The advertising industry — and ways of reaching prospective customers — has been constantly changing since the year 1612 when the very first printed advertisement was published by the “Journal General d’Affiches”.

Since then, we have seen entirely new media emerge, through which brands try to convince us that life without their product or service would never be complete.

Press, radio, TV, Internet, and, for the last few years, slightly more sophisticated techniques such as inbound marketing and marketing automation have aimed to persuade consumers to make a purchasing decision.

What’s the common denominator? The "new medium" is always projected to completely replace the "old medium":

  • Radio was expected to make press advertising obsolete.
  • TV would weaken and replace radio commercials.
  • Internet was expected to become the preferred platform for watching TV and make traditional TV obsolete.
  • Social media was projected to replace email marketing.
  • Inbound marketing would become the only form of online advertising.

The thinking surrounding marketing automation is similar.

Is marketing automation really the cure-all and “smarter brother” of email marketing?

In this handbook we address that question. You’re about to learn:

  • The differences between email marketing and the marketing automation
  • Whether it’s necessary to choose just one of these channels
  • Additional functions of marketing automation systems
  • How to plan marketing campaigns using marketing automation
  • How to deploy sales campaigns using marketing automation

The time you invest in reading this handbook can give you the confidence to choose the best way to communicate with your customers.

Email marketing vs marketing automation

In the last few years many misunderstandings have arisen as to which channel is more effective: traditional email marketing platforms or marketing automation systems.

The source of all of the confusion lies in the fact that both techniques are based on the same vehicle -email.

Email is the main vehicle of sales communication and the one responsible for the conversion performance of the campaign.

This should not be particularly surprising to any of us.

  • We spend an average of 4 hours a day using email, meaning that email consumes approximately 50% of our working day. Add to this the fact that 39% of users regularly send, receive and check their email outside of working hours. — Mimecast “The Shape of Email 2012” (2012)
  • Email is the preferred method of commercial communication for 74% of all online adults. — Merkle “View From the Digital Inbox 2011” (2011)
  • 63% of mobile email users check their email account a minimum of once per day. —Merkle “View From the Digital Inbox 2011” (2011)

Marketing automation systems, however, collect data and interact with customers on levels that go beyond email. So automation metrics focus on factors such as tracking prospective customers through a website or on a landing page that encourages prospects to contact a call center.

This type of data is helpful for companies that operate in markets with a longer decision-making process — a minimum of 7 days — as opposed to B2C scenarios where sales strategies often target impulse buyers.

So let’s compare the functionalities of marketing automation systems and email marketing platforms.

FeatureEmail MarketingMarketing Automation
Customer segmentationYesYes
Collect email addressesYesYes
Newsletter templatesYesYes
Triggered autorespondersNoYes
Email broadcastsYesYes
Reporting and analyticsYesYes
Conversion trackingNoYes
Social media integrationNoYes
Landing page creatorNoYes
Lead scoringNoYes
Behavioral targetingYesYes
Split-test A/B TestingYesYes
Full CRM functionalityNoYes

Pic. 1 The functionalities highlighted are available in email marketing platforms, including GetResponse.

As you can see, the main advantage of the marketing automation systems is the ability to track the behavior of prospective customers and take appropriate action based on the data.

Four factors that influence your decision

Which solution is better for you: email marketing or marketing automation? To answer this question, analyze four factors.

Factor 1: Does your product or service require a complex purchasing process?

Marketing automation starts to make sense when your purchasing process is complex and takes at least 7 days. Examples: purchasing a CRM system, billing platform, or expensive medical equipment.

In such cases, effort devoted to nurturing leads can have great economic impact. Automation provides a wider time-frame for communication, so you can contact prospects at the right moment, such as when they’re ready to make their decision.

If the buying process for your type of product or service is shorter (impulse purchases such as clothing or concert tickets) you don’t need to plan a complex purchasing funnel or develop unique content for each stage of a sales funnel.

Factor 2: Do your customers need a unique solution?

Good conversion requires content that is tailored to the specific needs of each type of subscriber.
If your customer profile is fairly homogenous (such as a beauty salon or selling shoes online) you don’t need to develop and distribute different kinds of e-books or reports. An email marketing platform enables you to send out the same series of emails automatically, and that works just fine.
On the other hand, if you design IT systems for companies in such diverse industries as FMCG, banking and retail, you need to match the content to each subscriber’s needs and preferences, then deliver it at the right time. Marketing automation is the right tool for that.

