Each year brings with it new marketing innovations and new ways to engage with consumers. Make sure you know the latest avenues to take and the platforms that will help you do it.

It doesn’t require an expert to figure out that marketing is a bit different now than it was a decade ago. Heck, there’s been some significant changes within the past five years.

Extend that same thinking to marketing automation and things seem to be moving even faster.

But where is that future heading?

Once upon a time, the marketing professional held sway over the customer experience, directly guiding them through various channels that all led to conversion.

Now, it’s the consumer dictating the journey, and marketers are playing catch up. It doesn’t matter if you’re dealing with other businesses or individual consumers, either.

A report from Salesforce on the State of Marketing drives home this new reality:

According to the numbers, 65% of business-buyers are apt to change brands if the one they’re working with is not personalizing communication to their company.

Similarly, 52% of individual consumers will switch brands if the communications are not personalized.

To keep those clients satisfied and committed requires plenty of effort. The report also cites that the marketing teams generating the most success utilize upwards of 14 different tools to get the job done.

For comparison, with teams achieving less, it’s half of that total.

In other words, successful customer engagement takes work – and the combination of software automation.

But what is that engagement going to look like in the future?

Is marketing automation, long expected to simplify the conversion of new clients, the key to making that and other tasks easier? Or will plenty of challenges await, as we continue to chase down consumers and their tightly held dollars?

Unsurprisingly, the answer is a little of column A and a little of column B.

Let’s take a look at that future, and where you and your marketing team need to be to meet the challenges of 21st-century marketing.

The Definitive Definition of Automated Marketing

Okay, so maybe it’s just going to be definitive for this article, but it’s good to have a grasp of the automation basics before stepping too far into the future.

After all, marketing automation is one of those areas where if you ask ten companies in ten industries what their thoughts are, you’re bound to get ten different answers.

For our purposes, though, we’re talking about automation as the various tech and software-based tools, including those that are web-based, involved in executing your organization’s marketing plan. The stuff that helps you with:

  • Advertising and Promotion
  • Analytics
  • Branding
  • Inventory and Distribution Management
  • Lead Management
  • Managing the Customer Relationship
  • Market Research
  • Omnichannel Integration
  • Product or Service Pricing
  • Workflow

Again, your company or industry might necessitate a few “homegrown” disciplines. Overall, though, if your organization concerns itself with marketing, then your approach probably involves several, if not all, of the ten categories listed above.

So, where exactly is the future leading us?

1. The Future is Customer Centric

Shocking, not shocking, right?

For the talk about robots and AI and automating this thing and automating that thing, everything you do centers around one single concern: the customer.

If your organization aims for future success, much of your marketing should focus around generating engagement with consumers. And not just, “hey, here we are, buy our stuff,” but genuine engagement that:

Is one to one or highly individualized, speaking directly to an individual’s needs

Provides an inherent value that solves an issue or enhances their current standing

Turns them from a simple client into a recurring customer

Of course, this is often called the customer journey, and for your future marketing to be as bright as you hope, this also must be your journey as well.

2. Customers Want That Journey to Be a Personal One

The future will most certainly not be one size fits all. To be sure, we already see much of this segmentation in the present. After all, consumers are unique. As marketing channels diversify, so too will the messaging.

Automating your approach to personalization involves identifying habits. At the most basic level, this means segmenting your audience based on who they are – demographics – and based on what they do – behavior.

You can certainly break those two groups down even further, but the goal is to identify the pressure points on that specific audience and then develop a message and related content tailor-made for them.

3. Create and Deliver Content the Way Your Clients Want

Part of that customized journey is reaching consumers on their terms, through the mediums of their choice. You might need to rethink messaging that once had success as a single channel medium (just because it was useful then doesn’t mean it will be forever).

Video, of course, is nothing new, but now that everyone carries an internet-enabled monitor in their pocket, moving pictures are in the midst of a renaissance.

That translates to old messages finding new life through video. Instead of producing tons of copy, content like newsletters, tutorials, how-tos, or even deep-dive subjects once covered in white papers can get a fresh outlook in a well-produced video.

For those that still like to read, you can easily condense your video content into bite-sized summaries.

Ultimately, the marketers that succeed in the future will possess diverse libraries of material, appealing to every segment that takes an interest in whatever product or service they’re selling.

4. Social Media Should Be Social

Speaking of social media, look for the tried and true platforms of engagement to return to your roots and get more, well, social.

