The Shelf Life of Marketing Automation

The marketing automation industry is experiencing a bit of an identity crisis, so to speak. Let me explain.

Recently, I was discussing with a colleague about a change in prominent website messaging by a marketing automation competitor. While this competitor continues to target the key phrase that best describes the marketing automation industry (for SEO purposes), their website is trying to re-educate prospects with new nomenclature.

Our conversation continued into other details about the potential dying out of a phrase long attributed to our space (marketing automation), including experts publicly expressing that:

· The definition does not accurately reflect upon what respective platforms do
· Their disagreement that marketing should be automated

Yes, I agree, marketing automation does not fully describe the power of the software.

And no, I don’t agree that marketing should not be automated. Not set-it-and-forget-it automation, but strategic automation based on deeply defined database segmentation and rules that are regularly reviewed for relevance and effectiveness.

Net-Results has talked about this before. “Marketing automation” doesn’t do the platform justice as a descriptive term for all of its capabilities. In an earlier blog, Net-Results referenced an industry push to change the terminology to “revenue performance management” (RPM) but that term that didn’t stick (thankfully, in my opinion):

Now some companies in this space are purporting that what marketing automation platform once described (it still does in the eyes of thousands of people searching each month) is actually an “engagement marketing platform”. This seems redundant as marketing is inherently engagement; our industry could do better. But, it does seem to be a better fit than RPM if you are purely evaluating it based on current search adoption and trends:

Yet, that term still doesn’t stack up with “marketing automation” as a trend, though:

And clearly both terms (EM and MA) are trending upward so the shelf life for both ideas has not yet expired. What happens, though, when these terms start their decline? A perfect example that most readers of this blog would recognize is “search engine marketing”. Look at the search trend below for SEM:

“Search engine marketing” (as a search term) is in a significant decline.

Why? What replaced it?

“Inbound marketing”.

Was it happenstance or strategy that SEM has been replaced with “inbound marketing”? Was it consumer-driven discussion that started this transition or was it coined and pushed by marketers?

Truthfully, it was both. Marketers coined and proliferated it AND marketers, as consumers, bought into it (software, strategy, thought leadership…).

For example, Moz (formerly SEOmoz) made the transition to targeting SEM’s succeeding terminology “inbound marketing” close to 3 years ago. And they didn’t make that transition overnight. They saw the trend emerging years before (initially defined and promoted by the ever present Hubspot) and began the process of re-branding their entire company around it.

They’ve done a great job and provide a great resource to the inbound marketing community. In fact, their transition to inbound marketing was one of the keys to making that terminology stick.

Other companies have actively used this term to define a more broad scope of marketing activities (primarily to sell software). I don’t know if “inbound marketing” really defines what we’re doing as marketers effectively but, we’ve bought it up to this point.

“Marketing automation” has stuck thus far as marketers and buyers have come to understand what it encompasses, even if it does a poor job actually describing what respective platforms truly do.

While many have accepted “marketing automation” as a popular term to describe something, what are they actually looking for when they search for “marketing automation platform”? I don’t believe it is to find a system that will just automate all of their marketing.

At what point does this term become replaced by something we mutually agree is a better term? I’ve heard rumblings of “relevance marketing platform” being a more descriptive term to define the real purpose of the technology – that’s definitely an improvement!

In the marketing world, we’ve come to accept “inbound marketing” as a defining term in our industry but that term will have a shelf life, too.

Is “marketing automation”, as an industry term, on the verge of being replaced by a phrase like “relevance marketing platform” that better describes what these platforms truly do?

I hope a new term like this evolves and becomes commonplace because I know the technology does waaaay more than automate marketing.

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