Automation can do much more for you than trigger emails: Automating routine tasks can make you more efficient, opening up time for creative thinking and strategic planning.

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I invited Katie Robbert, CEO of analytics firm Trust Insights, to Marketing Smarts to discuss marketing automation: how automation helps you to improve productivity (and your bottom line), which tasks to automate, and what tools you can use to get started.

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

Many routine marketing tasks are candidates for automation (08:26): "With automation, it depends on what you're trying to do. Are you trying to cut down on the amount of staff members? Are you trying to speed up a process? If you're brand new to automation, one of the best places to start is to take a look at the tasks that you do every day, every week, every month. If you look at your calendar and you have a bunch of recurring tasks that happen every single day, that might be something that's a good candidate for automation.

"Reporting is always a good place to start. Instead of getting into some really big, expensive project, think about the reports that you pull week after week. Google Data Studio is a really good automation tool that isn't used enough. You can set up the report once and pull your data into it from Google Analytics. It has a lot of other API connections, to Facebook and other systems where you're collecting data. And once you get the report set up, it's 'set it and forget it,' and the report just automatically updates the data in real time. So you take that task off your plate. You no longer have to spend hours every week pulling this report: It's done."

Sometimes, doing a task "the old fashioned way" makes more sense than automating it (11:28): "This is a true story that happened between myself and my business partner, Chris Penn. I was talking about pulling our latest hits—the articles that you appear in—and I was like, 'Is there a way for me to do this, do you already have a snippet of code written that automatically does this?' And...he was like, 'Well, it would take me about 120 hours to build this piece of code, and then we'd have to test it and maintain it,' and I said, 'Or it could just take me 10 minutes a week and it's not really worth automating.' One of the things that turns people off to automation is they don't really know what it entails. They jump right to the solution before really even understanding if it's solving a problem."

You don't have to learn code to use automation, but you should understand how automation works (14:22): "I personally can't code. I have the benefit of having somebody on my team who can code, and I think that marketers who are not interested in coding should still learn the process to at least create the plan so that they know what to expect. Then they can maybe hire a freelancer, contractor, or company who can do the coding for you, but you should have control over the plan from start to finish. You should understand what the automation should be doing for you: the benefits, the risk analysis, the cost, the maintenance. That's everything a marketer can do without having to touch a single piece of code. Then, once that plan's put together, you hand it off to somebody and say 'please do this for me.'"

To learn more, visit TrustInsights.ai, KatieRobbert.com, or follow Katie on Twitter: @KatieRobbert. And be sure to check out the new MarketingProfs course "Marketing Automation Made Easy," launching June 20th.

Katie and I talked about much more, including chatbots, data hygiene, and predictive uses for automation, so be sure to listen to the entire show, which you can do above, or download the mp3 and listen at your convenience. Of course, you can also subscribe to the Marketing Smarts podcast in iTunes or via RSS and never miss an episode!

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Music credit: Noam Weinstein.