It is almost a truism that marketing has become highly technology-intensive. Even while IT spending in other categories remains flat or has declined, the marketing function’s spending on technology has held up–even in the recessionary environment.

A nearly ubiquitous component of any marketing technology portfolio is email marketing. In fact, there is a high probability your company is already using some form of it, even though you might not be aware of it.

A related component is marketing automation. Customers often talk of these in the same breath. In fact, some would argue that marketing automation is what email marketing wants to be. In other words, marketing automation is an evolution of email marketing. In reality, it is an adjacent-but comparable-set of tools.

In this article, we will look at this distinction in some detail and also summarize what marketers should know when evaluating these technologies.

Email Marketing and Marketing Automation

Companies have long used email marketing to reach out to people to keep them informed and to remain connected with them. Traditionally, you would buy an email database and have an email server with the capability of high-volume email blasts to send out mailers to people in that database. Over time, these platforms/tools started building better capabilities, such as:

  • The ability to capture leads from other sources
  • The management of these leads
  • Features such as WYSIWYG editors to ?create emails using templates
  • Tracking and analytics

And this is where the overlap with marketing automation tools starts. However, marketing automation platforms go a step further and provide additional capabilities, such as:

  • Automating email campaigns
  • The ability to not just manage leads ?but also score, prioritize, and nurture them
  • Moving beyond email campaigns to ?also include social and mobile campaigns

Of course, email marketing vendors will claim they also offer many of these features, and that’s where the confusion starts. Hence, the key advice is to look deeply into what the tool or platform does rather than worrying about what it is called.

How Do These Platforms Work?

All of these tools help you build, enrich, and promote leads to a “marketing database.” They could be individuals who responded to a direct-mail campaign or anonymous prospects who visit your website. In B2B scenarios, tools serve to qualify and nurture leads to the point that they can be engaged by a sales team working with Sales Force Automation or customer relationship management (CRM) platforms. In B2C (business-to-consumer) scenarios, these platforms may generate highly specialized offers in an effort to drive transactions or further engagement.

These platforms help you segment your database into specific subsets or cohorts that can be prioritized and engaged, depending on both attributes and behavior. These campaigns can take several different forms. Today, they still revolve primarily around email. Social media activity can increasingly enrich what you know about an individual, and it is (slowly) becoming another channel for engagement-either one-to-one with individuals or promotion to larger segments.

All these tools help you build, enrich, and promote leads. …

What Do These Platforms Do?

The technology can be broken down into a set of different functional services. Let’s explore what each service means and talk about some key issues for you to consider from a technology perspective.

Lead Management

Your email marketing is centered on your leads or prospects, so the first step in your marketing initiative is to figure out how to manage them. You should look at the following high-level capabilities:

  • Lead acquisition-Getting leads into the system via bulk imports, integration with other sites, webinars, retail POS (point of sale), QR codes, and so forth
  • Data management-The ability to clean and de-duplicate data, create flexible databases, and reduce spam
  • Lead prioritization and routing-Capabilities to profile, segment, and score leads
  • Lead nurturing and engagement-Regular, useful communication with leads, and”drip” campaigns

Campaign Management

Today, campaign management still focuses on the main trick in vendors’ bags: messaging-especially email messaging, although social campaigns are becoming important too. The goal of many vendors’ social widgets is to capture an enrichable email address so you can continue to proactively market to that individual. The key capabilities here include the following:

  • Campaign design and management-Design your segments, templating and design services to create content for your campaigns, as well as basic content management services to manage campaign artifacts.
  • Campaign creation-WYSIWYG interface to create campaign flow, message authoring and approval, and the ability to insert dynamic content in emails
  • Campaign execution-“Deliverability” issues, such as ensuring messages don’t get routed into recipients’ spam folders
  • Campaign tracking and analysis-Analytics and monitoring related to your campaigns, monitoring parameters such as delivery and open rates, and click-through rates

Landing Pages

This is one area that clearly distinguishes marketing automation from email marketing. While you could think of creating and managing landing pages as an extension of campaign management, they are important enough that we examine landing pages as a distinct challenge. The key capabilities to look for here are as follows:

  • Page form and creation-Capabilities to create pages via wizards, forms, and rich text editors
  • Testing and optimization-The ability to carry out A/B and multi-variate testing
  • Web content and experience management integration-Integration with external web content and experience management tools


Both email marketing and marketing automation are important components in a digital marketer’s toolkit. Both are related marketplaces with considerable overlaps. Nominally, email marketing vendors tend to target B2C use cases, while marketing automation vendors usually address B2B use cases. But in reality, at Real Story Group, we see a fair bit of crossover among our research subscribers. So while evaluating tools for your requirements, look closely at what the tool does and how it matches with your requirements.