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Email Automation or Marketing Automation? Aren't they just the same thing? If not, what's the difference between the two and how do you know which one you need for your business.

The short answer is that email marketing is just one component of marketing automation. But, if you're considering automating part or all of your marketing, you need to know more in order to decide what is right for your business.

This article is for you if, you:

  • have an email list or would like to begin building a list of clients and prospects
  • still use standard email clients (eg Gmail or Outlook) for your marketing communications
  • are using spreadsheets to maintain a list (or various lists) of contact addresses
  • use or want to use social media/online advertising but find it difficult to track results
  • are trying to manage a growing arsenal of disparate tools and apps to manage your marketing
  • you know that the time has arrived (or is fast approaching) to adopt email or marketing automation
  • are unsure where to begin with it all
  • you want to run for the hills when you hear words like automation or scaling

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Do I need an Email Solution or a Marketing Automation Solution?

In determining what your business needs, we need to begin by looking at the ways in which someone, who is searching for your product or service, interacts with your brand or your company.

For instance, a person may find your website via a search engine and decide to follow your company on Facebook or Instagram. Some time later they may see a post on social media that links to your most recent blog article and he or she subscribes to your newsletter.

That is just one trajectory, but there are so many ways in which someone can engage with your brand. This is often referred to as multi-channel marketing and includes things like ads, live-chat or messenger, podcasts, youtube channels and so on.

Tracking these various "touch points" is where marketing automation comes into play. 

By understanding what interests people, you can anticipate what type of information and content people value and are most likely to engage with. That helps you to attract and engage with more of the right people and deliver a more relevant and valuable experience for your customers.

This is essentially what the phrase "data driven marketing" means.

Marketing automation gathers data that helps companies create better and more relevant customer experiences so they're able to achieve improved business results.

Being able to effectively engage with your target audience and clients across multiple channels is essential in today's connected world. With that in mind, business owners turn to marketing automation tools.

One major benefit is that it gives you a single platform through which you're able to manage, track and measure all online activities across all your marketing channels.

What additional benefits do I get from marketing automation?

Eliminate disparate tools and platforms

If you are currently using a bunch of disparate tools and apps to manage your marketing, you will know how time consuming and frustrating it can be to stay on top of them all. 

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A quality marketing automation solution wraps all that functionality into a single tool. The added bonus of this is that you will spend less time learning to use different apps plus, by using a single tool, you get powerful (near instant) reporting across all your marketing activities.

Grow your contact base

Using the combination of a conversion offer (an eBook, checklist, voucher, webinar or live event etc) and a form on a Landing Page you have the ability to turn anonymous website visitors into known contacts and grow your email list.

Once a contact is known, your marketing automation software is able to track that contact which enables it to trigger automated follow up sequences that are based on their behaviour and interests.

Generate more sales

For instance, you are able to segment your contacts based on how they behave or which pages of your site they visit. Segmentation is a bit like setting up a bucket system. Marketers refer to these buckets as lists.mktg automation stat1

Depending on your product you may, for example, wish to send someone who, has visited your pricing page but who has not made a purchase, an email that addresses frequent objections. This could be helpful in building trust, removing doubt and assisting them to reach a  buying decision

Better return on your marketing budget

The benefit of collecting data is that it gives you fast and accurate insights into how your ads and marketing activities are performing. That way you can fine-tune your campaigns quickly and do more of what works and less of what does not

Create better targeted offers

Because the platform collects information about your contact's interests and goals, you are able to shape your future offers so that they are more relevant and convert at a higher rate.


A good marketing automation platform lets you test things. For example, you can test two versions of the same email - each one with a different subject line - to see which one achieves the highest open rate.

Likewise, you can test different headers on your landing pages or different colours to see which buttons achieve a higher click through rate.

Marketing is all about testing variables and while this may seem like a tedious and time consuming exercise, technology makes it easier and gives you the ability to apply science to your marketing. This is something that was until recently only accessible to big enterprises with large budgets. Marketing automation today is affordable for even small businesses and startups, making for a more level playing field.

Reach More Inboxes

One thing that is often missed by businesses who are starting out with email marketing is the fact that not every email reaches the intended recipients email inbox.

mktg automation stat4There's a thing called sender reputation score which plays a role in whether an ISP (internet service provider) may mark an email as untrustworthy or malicious. When you send an email it can be identified by the IP address of the sender's device. If that IP address has a poor reputation it will most likely get blocked at the recipient's ISP gateway and therefore never reach the inbox or end up in the spam folder.

A benefit of working with a reputable marketing automation provider is that they usually have a best-in-class deliverability rating so your emails actually do get to the intended recipient's inbox. Be sure to check this (sender reputation score) before you decide on any particular marketing or email platform.

Less Time Managing Social Media Channels

We all know what a complete time suck social media can be. A decent marketing automation platform lets you schedule, publish and monitor all your social channels in one place without you ever having to log in to each individual platform. So less temptation to get side tracked with the sweet cat or puppy videos.

