Marketing automation, as an industry, is growing phenomenally. In fact, the inaugural Marketing Automation Technology Forecast, 2017 to 2023 (Global), produced by Forrester at the end of April, predicts that annual spend on such martech will reach $25bn in five years’ time.

The reason for this is – in a large part – due to the fact that many brands are yet to adopt automation platforms. The technology is therefore in only an early stage of its product lifecycle so the scope for evolution is vast.

On a positive note, more marketers are beginning to acknowledge the potential that automation can bring to their organisation. But at the same time, it is equally crucial to acknowledge the ways that such a system won’t or cannot help.

  1. Automation technology alone cannot ensure marketers’ GDPR compliance

Marketers, absolutely, need to ensure they are utilising a GDPR-compliant automation platform, and ideally one that is UK built and managed to prevent data from ever leaving domestic shores. But compliant technology alone is not the complete answer to regulatory adherence.

The profession also needs to understand that databases need to be audited, managed and maintained moving forward. Opt-in methodologies need to be adhered to. Individuals’ privacy and preferences still need to be respected and safeguarded. The whole marketing team needs to be trained to appreciate this.

Yes, GDPR can be a minefield, and selecting the right automation tool is a great starting point, but there is far more to compliance. It also goes without saying that the legislation doesn’t just relate to marketing activities either, so wider considerations are required throughout a business.

  1. Marketing automation cannot force a connection with sales

The power of using marketing automation to cleverly – and compliantly – nurture business leads, will only be truly realised when sales and marketing work together. Yes, integration between an automation platform and a CRM is, in most cases, extremely straightforward. But beyond the mechanics of that integration, a cultural acceptance of the need to communicate, and collaborate, is required.

Sales and marketing teams need to have a mutual understanding of how leads are scored within their organisation, so that the right individuals progress through the funnel at the pace that’s right for them. Sales involvement absolutely should occur, when timely and appropriate, but not before. Even if the automation technology does all the ‘talking’, these conversations need to be had before an automated lead nurturing strategy can do its job.

  1. People need to love learning

The power of marketing automation will truly come to life when marketers absorb themselves in the data it can uncover.

To explain this a little further – good automation platforms will use intelligent algorithms to provide marketers with behavioural insights, trends and even AI-led suggestions, often at the click of a button, to help steer savvier strategic communications activity moving forward. But the automation technology alone cannot deploy all of these learnings. Marketers need to open their minds to take on and further interrogate the data, findings and suggestions they’re presented with. Without this appetite for change, the potential of the marketing automation will soon become limited.

A reputable automation vendor will willingly provide affordable – if not free – training to ensure users are as educated as possible. That support should remain ongoing too, as the real learning comes when users are left to ‘play’, but this is when the most advice is often required.

  1. Automation can’t make someone a marketing genius overnight

Importantly, many marketing automation platforms have evolved so that they are easy to implement, straightforward to integrate, quick to deploy and simple to use. Innovation has made this effortlessness possible, and it has broken down a huge barrier to investing in automation in the process – the perceived headache associated with getting started.

But, linked to the previous point about learning, the deployment of automation won’t immediately make someone a marketing pro. The technology will give them the tools to be better at their job, but they have to be switched on as to how to use the platform to best effect. Many marketers still rely too heavily on email marketing, for instance, but there’s far more to an impactful campaign than this type of comms. With so many channels at marketers’ fingertips, it’s time people started embracing SMS, live chat, direct mail, social media dialogue and a good old fashioned real conversation, when the time is right.

  1. Marketing automation cannot replace a human

Automation technology can make processes slicker and tasks easier to complete. It can provide answers to questions, and compute figures that would otherwise take a human days to calculate. It can conduct seemingly personalised conversations with people when they want to be contacted and via the channel that’s right for them. It can facilitate 24/7 communication when a marketer’s office is empty, and it can free up time for that marketer to spend on more value-adding stuff!

But martech cannot replace a human. It cannot pose all of the questions. It cannot devise the creative ideas that will inject brand personality into a campaign. It cannot craft engaging content that will hook a prospect in for the long haul.

To offer real ‘punch’ to an organisation, it must be surrounded by a team of thinkers and doers that are ready to take their comms to the next level.