Alastair Smith

Marketing automation has been one of the big marketing success stories of the last few years. With increases in the capabilities of AI and its application in automation and marketing personalisation, it looks like it is here to stay.

When applied effectively, marketing automation can be an incredible way for an organisation to engage with audiences, find new leads and nurture them to a sale.

But frequently, in their eagerness to realise a return on their investment, firms skip the most important aspect that will deliver that return – planning. We don’t mean planning of integrating the software into their website – that’s the (relatively) easy bit.

Instead, we mean understanding who their audience really is; what they need; how the business can help them solve this need and then planning how marketing automation can be used to demonstrate this. It’s the difference between delivering true marketing automation and using a very expensive tool to just manage your EDMs.

In this blog we’ll look at why this happens and what financial services organisations can do to capitalise on their marketing automation investment.

The issue with marketing automation

It should come as no surprise that companies that sell marketing automation software are expert marketers.

They make it look easy.

And the way they sell their products and services makes marketing automation look easy too. If you’ve read anything about marketing automation or inbound marketing, it’s likely that you are familiar with this diagram:

But this diagram shows the outcome of marketing automation, and glosses over what it takes to actually make automation effective.

Painting vs. art

At Yell, we often compare signing up for a marketing automation tool to being handed a set of paintbrushes, a palette and a canvas.

You’re being given a set of tools and with these tools, the right person can create a masterpiece.

This is what customers are often sold by marketing automation firms – a Marketo Matisse or a Pardot Picasso. Just install the software, write a few snappy blogs, some follow-up emails and you’ll be nurturing your way to the bank.

But as Cecilia Giménez, the Spanish nun who memorably botched the repairs to a priceless fresco found, there is a difference between painting and art:


Too often, financial services marketers grab their new tools and jump straight into the ‘painting’ – creating ebooks and landing pages – without putting in the time to lay the foundation that would allow them to create their own Hubspot Hockney.

The important missing piece

At Yell, our inbound marketing diagram looks like this:

It adds a vital first step to the diagram – understanding of target personas.

Only through research, a real understanding of customers’ needs and solid thinking can an offer be created that attracts, converts and closes prospects.

This isn’t something that is talked about much by marketing automation providers in their sales process and as a result many companies don’t take the time to complete this vitally important part of the work properly. People get so excited about making things (e-books, landing pages, emails etc.), they forget to consider who they are making them for.

Short-term pain for long-term success

We’re not going to pretend that defining your audience needs and developing a content strategy is a simple piece of work. It will mean investment in time and expertise in gaining the insights required to understand audience needs and create a plan for creating content the meets those needs.

For many firms it’s change of mindset. They’re so used to talking about ‘product’, that switching to creating needs-based content is challenge. It’s the difference between writing a blog or e-book that lists ‘10 key features of our new product release’, instead of ’10 ways you can retire debt-free’. Both may ultimately talk about your offer in some way, but one is focused on your customer, the other on you.

Having planned your activity, you will be able to create logical nurturing paths for your personas, leading them further down your sales funnel. Taking this approach means that not only will they be more engaged with your brand and offer, you’ll have vital intelligence on what they’re interested in, making them a super hot sales lead.

Once you’ve established your audience personas, understood their needs and created a content and nurture strategy, it will take months of dedicated content development before you start to see significant results – it won’t happen overnight. However, if your content is evergreen (i.e. remains relevant in the medium-term), then your initial investment will essentially compound as its value to your customers and search engines grows exponentially.

The challenge for marketers is to take those considered steps before delivering your content. Remain dedicated, follow the process and if you do, we promise you will see results.

Sharpen your axe first

A quote often attributed to Abraham Lincoln:

“If I was given five hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend the first four hours sharpening the axe”.

He knew the importance of preparation and its role in maximising performance.

If you already have marketing automation solution in place, we’d encourage you to take a step back and consider how well you sharpened your axe first.

Did you take the time to research and interview your target audience to understand their needs? Have you created individual offers for each persona, using the media and language that will appeal uniquely to them? Do you have top of funnel offers to attract them, and bottom of funnel offers to close them?

If you feel that your automation isn’t performing to its full potential and would like some help creating your own marketing automation masterpiece, learn more about Yell’s integrated content campaigns here.

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