It's no secret that marketing automation is a high-growth industry. Yet it's also clear that many B2B marketers struggle to achieve the ROI they expected to get from their marketing automation investments: According to an often-cited 2011 Focus Research study, half of all companies say they haven't realized the full value of their marketing automation investments.
What separates the successful marketing automation users from the pack? According to many experts, it often boils down to a matter of timing – or, rather, of cadence.
"Cadence is commonly confused with frequency" in marketing campaigns, said Jessica Meher, Head of Enterprise Marketing at HubSpot. "Frequency is simply how many times emails are sent, whereas cadence is the 'pattern' of email – it includes the number of emails sent, the spacing between emails, the content sent, and the audience receiving the email."
The distinction between frequency and cadence, according to Mike Gospe, Co-Founder and Principal of KickStart Alliance and author of The Marketing High Ground, is one that can make or break a campaign managed with a marketing automation solution. "A lot of marketers still think that automation, by itself, is the secret to a successful lead generation campaign. Basically, what that leads to is garbage in, garbage out," Gospe said. "If you automate a campaign where you're touching customers just routinely, with no thought as to the strategy, the objective, or the content an audience values, then those programs are much less likely to deliver."
Gospe said that he routinely works with clients that miss the difference between frequency and cadence when setting up campaigns. "In one case, the company thought the secret to interaction would be communicating every two weeks with the audience," he stated. "Whether they knew what the audience wanted or not was irrelevant. Touching them every two weeks with a repetitive offer was what they considered the key to success … they thought that repetition was the way to get remembered or to stay top of mind with customers."
"If you don't build effective cadence into your campaigns, then you risk putting your marketing automation solution on auto-pilot," added Elle Woulfe, Director of Marketing Programs for Eloqua. "You're not solving the 'batch and blast' problem, you're just batching and blasting with automation."
Learning How To Use Marketing Triggers
Gospe said he recommends that his clients take a step back and stop what they're doing when he sees a lack of cadence in their campaigns. "Then we develop a marketing blueprint – a flowchart of activities and offers that cascade together over time and encourage a more nurturing dialogue," he said. "We'll think about the persona, the key content they have to offer, and a logical order for offering content and then building a person-to-person relationship when they respond to those offers."
"That's as opposed to an approach where you're saying: 'Oh, we need a touch point here. What should we do? Let's throw this data sheet out there, we haven't used that in a while," he added.
According to Woulfe, marketing automation can contribute to this process by giving marketers more powerful tools for engaging with prospects, determining their needs, and then setting an appropriate cadence for communicating with them. "People set up nurturing campaigns where they think about timing, but they don't take full advantage of their ability to build in triggers. You need to use those triggers as often as possible. If somebody shows that something is important to them – a piece of content or an offer – then we want to follow up with something that's relevant, but perhaps a level deeper."
"As you get closer to qualified leads, those programs tend to need touches that come closer together," Woulfe added. "Build triggers into those programs; if a prospect shows interest in an email, then it triggers the next email."
Conversely, said Woulfe, it's often necessary to back off when a prospect is less responsive: "If somebody doesn't engage after a certain number of communications, put them into a holding pattern. If you get fixated on sending an email every x number of days, then you're really thinking about nurturing the wrong way."
Testing For Success
Meher also emphasized the importance of constant testing and experimentation to ensure that a campaign is setting the right cadence for a particular persona or business segment. "We've done testing to identify the cadence for our email and lead nurturing programs," she explained. "The cadence for our small business group looks very different than for our VARs, for example. So each segment manager sends emails on different days and times, and with different content that matches the needs of the buyer persona."
Added Meher: "We also have a separate cadence of emails for lead nurturing via segment that is based on historical data and how prospects move down the sales and marketing funnel."
"The best way to measure the cadence of a campaign is by testing," agreed Melissa Miller, Marketing Manager at HubSpot. "The 'winner' of these tests will be the campaign that generates the highest level of engagement. There are several metrics for engagement beyond click rate – you could look at email replies, unsubscribes, landing page conversions, and even sales if you're using closed-loop marketing software."
6 Questions To Ask About Cadence
Gospe said there are six key questions that any B2B marketer should address when setting the cadence for a marketing campaign:
Who is the target audience – the persona?
How do they want to be communicated with?
What content offers will benefit them the most?
What happens after a prospect responds to a call to action?
What happens when a prospect fails to respond?
How will a specific series of activities and offers qualify prospects and drive the pipeline?
The answers to these questions, Gospe stated, then allow marketers to set a series of triggers and a logical order for campaign activities. It also allows marketers to begin experimenting with the actual timing of campaign offers, based on what they know about their prospects.
"Out of those six questions, if you understand the answers to them, you'll understand not only the content but the cadence that we need to engage that prospect in a beneficial, valuable way over time," he explained. "In one case, the right cadence might be once or twice a week; in another, it might be once a quarter."
Extending Cadence To Multi-Channnel Marketing
While many discussions of campaign cadence focus on email, experts agree that the same principles apply to multi-channel campaigns.
"It's important to keep in mind that different channels have different levels of marketing tolerance, and that one size does not fit all," said Meher. "For example, cadence for email programs will look very different than with social media. A social media audience has a higher tolerance for higher frequency, but shorter, messages."
When we put a marketing blueprint together, we're usually talking about an integrated campaign," added Gospe. "There's an email component, a SEO component, there's print collateral, events, advertising and so on. All of those pieces have to fit together."