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How to get started in marketing automation

If you’ve been around the marketing world in the last decade you’ve likely come across the term marketing automation.

But, because of the high cost of entry for software and specialized skills needed, many marketers aren’t able to invest in learning about how marketing automation can help them achieve their goals.

In this post we’ll look at what marketing automation is, how it can benefit you and ways that you can get started – even if you don’t have a big budget or a lot of knowledge.

What is marketing automation

Marketing automation is a set of strategies and tactics that are designed to offer a more personalized experience for the end-user while saving marketers time and money.

Usually, marketing automation requires a software tool that allows marketers to automate tasks and learn more about their audience.

The most common tactic associated with marketing automation is email, but it can also be used for a variety of marketing tactics.

Here’s a common example of a marketing automation tactic.

Many brands use premium content, such as an e-book or an infographic, as a means of deepening engagement and gathering leads from their audience.

It’s a good tactic, but you need to have a means of:

  • Gathering information about people who sign up
  • Creating an automated e-mail chain that provides users with their piece of premium content after they sign up

That’s where marketing automation comes in.

A marketing automation tool can help you accomplish both tasks while also providing what you need for learning more about your audience.

This is just one example, though. Marketing automation can be used for an almost infinite number of tasks related to how users interact with your brand.

Why marketing automation should matter to you

Marketing automation is an essential tool for learning more about your audience.

A well-designed marketing automation program can tell you who is taking key actions on your site and then serve content that will be relevant to them.

If you work at a company that has separate sales and marketing departments, a marketing automation tool can be particularly essential.

Your marketing automation software can help qualify prospects that can then be passed on to the sales team.

What does marketing automation look like

Marketing automation is essential for segmentation.

It allows you to divide up your audience by the actions they take on your website, allowing you to focus in on those that are going to matter most for your goals.

To take one example: Let’s say you work at a software as a service company that wants to identify the visitors to your website who are most likely to purchase a subscription.

You might segment your audience by whether or not they have visited key pages on your site that indicate their interest, such as the pricing page.

Then you can serve them with content that will nurture them further along the path toward conversion.

The problem with marketing automation

The problem with marketing automation is that it’s difficult to start doing it from scratch.

Marketing automation software is expensive and usually requires a subscription. That means the initial commitment is a big one – especially for an organization which has never previously dabbled in it.

The skillset is also somewhat specialized. If you don’t have an employee who’s especially keen to learn or the ability to teach them, then you’ll need to hire somebody. That’s another high barrier for organizations that have never worked in marketing automation before.

Ways to get started in marketing automation

Getting going with marketing automation isn’t easy, but here are a few ways you can dip your toes in.

Use a free tool

There are free tools available that, while they may not be as powerful as paid subscription tools, can still be a useful entry point for deciding if marketing automation is right for you.

MailChimp, for example, offers many marketing automation features.

If you’re using MailChimp for its most common feature – sending out emails – start to experiment with the marketing automation tools.

Experiment with premium content

Premium content is a great gateway into the world of marketing automation.

As mentioned above, it’s ideal for attracting new audiences, engaging them and capturing their information – all goals of marketing automation.

Consider creating an e-book, guide or infographic. Then, ask your audience to fill out a form and set up an email chain so that users can opt in to receiving the piece of content.


You’ve just set up your first marketing automation campaign.

See who signs up for your piece of content and reach out to anyone who might be interested.

Get a demo

Because marketing automation software tools are so expensive, the companies that provide them have an incentive to provide a personalized sales experience.

As a result, many companies will offer potential customers a one-on-one demo of how their tool is used.


The barrier to entry for getting your organization involved in marketing automation doesn’t need to be high.

Use one of the above tactics to get started with building your marketing automation strategy today.

Mark Brownlee is a digital marketing strategist in Ottawa, Canada.

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