Marketing Time Suckers and the Best Ways to Automate Them

Marketing technology (or martech) has been growing at an exceptionally fast rate since it first started to become more prominent in the early 2010s. In fact, the number of available martech solutions reached 8,000 in 2020, which represents an increase of 5,233% from the year 2011, according to What’s the benefit of all of these solutions? According to an infographic from Invesp, 80% of marketing automation users saw an increase in their number of leads, and 77% increased their conversions. Additionally, 91% found these solutions “very important” to the success of their digital marketing campaigns, and 74% said the biggest benefit was this technology’s ability to save them time.

Of course, everyone loves the idea of making their job easier and saving time on tasks they would rather not be doing when they could be focusing on other things. So, to help you benefit from this martech boom and find ways to eliminate some of your more time-consuming responsibilities, PM360 asked 10 experts:

  • As a marketer, what task, role, job, or area of marketing do you feel takes up too much of your time and wish could be condensed or made easier? Have you had any success in reducing the time it takes to accomplish this? What advice can you provide to someone who is looking to do the same?
  • Has marketing automation technology played a role in helping you to reduce any tasks that would normally suck up your time? If so, what areas has this type of technology proved to be the most beneficial to you? Can you offer any examples of what tech solutions have worked best for you and the results you have seen?
  • Have you found any limitations in marketing automation technology that have actually resulted in not as much time saved as you would have hoped? What areas of marketing do you feel are not suited for automation or still require better solutions? How do you determine what is best to automate and what still requires a human touch?
  • What tools or programs have proven to be the must-haves in your martech stack for eliminating wasted time? With new tools constantly emerging, how do you evaluate which are worth your time?

Rodney Spady

The area of marketing that takes up too much of my time is the annual operating planning process, particularly regarding digital and omnichannel planning. The lack of a solid Customer Blueprint (customer journeys, experience architecture, channel mix, and most importantly, a solid measurement framework) is usually the reason for the time gap.

I find it’s very effective to provide a cross functional team with an omnichannel and digital playbook that offers a step-by-step guide to develop an effective customer blueprint providing each step’s benefits, what function(s) is responsible and who needs to be involved, and the required templates. However, without solid marketing automation technology, even the best blueprints are nothing more than nice PowerPoint slides. In my career, I have mostly utilized Salesforce Marketing Cloud (SFMC) and Adobe Marketing Cloud.

A Marketing Automation Success Story

For example, I was tasked to evolve and accelerate a company’s digital strategies, technologies, and operations through 2021 and beyond. After evaluating the annual brand planning process, I developed and inserted the crucial step of the brand engagement strategy. This strategy, now delivered through a digital and omnichannel blueprint, clearly establishes a brand’s objectives, customer segments, content strategy, customer journey, and channel plan, all laddering up to a measurement framework that allows brands to evaluate and optimize the success of ad campaigns.

Concurrently, I evaluated the technology stack. One of the biggest opportunities uncovered was around data and analytics. While the company had SFMC established, it was not being used to aggregate and report on brand data. I spearheaded an initiative to pilot Salesforce’s Datorama, to shift away from the manual collection and interpretation of data toward a model of data automation and real-time reporting for web, email, and media analytics. The initiative launched in January 2021 and had immediate success.

Jane Portman

Strategic preparation in marketing can take a long amount of time and become overly complex. And the time needed from strategy development to deployment can take even longer. Simplifying this process overall to meet fewer goals can help streamline and reduce “clutter.” This can also aid in efficiency and lead to a clearer communication strategy to the customer/consumer.

To combat this, we use technology to reduce production resource time leading to more agile ways of working and reduced timelines. An example is leveraging platforms such as Knack, Merkle CMS (Taxi), and Adobe Experience Manager (AEP) for email template control. Workflow technologies such as Workfront remove processes out of internal email to ensure things are efficient.