Moreover, your social media monitoring feature notifies you when someone mentions your brand or replies to a comment. This give you the ability to respond quickly when time is of the essence. Increasingly, people use social media to express either their pleasure or displeasure and, in such cases, it is the companies that respond efficiently and appropriately that are most successful at protecting and managing brand assets.


Love 'm or loath 'm, chatbots are here to stay. Even if you do not yet use chatbots in your business, you may at some point wish to have the flexibility to do so.

For example, if your business has a Facebook page it would be beneficial to give your audience the option of contacting you via Messenger.  By integrating Messenger with your marketing automation platform you are instantly notified whenever someone contacts you. You will then have the option of responding to them right from your marketing platform without needing switch from one app to another.

It also means you can neatly track the interactions in one single place through your CRM Feed, which brings us to the next point.

And what about a CRM?

A CRM (Customer Relationship Management) is a contact management system. Some but not all marketing automation platforms are built on a CRM. If they do not please check that they integrate with one that is suitable for your business needs.

When it comes to to tracking customer relationships, many businesses still rely on their email inbox or spreadsheets or even notepads. If you've ever wanted to "quickly" refer back to a particular email exchange,  you know how vexing and time consuming that can be. A CRM pulls all customer information (such as contact details, emails, notes history, purchase history and even sales pipeline details) into a single view.

A good CRM will let you set tasks and reminders. For example it can remind you that you haven't received a reply to that email you sent that promising prospect last week.

Using a CRM can transform your workflow, safe time and frustration and helps you stay organised and track your sales and marketing activities

So many options. Which is the right one for me?

There are just so many email and marketing automation tools out there and selecting the right one for you means you need to consider what you most want to achieve in the short term while also considering what type of functionality you may need in the longer term.

When in doubt, make a list.

Because so many platforms are quite feature rich it can become quite overwhelming to make a selection. One way to get some clarity is to write a list of which outcomes you want to achieve most urgently. Take into consideration some of the individual tools you may already be using today to manage individual tasks. For example you may have a social media scheduling tool, an ads manager, an email solution. There's an opportunity to roll all these disparate solutions up and find one platform that manages them all. Once done, write another list of with functionality that you expect you will need within, say, 12 to 18 months.

These two list are going to be a solid starting point from where you can begin to "shortlist" a number of solutions that you think may fit the bill. Most brands offer free trial licences which give the option of getting to take a few solutions for a spin to see if you like them.

Freemium Solutions

If you are still in the very early stages of building your list or your business, you could consider a Freemium solution. Some things to remember with free solutions is that they have a number of restrictions. Often your marketing emails may show the brands logo in the footer and you may not be able to access all the features that you would get with a paid licence but it can a great way to tip your toes in the marketing automation pond without monthly recurring charges that come with a paid for solution.

Some other things to consider


Even when you opt to go with a freemium solution for now, it makes sense to take a look at the potential future cost. All going to plan, your business and your email list will grow and you will be needing additional paid for features. If you know what the paid for licence cost is going to be, you will know at what point your business can afford that, or not. So take that into consideration before you invest too much of your time and processes in any one marketing automation solution.


If you have prepared the lists that I mentioned before, you will know what features you are going to need today and in the near future.

User Friendliness

This is, in my view, where a solution is either going to work for you or not. If it has all the features under the sun but you don't know how to use them, you money is wasted. Again, try things out in a trial or freemium version. Also, do ask a trusted friend who uses the platform of your choice but remember that what works for one person does not necessarily work for everyone. Still, asking around may highlight some potential issues that you have missed or it may alleviate doubts.


Do you already work with other apps that will need to "talk" to your new marketing automation tool? Check out whether the two will "play together". This is one of the reasons why selecting a more prominent brand is likely to give you more scope to build a technology stack that will facilitate your needs as your business grows.

Rate of Innovation

Another benefit of working with a prominent brand is that they tend to have development teams working pretty much around the clock to innovate and deliver new features. In an increasingly competitive and noisy space, innovation is what keeps tech companies in the game and as users you get the benefit of this. Changing platforms down the road because the one you selected no longer meets your needs is costly and painful.


There is so much that falls under reliability but obviously the platform needs to be stable in a number of ways. Downtime is costly. Some things to consider:

  • servers uptime
  • support & customer service
  • data security
  • email deliverability (as discussed above)
  • market place (to access additional apps that integrate with your marketing platform).



Selecting a marketing automation platform, when you have never used one before, can seem like a daunting task. The the tech space is crowded and suppliers have a penchant for using terminology that may be seem (and often is) confusing. Begin by writing a bullet point list of the outcomes you're hoping to achieve from automating your marketing. Once you have a clear idea of what your business needs the most, now and in the foreseeable future, you are in a much better position to do your research. Also don't forget to test things out. Sign up for a trial licence or start with a freemium solution.

Wendy Coombes

Written by Wendy Coombes

I help small business and independent professionals get started with digital marketing and marketing automation, so they can attract and close more of their ideal customers.