Email Marketing versus Marketing Automation: Understanding the Difference


Ray Tomlinson was the first human ever to email. It’s been 42 years since and a lot has changed for email, especially for email marketing. From just having the ability to send a message, it has evolved to be the most cost-effective way of direct marketing. At present around 81% of SMEs rely on email as their primary customer acquisition channel, while 80% use it for retention. And in the digital era, the influx of data through social media and mobile devices paved the way for data collection and data management. Such importance on data led to the rise in automated and behavioral-led programs where strategies focused on customers’ specific needs. All of this development contributed to what we call Marketing Automation.

Do More in Marketing with Automation

So, if marketing automation is here to automate marketing tasks, do businesses still need email marketing? This is where the line between the two gets blurred. And businesses must understand which entity benefits how, when to switch, and whether even switching makes sense. While both these methods are used to target an audience group, email marketing only deals with tracking actions taken by the recipients. Before further diving into differences, let’s understand what email marketing and marketing automation are.

Email Marketing

Neil Patel describes email marketing as “Email marketing is a digital marketing strategy based on sending emails and developing relationships with prospects and customers. An effective email marketing strategy converts prospects into customers and turns first-time buyers into recurring customers. One advantage of email marketing is that you can automate the entire process.”

Email marketing is loved by most marketers as it has emerged as a proven way of building trust with prospects, enhance relationships with existing customers, and build loyalty. It is also a vital tool for educating prospects on the value of the brand and keeping them engaged between purchases.

Marketing Automation

According to HubSpot, “Marketing automation is all about using software to automate marketing activities. Many marketing departments automate repetitive tasks such as email marketing, social media posting, and even ad campaigns — not just for the sake of efficiency, but so they can provide a more personalized experience for their customers. The technology of marketing automation makes these tasks easier.”

The right mixture of automated technology and strategy can define marketing automation in simple words. It helps in offering personalized content to prospects and converts them into delighted customers.

So What’s The Difference?

Behavioral Tracking

The fundamental difference between the two is the way data is collected. Email marketing tracks prospect’s behavior over the opening of an email, whether they clicked any link or how many times they did. You can see the click rates, bounce rates, and unsubscribe rates. After collecting the data, the decision is concluded in terms of percentage based on prospects’ interaction with the email.

On the other hand, marketing automation helps marketers to track prospects over the web. How they interact with the website, which categories/landing pages/links they opened. Did they request or downloaded reports/ebooks/infographics/whitepapers or confirmed their presence for a webinar? It also covers behavior outside of your websites, such as social media and other digital footprints. Marketing automation helps in crafting personalized campaigns/messaging based on the aforementioned detailed information.

Moosend Marketing Automation Personalization
Marketing automation Suggesting product via lookalike audience. Source: Moosend
Customer-centric Campaigning

Email marketing requires a significant investment to create an email, list segmentation, and post-delivery analytics. However, after creating a campaign, the basic strategy is to send out a single, fixed email to everybody. We also know the technique as ‘batch and blast’ as the emails are sent to everyone on the list. Additionally, automating your email marketing can let you send emails to different list segments and even send different emails to different prospects.

However, marketing automation rewards you more for your efforts. The process still entails creating an email, list segmentation, etc. but also lets you do more with automation with more choices and options. You can set up a series of emails/messages to go out over time and can even set them up as prospects interact with your website. This communication strategy of sending a pre-written set of messages to prospects over time is also known as drip marketing.

Ontraport- automated email specified on 'condition'
Automated email specified on ‘condition’. Source: Ontraport
Sales or Lead Scoring

Email marketing relies on other third-party systems such as CRM to gather insights about the customers. On its own, it only knows about the information that you feed in it. You need to integrate one or more tools in order to collect, organize, and use data to form results.

The way you market your product and its sales cycle also differentiate email marketing and marketing automation. Products that demand little thinking while making a purchase are much suited to email marketing. It is quick and fast information that can be delivered to the customers. Whereas marketing automation handles best with a longer sales cycle. It will consider customers over multiple checkpoints. Hence, email marketing can give you better sales, but marketing automation can give you better leads.

ActiveCampaign- Marketing Automation segregated roots
Marketing Automation segregated roots. Source: ActiveCampaign
Capabilities — B2B and B2C

Email marketing is the easiest way of getting information to the customer. That’s why it works best in the B2C segment. You encourage prospects to purchase from your store/website directly. Herein, within advanced systems, you will set up different emails such as reviews, cart abandonment, sales/discounts, or even loyalty. In contrast, marketing automation works better with B2B companies that have a dedicated sales team. The sales team has to interact with the potential buyers from time to time throughout the sales cycle before they convert them or lose them forever.

Customer Re-engagement map- Salesforce Pardot
Customer Re-engagement map. Source: Salesforce Pardot

Which one to Choose?

If you want to start conversations and make connections with the people in their lead base, both platforms are ideal. It really depends on what and how much you want to achieve with your business. If your sales cycle is short or is mainly confined to the B2C segment, email marketing would be a better fit for you. At this stage, Marketing automation might be too advanced or too expensive for you. Yet, it will shine if you are delivering B2B services and have a dedicated sales team engaging with the prospects over the course of time. Marketing automation will also deliver extra insights as nurturing, scoring, and qualifying leads based on the interaction of customer for your website, social media, and other digital footprints. Ultimately, it is your goal, the scope of your business/services, the extension of marketing efforts, and the quantity/diversity of your leads that will decide which platform is best for you.

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