It sounds like such a good idea—software that automates repetitive marketing tasks such as email, social media, website personalization, etc.
On the surface, marketing automation provides business with added agility in reaching out to customers in various ways. With the recent advances in big data, sentiment analysis, social listening, and cloud computing, using automation programs for marketing campaigns has become easier than ever before. But as is the case with most new technology, it can be abused by those who don’t quite understand how to use it correctly.
Unfortunately, there are plenty of examples of when marketing automation fails. Some of these cases are minor, but others can end up damaging an organization significantly. It’s important for businesses to learn from these examples and make sure they don’t repeat them.
When Marketing Automation Fails
One of the most common forms of marketing automation is the robot response. It’s a simple way to communicate with people who are referring to your brand online. One of the problems with robot responses, however, is that at times the system being used doesn’t differentiate between certain responses.
Take the case of Bank of America. Back in 2013, Bank of America became the focal point of marketing automation fails when its Twitter account automatically responded to mentions with friendly questions and requests for more information. The problem was that this happened during the height of the Occupy LA movement, as activists occupied public spaces in response to the larger Occupy Wall Street movement.
Followers of that cause soon caught on to the automated responses the company was using. Soon, angry mentions of house foreclosures filled the Twitter feed, and Bank of America’s responses remaining unchanged. Marketing automation is supposed to demonstrate a more human side of a company, but these automated responses ended up showing the opposite.
Automated responses can backfire in other, yet similarly embarrassing, ways. When the New England Patriots decided to show appreciation to their fans after hitting one million Twitter followers, they ran a campaign where they would put fans’ Twitter handles on the back of a digital jersey.
Only fans who retweeted the original tweet would get the honor. Sounds like a great idea, right? There was just one problem; some of the accounts who retweeted the post had racist Twitter handles, and since the campaign was automated, those handles were placed on the back of the digital jersey for everyone to see. It was a humiliating misstep that required the organization to apologize profusely.
Other mistakes involving marketing automation are comparatively minor, but can still end up costing a business. Simple automated emails often address a customer by name, but there may come times when that name is used incorrectly. Perhaps it’s a misspelling of a customer’s name, or maybe it uses a different name entirely.
There are even instances where the person is addressed by “First Name.” Yes, these are relatively small errors that are probably just a result of some mix up in data, but it does make the customer lose confidence in the business.
These failures don’t even get into the potential mistakes involving customized marketing pitches and content.
Avoiding Automation Blunders
So, what can a company do to learn from the past and avoid similar blunders in the future? The first is task is to ensure all marketing automation receives some sort of human oversight.
If you use automated responses on Twitter or Facebook, those responses should be approved first by whoever is running those social media accounts. In this way, material will never be published that would reflect poorly on your business.
At the same time, plan your automation strategy well and consider all the ways it may be abused. The New England Patriots likely should have noted how their campaign could have taken a wrong turn and planned accordingly.
Along with these lessons, it’s always important to collect detailed data on your customers. The more data involved, the more accurate marketing automation will be, and the less likely a mistake will be made.
In this age of big data and advances involving cloud computing, marketing automation can be an important tool in helping businesses expand their reach and communicate with customers. Mistakes can happen, and companies have to be prepared for such a case, but that shouldn’t dissuade them from trying. As always, a well planned strategy can take a business far, maximizing the benefits while minimizing any of the damages.
This article has been edited and condensed.
Rick Delgado is a technology commentator and freelance writer. His work can be found on Wired, SmartDataCollective and MakeUseOf. Connect with @ricknotdelgado on Twitter.