8 Tips for Choosing a Marketing Automation Platform

Associations, Communications Strategy // Is your association ready to level up from email marketing? These are the 8 must-haves to look for in a marketing automation platform.

Beth Arritt
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Ready to level up from email marketing to marketing automation, but not sure where to start? When it comes to choosing a marketing automation platform, the search can feel overwhelming, especially when, as an association, you have unique goals for your email platform.

This list of things to consider is designed with associations in mind. So whether this is your first marketing automation platform or you’re looking for a new provider, this list of must-haves will help you decide if a vendor is the right fit.

Marketing Automation Must-Haves

1. Send emails

Just wanted to start with the obvious. Your marketing automation platform should give you the ability to add your target lists and send one-off emails. Ideally, you also want one that integrates with your AMS to make adding lists automatic.

2. Target emails

Yes, you want to be able to create lists and do granular segmenting. But ideally, you’d like to be able to use dynamic content or story level targeting inside of individual emails. Why? Well, before, you might have been sending six different emails to somebody because there were six different messages they might be interested in. With dynamic content and story level targeting, you could do this in one email, increasing relevancy while lowering email volume. (Bonus – think of how much time this saves your team!)

Tip: When evaluating a marketing automation platform, or any software, determine what you must have, should have, could have, and would have. Through this process, you realize what features and functionalities to prioritize and vet as you look at different marketing automation platform vendors. But as a starting point, there are key capabilities and traits that should be considered table stakes…like the eight in this list!

3. Automate

Automating should mean a lot more than just scheduling an email. You should be able to create automated campaigns within the marketing automation platform. And the platform should also respond to triggers you’ve built in. Not only are you automating, you’re sending different, more personalized messages to members based on what they’ve already clicked in a campaign. By the way, make sure you check out Higher Logic’s marketing automation software – we provide campaign starter kits for the most useful campaigns to help jumpstart your campaign journey.

For example, maybe you send an email with a poll with four options. Your follow up email can actually be any one of four different emails based on the recipients’ answers.

Think about your welcome emails. If you gave members a list of the benefits and asked them to click the ones they’re most interested in, subsequent emails could be just about those benefits, or at least prioritize that content at the top.

The best automation gives you the power to digitally guide individual members with content based on what they’re doing and revealing.

4. Integrate with your database and community

Robust integration between your database and marketing automation platform lets you send automated campaigns based on member activity in your database. If you have an integrated community, automated emails can also be triggered based on what members do in the community. In a perfect scenario, your marketing automation platform watches activity in both the database and community, incorporates into the automation, and leverages everything you know about members to provide them with a personal experience that shows you know them.

5. Features like web tracking, landing pages, and forms

Google Analytics is great, but a marketing automation platform that provides web tracking information on known members, allowing you to gauge interests of your members at an individual level and at scale, is best. With web tracking, you can use dynamic content, trigger entry into campaigns, and take actions based on member visits to your web pages. (Pro tip – use web tracking with campaigns to notify people in your organization when known users are visiting specific pages that indicate interest – like exhibits and sponsorships.)

Your marketing automation system should also offer landing pages and forms. Among other things, content landing pages provide a place to put longer content you can link put short summaries or the first couple of paragraphs in an email or newsletter, then provide a link to the full story.

Form landing pages provide a way to let members and prospects subscribe and manage preferences. They also give you a way to provide gated content for content marketing, to gather new prospects, provide the content to them immediately or send them the content in an email, put them into campaigns and notify you or anyone else when anyone uses the form, all running in the background.

6. Metrics to track, measure, and report on what’s working

Tracking and measuring should be available on both individual and aggregate levels. This is how you get answers to the questions you’ve been wondering for a while, like

  • How did these events emails perform against each other?
  • How did all our events in Peoria perform vs the ones we had in Sacramento?
  • How did our eBook on security do compared to our eBook on operations?
  • How did our certification promotion perform among directors?
  • What has John Smith responded to historically?

It informs your content and messaging topics. It informs where you could offer more programs or certifications. It informs your web content. If many people are going to pages on retirement planning, maybe it’s time to do a campaign or additional content featuring retirement planning. Or feature it on your home page. Or put that topic at the top of the dynamically personalized newsletter the member receives.

7. Pre-built campaigns

Campaign templates can be a real timesaver. When you want to go into the marketing automation system and create a winning renewal campaign, it’s much easier to start from a flow that’s already built out. For example, Higher Logic’s marketing automation software comes with campaign starter kits you can use for renewals, win-back, fundraising, and more.

8. Available help & training

Be sure any marketing automation provider you select offers robust training. Look at the types of training offered. Do they have live training, online training paths, a certification program, and interactive sessions where you get to question experts on both product and strategy? Obviously, you should be able to get human help when needed.

Also, don’t neglect the strength of the platform’s customer community. The company is not always going to have the exact use case you’re dealing with, but it’s highly likely someone in an active user community will have gone through that and will be more than happy to help. And a good platform will provide ways to find new ideas, both from staff and peers. For example, in our customer community, the Higher Logic Users Group (HUG), we host weekly connect sessions with other marketing automation customers.

In short—make sure the vendor you choose is going to be there to support you and to make sure you get the most out of what you’re paying for, as quickly and easily as possible.

Marketing Automation Software Pricing

Think about pricing for marketing automation software as an investment rather than a debit. Factor the return on that investment into your decision so you’re happy with what you’re getting in exchange for what you invested. For marketing software, maybe you’re “getting by” with what you’re doing and what you’re using, but could you be working smarter, not harder? Factor the labor and cost efficiencies, as well as the improved experience for members, that results from moving to marketing automation into your return on investment.

Take the time to assess your wants and needs, budget for the purchase, review vendors for functionality and services, talk to others who have used the platform, and be willing to say “yes” to a more modern approach to association marketing that members, and thus you, will clearly benefit from. But don’t take too long, or the cost of no decision might be greater than the cost of the software.

When you get to vendor selection, use our marketing automation buyer’s guide to ask the vendor these 5 important questions.

Beth Arritt

Association Strategist

Beth’s marketing experience encompasses more than twenty-five years of marketing strategy and member/customer engagement in various industries, including puzzles and games, training, education and aviation.

In addition to marketing, Beth has worked in event management and web development, wearing a variety of hats in different positions. She has also been an adjunct professor of marketing at Marymount University in Arlington, Virginia.

Beth received a Bachelor of Science degree in Merchandising from James Madison University, a Certificate in Event Management from The George Washington University, and a Masters of Business Administration/Marketing from the University of Phoenix. She has earned numerous awards for her marketing, including two Top Digital Marketer of the Year awards.

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