Marketing automation is one of the most nebulous fields in marketing. Everyone needs help with it and very few people are really good at it.

Well, that’s not exactly true. It’s partially correct because a lot of people don’t know where to get started with MA. However, the thing is, automation, as task-based work, is something that basically anyone can learn.

In fact, your developer already knows how to write a lot (or maybe even all) of the most difficult automation processes and could pick up Oracle without too much trouble.

So why is it so hard to find good marketing automation experts? If the technical skillset isn’t specific to marketing, why is marketing automation even a profession?

An Important Distinction Between Technical and Tactical Skills

Technical skills include knowing how techniques are executed and tactically is knowing what techniques to execute.

You can learn how to write Javascript for marketing automation in Oracle like I mentioned a little while ago. Truth is, you’ll probably build an email campaign that works properly, well done. However, building email campaigns successfully is a given in marketing automation and not messing up doesn’t make someone a good automation expert.

To get into this further I’m going to use an example.

A client goes to an event and gets approval to set up a headshot booth. They’re offering free headshots to people and will email them in a follow-up email after the event.

As a marketing automation expert, you have to construct 300 emails, attach the headshots to the emails, and send the right headshot to the right person. You’re given a spreadsheet containing first name, last name, email address and file number.

Lastly, you notice that the file number is almost the exact same as the file name, only the file name has four alphanumeric characters at the beginning, in front of the file number, and it’s the same on every image. They also have a file extension “.jpg”. So you see file names that are “A0R530654.jpg”, “A0R510548.jpg”, etc and your Excel file, with the image file number, looks something like this:

headshot list

Marketing Automation Experts Will Leverage Techniques Through Tactics

With tools like HubSpot, server-based languages pull in attributes dynamically. Whether it’s with PHP, Jinja, or HubL the concept is the same. There is a property that has a label, that property contains data, and using server code (in our case we’ll be looking at HubL) data from a property can be dynamically inserted.

Back to our example…

Tracy Morgan saying NoI’m going to be brutally honest here, creating 300 emails so you can attach an image isn’t going to work out. There’s a ton of room for human error, running quality checks will become nearly impossible and it’s going to take the next two days to put it together.

Tracy Morgan sums up how I feel about this strategy very well…

A marketing automation expert will have skills in Excel and a strong understanding of what it means to write to a server. I don’t want to go too far down a rabbit hole here, but I’m referring to a deep understanding of what’s going on when information is stored and called from a server. Knowing why HubL behaves the way it does is crazy important here.

So, as a marketing automation expert, you’re going to go into the HubSpot file manager and create a new folder in your root file directory. We’ll say this is the location of that folder in your server: “http://www.domain.com/hubs/headshot-folder/”. Now let’s jump into excel and do a little reconfiguring. We’ll bring in all the directory and file information that’s missing and use the merge formula “=D2&E2&F2&G2” to create the headshot URL for each contact.

Final headshot URL

Now that you have a column with the headshot URL you can upload this list to HubSpot, use it as the list to send headshots out, and pull in the headshot URL using the HubL code {{contact.headshoturl}}.

The Harsh Truth About This Example

So, as you may have noticed, nothing in that example was especially difficult. The Excel work was simple, creating the image directory was pretty basic, even adding in the HubL code wasn’t that complicated. In fact, HubSpot actually makes pulling in contact properties as easy as clicking on a personalization button, and selecting from a drop down, the desired property. Super simple shit!

So why in the hell is it so hard to find good marketing automation experts?!

Being a strong marketing automation expert is about aligning your thought process with the mechanism you have at your disposal. If we can think about these questions in a way that’s congruent with HubL, Jinja, PHP, etc. we’ll have insanely powerful marketing automation:

  • What are we trying to accomplish?
  • What are all the ways we can accomplish that
  • Of those ways, which can be executed through automation?

In our example, we talked about attaching the headshots to an email. But to send the headshots, we don’t have to attach them to an email sent from Gmail. At the core, the goal we really want to accomplish is the delivery of headshots, without posting all of them on one web page, to individual contacts.

Technical skill is basically worthless in marketing automation because it isn’t inclusive of very special or significant skills. Value comes in the form of leveraging concepts. Really truly understanding the idea of server languages. Why does HubL do what it does? How can I use its behavior to help me?

Looking at marketing issues with this lens will uncover interesting solutions that are super scalable. And the best part is that these concepts are the hardest part! If someone doesn’t know HubL but they know PHP, they’ll be able to pick up HubL pretty easily.

Understanding concepts > mastering syntax.

I hope this gave you some perspective on the value of marketing automation and where it truly lies. Not so much on the technical front, but very heavily in tactical or strategic execution.