Marketers who want to keep up with customers in today's fast-paced online world need to adapt to the multitude of buying journeys that digital creates. That's easier said than done: Being adaptive requires connecting to, learning from, measuring, and changing based on the digital breadcrumbs that customers leave in their wake during their journeys.

The challenge many companies face is that the digital marketing engines they use haven't evolved at the same pace as marketers' changing needs. As a result, they feel stuck.

To get unstuck, marketers need to first understand their current level of marketing maturity so that they can identify opportunities for growth and create a plan to move further along the maturity curve.

There are three common stages in digital marketing maturity: Email Marketers, Multichannel Campaigners, and Adaptive Marketing Pros. Once a business diagnoses which level it is at, it can better strategize how to move forward for optimal business success.

Level 1: Email Marketers

Email is still the main digital channel for many businesses. It provides direct communication, it's relatively inexpensive, and, most important, it's effective.

Although email is an important part of the digital mix, those at the most basic level of digital marketing maturity rely primarily on email instead of taking full advantage of other digital channels.

Organizations at this level often have a strategy supported by an email service provider with simple and limited functionality.

To determine whether your business falls in the Email Marketer category, ask yourself:

  • Is the marketing team doing much of the manual work of scoring, data management, GDPR compliance, and more?
  • Does the business lack integration between digital marketing and CRM tools?
  • Is KPI reporting minimal and lacking robustness?

If you answered yes to these, you're likely a skilled Email Marketer who could benefit from more advanced digital marketing strategies and tools to support the channel. Companies at this level are doing most of the heavy lifting themselves, but they don't need to be!

The first step toward leveling up and becoming a Multichannel Campaigner is to introduce more automation to email marketing processes, which frees up the marketing team and enables them to focus more time on strategy and less on tactical execution. They then have the opportunity to embrace other digital channels, enhance reporting, and generate personalized content for segmented audiences.

Consider the example of Tower Federal Credit Union. The company made a strategic decision to add automation in order to support its email marketing efforts and reporting, with a goal to increase upselling of products like auto loans and mortgages to members. With automation, the marketing department was able to track email opens and tailor any follow-up communications accordingly, choosing which content to send to members depending on the actions they had taken in the sales funnel. As a result, follow-up email open rates increased up to 50% from pre-automation levels.

Level 2: Multichannel Campaigners

Organizations at this level have grown beyond an email-centric marketing strategy to achieve a multichannel digital marketing approach. To better compete and respond to customers' multichannel expectations, many companies are trying to move in this direction today.

To determine whether you're a Multichannel Campaigner, ask yourself:

  • Does the business have a segmented campaign strategy? Do we segment based on behavior and profile data?
  • Have we automated scoring, data management, and data enrichment activities?
  • Is our key contact information synchronized with our CRM?
  • Do we have a defined funnel supported by specific campaigns with correlated attribution reports?

This level is characterized by more advanced segmentation and marketing technologies that facilitate key processes through automation. Most businesses at this stage of the marketing maturity curve have added to their marketing stack over time by identifying areas for improvement through specific marketing use cases.

GBG, a company that makes technology to help fight fraud and cybercrime, is a prime example. It was generating leads from myriad channels but needed to update its lead scoring and nurturing activities to allow the marketing team to better support Sales. Accordingly, it introduced automation so it could measure how prospects interacted with content, helping the team understand where someone was in the sales funnel and when a sales rep should engage with that person. The business also began tracking website visitors and email campaigns and syncing that data with its CRM, which allowed Marketing to turn digital breadcrumbs into automatic nurturing campaigns.

By making this update, GBG was able to see a detailed account of all buyer activity, including how prospects were moving through the sales funnel.

Level 3: Adaptive Marketing Pros

According to Research Director Peter O'Neill's recently released Vendor Selection Matrix for Marketing Lead Management SaaS and Software: The Top 20 Global Vendors, 33.4% of companies plan to migrate to a more suitable system in the next one to three years. In other words, organizations are outgrowing and replacing their current digital marketing automation solution to further personalize digital marketing, support account-based marketing, and more.

Adaptive Marketing Pros are those businesses that have already adopted technology that lets them personalize their multichannel marketing activities and thus eliminate random acts of marketing.

You are an Adaptive Marketing Pro if these statements are true:

  • We have an individualized personalization strategy vs. personalizing for segments or personas.
  • We use ABM strategies and segment customers at both the contact and account level.
  • We use machine-learning or AI-driven learning adapted from behavior data, including information gathered from third parties.
  • We have automation that supports multiple scoring rules, GDPR compliance, and more.
  • Our CRM is synchronized with our marketing stack.
  • We use custom data fields in our CRM, synced to Sales with tools such as email templates that can be personalized.
  • Our analytics are easily shared across the organization, with integration between our business intelligence tools and our marketing team, ensuring our reports truly inform next steps and future action.

When businesses are at this level, the primary challenge is to stay at the forefront of the digital marketing evolution, continually updating strategies as new technologies emerge to support them. In our fast-paced world, that is quite a challenge in itself.

However, Adaptive Marketing Pros can take advantage of the technologies available to make many incremental changes that have a big impact. For example, predictive scoring, lookalike modeling, adaptive sending, and content recommendations such as subject line optimization can all lead to small but significant improvements that add up over time. Indigo Business Services for example, increased its email open rate 20% and its clickthrough rates 30% just by experimenting with adaptive email sending.

Just Keep Moving Forward at Your Own Speed

Some businesses have embraced the technological changes in marketing faster than others, for various reasons. Organizations (even successful ones) exist at every level of digital marketing maturity. It can of course help to benchmark yourself against the competition, but what is more important is to understand where your organization falls on the digital marketing maturity curve, and set goals for progression.

Finding use cases that make sense for your business will be important for showing the measurable improvements that can be made and ensuring your team continues moving forward.

The digital journey is one that marketers, customers, and tech companies are all taking together. We live in an age of Digital Darwinism: Evolve along with them, or find yourself getting left behind in the fast-paced digital era.

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image of Adam Mertz

Adam Mertz is VP of marketing and strategy at Act-On Software, provider of a marketing automation platform. With more than 20 years' experience leading product and marketing teams for high-growth B2B technology companies, Adam drives Act-On Software's strategy, positioning, and thought leadership.

LinkedIn: Adam Mertz

Twitter: @adammertz