Have you ever had a successful garden? Yeah … me neither. But I’m a big fan of analogies, so just roll with me on this one.

Regardless of our respective horticultural expertise, we can agree on what you need to have a successful garden.

  1. Seeds: Without seeds, you aren’t even gardening in the first place.
  2. Dirt: Once you have the seeds, you’ll need somewhere to put them.
  3. Water and sunlight: These two things will help nurture your seeds into thriving, fruitful plants.

Better content and gardens

Your content is like a seed. Just as it can grow into a beautiful plant that bears fruit (or revenue in this case), it can also languish and die. Creating good, quality content is the first step for success.

Next, you need a place to plant your content. Just as there are good and bad places to plant seeds, there are good and bad places to put your content.

Your content needs to be where people can find it—like on relevant, well-organized sites or media outlets. Keep your content away from weeds (i.e., spammy clickbait sites and crappy content). They’re sure to suck the life out of whatever good content you create.

With any luck, your content will start to grow and bloom. But when you mix in tools like marketing automation software, you can gain a competitive edge.

Bring in the tools!

To be honest, you can garden completely by hand. You can dig holes with your hands, plant each individual seed and cover it up. You can use your hands to carry some water from your spigot. You can methodically pick off every rogue sprig by hand, too.

You can do this with your content, too. But unless you have a lot of patience and time on your hands, this is far from efficient. That’s where tools come in; tools make the job easier.

Like a shovel or rake, marketing automation is a tool. It makes marketing tasks quicker and allows you to easily track your ROI.

Marketing automation lets you stop sending emails by hand, managing leads in disorganized spreadsheets, and reviewing multiple sources to get analytics. Marketing automation helps marketers focus less on tasks and more on strategy.

The trouble with tools

Having a watering can doesn’t make you a gardener. Having software can’t make you a marketer.

Tools are great—but they’re just that. A utility for doing a job better. A marketing automation platform is a fantastic tool that can help you take your marketing to the next level—in today’s market, it’s almost a necessity.

However, the pitfall that some marketers fall into is substituting marketing automation for a strategy. In reality, it should be a pillar that helps support a larger strategy. When used improperly, marketing automation can cause you to fixate on vanity metrics and software implementation rather than the goals of your overall program.

We work with a client who has used multiple inbound agencies. While they were all experts in the software, they struggled to meet the need for content, and always seemed more interested in working the tool rather than making business bloom. And although they were able to improve the metrics that they were tracking, these metrics didn’t speak to the client’s goals—the client was pretty much allergic to the fruit they produced.

Striking the balance with tools

There are pitfalls when combining content and marketing automation. But when combined properly, content and marketing automation are a match made in heaven. They help each other be the best that they can be. It’s all about keeping the balance.

Regardless of how good your content is, it never hurts to give it a boost. Regardless of how good your software chops are, you always need quality content.

If you want to be competitive in today’s marketplace, you’re going to need them both working at optimal capacity. This means having a carefully crafted strategy that makes the best use of both your content and marketing automation.

For the best results, keep your priorities straight—you’re growing a garden, not digging holes

Getting your marketing green thumb

Before you do anything, you need a strategy with concrete goals. Think who, what, when, where, why and how. Who is the message going to? What are you going to say? When are you going to say it? Where are they going to see it? Why should they care? How can they take action on it?

Focus on creating great content. Make sure it’s well-written, speaks to your audience and solves their problems. Your content’s success rests wholly on how well you know your audience.

Next, make sure you have the medium right. Is it an infographic? A video? A blog? Marshall McLuhan’s quote, “the medium is the message,” still holds true. The way you present the message can be just as important as the actual words themselves.

Then, pick your promotion channels. Dust off that old Rolodex and start building relationships with publishers, influencers and gatekeepers.

Finally, let it rip. Strategize how you’re going to use your marketing automation platform. Think about the goals and KPIs you want to hit. Create workflows and dynamic content to help prospects and customers have a unique, engaging experience. Then set it up and let it do its job.

But marketing automation isn’t a “set it and forget it” tactic. Use the analytics to see what performed well. Make sure you’re satisfying your customers’ needs. If you are attentive to their responses, you’ll make better content, send better emails and pull in more leads. Don’t use the analytics as a sheet to say “look!” to your boss—use it as a way to make even better content and have more meaningful conversations.

But look—when you plant a garden, not all of your seeds are going to take. And that’s fine. That’s how it works. Likewise, not every piece of content is going to rock the foundation of the industry. You have to persist, even if a piece doesn’t take root right away. Focus on what’s working, and do more of it.

It’s your job to give every piece of content you produce every chance to grow into something meaningful.

Even if we don’t have green thumbs in the gardening world, we can still do some killer marketing.