Things to Consider When Building a Tech Stack

Be mindful that implementing new technology often takes more time than anticipated. When building out a tech stack to drive omnichannel goals, platforms continue to make solutions too siloed. Ideally, try to leverage the whole stack in one location. Journey automation is also vital. Consider tools such as Adobe Journey Optimizer, Interaction Studio, and Journey Builder & Automation Studio in Salesforce Marketing Cloud.

In addition to simplifying processes and implementing a tech stack, organizations need to have access to behavioral data. Data limitations will create difficulties in maintaining or creating automation, and organizations need to prioritize and separate quality control from automation. Finally, it is important to maintain a human touch to see things a computer program may not catch. This is especially important in regulated industries.

Kendra Fanara

Consumer marketing is critical for our brand awareness and patient experience. We put a lot of effort into strategic planning and creative work with our agency partners, but the execution side of our marketing operations have not been automated nor agile.

Our marketing operations leveraged the usual technologies and processes, but we felt there was a lot of room for improvement due to long lead times with our email service provider (ESP), static email content, basic segmentation, and limited visibility into marketing performance. While our team was working extra hard to fill gaps, consumers were not always receiving key information at critical moments of their journey as a patient, caregiver, or prospective patient.

Discovering a New Tool for Improving the Patient Journey

We scanned the market for innovative solutions and came across Courier Health, an up-and-coming technology company focused on providing life sciences companies with better visibility and control over the patient journey. Part of Courier Health’s solution includes marketing automation that we decided to test with one of our brands.

With Courier Health, we can deliver tailored content per audience, with dynamic segmentation and automatic follow-up messages based on a patient’s profile or behavior (e.g., opens or clicks). We also have visibility into how consumers are moving through each step of the journey, including measurement metrics that account for interactions with other key components of our brand experience, such as patient services.

This marketing automation has freed up our team to spend more time on strategic planning, deeper analysis of engagement, ideating on advanced creative, iterating test ideas, and optimizing the consumer experience. The automation also allows us to better integrate the marketing with patient services to ensure we are delivering a seamless and compliant patient experience.

Shyam Desai

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) will always be a critical channel on any media plan, as it’s the gateway path for target audiences to visit a brand/product website for more information and/or to take a desired action. Advertisers face a difficult task in 2022. With clients/brands experiencing diminishing advertising budgets and a frequently changing landscape due to COVID-19, agencies are being challenged to reach the most qualified audiences in more efficient ways than ever before. This is the particular obstacle that SEM automation has been designed to combat.

Two Strategies to Utilize SEM Automation

SEM automation leverages the machine learning aspects of Google and Microsoft Bing to automatically adjust keyword investment and bids to align against a particular goal metric. For new-to-market brands, or for keywords that are branded in nature, the goal may be to maximize awareness. A target impression share automation strategy will deliver ads at the desired frequency (i.e., against 100% of searches) at the lowest possible cost per click level.

For brands looking to encourage particular on-site behaviors (i.e., registration), which serve as markers for offline actions (i.e., prescription), a conversion-based strategy is the most effective automation strategy. Advertisers can either leverage the search engines to maximize on-site conversions or specifically maximize conversions at a unique cost per acquisition level.

No matter what approach marketers take, SEM automation has proven to provide positive results in several executions and make a positive impact on workloads for SEM teams that were previously hamstrung by the time it took to implement manual optimizations on a daily/weekly/monthly basis. A human element towards optimizations continues to be needed, but leveraging machine learning has become the new norm and will only become more effective with time and learned behaviors.

Nicholas Lucente

One of the most impactful and versatile tools in my marketing automation tech stack has been a customer data platform (CDP). A CDP helps to aggregate and organize your custom data to be used in tandem with your ad tech, website, and relationship marketing programs so that you can deliver the right message to the right audience at the right moment in the journey. With the right CDP, you can save time and money by:

  • Automating some of the manual processes of segmentation, ad targeting, and business rule generation
  • Decreasing time spent on manually orchestrating customer journeys and touchpoints
  • Lessening your reliance on purchasing third-party data sources
  • Future proofing against changes to cookies and data usage for ad targeting

Picking the Right CDP for You

I’ve worked with several CDPs, including Tealium, LiveRamp, and Adobe, and each have their strengths, so it will be up to your own personal evaluation to see which partner best suits the needs of your business.

