Do you need an Email Marketing or Marketing Automation Tool?

Do You Need An Email Marketing or a Marketing Automation Tool?

email marketing automation toolEmail marketing tools are typically inexpensive and marketing automation tools are generally very expensive.  So which one do you need?  

Do you need to invest $500 per month for a great marketing automation tool, or $50 per month for a good email marketing tool?

We love to talk about the possibility of one-to-one communication with our target audience in this age of social media but who are we kidding?!

One-to-one communication is not possible with a large audience!

But what is possible is to use some level of automation to help to improve communication with your audience and, through these interactions, we can identify the most relevant prospects, that is the people who we are more likely to engage in one-to-one communication with.

Email marketing tools provide some level of automation.  So when do you cross the line and need a marketing automation tool?

Well, you’re here to find and out so we are going to tell you!!

What Functionality is Typically Provided by an Email Marketing Tool?

An email marketing tool typically provides the following functionality:

  • Ability to add forms to your site for collection of email
  • Distribution of personalised emails to your email subscribers at specific times
  • Segmentation of lists so you can send emails to a relevant audience
  • Basic email automation, for example, send an automated series of emails to new subscribers.

An example tool in this area is AWeber.  AWeber is an excellent email marketing tool that provides all of the above functionality, as well as:

  • A drag-and-drop editor for creating email marketing newsletters
  • The ability to add forms to your Facebook Page to collect email addresses
  • Integration with a range of applications to help collect emails (e.g. integration with the landing page software, Unbounce)
  • An email marketing API, which means you can integrate AWeber with other applications that are not currently supported
  • Over 600 email marketing templates that you can use as part of your subscription.

All this functionality is available with AWeber at prices that start at $19 per month and go up as you build your subscriber numbers.  So, it’s very affordable and includes a lot of great functionality.

What Functionality is Typically Provided by a Marketing Automation Tool?

A marketing automation tool generally has all the email marketing functionality mentioned above, plus a lot more.

  • More advanced automation –  Build up a record of interactions with your contacts and then send automated sequences to specific audiences based on their actions.  For example, if they click on an e-mail link, then you can automatically tag them as interested in that product area. Next time you send e-mails automatically, you can send a targeted message just to the people that clicked on the email, so you are able to build lead nurturing campaigns to take someone from being a subscriber to becoming a customer
  • Landing pages –  Create custom landing pages to capture lead details
  • Lead scoring – Automatically score potential leads based on their interactions.  This helps you filter out the real leads that are qualified through their interactions
  • Content Marketing – Some tools (e.g. HubSpot) provide facilities for the creation of SEO-optimized content that will drive traffic into your funnel
  • Social media marketing – Increasingly, vendors in this space will provide some capabilities to manage social media interactions, but there is also some level of automation for this area
  • Website analytics – Typically, they will integrate with your website so you can track conversions through your landing pages, right through to revenue generation
  • Integrated marketing capabilities – It’s not just about email any more; you may use direct mail, social media or telemarketing to kick off your campaigns
  • CRM (customer relationship management) database – All contact records are stored in a CRM database.  There may also be some integration to third-party CRM databases to allow for synchronization of data between them.

An example tool in this area is Ontraport.

Ontraport doesn’t provide any social media marketing or content marketing (e.g. creating blog content) capabilities, but it does have the other functionality listed above, plus:

  • Affiliate management – If you are selling products/services online you can create an affiliate management program that is managed through Ontraport
  • Membership site – If you want to create a a membership site, you can use their WordPress plugin that manages all the registration, logins, restricted access etc.
  • Task management
  • Payment integration – Through your landing pages, you can integrate with system such as PayPal and Stripe to easily collect payments.

Here is an example of a ‘sequence’ you can up with Ontraport.  A sequence is series of actions that are automatically performed based on the events that take place.  You can build up quite complicated sequences to help automate your lead nurturing.


ontraport sequence
It’s straightforward to set up sequences within Ontraport

When Do You Need an Email Marketing Tool Versus a Marketing Automation Tool?

When you start building your list, you need to start off with an email marketing tool.  It’s typically too expensive to start with a marketing automation tool and, without a decent-sized list, you’re not going to benefit too much.

