Guest blogger Bernt Elkjær-Pedersen has been working with digital marketing for over 10 years and specialises in all aspects of working with Marketing Automation. His work has resulted in a comprehensive hands-on guide for the modern marketer, making Bernt Elkjær a highly sought-after speaker and consultant.


By Bernt Elkjær-Pedersen

Marketing Automation as you know it today is in a transitional phase. It is something temporary. Shortly, Marketing Automation is going to be something totally different. Hey wait … is the automation-preacher now claiming that Marketing Automation will go out of fashion? Yep, he is. Without the slightest exaggeration.

My name is Bernt Elkjær-Pedersen. I have been working with Marketing Automation since 2010 and I have written the book, “Marketing Automation from Strategy to Practice”. When I look into the crystal ball, I see lots of big changes within marketing technologies in the near future.

To make myself clear: Don’t hold back. Take the leap now and throw yourself into a Marketing Automation project as soon as you can. Because it’s good business.

Just don’t expect for your Marketing Automation system to remain the same for the next 5 years. It’s going to change remarkably. So you shouldn’t spend a year building a “Star Destroyer” within an Automation system. You should place yourself in a position where you reap the short-term benefits and make sure that you remain able to adapt for the future.

The machines are coming

Within a few years, AI will have developed to such a degree that the Marketing Automation systems you are familiar with today, won’t have any legitimate reasons to exist.

The systems most likely won’t go extinct. They will probably experience further development and hopefully, you can ride along with newer versions of the system you are using, and enjoy benefits of the technology advancements.

There will presumably be systems that remain unchanged during those years, and they will be obliterated by the technological development.

Let me offer some arguments to justify my prediction.

Automation is merely rules and criteria

Cutting it to the bone, the Marketing Automation systems can be illustrated as such. The illustration is read from left to right.

INBOUND: Website behaviour, Email behaviour, App behaviour

PROFILING: Other internal data sources, Purchased data and Predictive Analytics

OUTBOUND: Emails, Custom Audiences, Sales enablement

The system tracks all inbound behaviour, which is then led to the database where it is supplemented with information from other relevant sources, and thus the system can identify which outbound messages the individual person should receive.

That is basically what you use a Marketing Automation system for.

However, in order to IDENTIFY, the system must have some guiding criteria – and with the systems that are available today (in 2017), you have to submit those criteria YOURSELF, in order for the system to identify even the slightest.

  • What behaviour indicates that a person has a specific interest? You have to create criteria for that.
  • What basic data and behaviour result in a specific ‘score’ that calls for that person to receive a particular message. You have to create criteria for that.
  • What behaviour indicates that a person is ready to speak with a salesperson? You have to create criteria for that.

There is a vast amount of criteria to consider, and the system can’t do anything before you have taught it which criteria to follow.

The problem is us

The problem is simply that we human beings are extremely bad at creating criteria.

The reason is that it requires great insight to create the right criteria. And we don’t have the level of insight. We human beings always end up selecting criteria that are based on our own preferences and prejudices. And subsequently we tell ourselves that our preferences are identical to those of our entire target group.

“I have 20 years of experience. I know my target group.” I have heard that sentiment a thousand times over, and unfortunately that is a road to failure.

If you still believe that you know what your customers want and how they make their decisions, then read this article at hbr.org (and surrender).

Machines read patterns

Machines are much better at it than us human beings. They are able to recognize patterns in large amounts of data and they can identify correlations free from prejudiced opinions and personal preferences.

That’s what we call artificial intelligence.

It’s going to be gigantic within Marketing. I don’t think it’s possible to overstate how significant an impact it will have on the marketing systems.

Don’t start off by building a Star Destroyer in your efforts to begin working with Marketing Automation. Go for the quick wins and scale.

What is it exactly that you do in such a system?

Today, what do you do in a Marketing Automation system?

You create rules for how data is stored in the database. Machines can do that better.

You create criteria that decide how many points a certain behaviour will give, and then you attempt to consolidate it to an overall score that shows which flow each person should be part of. Machines can do that much better.

Additionally, machines can decide when an outbound message should be sent to a specific person. Or through which channel.  

The machines can easily evaluate which interests each person has.

When they are ready to purchase.

What they want to purchase.

Which content that can lead them onwards.

Criteria are no longer your job

A significant part of the user-interface in your Marketing Automation solution is the creation of criteria, and that becomes completely unnecessary as/when AI is a reality.

You don’t have to submit Lead Scoring. You don’t have to compound flows in visual stages (as the IT suppliers take pride in demonstrating today). You don’t have to submit segments, filters, dynamic/catchy content, merge cells, etc. etc.

AI does all of that much better than you, and thus there won’t be a need for a user-interface to do that.

But then, what are you going to do in the future?

You probably won’t have a smaller workload. It will just be something else.

There are some marketing people that are threatened by the technological development and who think they won’t have a job when the AI machines get to work.

I’m pretty sure you don’t have to worry about that.

You still have to aid them in deciding what you want to sell and how you will draw traffic to your business.

And you will still be creating a lot of great content.

Then once in awhile, you receive a message from your Marketing AI-system:

“We are lacking content for customers in the Onboarding phase for product X. The customer service system has identified a vast amount of questions and an increased frustration level in inquiries regarding first-time orders of product X. We are in need of content for new customers regarding the 5 following questions, which are the most frequent…”

Then you write a good text for the machine. It knows that you are ‘D’ in the DISC-person types and thus, on its own, it recomposes to 3 other types giving it content to all personality types. It then submits the content to an onboarding email and on the website.

A week later you will also receive a notification saying that you need to elaborate on question 2. That is your job from here on.

It’s going to be similar to driverless cars. You will be in need of marketing technology more now than ever, but you don’t have to drive the car yourself.

Personally, I’m really looking forward to it. With AI I won’t have to create criteria that I have created through guess-work. And I can focus on the job tasks in which I can make a remarkable difference.

Or maybe we will end up somewhere totally different. Who knows …

And what are you doing today?

It’s impossible to predict the future (even though I try). The only thing that is for certain, is that the development of marketing technology is continuing rapidly.

Ask your Marketing Automation supplier what their opinion of AI is. Ask them how they will manage to balance creating value for you short-term and keeping you ready to adapt long-term. If they don’t have a clear-cut answer, then look for alternatives.

Today, you can’t be bothered with that. And as I mentioned in the beginning, you can’t postpone your business ambitions merely on the fact that the technology is constantly changing.

Begin doing Marketing Automation as soon as possible. There is no reason to wait.

However, don’t build that advanced “Star Destroyer”. Make sure your Marketing Automation project has some brief sprints that each create value as you go along. “X-wings”, if you like.  And make sure to use a system that follows the evolution and that is kept up to date with the development – wherever it takes us.

Learn more about Bernt Elkjær-Pedersen and “Marketing Automation – From Strategy to Practice”

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