To say marketing automation has been revolutionary for marketing would be an understatement.

It has changed the way that marketers can reach out to prospects. It has automated repetitive tasks like sending emails — giving marketers more time to focus on more important things. Marketing automation even brought with it the concept of inbound marketing.

Here’s the kicker, though. You’re probably not getting the most out of it. I don’t mean from a technology standpoint, like you’re missing features—but from a strategic standpoint, like you’re missing the big picture view.

Let me explain.

Inbound marketing is a tactic that has wrongfully been turned into a strategy. To be clear, strategy is the brain of marketing, and tactics are the brawn. Strategy is the What and the Why. Tactics are the How.

And if your marketing automation results to date suck, just know you’re not alone.

An Ancient Example for Modern Marketers

As a metaphor for tactics and strategy, think of a blacksmith.

A blacksmith has two main toolsets—his physical tools and his mental tools. The physical tools are things like hammers, anvils, a forge and the like. His mental tools are his vision and knowhow—envisioning a sword out of a chunk of steel.

His physical tools are his tactics; his mental tools are his strategy.

If he just uses his mental tools, he won’t physically get anything done—he’ll daydream all day long. Now think about if he just uses his physical toolset. Even if he buys the best tools in the world and a fine piece of steel, these tools can’t make a beautiful sword by themselves. He can’t just throw the steel in the forge and say, “Any minute now, my tools will make a great sword, I’ll just sit back and watch!” He needs to master the tools he has and know what he needs to do with them.

No matter how good the tools are, they need the vision and knowhow to make them work. No matter how good the vision and knowhow, they need the tools to make it possible.

Alright, So Back to Marketing Automation

Buying a marketing automation platform like HubSpot or Pardot isn’t enough to make you the marketing equivalent of a master blacksmith. You need a bigger picture of the proverbial Excalibur you’re trying to make, and marketing automation is only the hammers you should use to make it.

At the intersection of tools and knowhow is where you find good content marketing.

Why Am I Not Getting the Most Out of It? Why Do My Results Suck?

The reason that most people aren’t getting the most out of their marketing automation is because marketing automation is only as good as what you funnel through it.

Seriously, if you put crap in, you’re not getting gold out the other side.

Look, you’re probably not getting the most out of your marketing automation software because you’re not getting the most out of your content first and foremost.

Take a step back. Marketing automation is an ongoing checklist of sending out emails, writing up blogs, optimizing pages for SEO, writing eBooks, creating workflows and more. Put down the checklist; it’ll be there when you get back. Instead, think about what the ultimate goal is. Think about your audience, your brand and how your content bridges them. Now, if it makes sense, marketing automation should be one possible vehicle that drives your content from your brand to your audience. Not the thing making the content. Not the thing dictating the content.

Using marketing automation as a surrogate for a strategy almost always falls flat. That’s because marketing automation and inbound marketing focus almost solely on traffic. Inbound marketing is at the top of the sales funnel—it’s enough to get people in the door, but not enough to keep them.

Your content is what’s actually going to keep people around. Your content should be your focus—not the marketing automation checklist. That list is great for marketing your content, but it can’t hold its own without seriously good content.

TL;DR

If you dozed off, don’t worry.

Long story short—make kickass content that people want. Marketing automation is not a silver bullet. Inbound marketing is not a marketing panacea. Software can’t save crappy content. Marketing automation is not your marketing savior. Boom. There, I said it.

Know what your audience wants. If you don’t know, talk to them. Give them content that addresses their needs. Making content is hard work—but it’s worth it…as long as you’re strategic.

Prioritize your content and brand identity above inbound marketing. Make your value clear to your audience in what you say and do. Then use marketing automation as a way to promote the content and inbound marketing as a way to get people in the door.