Factor 3: Are you already making full use of email marketing?

Gleanster Research made a very good point in their study “Email Marketing vs. Marketing Automation Solutions” in which they discussed the success rate of marketing campaigns. In most cases, they found that success was based not on the tools used, but on knowledge and the ability to make use of them.

"As a general rule of thumb, you will get as much out of a marketing automation tool as you are currently getting out of your email marketing tool!" —Gleanster Research

This means that many companies with sophisticated email marketing platforms don’t use them to their full potential, sending ordinary weekly newsletters. So before you decide that a marketing automation system is essential for your company’s development, you might want to take a look at the list below and find out whether you already have them in your email marketing platform.

  • Customer segmentation based on subscriber actions
  • Behavioral targeting
  • Dynamic content
  • Autoresponders (automatic/triggered emails)
  • Personalization
  • Split-tests, A/B Tests

If your email marketing campaigns don’t include at least some of these techniques, you’re ignoring at least 30% of the true potential of email marketing platforms.

Moving to an automation system and collecting more information won’t improve your sales if you don’t have the resources and knowledge to use it.

Factor 4: Are you prepared to pay a higher price?

Marketing automation systems have higher implementation and operating costs compared to email marketing platforms.

On top of the costs of sending out emails, there are often costs related to monitoring customer activities, implementing dedicated tracking codes, etc.

If you invest in a marketing automation system, take into account the increase in overall e-marketing costs.

Content is king!

It’s frequently mentioned that marketing automation and email marketing radically reduce the workload of marketing and sales departments. This is of course true, but only if the automated communication and optimization tests have been implemented and carried out effectively.

Stages of communication with prospective customers.

Traditional email marketing typically involves preparing a promotional offer, scheduling it for a particular time period, and selecting the recipients. You can also use subscriber data to segment your list and personalize the offers. But the general idea is to deliver similar content to the majority of your prospective and existing customers.

If you wish to introduce automated communication, e.g. through GetResponse Autoresponders, you still face the challenge of preparing unique email content for recipients at each stage in the sales funnel.

So the tasks required in marketing automation aren’t all that different from the tasks of preparing your regular newsletters.

Pic. 2 - Sales funnel (default model)
Pic. 2 - Sales funnel (default model)

Many companies that use only marketing automation state that the fuel that drives sales is only partly related to the technology used; it is content that drives sales.

Preparing valuable content is the key to successful marketing automation:

  • Case studies of customers
  • Industry reports
  • Handbooks and e-books
  • Webinars for prospective customers
  • Useful blog posts for new customers
  • Follow-up emails based on your content marketing strategy

Instead of simply forwarding leads to the sales department, your program can be more effective if you identify customers at every stage of the sales funnel and map the right content to the right prospect at the right time.

In practice, the “content is king” maxim fits perfectly, as the content is responsible for generating customer interest and building strong relationships. Marketing automation is simply an intelligent way to distribute content.

But don’t go off the deep end.

If you’ve been sending the same promotional offer to all subscribers, a complex marketing automation system may not be the optimal solution for you.

Before investing in a system that won’t generate conversions unless you have knowledge and theoretical background, consider implementing the following email marketing steps:

  • Segment your existing contacts and leads based on the offers they have previously shown interest in (history of clicks).
  • Create 3-4 versions of your newsletter, each with different products or services designed for each customer segment.
  • Personalize your offers based on subscriber information on file (geo data, declarative data)
  • Implement dynamic content to maximize your click-thru rate (CTR).

Are you familiar with all of the concepts listed above? And are you already using them in your email marketing?

If so, it’s time to introduce autoresponders — the very first step toward marketing automation and newsletters sent in response to subscriber actions (email opened, conversion on a website, link clicked).

Does it have to be an either/or decision?

Email marketing or marketing automation: which to choose? Or should you do both?

According to 2012 DMA Response Rate Report findings, email marketing returns $28.50 for each $1 invested.

On the other hand, 69% of participants in the 2012 Lenskold study stated that ROI increased significantly when they implemented marketing automation.

Does this mean that emailing your database is an ancient and perhaps obsolete way of communicating?

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The most effective sales scenario is a dual strategy: traditional email broadcasts to your entire customer database, supplemented by automated emails sent in response to subscriber activity at various stages in the sales funnel.

