David Ketchum
Jan 16, 2015

Marketing automation: What does 'awesome' look like?

Marketing automation is not yet mainstream in Asia, and becoming a modern marketer is hard work. David Ketchum, CEO of Current Asia, offers a six-point checklist every marketer should aspire to complete.

David Ketchum
David Ketchum

Marketers worldwide know that the dynamics of business have changed, and that the customer journey from awareness, to consideration, to purchase, to loyalty is no longer linear and manageable. They also increasingly use marketing technologies and platforms that can automate many of their processes and engage customers and prospects efficiently and effectively at scale.

In Asia, the marketing technology wave has not yet broken, but it is coming. Marketing automation is growing faster in Asia-Pacific than anywhere else in the world, up 51 per cent over the last four years. Software as a Service (SaaS) sales in this region is estimated to be growing at more than 20 per cent a year, with vendors such as Oracle and platforms such as LinkedIn Marketing Solutions reporting big jumps in usage and revenue.

Business practices that are on their way to being mainstream in Silicon Valley, London—and increasingly Australia—are only just emerging here Asia. Most marketers in Asia are deploying a small percentage of the tools and resources available, and those who do often use just a fraction of the capability these technologies and platforms offer. It’s like owning a Ferrari and using it to drive to the 7-11!

The phrase 'modern marketing' describes the systematic use of software, data-driven insights, and campaigns with compelling content to engage and track customers throughout the sales cycle.  One approach to becoming modern is to adopt bits-and-pieces for incremental success. It’s another thing entirely to be awesome and transform the way you do marketing. That requires more than just signing up for some software. It requires a comprehensive look at your people, processes, content and technologies. Only when all of the parts are brought together to work as a system can you recognise the quantum benefits of modern marketing.

So what does awesome look like?  Here’s a checklist of the elements for success in Asia. How many of these practices has your business adopted? And are they integrated into a scalable, efficient discipline that generates leads, drives sales, increases revenue per transaction, and retains customers?

1. Put the customer at the centre of your marketing strategy, not channels.

TV advertising is still dominant in Asia, but marketers are increasingly trying to attribute lead generation and sales to customer personas and behaviours, rather than simply to response rates in specific media. Customers have cross-channel relationships with brands at different times and in different stages of the sales cycle, and the right message at the right place at the right time is what matters.

2. Allocate time, effort and budget to customer engagement and interaction, not just acquisition and monetization.

There is lots of evidence that it is less expensive to retain and grow a customer than to acquire a new one, and the value—especially using social media—of turning your customers into evangelists is clear. Asia has a long tradition of mixing personal and business activities to build relationships, and that approach remains as valid online as offline.

3. Use real time feedback to generate insights and facilitate true dialogue with customers.

Too many marketers spit out reports that are mostly intended to document or justify their activities. Data on interactivity, content and response jumps in value when it is used to personalise communications, react more swiftly, and maximise the value of cross-channel engagement. This is not difficult to set up but challenging to actually do, especially as many Asian marketers are fragmented and don’t generate enough data to draw meaningful conclusions at this stage in the market’s development.

4. The marketing technology 'stack' must all work together and match the behaviours of your customers throughout the sales cycle.

You may well work with different vendors to pull together the functionality that you need, but integration—both technical and campaign—is key. For example, data from search and display advertising should be used to shape your content strategy. Salesforce.com or other CRM systems should be integrated with outbound messaging. E-mail should be used as a trigger for response as well as a broadcast mechanism. You’ll need technologies that are equipped not only to handle Asian languages, but also the way customers interact on the web and mobile.

5. There must be a robust process between marketing and sales within your organisation.

For example, a clear, shared definition of a sales-qualified lead (SQL) is essential, or else marketing will expend resources to produce outcomes that sales does not value. Similarly, automation does not replace personalised followup. In some cases, there is a frictionless path from engagement through to an e-commerce sale. But more often than not (especially in B2B) the true value of automation is optimising the value of the sales teams’ time. Today in Asia, Sales still gets a lot of the 'last mile' credit for driving revenue. But in today’s increasingly iPhone/Alibaba/Google/Baidu-dominated world, that’s changing. The process works best when the two teams have a shared KPI of generating and closing leads. 

6. Compelling campaign content is essential.

It’s a cliché, but it’s true. Marketers often set up the right processes and technology, and then put rubbish into the machine: the ensuing results are not a surprise. Content is like uranium in a nuclear reactor: it contains customer activation potential that must be released consistently to generate energy. 

It’s OK to not be awesome—for now. Most companies are on a journey to move from campaign-focused digital marketing to becoming true digital businesses. This process is hard, expensive, and time-consuming.

To get to awesome, marketing departments must change the way they operate, secure significant funding and staff resources from management, and demonstrate they can drive sales and increase profitability. This track record cannot be built overnight, and the whole transformation is hard, as it requires an occasionally mystifying combination of people, processes, content and technologies. In addition, there are numerous sticking points along the way: campaigns that fail, opportunities lost, customer complaints, technology glitches, privacy concerns and dozens more obstacles need to be vaulted. Perseverance pays off, however, with stronger competitive advantage, demand generation, and business results that earn modern marketers the position they deserve in their organisations.

David Ketchum is CEO of Current Asia


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