promise for marketers, because it is a powerful tool that can help them overcome some of the core problems they face. For example, we all know that devoting personal attention to our leads tends to generate the best results. Marketing automation can actually help you scale that personal attention. And we could all use some more time in our day to focus on more high-level concerns than just manually nurturing leads. Marketing automation can help with that, too! And these are only a couple of examples.

Let’s take a look at some common mistakes made with marketing automation, and some of their better alternatives.

Mistake #1: You’re Marketing to Actions, Not People

Marketing Automation,Why You're Doing it Wrong-graph

Depending on how you do this and what your conditions are, it’s very possible that you’re setting yourself up for failure. Here are a few reasons why.

1) Single actions rarely tell the whole story.

When you send a lead down a different path in your campaign based on one or two things they did or didn’t do, you’re making a lot of assumptions that the action they took was intentional and meaningful. But maybe I actually am an interested prospect, but I had a full inbox the morning you sent me an email, and I skipped past your message. Or maybe I clicked through on an email you sent me out of curiosity, but am actually a better fit for an entirely different product you sell. One action a lead does or doesn’t take rarely tells us enough to market to them more effectively.

2) Some actions are tough to track accurately.

Take email opens for example. While open rate is a helpful metric to look at in aggregate over time, using an opened status to change the makeup of a campaign for one person is risky, because no email tool can track it with a perfect rate of accuracy. Some email clients falsely report opens, while others don’t report opens when an email was actually read. Do you want an arbitrary metric changing the makeup of your campaign?

3) Leads aren’t moving through your campaigns in a vacuum.

Kid's Board Game - Mouse Trap

Let’s be honest — a branching campaign looks great on paper, but it usually doesn’t take into consideration any of the other ways a lead might be interacting with your brand. If your marketing is working the way it should be, those leads are probably coming back to many different parts of your website through many different channels. If I do an organic search to get back to your website on my own volition, then visit your pricing page and download a whitepaper that isn’t a part of the campaign you are sending me, are the conditions controlling the next step of the campaign I happen to be in still important? Probably not.

Solution: Use smaller, more specific segments from the very start of your campaign.

Rather than dump a big list of leads into a nurturing campaign that looks like a game of Mouse Trap and hope they get relevant messages along the way, put them into a better targeted campaign from the start.

If your campaign is tailored to a very specific segment that takes everything you know about your leads into context, you’ll be delivering marketing people love right from the very first email, not spamming your database with messages that have a low probability of being relevant.

At HubSpot, we use our tools to build a rich profile for each lead in our system that combines everything we know about them from dozens of different places. What keyword did they initially search for to find us? What content are they consuming through social media? What pages are they visiting on our website? What can we glean from our sales teams’ data in Salesforce about this lead? These are just a few of the many details we look at to segment our prospects.

Marketing Automation, Why You're Doing it Wrong - organize and segment your contacts

Looking at those details, our system then automatically puts leads into specific nurturing campaigns we’ve created that we know are well targeted and will speak to those leads in a personal way about things they care about. And because they are better targeted from the start, our nurturing campaigns don’t need to be a complex set of branches — they are simpler, easier to analyze and improve, and they perform well from the very start. We don’t send a six-email campaign hoping that one of those messages will resonate. Instead, we know they all will, and that they are all in context of one another.

Marketing Automation, Why You're Doing it Wrong - personalized email

Taking things a step further, personalizing your email communications with details from your database (using a lead’s name, sending an email from the sales rep who owns the lead, even mentioning other details about the lead’s business) makes for a well targeted email that reads more like a one-to-one exchange than a marketing email.

Mistake #2: Your Campaign Relies Solely on Email to Get a Targeted Message Out

There’s no doubt that doing stellar email marketing is important. When done properly, email and marketing automation can generate great results and pull interested prospects back to your website.

That being said, relying too heavily on email (or relying entirely on email, as most marketers tend to do) is fraught with problems, particularly the following two.

1) It’s getting harder and harder to effectively reach your leads through email.

Yes, email is easy for us marketers to send, but take a look in your own inbox and think about how you manage the barrage of messages you get. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that your prospects aren’t using the same tactics you might be — filters in Gmail, priority inbox, and bulk deleting marketing emails without batting an eyelash.

2) Ignoring other channels means your prospects see different, fragmented messages depending on where they find your brand.

As we mentioned before, your leads (hopefully) aren’t sitting by their inbox waiting for your marketing emails in order to find your content and learn more about your business. Instead, they’re searching for you on Google and coming back to your website through social media, among other things. When they make their way to those deep pages on your website, what do they see? If you are focused solely on email, they probably aren’t seeing the same targeted message they got from you in their inbox on your website. Instead, they are seeing many different, fragmented marketing messages and value propositions depending on where they go. At best, this kind of fragmentation is ineffective. At worst, it’s a liability if you are putting special messaging or offers in front of specific audiences.

Solution: Customize the content and offers everyone sees on your website.

This really is the Holy Grail of marketing automation, and it’s surprising how few companies do it. You know this kind of marketing from companies like Amazon and Netflix — when you arrive on, you are shown products and calls-to-action that feel like they were suggested by someone who knows you and what you like on a personal level. And yes, you can do the same thing.

Marketing - Smart CTA Rules

If you use HubSpot’s tools, those same segments and lists that automatically allocate leads to specific lead nurturing campaigns can be used to automatically change the content leads see on our website — even on the deepest content pages that don’t get updated all that often. For HubSpot’s own website, this means that a lead who is interested in social media will see content and offers related to social media. A lead who is interested in email marketing will see content and offers related to email marketing. And they don’t just see these messages in one place — leads interested in social media can see a mix of interesting social media offers everywhere they go on our website. It’s a better experience for our leads, and more effective marketing for us.

To learn more about how to leverage dynamic content on your own website, download our free ebook, An Introduction to Using Dynamic Content in Your Marketing.

Mistake #3: You Hammer the Same List and Ignore the Fact That It’s Slowly Dying

Think about your own email inbox. How long do you put up with marketing emails from companies who you don’t intend to buy something from? Have you ever switched jobs, or switched email addresses? These are just a few of the many different reasons why the average email database expires at the rate of ~25% per year. And the harder you market to your list, the less effective it will be over time.

Pause to really think about that for a minute. Let it soak in. Or, let’s just put it into perspective: A database of 50,000 email addresses will have shrunk to 21,000 in just three short years. Fighting attrition is tough enough; *growing* your database on top of that requires some serious coordination. It’s something that affects you today — not the next generation of marketers at your company.

Solution: Marketing automation must be complemented by inbound marketing to be a sustainable strategy over time.

Let’s be blunt for a minute. If you aren’t at least replacing leads at the rate you are burning through them, your marketing database is dying.

If leads are coming out of your database at a constant rate, you will need a way to consistently feed your database with brand new leads. There is no better way to do that than inbound marketing — creating content that naturally attracts real people who need what you provide, building a relationship with them over time, and being there at the right time and place when they are ready to buy.

What’s more, inbound leads are more likely to be high quality, interested, and responsive leads right from the start. This means that not only is your database growing over time, but it’s refining itself over time as you learn, tweak your strategy, and attract better and better quality leads. Learn more about how to execute a comprehensive inbound marketing strategy in this ebook.

How does that compare to buying a list, sending slews of mediocrely targeted emails, irritating people, and slowly running through your database? 😉

Author’s Bio:
Marketing Automation, Why You're Doing it Wrong - Jeffrey Russo

Jeffrey Russo is a Product Marketing Manager at HubSpot, where he works to tell the story of inbound marketing and HubSpot’s products through content