Email Marketing vs. Marketing Automation [Explained]

Communications Strategy // Email is an important component of any modern marketing strategy, but email marketing on its own can only do so much. We're breaking down the differences between email marketing and marketing automation.

Gabrielle Wathen
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A well-informed association communications strategy requires a comprehensive understanding of the differences between old-school email marketing and modern marketing automation. If you need help wrapping your head around the nuances of these technologies, you’re not alone–and you’ve come to the right place for clarity.

Did you know that 87 percent of associations consider marketing automation an important component of their current strategy? 

Yet, according to Naylor’s 2019 Association Communications Benchmarking Study, associations are increasingly struggling to effectively leverage technology like email marketing and marketing automation to deliver the customized experience members (especially younger generations) have come to expect, noting that:

  • Less than 20% feel they are effectively leveraging their career center, content management system, learning management system or marketing automation system to deliver a customized member experience
  • 3 out of 5 respondents feel they could improve their member engagement with their communications by improving their ability to customize for different subgroups
  • Nearly half (44%) of respondents agreed with the statement: “We could do a better job of promoting our communications as a member benefit”—up from 41% who felt this way in 2018

These stats reveal opportunities, and the need for some additional knowledge.

Visual learner? For maximum understanding of the differences between email marketing and marketing automation, be sure to read on and watch our featured video below (which breaks this all down in a super simplistic way).

Achieve Your Association’s Goals Through Member Engagement

You most likely use email marketing to 1) communicate with your members, and 2) engage your members. Those are great goals, but with advances in technology, standard email marketing is no longer the best or most efficient way to meet those goals.

With marketing automation, your association can track engagement on a deeper level, allowing you to set more targeted goals. 

Here’s the thing: Email is an important component of any modern marketing strategy. But, email marketing on its own can only do so much. What it does, it does…fine. It’s limited, though.

Let me explain. If you wear glasses, you’ll recognize the situation I’m about to describe: You go to the eye doctor for the first time and get your glasses or contacts. You walk out the door, and for the first time, you realize that the trees have leaves! (Or what your mom’s face actually looks like, or that you have ten toes, not nine…whatever your experience, you know the feeling).

Trying to look at your members’ engagement using email marketing is like seeing the world without glasses. Put glasses on (AKA marketing automation), and you can see the bark, the leaves, and the squirrel dropping acorns on your head. Truly, it’s a glorious sight.

Email marketing and the metrics that come with the platform are meant for “batch and blast” communications. You’re sending the same thing to the same people at the same time. In a sense, you’re gazing out at the forest, but all you see is a group of blurry subscribers. Sure, you can personalize the emails by inserting their names, but that’s about it.

Marketing automation, on the other hand, is a way to look comprehensively at your audience’s behavior, from email to website to social media, and send them relevant, personalized content based on their demonstrated interests. You’re seeing the leaves in all their detail and color.

Our research reveals that associations’ top marketing automation goals are:

  • Increase membership renewals/retention
  • Increase event registration
  • Deepen member intimacy due to personalization
  • New member recruitment
  • Cross-sell and upsell products and services
  • Reduce staff costs via efficiencies

When asked what goals they hoped to achieve through the use of marketing automation, respondents listed member renewal/retention as a top priority.

Marketing Automation Gets RESULTS

According to the Epsilon Email Institute:

  • Automated email messages generate a 70.5% higher open rate and a 152% higher click-through rate than standard marketing messages

But here’s where you see improvement: businesses who use marketing automation to nurture prospects experience a 451 percent increase in qualified leads. And there’s more where that came from:

  • The Florida Association of Insurance Agents reported a 201% increase in email engagement after adopting marketing automation
  • The Transportation Intermediaries Association reports a 32% increase in revenue

And according to the 2019 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report:

  • 55% of associations use marketing automation to send personalized email and content, up six points from 2018
  • Associations with lower renewal rates (<80%) are significantly more likely to use automation to send personalized email and content (66% vs. 53%)

Importance of personalization in email - infographic

When you use marketing automation, you can hyper-segment your lists based on what subscribers are interested in – which shows great results in terms open and click rates. 

Email Marketing vs. Marketing Automation: Why Marketing Automation Wins

Because it’s harder than ever to get your members’ attention, you need to make sure you’re using the right tools for engagement. You need engagement tools that are responsive, reaching your audience at the time they’ll be most likely to open them.

