Updated: May 29, 2019
Email marketing and marketing automation are terms that are used somewhat interchangeably, causing confusion for small businesses who are trying to decide which solution they need. This confusion stems from the fact that both solutions are based on using email as a primary way to communicate with your leads in the hope that some leads will convert into customers. In addition, many email marketing platforms are adding marketing automation features, closing the gap between the two solutions, but making it more difficult for small businesses to decide.
But in reality, the terms marketing automation and email marketing are not interchangeable and these products are designed to do different jobs.
Small business owners know they need to do something proactive with their inbound leads in order to increase the return on investment they make to attract these leads. The question is which one is the right solution for their needs? For some businesses, they will absolutely need marketing automation. For others, email marketing will be sufficient.
It’s important to understand the difference between email marketing and marketing automation and when you may want one solution over the other.
Is Email Marketing Enough?
Most small businesses understand the value of communicating with their prospects and customers. When you regularly provide educational information, special offers or news, you build trust and strengthen your relationship with people on your list.
But the challenge of email marketing is that everyone on your list receives the same content, treating all people on your list the same. Even if you use an auto-responder series of emails that are timed based on the person’s last action, such as signing up for your list, the content is generic and not personalized to their needs.
Email marketing is best used for:
- Blog post distribution
- Special promotions
- Webinar invitations
- Series of timed emails after subscribers opt-in to your list
So although using email marketing to communicate to your subscribers works just fine, if you want to tailor your emails based on actions people take using content-based marketing triggers, it becomes nearly impossible without a lot of manual intervention.
What is marketing automation?
Marketing automation, sometimes also referred to as funnel marketing, is software that automates marketing processes to better communicate with your target audience across multiple channels and build long term relationships. It gives you the tools to manage, measure and optimize your marketing funnel.
As more businesses are employing inbound marketing to attract higher quality leads, marketing automation has become an important process to properly nurture these leads and turn them into customers.
Being able to customize your communication based on the actions someone takes, such as sign up for your list, download an eBook, take a quiz or fill out a form, enables you to stay engaged and visible to today’s buyers.
The demand for marketing automation software is getting stronger because businesses need better data to understand what the buyer needs so they can deliver it to them at the right time. With the greater demand comes more options, many targeting the small business.
How does marketing automation differ from email marketing?
Although marketing automation is based on email as the primary means of communication, a marketing automation system adds the following features on top of the email distribution platform to enable you to:
- Build out campaign specific landing pages and forms
- Track your website visitors
- Capture, score and nurture your leads
- Automate marketing activities based on marketing triggers
- Analyze and report your results
- Built in or integrated CRM capability
Do you need marketing automation?
Marketing automation platforms take your email communications further. When using inbound marketing, your goal is to attract unique visitors, turn them into leads and then nurture them into customers.
And this process takes content that satisfies the needs of the customer depending on where they are in the buying cycle.
- Awareness – whitepapers, guides, ebooks, checklists, templates and videos
- Consideration – free webinars, case studies, free samples, catalogs, buyer’s guides and FAQs
- Decision – complimentary assessment, estimates or quotes, demo, free trial
To deliver the right content to your lead at the right time, you need to address your buyer’s needs through a series of emails based on the actions they have taken. Creating this email series, or marketing funnel, requires solid planning and execution because the buying process is no longer in your control.
Which solution should you choose – email marketing or marketing automation?
It depends. It’s not one solution or the other. It’s based on what your business needs, not what the software can do.
There are many marketing automation solutions available and choosing the right one for your business will take some time and research. Your solution will be based on your needs, budget and resources.
The good news is that there is now a class of marketing automation solutions that are targeted at the small business that are simple to use and budget friendly. If you are just getting started I would recommend checking out these three. The links go to reviews on each:
Here is a post on ActiveCampaign vs. ConvertKit that is worth a read. Expect to pay $50 to $100 per month for these solutions based on the number of subscribers.
For more education on marketing automation, check out Drip/Leadpages free ‘school’ for marketing automation knowledge, with over 20,000 words spread across 5 chapters featuring infographics, podcasts and more.
Small businesses should take the time to choose the right solution that works for them now and grows as the business grows. If you are using inbound marketing to attract your ideal client, you should consider a marketing automation solution. If you are a small business that just wants to communicate with their customers on a regular basis, then a traditional email service provider like MailChimp will do the trick.
What type of email marketing or marketing automation is in your marketing plan for the next year?