Four UX Tactics for More Authentic Marketing Automation

Posted by in Content Strategy, Digital Marketing, UX Design tagged with

robot reaching out to a computer with a chart on it

Marketing automation can save organizations huge amounts of time and money, but they can also frustrate your customers. In this post, we explore several automation techniques that can be used to delight—rather than alienate—your users

It happens all the time: You sign up for an email alert or download a white paper from a recently discovered website and find yourself caught in an endless flurry of robotic emails that serve no purpose and insult your intelligence. Buy this product! Check out this service! Yada yada yada. Inevitable next step: unsubscribe. Delete. Go away forever. If the offending act occurs on social networks: unfollow, unfriend, etc.

It’s the scourge of marketing automation done wrong. Instead of increasing brand loyalty and earning respect from customers, many companies unwittingly do the opposite by pummeling new sign-ups with useless auto-generated drivel that doesn’t meet their needs.

Consider the case of Bank of America, which suffered brand damage when automated responses on Twitter became the target for endless ridicule and led to hundreds of responses baiting their beleaguered bot. The incident was covered by numerous online publications, including Gizmodo, Digiday, and MediaPost, among others.

Bank of America Twitter mishap screenshot

That said, marketing automation can have value if used properly. According to the folks at Salesforce’s Pardot, companies that use marketing automation have a 53% higher conversion rate from marketing response to qualified leads and a 9.3% higher sales quota achievement rate. So marketing automation techniques can be used to drive more sales.

If you’re tasked with creating these interactions, how can you be sure they create value for prospective customers and don’t get earmarked for the trash bin? Successful marketing automation requires good user experience design. There are many UX tactics you can apply to create marketing automation processes that are authentic and useful rather than robotic and wasteful. Here are four of them.

Personify and Personalize

Many marketing automation platforms offer customer relationship management (CRM) functions with robust tools for segmenting audiences and qualifying prospects. These tools allow you to drill way down on customer preferences and attitudes. Some software offerings focus on email campaigns, others on website interactions, while still others will focus on social media. Socially focused platforms will associate a contact with corresponding profiles on social networks like LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook.

No matter the focus of your chosen platform, there is rich data to be mined here. What people share or interact with gives you a deeper understanding of the topics that interest them. Contacts can be grouped by topic for more targeted campaigns. Plus, the aggregate data from your contacts list can be useful for creating user personas, helpful documentation that can drive website features and inform content strategy.

Screenshot of B Corp User Persona

An example user persona

While personas serve a useful purpose in defining common traits among users, the more personalized the interaction the better your content will be received. Do as much as you can to customize interactions and provide a meaningful experience. This could mean pre-filling out web forms, auto-logging in users (opt-in, of course), or simply addressing them by first name in your email correspondence.

Just don’t get creepy about it. These platforms offer deep insights into customer behaviors through website tracking, social interactions, and so on. Great power requires greater restraint. Use the information you glean judiciously.

Offer Great Content

Content strategy and UX go hand-in-hand. Good marketing automation should be rich with great content that drives an excellent user experience. Hopefully you already have a solid content strategy for the rest of your marketing materials. It applies here, too. Think of user needs at every touchpoint and be sure to provide content that meets—or better yet, exceeds—their expectations. Create meaningful unsubscribe and thank you screens. Be clever, real, humorous, and transparent in your correspondence. Provide free downloads, blog tutorials, fully-functioning trials, and so on. Streamline the process of filling out forms and maintain a consistent voice across pages or screens. You can map these interactions to various steps in a sales process or conversion funnel and make educated, data-driven decisions about how best to proceed.

Here’s a simple example: when you subscribe to fellow B Corp Triple Pundit’s email list, they offer a free downloadable ebook on the sharing economy, a topic likely of interest to their readership. It’s a great way to add value and thank someone for providing contact information.

screenshot of Triple Pundit email drip campaign

Triple Pundit thanks subscribers with a free e-book.

Map That Process

Creating a detailed process map helps ensure you will provide a more valuable experience to the user. This involves outlining every desired action you would like users to take and including variations on as many outcomes as possible. Not all users will react the same, so it’s important to figure out what will work for the majority of them and offer contingencies for those with alternate needs. 

Good information architecture saves users time and creates a seamless, intuitive, and hopefully even enjoyable path through content. When marketing automation becomes part of the process things get a bit stickier, as you rely on software to interact with real people on your behalf at key steps throughout. Paying attention to details in this process can make a huge difference in how your content is perceived, as can testing, which we’ll cover below.


screenshot of a process map

Bislr process map image courtesy CRM Buyer

Prototype and Test

Prototyping portions of your process map can help decipher if those interactions will resonate with users. If you’ve got HTML and CSS chops, this can be done quickly using a framework like Bootstrap. If not, don’t fret! A simple, cost-effective, and code-free way to test your ideas is with paper prototypes. This UX Prototype Pinterest board has all sorts of templates you can use to mock-up interface elements associated with desired user interactions. I don’t need to remind you to use recycled paper, do I? If you don’t want to user either code or paper, you can try a digital prototyping tool, such as those described in this post from Code Condo.

These prototypes can be used to test your marketing automation campaign’s features and content. Ask your internal team or contact a small, targeted test group of trusted contacts to offer feedback. Take notes and track the results. Solicit feedback, or better yet, sit a group of users down in a room and watch them interact with your campaign. Resist the urge to guide them or provide suggestions. You will find great value in testing design and interaction ideas with real users.

Similarly, A/B or split testing tactics provide extremely useful data when trying to figure out which components of a campaign, landing page, or website resonate with users and which don’t. By segmenting your audience into key groups and testing a variety of combinations, you can figure out what works best with a small audience group then use the best performer for the final campaign. We use Optimizely here at Mightybytes, but there are many others as well.

Graphic showing the difference in sales with and without optimizely

A/B testing defined by the fine folks at Optimizely

I hope these ideas will help with your marketing automation efforts. For more information on UX and prototyping check out Four Common Questions About User Experience DesignWant to know more about content strategy? Check out the content category on this blogIf you have other questions or suggestions, hit us up on Twitter.

Tim Frick is the author of four books including, most recently, Designing for Sustainability: A Guide to Building Greener Digital Products and Services, from O'Reilly Media. He is @timfrick on Twitter. Mightybytes is a full-service creative firm for conscious companies and a certified B Corporation. Connect with us on Twitter or fill out our contact form.