1. Reach Your Audience with the Right Content

Email Marketing Creates Background Noise

Personalized experience is key to engagement. Although email marketing can track whether members clicked on certain links, it’s not going to build a profile for individuals or lead them into a new campaign based on their interests. You need insight into what your members want to read in order to send it to them. Otherwise, it’s like throwing a dart without your glasses on and hoping it hits the bulls-eye.

Marketing Automation Creates Relevancy

With marketing automation, you have the ability send relevant and personalized content, segment your audience, and deliver the content individual subscribers want and need. You’re not just popping their name into an email – you’re actually sending them content that they want to read. And how do you know that? Marketing automation is tracking their interests for you.  

Resource: Your Guide to Effective, Not Annoying, Marketing Personalization 

2. Take the Next Step 

Email Marketing Leaves You Hanging 

Email marketing can’t show you a full picture of what your members and prospects are doing/engaging-with. Sure, you know how many emails they opened and what they clicked on, but where did they go after that?  

Marketing Automation Is Comprehensive 

Marketing automation builds not only on email interactions, but you can also see what pages members have visited on your website, if and when they’ve shared/interacted/posted on your online community, and if you’ve integrated social media, you can see their interactions with you on there, as well. You’ll have the inside scoop into their web activity, as it relates to you, across platforms.  

 Resource: Web Tracking is Your Marketing Automation Advantage

3. Understand Why You’re Doing What You’re Doing

Email Marketing Isn’t Quite Sure 

I’m sure we can all agree that there are certain times we’re more likely to open our emails. But I’m sure we can’t agree on when that time is. That’s different for everyone, and it can depend on your schedule or type of work. With email marketing, you generally send your email marketing campaigns at once, unless you’re A/B testing. But your decisions on timing are generally based on observation, or research from other companies who study open times.  

Marketing Automation Gives You Insights 

That’s great if it’s all you have, but with marketing automation, you have a precise understanding for your particular audience for best send times, meaning that you’ll be sending them the right content when they want it.  

Resource: 5 Smart Tips to Strengthen Your Automated Emails and Increase Conversions 

4. Use Your Time and Effort Effectively 

Email Marketing Makes You Do the Heavy Lifting 

When you’re putting together common campaigns like renewal, retention, event promotion, with an email marketing tool, it’s painstaking work. You have to check who has renewed already, who hasn’t. Who registered yet? Did you send a double email accidentally? And so on. It’s labor-heavy and you can’t provide as good customer service as you’d like.  

Marketing Automation Works for You 

With marketing automation, you can create multiple automated workflows at once. These campaigns can repeat, and talk to each other. For example, if you run an email membership renewal campaign, and the member renews, you can set it so that the member is taken out of the campaign instead of receiving “don’t forget to renew” emails that are no longer relevant. You can set up an annual renewal campaign that runs on its own, and then have it repeat every year, saving you time and money on that labor-intensive process.  

Resource: Create the 3 Most Common Automated Campaigns in No Time

5. Prioritize Your Outreach 

Email Marketing Doesn’t Give You Guidance  

Let’s say a couple of nonmembers clicked on a link in your email about membership. You now know that both of them may be interested in membership. But you don’t know really anything more than that.  

Marketing Automation Points You in the Right Direction 

With marketing automation, you can use lead scoring to understand their levels of interest. Your software will rate certain actions by these email subscribers to show you how interested they actually are.  

For example, if one subscriber clicked on the link about membership and then left the site completely, they’d get a few points from the software. If the other subscriber clicked the link about membership, went to another page on your site about the benefits of membership, then downloaded a brochure about your mentoring program, your software would rank them much higher.  

The data from both of these interactions give you guidance on how to spend your time effectively, so you can pursue the person with higher interest.  

Resource: Your Guide to Lead Scoring 

Marketing Automation Elevates Your Success 

When you use marketing automation, you’re not giving up email marketing, you’re choosing a tool that incorporates email marketing and so much more. Your ROI is going to be much higher with marketing automation than email marketing because of what it can do.  

By upgrading your email tool to incorporate marketing automation, you’ll be able to deliver more timely, relevant and personalized messages that align to your recipients’ needs, making your communications strategy more robust and effective than ever.

Download the Engagement Trends Report 2020

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in January 2018 and was revised to reflect latest research in January 2020. 

Gabrielle Wathen

Content Marketing Manager, Flockjay

Gabrielle is the Content Marketing Manager at Flockjay. She has a background in journalism, film, and marketing. When she’s not writing, you can find her cuddling her cats Harvey and Wilbur, traveling the world, or storytelling in any way she can. Favorite food: All things cheese. Favorite place: Black Rock City, NV.

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