How to Find and Cultivate Your Marketing Automation HeartOur world is more automated than ever. A machine pours our soft drinks. Indiscriminate boxes give us speeding tickets. We talk to inanimate objects and they do things for us.

And marketing and advertising are served to us by bots and AI.

It’s a strange, strange world we live in.

And now we have marketing automation. 

Yes, the robots are taking over. Is this all bad? Of course not. We like it when Google, Alexa, Siri, or the voices in our head know exactly what we need and serve up just the right information.

Our New Norm

It takes us seconds before we become frustrated with a lack of response from a machine.

If you’re anything like me, you’ll direct some pretty choice words at your phone, TV, laptop, or whatever supercomputer you’re struggling with at the time.

So, in this love/hate relationship we have with technology and marketing automation, is there any room for real meaningful interactions?

It depends.

What’s Love Got to Do with IT?

Digital marketing is just marketing.

I was just talking to Christopher S. Penn about this today.

He said the biggest change he’s seen in the last 10 years is how much our phones have made everything digital.

Even something as analog as going to the store is now turning into a digital activity.

We search for prices while at a store or maybe lookup a recipe.

And we take our phones everywhere.

We used to think the IT team should manage our website and the interns should handle our social media accounts. Those days are over. Everything is digital and it’s time we all fully accepted that we have a presence 24/7.

The time for silos is over. We no longer have an IT problem, or a social media problem, or even a digital marketing problem.

We have an empathy problem.

Empathy and Marketing Automation

As this world turned digital, we, as marketers, have access to more useful and trackable data than ever. And with this data we can unleash marketing automation on people anytime, anywhere.

Should we though?


If we do, we’re just talking at people instead of truly understanding them and helping them live their lives.

Getting to Know Your Clients

When is the last time you spent time with a client truly listening to their hopes, dreams, struggles, and so forth? Or is your relationship with them purely transactional? If so, you’re going to need to change and fast.

Marketing automation today is about your client and their needs. The customer is now in charge. They run the show. You’re just playing a part in their lives.

Take some time and get to know your clients. I’m not saying you send them some cold impersonal survey, although surveys can serve a purpose. I’m saying you need to ask questions of them from a place of empathy and then really listen.

Like a Barbara Walters interview but dial it back a tad (did I just date myself?). Keep a journal about your clients. If you’re one of those people who thinks in terms of metrics, think of this journal as anecdotal data for future marketing use. There, feel better?

What’s Their Story? Where Are They Going?

As you keep your client journal, pay attention to the similarities from client to client. Map those out.

  • What worries do they share?
  • How are they dealing with problems?
  • What tasks do they perform and when?
  • How do these things tie to what you offer them as a product and service?

We’re writing a story here, The Journey of Jill the Client. We live in a client-centric environment now. They need to know that you know them, care about them, and truly understand their needs.

Marketing Today Is…

This is marketing today, truly…

  • Knowing them and what makes them tick, what keeps them up at night.
  • Caring about them, having their best interest at heart, honestly and consistently.
  • Understanding their needs, and how you can help them solve problems.

If this isn’t how you market, you are not only behind the curve, but you’re missing a big opportunity to connect with your clients in a way that transcends market trends and bottom lines.

People are loyal to companies they value, trust, and like, like really like, like a lot.

Journey Mapping with a Big Helping of Empathy

Remember, we are writing Jill’s story here. We call this Journey Mapping. It’s a longstanding practice that is more important than ever.

Journey mapping started as a UX (user experience) practice for understanding how a user uses a device, interface, or system. Nielsen Norman Group, leaders in UX, defines a journey map as…

“…a visualization of the process that a person goes through in order to accomplish a goal.”

But, here’s the thing, I think we need to rethink this practice as it relates to a client-centric business environment. Yes, we need to map the steps a client takes to get to conversion, the point at which a transaction is made, i.e. a purchase, signup, download, etc.

User Stories Give the Journey Maps Important Context

A journey map without context is just historical data. We might know the path they took and even their state of mind. But we’re missing the why.

  • Why did they follow that path?
  • What was their motivation?
  • How did your offering win over others?

Knowing these things will allow you to set up marketing campaigns based on more than just pitches.

You can be the hero. You can be the company who changes the way business is done because you’re the one who truly knows your client’s needs and wants, and what their true motivations are.

Mathew Sweezey’s book The Context Marketing Revolution is a must for understanding the importance of context in today’s marketing.

User stories are as they sound, the story of a customer as they interact with you. This is a combination of the anecdotal data you’re tracking in your client journals and the methodology and best practices of how you interface with your client throughout their entire relationship with you. Including what happened to lead them to you.

Break it Down: Like the Dance

Let’s break it into simple terms…

  • Traditional marketing tells the client what you have to offer.
  • Client-centric marketing offers solutions based on their needs and is aligned with the context of the moment where your message is delivered.

In other words, you’re “speaking” to them as if they’re standing in front of you asking for your help. We’re engaged in one long conversation. Are you the annoying guy who never shuts up or the person who really listens and cares?

What Does This Have to Do with Marketing Automation?


Marketing automation is at the heart of most marketing efforts today. Marketing automation platforms like HubSpot, SharpSpring, Marketo, and others allow you to automate your interactions with your clients.

If you didn’t go through the exercises I’ve described above, then your efforts with marketing automation will be less effective and could potentially alienate your clients and do irreparable damage.

If you did go through the exercises detailed above, then your marketing automation efforts – paid search, landing pages, emailers, retargeting, etc. – should align with the journey map you’ve created and be developed within the context of your user stories.

Marketing Today Has a Soul

This is marketing today. Empathy is not a buzzword; it is the new normal. Do these things and you will stand apart from your competition and form relationships with clients that will last for years, producing meaningful results that not only help the bottom line but also help you to be the best company you can be!

Marketing automation is a good thing, if it has a soul. And in this time of uncertainty, empathy is the tool every marketer needs to have in their marketing toolbox.

Drawing credit: Lennah Mae Bailey (my kid)

Jon Mikel Bailey

Jon-Mikel Bailey is the Chief Development and Marketing Officer for Wellspring Digital. He has worked in the digital marketing industry for 25 years, speaking at conferences nationwide on the topics of UX, SEO, content marketing, and design. Jon has a wife, a 12-year-old daughter, two dogs, three cats, and apparently, a bunch of field mice. He's a drummer in his spare time, but still thinks he's a rock star. We won't hold it against him.

View all posts by Jon Mikel Bailey