CDPs are also just one part of a robust martech stack. With the volume of new tools emerging, it can be overwhelming to determine what is truly worth your time. I always anchor back to my strategy, business goals, and the challenges I’m trying to solve for our customers. From there I evaluate what marketing activities I’m spending a disproportionate time on and how valuable it would be for me to free up that time. Lastly, I’ve made it a standard practice to hear from people that have direct experience with the technology I’m evaluating so that I can get a better sense of whether or not it will be a fit for me.

James Anderson

Content continues to be an area in marketing technology that needs attention as omnichannel engagement requires multiple forms of content. Untagged, content cannot be reused as easily or leveraged fully by AI and other advanced data analytics models for performance measurement.

Start by creating a standardized categorization hierarchy, retroactively tag all active existing content, and then tag new content moving forward. As important, companies and the systems they deploy must ensure these tags can be used in analysis and by AI systems as a feedback loop and included in next-best-action suggestions and other outputs. Automating the tagging process can bring great value to commercial operations.

Tagged content is more readily re-usable across channels and can be tracked to indicate what works and what does not. For instance, tagged email subject lines and messages provide inputs that AI systems can analyze to offer valuable commercial insights on the right timing or phrasing for individual HCPs. The key is to invest in a content management system that can be integrated with external systems as well as internal data warehouses and intelligence engines.

The Advantage of AI Tools

AI and machine learning tools drive productivity. Intelligence engines that do the heavy lifting of analyzing mountains of customer data to uncover reliable next-best-action suggestions save companies at least five hours per month per team member. Plus, instead of spending precious time searching for the right data to inform customer engagement decisions, employees jump right to execution.

There’s one caveat: trust. The only way sales and marketing teams will use these AI systems is if they trust the outputs. Users want contextual explanations about why a suggestion is made to counter the “black box” frustration of many outdated next-best-action solutions. It fosters greater user confidence and adoption.

Jim Ruiz

Whenever we hear the term “marketing automation,” it implies that life just got simpler. But for whom, the customer or the marketer? The primary beneficiaries of marketing automation are the end users of the platform and the customers who have more streamlined, personalized experiences delivered to them. A well-executed campaign should feel effortless to the customer on the surface.

For the marketer, however, the development process may feel anything but effortless, requiring much time and energy to strategize and build. Nevertheless, the payoff is worth it if we recognize some inherent and applied limitations, starting with the fact that it isn’t a “set it and forget it” tool. For example:

  • Not all platforms’ “drag and drop” interfaces are the same. Despite similarities, there is a nuanced range of capabilities that require training and continuing education for effective use. Not knowing the nuance of each platform can create limitations.
  • Platforms are modular in nature. Experiences can be limited by how they are licensed.
  • Developers may need to build and maintain custom APIs to get the data to flow in (near) real time across a legacy ecosystem, especially with third-party platforms. Custom work can take the “automate” out of automation.
  • A platform is only as good as the modular content that gets deployed to meet customer needs in a timely way.
  • Campaigns deployed require ongoing optimization to get the benefit. Automated tools such as real-time content optimization with A/B testing can help, but it still requires active management.

Marketing automation can save time for marketers when set up correctly, but that’s not really its intended purpose. Rather, it empowers marketers to provide customers with an authentic, human touch through omnichannel experiences flowing seamlessly across their preferred channels and devices.

Graham Johnson

When you are just getting started, it’s best to not overthink it. Focus on the mundane and repetitive administrative tasks that easily lend themselves to automation.

