Do small businesses need marketing automation to keep up with the competition?

Marketing automation can help businesses overcome disadvantages they’d otherwise have against larger companies. But automation can come with its own drawbacks.

marketing automation
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We live in an age of technology that has enabled more entrepreneurship, better business management, and more consumer options than ever before. However, not all businesses have entered the technological arena, refraining from adopting new software for financial, cultural, or even personal reasons; in fact, according to Wasp Barcode, 48 percent of small businesses still aren’t tracking inventory using modern technology.

With large businesses able to freely invest in custom technology and high-profile marketing campaigns, do small businesses “need” to turn to automation in order to stand a chance in competition?

What Is marketing automation?

First, let’s work on defining marketing automation. Hubspot does a great job with this, defining marketing automation as any technological system that helps marketers execute “repetitive tasks such as emails, social media, and other website actions.” In practice, this can refer to simple systems, like software that allows you to schedule social media posts ahead of time, or more complex systems, like those that automatically generate content on the topic of your choice. It will be tough to speak in absolutes throughout this article because of the broad nature of this definition, but we’ll do our best.

How automation addresses small business disadvantages

In theory, marketing automation can help businesses overcome a serious number of disadvantages they’d otherwise have against larger companies:

  • Leveling the playing field. Automation technology is available at the same rate to everyone (for the most part). For the same monthly rate, small businesses can gain access to the same sophisticated features that large corporations have. This levels the playing field, enabling small businesses to pursue the same types of strategies for the same cost.

  • Reduced human resource demands. Accomplishing more tasks means having more people on hand to perform those tasks — unless a software program is handling the tasks for you. If you can replace even one part-time role with automation software, you can save your business tens of thousands of dollars a year (in exchange for what is probably a few hundred to a few thousand dollars in subscription fees).

  • Education and ideation. Accessing automated systems generally puts you face-to-face with the experts who created them. Merely seeing the functionality and the way the system works can help educate you about the best way to execute a strategy. It can also help you brainstorm new ways to promote your company. Either way, you’ll have access to a new realm of expertise without having to pay for a qualified expert in the industry.

  • Scalability. One of the biggest challenges for small businesses is scaling; doing so generally requires an investment of more money (such as placing ads on more billboards) and prohibits small business owners from moving forward. But since most automation platforms exist exclusively in the digital realm, you can execute more tasks for the same initial investment, making it easier for small businesses to compete with rapidly scaling corporations.

The dangers of automation

However, there are some drawbacks to using marketing automation software:

  • Overuse. When you start automating your messaging, you run the risk of spamming your target audience. For example, you might be tempted to set up multiple email blasts a day when it only takes you a few seconds to do so; this approach could alienate your audience rather than attracting them.

  • Creative stifling. Relying on automated software can also stifle your creativity, which is important when it comes to planning and brainstorming new marketing campaigns. If you’re going to use software, use it as a way to complement and enhance your strategies, not to produce them exclusively.

  • The appearance of automation. Automating messaging like social media posts or emails can eventually give users the impression that these messages are automated, making your brand seem robotic and distant. Remember to personalize and humanize your brand as much as possible to keep your customers engaged.

The bottom line

Overall, automation has its pros and cons, but it’s a beneficial acquisition for most marketing-related tasks. Small businesses can use marketing automation to compensate for some of their competitive weaknesses and build campaigns that rival the power of those that bigger corporations wield. You’ll never be able to close that gap completely, but it can get you a step closer. However, there are other ways small businesses can compete with major players, such as with niche targeting and locally-focused optimization. Ultimately, if used properly, marketing automation is beneficial, but unnecessary for small businesses in online marketing.

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