To demonstrate, let’s make a quick calculation based on a few assumptions:

  • 250.000 = your current email database
  • 1,000,000 = monthly email volume, based on weekly broadcasts
  • 18.74% = average email open rates (based on a 2012 GetResponse report)
  • 4.53% = average CTR (based on a 2012 GetResponse report)
  • 1% = let’s assume this is your conversion rate

Monthly, you should see 187,400 opens and 45,300 clicks inside your newsletters. Theoretically, your email marketing campaigns should generate 10.000 sales.

Does it make sense to radically reduce the number of emails you send, settle for automated emails only, and lose all of these conversions?

Probably not.

Marketing automation earns significantly higher CTR and conversions. It works by sending emails only based on:

  • Subscriber activity (website visit, link clicked in an email)
  • Progression from one sales-funnel stage to another
  • Date-driven events (license expiration, warranty coming to an end)

If you rely on marketing automation only, you send significantly fewer emails than with newsletter broadcasts using email marketing.

Despite higher statistical rates, the end result (number of sales or conversions) may not necessarily be higher than those from email marketing.

Consequently, the optimal solution is simultaneously sending regular newsletters and implementing automation strategies. This way, you introduce new communication techniques without giving up on proven solutions.

How to plan your very first automation campaign

Follow these 6 steps:

  • Step 1: Prepare the materials you want to promote (e.g. an ebook describing how your service can help improve the effectiveness of advertising campaigns).
  • Step 2: Design a landing page to collect data from those who download the ebook, so you can start communicating with them (important!).
    Pic 3: A landing page from SiteSpect collecting data such as the name, email address, company name, phone number, website url, preferred form of contact (email/phone) from potential leads.
    Pic 3: A landing page from SiteSpect collecting data such as the name, email address, company name, phone number, website url, preferred form of contact (email/phone) from potential leads.
  • Step 3: Promote the landing page using SEO, PPC, Facebook ads, etc.
  • Step 4: Send an email to those who submit your form and include a link to download your ebook.
    Pic. 4 - Example of an email with a CTA encouraging to download the ebook sent by to users who filled in the form on their landing page.
    Pic. 4 - Example of an email with a CTA encouraging to download the ebook sent by to users who filled in the form on their landing page.
  • Step 5: Assign the collected email addresses to a campaign designed for them. The campaign should include sales communications for specific days in the lifetime of a prospective customer (followup messages, case studies based on customer experiences, links to videos).
    Pic. 5 - Planning the communication cycle with prospective customers using GetResponse Autoresponders.
    Pic. 5 - Planning the communication cycle with prospective customers using GetResponse Autoresponders.
  • Step 6: Prepare separate campaigns for prospects who are ready to purchase (sales opportunities) and for existing customers (retention activities).

It’s important to set up automation rules that enable you to move subscribers automatically from one campaign to another based on an event or action.

Pic. 6 - If a subscriber in campaign X clicks on the “place an order” link, automatically move him to campaign Y - i.e. automation with GetResponse.
Pic. 6 - If a subscriber in campaign X clicks on the “place an order” link, automatically move him to campaign Y - i.e. automation with GetResponse.

Of course, the information you have collected on your landing page also can be used for phone communication. Simply forward the data to your call center when the prospective customers are ready for contact with the sales department.

Define your goals then choose the right tool.

The implementation of email marketing and marketing automation is not a goal unto itself. Without proper planning and content preparation, neither solution brings the expected results.

When you’re deciding what’s right for your business, remember these questions:

  • How complicated is the decision-making and purchasing process for your product or service?
  • Do you see value in nurturing and maintaining relationships with prospects before forwarding their contact data to your sales department?
  • Are your customer profiles generally similar, or do you reach out to various industries and decisionmakers across multiple departments?
  • Do you have the knowledge and resources to generate unique, relevant content for each stage of your various sales funnels?

If you answered yes to most of these questions, you may be at the stage where traditional email marketing alone won’t bring the results you seek. It may be time to add marketing automation.

Remember that the key to success is to define your campaign goals before you choose a communication method.

Brought to you by GetResponse Email Marketing.

We hope this handbook has provided helpful insights about combining traditional email marketing with elements of marketing automation to reduce the time you invest in executing your campaigns and increase ROI.

GetResponse includes state-of-the-art tools for email marketing plus many of the capabilities of marketing automation. If you have questions, visit or contact our Customer Success Team.