As they get back to basics, you’ll have to create a robust program to put your company in the thick of the action. Scaling and automating your efforts to match your audience will be critical to your success. You’ll need to be set up to:

  • Schedule your social media engagement activities
  • Auto-publish basic content on platforms central to your marketing, whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or even LinkedIn – this gets out vital information at scale and frees you up for non-boilerplate direct customer engagement
  • Report on your social media successes or to identify areas where improvement is necessary
  • Track your followers and ensure you’re following up with those fans to maximize promotion and sales opportunities

No doubt social media is turning into such a profound player in the life cycle of many businesses. This means the future may also require a position dedicated to managing your firm’s social marketing, regardless of size.

5. Omnichannel is Omnipresent

The customer journey is equal parts what you provide consumers and where you provide it for them. In simpler times, your channel marketing was reasonably straightforward – sending and tracking emails or amassing clicks and completed web forms.

The demands of the consumer, however, mean the engagement experience will have to meet their exacting expectations, regardless of where it takes place.

Younger generations might be looking for social engagement to go along with their online shopping, but they don’t expect the digital experience to be anything less than what they would get face to face.

Conversely, when people walk into a brick and mortar store after hours of online research, their time and commitment better be well paid off.

Not only will your company need to track where engagement occurs – in places such as:

  • On your website
  • Via a campaign-based landing page
  • Through a digital ad
  • In a brick and mortar store
  • At a community event or trade show

You’ll need to turn these interactive moments into useful data points.

In what channels were consumers most responsive towards to your content – or least?

How much time did they commit to each touchpoint?

Where did engagement lead to the most sales?

Making a concerted effort to tie all of your channels together, and then knowing where they succeed and where they might fail, will keep you ahead of the quickly changing future.

Tools of the Trade

Those may be the overlying factors and hot topics that dictate marketing automation in the near future, but there’s a lot more to it than those five concerns.

Another aspect of automation is the tools that help make your efforts a reality – from the straightforward to the increasingly dynamic.

As we noted in the opening, the most effective teams are utilizing on average 14 different types of tools to get their marketing jobs done.

That might seem excessive, but depending on the scope of your marketing, it’s not difficult to imagine a truly dynamic team using every imaginable resource to squeeze engagement from every last corner of their potential client base.

With that in mind, here are 21 marketing automation tools that you should consider. They may not be of the future, but they are most certainly the means that will help take you there.

  1. AdRoll: As a retargeting platform, AdRoll helps you reach your customers wherever they might be – Facebook, Google, Instagram, or Twitter. The suite includes analytics, segmentation, and conversion reports.
  2. Bizible: If you need help boosting the effectiveness of your AdWords, Bizible can help you do it across numerous channels.
  3. Bremy: Publishing service that simplifies video and document proofing and offers targeted campaign tools.
  4. BuzzPortal: A deeply resourceful platform that helps you manage your leads from digital, email, social, and voice. It even helps you with fax marketing if that’s still a successful channel for your team.
  5. Constant Contact: Maybe a bit old school compared to other tools on this list, but still a highly effective method for email marketing and blasting out information to a large user base.
  6. Customer.io: Set up rules-based actions to provide customers messaging based on how they are engaging with your brand.
  7. DialogTech: If you are looking to optimize voice-based marketing, Dialog Tech offers an array of tools to get the job done including keyword call-tracking, conversation analytics, geolocation routing, and voice broadcasts.
  8. Drift: Not just a marketing platform, but one that gives your team the power to turn conversations into conversions. This solution lets you move away from static forms as a data-capture tool.
  9. HubSpot: Full stack marketing suite that assists you in creating content, managing your email and social media efforts, and provides you with deep-dive reporting and analytics on all of your marketing activities.
  10. Net-Results: Workflow management can be a burden, but Net-Results removes the guesswork with tools that include campaign, email, form, landing page, and a/b test builders as well as social media management and sales automation.
  11. RightMessage: Need to integrate an email database with your website? Or segment and personalize your funnels, pages, and content for your unique audience? RightMessage helps your brand generate truly personal connections with your clients.
  12. Sprout Social: Need to manage your social media presence better and cultivate more meaningful engagement with customers? Sprout Social helps your brand connect to those that want to connect with you.

Final Thoughts

Marketing automation is a truly dynamic field, and will only become more so within the next few years.

As you and your team head into new marketing frontiers, don’t be afraid to experiment and test. Try new platforms and tools with the promise of connecting with your customers in new and meaningful ways.

Sure, business as usual may have helped your team achieve the success it has today, but there is no going back in time.

Tomorrow’s marketing world will be a profoundly different place. The companies that get creative and make the journey a personal one for their customers are the ones that will stay ahead and leave everyone else in the past.Opinions expressed here are the opinions of the author. Influencive does not endorse or review brands mentioned; does not and can not investigate relationships with brands, products, and people mentioned and is up to the author to disclose. VIP Contributors and Contributors, amongst other accounts and articles, are professional fee-based.