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That delicious ring of puffy goodness sits on a plate in front of me. Teasing me with its delicate sugary shine. A donut so stuffed that one drip of red jelly squeezes out the side.

My head says no, but my stomach says yes. Head calculates how far I’d have to jog to burn off the 672 calories. Stomach isn’t worried about such mundane problems. Incredible payoff is 30 seconds away.

Many marketers have bitten into the jelly donut that is “marketing automation”. They hit START on an automation program that shells out countless emails to unsuspecting victims, quickly and furiously. It’s never been easier to do it.

It Requires No Effort Or Thought

To change a program from one email every three days to three emails every one day takes all of four seconds and zero thought. It’s incredibly easy to create automation programs designed to send emails when a prospect visits a page, adds an item to a cart, signs up for a webinar, downloads your lead magnet. The more the merrier!

This type of strategy eliminates the notion that your audience is actual people with actual lives. Automated messages, even ones crafted with care can never replace the feeling and results of real human interaction.

If your business relies on loyal, repeat customers well I have bad news for you. There is a good chance your automation strategy is doing more harm than good.

Some of the actual marketing automation metrics you’ll find supporting how successful it is to employ the product don’t help.

Sales nurturing sees marketing contributing more to the sales-forecasted pipeline — 30% vs 22%. — Aberdeen

Leads nurtured with targeted content produce an increase in sales opportunities of more than 20%. — HubSpot

According to DemandGen Report, on average, nurtured leads produce a 20 percent increase in sales opportunities versus non-nurtured leads.

The most useful measure of marketing automation performance is conversion rate for 70% of very successful system users. — Ascend2 & Marketo

B2B marketers who implement marketing automation are said to increase the number of leads who enter their sales-pipeline by 10 percent according to Forrester Research.

It’s plain to see that marketing automation has a ton of benefits for any sized organization. I have spent hundreds of hours in Marketo, Pardot, & Hubspot implementing campaigns. I strongly and firmly believe in the value that these programs provide.

But.

In the hands of marketers at some companies who already have a limited desire to care about their customers, the net result is a truly abysmal state of affairs. Take the example below – in my experience this is becoming all too common.

The key to long-term success is to avoid complacency and over-automation.

To make a marketing automation solution a successful long term strategy for your business you need to employ the following:

Develop and practice key and fundamental marketing skills related to engaging customers and responding to their needs personally.

Engaging customers sometimes requires actual, one-to-one personal communication, empathy and a commitment to helping people.

Understand that you’re communicating to real people and develop content and frequency that are right for that audience.

Don’t rely entirely on math to predict future outcomes.

While sending 6 emails in 12 hours might look good on paper, the implications of this on a long term strategy are overwhelmingly adverse. Your data might even seem to prove that more emails will yield more dollars, it doesn’t take into account a long term view.

Make sure that all marketing messages are reviewed and their target audiences are confirmed before going out.

Believe me it is ridiculously easy to make list-building errors or to segment incorrectly. Sometimes with dramatic implications. I’ve also seen plenty of marketers carelessly build an automation campaign. Processes should be in place to ensure this doesn’t happen.

It’s great that marketing automation has made it easier than ever to quickly deploy emails and content – but abusing that is as tempting as a jelly-filled donut. We must use the care and effort that marketers have had to employ for decades to ensure the right message gets to the right audience in the right frequency to have a long lasting impact.

Craig Oliphant is a marketing expert with over a decade of experience in digital marketing. He has built online campaigns for multi-million dollar companies, and seen massive returns from very small investments. He has figured out ways to achieve repeatable results.