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Whether you're graduating from an email service provider (ESP) or simply looking to reach your customers more holistically, growth marketing automation is a powerful technology that drives brand evangelism, and it should be the center of your martech stack.

For businesses looking to scale responsibly, marketing automation allows for massive growth by both building the funnel and delivering on the kind of brand experience that is needed to win.

Businesses and consumers alike increased their digital engagement during the pandemic. Global marketing automation spending will reach $25 billion by 2023, according to Forrester, and many practitioners are considering adopting a marketing automation solution to meet the moment.

If you fall into the bucket of folks racing toward automation, you might be staring at a shiny new platform, wondering how to effectively start tapping into its powers. Read on for a practical guide to help you get the most out of automation technology and to start growing your business your own way.

Do a data hygiene scrub and content audit

It's tempting to want to dive right into using your new marketing automation platform, but before you go in headfirst it's crucial to do some basic housekeeping.

As a modern marketer, you likely have a slew of data and content lying around. Start by indexing your contact lists to ensure proper segmentation. Double-check that those contacts you will be integrating into your new platform have opted in to receive communications from you. That will result in more accuracy when you track engagement and deliverability.

Next, organize your content library. E-Books, webinars, blog posts, whitepapers, and product guides are great collateral to have on hand when you're kicking off a growth marketing automation strategy.

To provide real value to your customers, take time to think about when and where content is most appropriate throughout the customer lifecycle. That also makes their ascension to evangelism comfortable and natural. Use how-to blog posts during onboarding and granular whitepapers for long-term nurturing.

Get aligned with your sales team and launch an email pilot campaign

Adding the complexity of marketing automation to your stack requires you to open up a channel of communication with your sales team. Though it's not important for Sales to understand the ins and outs of your new platform, it is crucial that you agree on the appropriate time for Sales to pick up the relationship with your leads.

A stellar marketing automation platform will help you create, through lead scoring, a methodology behind your approach to customer experience. Lead scoring helps to develop a mutually beneficial system that increases Marketing's ability to pass qualified leads to Sales, and it helps Sales focus time and effort on the most likely buyers.

Why are those things important? They impart operational organization to the buyer journey and support a seamless customer experience.

Although the relationship between your marketing and sales teams will likely evolve as you refine your marketing automation expertise, it's great to start strategizing, communicating, and putting a flexible plan into place early on.

Once you've aligned Marketing with Sales, start small by launching an automated email pilot campaign. Why email? Because most marketers are familiar with the channel and comfortable drafting content for it—especially those who have been solely dependent on ESPs.

By starting simple and leading with the mindset that each automated campaign you deploy—from your pilot to your best—is a learning experience, you can assess the kinks in each one and figure out what works best for your organization as a whole.

Nibble before you gobble to prevent biting off more than you can chew. It's an approach that will pay dividends later on.

Start thinking beyond email

Once you've mastered the channels you are most familiar with (email, social media, website, etc.), you can start exploring new avenues for engagement that are experience-focused.

For example, automated SMS marketing is an emerging channel you simply cannot ignore any longer. In today's highly mobile market, reaching customers directly on their phones is perfect for when a message must get through. Most marketing automation platforms have some form of SMS capability, whether they are "bolted-on" from a third-party vendor or native to the platform itself.

The automated SMS channel has really taken flight during the pandemic, as people have explored new ways to engage with brands. A full 77% of consumers tried new buyer behaviors in the past year, according to McKinsey's latest US Consumer Sentiment study, and they were primarily driven by a need for value, convenience, and availability.

The keyword there is value. As you evolve alongside your marketing automation platform, you'll start to understand that not every channel is created equal.

For types of communication with a longer lead time, such as sharing a whitepaper to advance your customer's expertise, email is still a great channel. But for communications that are time-sensitive, such as hotel check-in information or payment reminders, SMS can provide your customers instantaneous information that improves their day-to-day work and life.

It's important to note that unlike email, SMS is highly personal and it should be used only to enhance the buying or customer experience. As you tread into this new frontier of engagement, do so lightly and with the mindset that SMS is not a medium for "batch and blasts."

Remember it's growth marketing automation, not autopilot

When you first tap into growth marketing automation, you may feel like a kid in a candy store. The ability to automate menial and tedious tasks can become addicting.

However, a common misconception is that automation allows you to run on autopilot. That couldn't be further from the truth.

The less time you manually spend segmenting targets and creating trial-and-error campaigns, the more time you can devote to getting to know your customers. That means you have increased bandwidth to work with customers and evangelists one-on-one, scrub your reviews to see where you can improve your offering and communications, and experiment with new and emerging channels.

Automation is the Robin to your Batman. It sets the stage for you to be more effective in your messaging, not more robotic. Letting your platform do the grunt work allows you more time to be creative, and it supercharges your ability to deploy more effective campaigns.

More Resources on Growth Marketing Automation

The (Many) Benefits of Marketing Automation [Infographic]

Marketing Automation 101: Start Learning With Content, Experts, and Training

Seven Marketing Automation Campaigns That Should Get You Promoted

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image of David Greenberg

David Greenberg is the CMO at Act-On and a self-proclaimed brand loyalty enthusiast who has 20+ years of marketing leadership experience.

LinkedIn: David Greenberg