The move to an email marketing tool should generally happen when you want to make money from your list, and when you’ve grown your list to a reasonable size.  It’s hard to say what a reasonable size is, because it really depends on your business, but you’ll probably have at least a couple of thousand subscribers.  Also, ideally, you would move to a marketing automation tool just before you really need it!

So, if you’ve got a reasonable-sized list, you can still stick with your email marketing tool, but you may choose to upgrade to a marketing automation option if you can relate to some/all of the following:

  • A longer sales cycle – If your sales cycle is typically short (e.g. a week) then you don’t need all the lead nurturing capabilities offered by marketing automation software.  But what happens if it takes a couple of months to close a deal?  You will need to work that prospect during that time and automation can play a key role in this
  • Wasting time on poor leads – If you find that most of the ‘leads’ are not really leads so you’re wasting your time.  Instead, build sequences that help to identify the real leads
  • You need better integration across tools – You may have an e-mail marketing tool that doesn’t working with your landing pages, or a membership site that’s not integrated with your email database.  If you need better integration across multiple products, your marketing automation tool brings more of these products together under one hood, which improves how they work together
  • Your list is growing quickly – As your list starts to grow quickly, you just won’t have the time to follow up with subscribers. For example, when someone signs up to our list we automatically send them a link to a downloadable guide.  If they don’t click on this link within seven days, we send them a reminder with the link again.  We have put a lot of work into this guide and, when people read it, they are convinced we know what we’re talking about. This makes it an important part of our sales process
  • You sell different products or services to different demographics so you need to target them differently.


Depending on the product/service you sell, your website visitors may not yet be ready to buy from you.  But that doesn’t mean they never will be.

Over time, you can identify who the real prospects are and then focus your attention on selling those.  This can be done manually or it can be done through a marketing automation tool.  You just need to figure out the best time to make that investment!

Do you use an email marketing or marketing automation tool?  What is your experience of it?  I’d love to hear your opinion below.

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Image by Shutterstock

11 Responses to Do You Need An Email Marketing or a Marketing Automation Tool?

  1. Ian, as always great info! I have used several email tools and marketing automation tools for clients, you are right on the money with the difference between them. The only thing I may add is on using email software like Aweber, MailChimp, Constant Contact they also have analytics for email monitoring stats and integrate to your Google analytics as well. The set up and learning curve takes less time and on the marketing automation side I believe from my experience, I have found that the transition over to a more automated system takes more setup and learning times because there are many more moving pieces. Well worth the time and extra cost when you get to that stage in your business. Thanks for sharing!

    • Hey April, thank you so much. Yes you are totally right about the analytics and the learning curve. With marketing automation tools you need to spend a lot more time on them but your business needs to be at the right stage.
      Thanks for chiming in and adding value!

  2. The thing that confuses me is this.

    If I am doing my job I don’t have time to socialize (social media).
    If I am socializing I am not doing my job (producing work product).

    How do you reconcile the two if your job is not social media director?

    • Hi Robin, if you only focus on producing and not marketing then you won’t sell your products. So you need to consider marketing as part of your sales process that is mandatory! It’s hard to avoid it! Ian

  3. According to me we pick up on a lot of insights about the market through these
    discussions. One in particular is the confusion about how marketing
    automation (MA) contrasts with email marketing.

  4. Another terrific article Ian, Thanks.
    My client base is SME’s, mostly of the “Free Mailchimp” variety, with small lists, and often not a focus on growing them, as they are focused on selling as someone walks through the door. Their confusion in the whole digital arena, and wariness from being bitten at some point by a snake-oil salesman is substantial.
    Having someone else articulate the things I am saying, but with the added clarity and (perhaps) credibility is very useful to me, and generous of you.

    • Thank you so much Allen. The problem with content marketing is that it requires a lot of work and there’s very little obvious gain in the short term. But if they just build a good audience they’ll then see the benefit! Ian

  5. If you can get a Marketing Automation tool at the cost of an Email Marketing tool, the choice is obvious. Plus, the marketing automation tool can do much more than your email marketing tool. If your company is growing, or you want it to grow, it is better to consider moving to marketing automation. It provides access to powerful features like multi-step campaigns, lead scoring, and analytics, all of which can make your email tactics much more strategic.

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