The Power of Marketing Automation Templates

The Power of Marketing Automation Templates

March 2019 | Marketing Automation

Coding an email is easy, building a workflow to send that email is hard. Yet, many marketers ignore campaign templates and the reporting benefits they bring.

It's not a new problem. Marketers buy a fancy new marketing automation system and then proceed to use it to send a lot of emails. The marketing automation vendor is happy; they have another customer. The marketer is happy; they have a powerful and flexible tool to send their email campaigns. They know it can do a lot more than just email, but that other stuff looks complicated so they leave it to a later date that never comes.

This leaves one of the marketing department's most expensive assets sitting there being wasted, and everyone knows it. The CMO will be screaming to justify their technology investment through lead scoring and nurture campaigns, without realising that actually developing and building these things is beyond the skill of the typical marketer. A data analyst or an IT administrator might have the relevant skills, but they typically lack the necessary marketing knowledge or even the aptitude for acquiring it. This is where a good marketing ops team or agencies such as CRMT come in, bridging the gap between marketing knowledge and technical savvy. Marketing Automation has been around a long time, but there is still a shortage of people capable of using the leading platforms to their full potential.

The Skills Gap

The underlying reasons are hardly rocket science. Sending an email is easy, building a workflow to automate that email is hard. Any trained developer can code a marketing email, but building a template that can be adapted by a marketing user without breaking is exceptionally difficult and requires a lot of design compromises. It took Oracle nearly a decade to deliver usable templating capabilities for Eloqua, and there are plenty of limitations in what the platform can be used for without calling upon a developer.

Templates are an essential part of any marketing automation platform, yet they are vastly underutilised. Most organisations have some form of email template, if only to ensure that branding and legal information matches corporate guidelines. The current trend is for these templates to be modular, with designers specifying a wide range of potential layout variations that can be mixed and matched to ensure flexibility, whilst guaranteeing that the end result stays on brand. A lot of energy has been invested over the years in trying to make template builders both simple and bulletproof regardless of what the user does, but no one has quite managed it, although some tools have come close by enforcing strict limits on what elements of the template can be edited and what can be entered into editable sections. As a result, many marketing departments still outsource all email creation to external agencies or internal teams containing specialist developers. These specialists often have some marketing automation skills, but are typically developers rather than marketing automation specialists. The resulting team have enough knowledge to build a basic workflow, but lack the data skills or the technology expertise of a marketing ops team. Anything more complicated than a standard email campaign requires calling in a marketing automation specialist from marketing operations or an outside agency.

Avoiding Mistakes

Yet, it doesn't have to be this way. Most marketers understand the need for email and web templates, often because they're forced on them by brand. However, it is surprising how many marketing automation users neglect to maintain campaign workflow templates. This is the fault of Marketing Operations teams who fail to realise how difficult a marketer or developer finds building a multi-touch email campaign with the right audience selections and reporting configuration. There is just too much to consider unless you have a good understanding of data and are doing it every day for an extended period of time. It is only when confused marketing automation users start sending emails to the wrong people that action is taken to solve the problem, by simplifying contact database structures and templating lists or campaign workflows. Even then, the remedial action is merely blocking individual users from emailing specific contacts they shouldn’t be touching, which is fine for excluding opted-out or out of region lists but not for ensuring the right emailable group is selected for the right campaign.

Instead, providing documentation on the correct audience selections should be sufficient to avoid mistakes in many cases. On top of that, publishing list or segment templates with the required contact exclusions built-in is essential. All this requires close monitoring, particularly for new users or external agencies who might not be familiar with your organisation's database setup. Even experienced Marketing Automation Consultants struggle with building lists, because every database is different and the options and exclusions used by one company will be very different from those used by another company – even if they're direct competitors using the same tools. The only way to overcome this is through actually using or analysing a database in detail until you've got a clear idea of the available fields and the number of contacts available for use. Distributing database counts for typical campaign selections goes a long way to avoiding errors in audience selection.

Reporting Efficiencies

Even more essential are campaign or program templates, particularly in Marketo and Eloqua where all but the most basic of email blasts necessitate using their workflow tools. It's not just email campaigns. Form submissions and event list uploads generally require running the affected contacts through a workflow to ensure the correct data flagging and campaign associations are made for reporting purposes, and to ensure that leads are followed-up correctly. Marketing Ops will have set guidelines about what needs to happen, and will generally try to automate as much as possible. However, there are limits to what can be derived from the typical form submission or import file without further configuration.

Analytics and proving ROI is a top priority for CMOs, and this starts with ensuring that the Marketing Automation or CRM configuration required to track campaign responses is actually in place for all activity. This can be automated to a degree, but ultimately specifying the correct campaign and sources for leads to be recorded against requires manual entry somewhere along the line, be that in the links pushed to your prospects or in the lead capture process after they clicked that link. Templates are a crucial mechanism for ensuring that tracking for all key campaign conversion points has been considered and that all the right information will be set. If it's in the workflow template, then users will configure it if relevant. If it's not relevant, it can be ignored or removed when the template is used to build a campaign.

Knowledge Transfer

In the end, though, even the best templates in the world are only useful, if the people working with them know how to configure them. No one likes having to wade through documentation or endless training sessions about seemingly trivial things, but this is the only way to ensure that marketing automation users know what templates they should be using to build campaigns and how they should be used. When introducing users to your tech stack, it is important to walk-through how you use each tool and provide guidelines rather than relying purely on the vendor's materials. Not only does this make the training and the processes you're instructing much more relevant, but it also provides context around what the options they need to configure actually mean in your business. That, ultimately, is the most important thing. Nobody knows everything, so by pre-configuring as much as possible, templates allow users to focus on the elements that actually need to change for each campaign. With sufficient experience, this allows your templates to become a strategic benefit, granting a greater understanding of what each configurable option does and how it can be adjusted to maximise campaign results.

Written by
Marketing Operations Consultant and Solutions Architect at CRMT Digital specialising in marketing technology architecture. Advisor on marketing effectiveness and martech optimisation.