We use automation to pass information from one system to the next system so it doesn’t have to be re-keyed. We automatically create folders on digital asset management systems (DAMs) with appropriate folder structures. We create and name blank InDesign documents built to submitted specs. We spool up hosting environments to support specific tasks such as routing or quality assurance.

Automation offloads administrative tasks that no one misses—helping to retain talent, speed up delivery, and reduce errors.

An Area of Automation That Can Be Improved

In healthcare marketing, towards the end of the creative development, quality control ensures that we have made specific adjustments based on Medical Legal Regulatory (MLR) feedback or, in many cases, to ensure that nothing has changed at all. That automation is based upon a reference. It might sound obvious, but automation could amplify errors in that reference document throughout the production process.

It’s just one example, but one that illustrates you need an appropriate level of governance with automation efforts. It requires detailed analysis and thoughtful measures to set up automation and a healthy dose of human analysis to ensure you are reliably getting the expected results.

Jeanine Koch

In one word, the biggest time suck is MEETINGS! In a post-COVID world, where remote and hybrid working situations have become the norm, we’ve lost the ability to employ the artful hallway conversation, desk drop-by, or lunch discussion. A lot of important topics and tasks that were tackled personally and directly are now the subject of formal meetings. This leaves less uninterrupted time to create, develop, and produce plans, forecasts, materials, etc.

At AT, we’ve been creating guidelines for smarter meetings. One of these is a standing “no meeting” period the same afternoon each week, giving all employees a clear block of time for attacking a challenge or accomplishing a task. We’re also trying to consolidate all internal meetings to either the beginning or end of each work day, and reducing standard 30- and 60-minute calls to 20 or 50 minutes. These simple measures help everyone spend their time more wisely and provide transition periods between meetings.

Clarity in a Remote Environment

To enhance the productivity of meetings, we’ve introduced the POP Model (Purpose, Objective, and Process) for all invitations and agendas. This fosters a thoughtful approach to each meeting, leading to greater efficiency and better outcomes. Bonus: sometimes just clearly identifying the purpose and objective of a meeting can help you to see another way to get what you need.

Finally, in a remote working environment, everyone feels the need to give a heads-up or ask for permission to talk with someone, whereas in the office we would simply drop in. So an obvious but important reminder: even though colleagues may not physically be at the office, they are often just as accessible as if they were. Sometimes a quick phone call or video chat is still the best and quickest tool for success.

Gregory T. Simpson

In terms of our efforts in this area, Saama leverages online media monitoring marketing automation technology that emphasizes analytics and focused engagement, enabling us to track and obtain news and social coverage on-demand, enhancing our brand management abilities and eliminating labor and time-intensive manual database searches. And while not specifically related to marketing automation, we use a cloud-based work operating management system to help reduce communication and hand-off complexities commonly associated with our hybrid resource approach to marketing that pairs a core in-house team of experts coupled with a network of external agencies, freelancers, and contractors.

Common Limitations of Marketing Automation

Any marketers considering marketing automation should avoid adopting too many individual point solutions in the hopes of alleviating time pressures and constraints, especially for smaller teams and limited budgets. Multiple solutions can create additional work as the marketing team struggles to get other company divisions to use the solutions appropriately. As a result, such solutions often need to be integrated into existing systems, and months can pass before value is realized.

Some marketing automation technologies can be powerful, but also pose significant challenges in terms of reporting and extracting insights. If a platform requires multiple clicks and granular familiarity to optimize use, their value diminishes significantly. Additionally, certain areas of marketing still require a human touch to overcome automation limitations. When a company receives multiple emails from a variety of people at a vendor company, these seemingly hyper-personalized solicitations become apparent for what they are—templated communications that have pulled recipient names from corporate blogs and website assets—and they lose credibility. Finally, fully automated marketing chatbots are often not as intuitive as needed and frequently there is no one staffing the chat, eliminating the ability to connect live for further assistance.


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