Email Marketing vs. Marketing Automation: What’s the difference?

March 11, 2020 Charity Heller

“What’s the difference between email marketing vs. marketing automation platforms?”

This probably isn’t a question you were asking as a fledgling startup, when each member of your small team was a jack-of-all-trades, wearing twenty hats. And most marketers don’t think much about it as they’re building lists of names, writing email newsletters, and following up with contacts gathered at trade shows and networking events.

Email marketing is great for smaller and mid-market companies, who don’t want to over-resource (or overpay) for features they don’t need. But at some point, with multiple products and personas, and a growing sales team - sending and receiving emails isn’t enough.

What are the most popular Email Marketing Automation Tools in 2020?

Eventually, growing marketing teams need a solution that can segment contacts programmatically based on dynamic information, personalize messaging at scale, automatically update contacts with new information - all to accommodate an enterprise pipeline of unique would-be customers.

Read on to learn the different functions of each platform, and see which best suits the needs of your company.

What can marketing automation do that email marketing can’t?

This chart shows the difference between marketing automation and email marketing systems, including features like lead scoring dynamic messagingIf you’ve been tasked with identifying which marketing features you really need (and what you can get away without, until the next budget cycle) - this blog is for you. Or if your company is growing fast and you’re wondering when to make the leap to a full-fledged marketing automation platform, read on! 

Let’s take a closer look at the first two features - web behavior and tracking, and segmentation and personalized messaging - to see key differences between email marketing and marketing automation tools, and which might be right for you.

And if you’ve used any of these technology tools in the past - please leave a review!

But first - do you know the difference between email marketing and marketing automation?

What’s the difference between email marketing vs. marketing automation?

In short, email marketing is an outbound-only program for sending emails: Email marketing systems let marketers send email to communicate with prospects and customers, accept email responses, and log email addresses and contacts in a database for future communication and tracking.

MailChimp is an example of an inbound email marketing platform

While MailChimp has added a host of advanced features to automate marketing processes since its founding in 2001, the free version still includes the basics: tags, email templates, some segmentation, and the ability to use a free MailChimp domain or use your own.

Many modern email marketing systems have added some options for limited automation. “IFTTT” (IF This Then That)-style rules are popular; for example, if a person takes the action of entering their email in a web form to subscribe to a newsletter, they might get a welcome email in response. Or if a recipient doesn’t open the email within a certain period of time, the email may be automatically re-sent.

Email marketing is a static, outbound-only process for sending emails.

Marketing automation platforms handle both inbound and outbound campaigns dynamically.

Marketing automation systems, on the other hand, can handle both inbound and outbound campaigns - and a whole lot more. In addition to sending and receiving email, marketing automation systems let marketers do adaptive, dynamic messaging; complex revenue attribution; and even dynamic lead-scoring.

Hubspot is an example of a marketing automation platform

The Hubspot CRM (Customer Relationship Management tool) was made for inbound email campaigns. Robust features of the inbound darling include custom forms, ad management, live chat, a reporting dashboard with performance analytics, and landing pages. Hubspot also enriches leads with behavior-based information collected from the contact’s activity on the sender’s company website.

There are a lot of things to consider when looking at email marketing solutions.

Read our latest: Market Share Technology Report: Marketing Automation Tools for 2020

Opt-in email marketing vs. purchasing a list of contacts

A significant, often overlooked, issue that marketers must address depends on where their contact data comes from.

Some email marketing and marketing attribution systems only allow opt-in email addresses to be added to a sender’s contacts, meaning subscribers must give explicit consent for their email to be shared.

These constraints are aimed at preventing email spam, where users might be tempted to purchase cheap “lead lists” which are often scraped from the web, outdated, and filled with incorrect email addresses … and then send an unwanted email blast to all 100,000 people on the list!

An email campaign that is sent to a list of addresses with a large number of errors will inevitably suffer from a high email bounce rate, unsuccessful email deliverability, poor campaign results ... and can even cause the sender’s domain to be blacklisted by the email marketing system.

Unfortunately, opt-in-only email lists can be time-consuming and difficult to build, especially for small and mid-sized businesses.

Companies like ZoomInfo* offer email addresses and other contact information that has been verified and is highly accurate. The addition of other data points - such as the contact’s department, company size, and location - make it easier to personalize email messages, and avoid the spam trap.

Personalization is the heart and soul of good marketing - so how do email marketing tools compare to marketing automation in this regard?

What are the most popular Marketing Automation Tools in 2020? Read our latest Market Share Technology Report!

Email marketing vs. marketing attribution: Segmentation and dynamic messaging

Personalization is important for email marketing

Marketers rely on email segmentation to group contacts according to shared demographics and other characteristics. That’s because groups have different priorities, different interests, and different problems - and all those different people aren’t going to respond to the same message.

The more marketers know about their contacts, the more personal and relevant the message is able to be. Email marketing tools have options for email contact segmentation based on demographic qualities; for example:

  • age
  • gender
  • industry
  • education
  • seniority level
  • past purchases

Segmentation is often limited to whatever information is available.

Constant Contact is an email marketing tool with segmentation options

Founded in 1995, Constant Contact, the O.G. of email marketing is still a small-business favorite for its highly customizable email newsletter templates. Constant Contact has options for segmentation, including data points like Contact Activity and details like Job Title and Birthday Month.

Marketing attribution platforms can collect and segment contacts by additional qualities that go beyond demographics and which may, in fact, be more effective. Here are some other segmentation options, if marketers are able to collect the data:

  • Past behavior: Has the contact visited a landing page, shopping cart, or other high-value page on your website - only to “bounce” away before taking action?
  • Lead score: Returning visitors could have an associated lead score based on past engagement - and the higher it is, the more valuable their engagement is!
  • Engagement: Newcomers who have never read the company blog should be treated differently than returning visitors who follow the company on Facebook.
  • Technology stack: Technology companies get the best results when selling to companies that already use compatible technologies - so if a contact works at a company that sells compatible technology, the marketing team wants to know.

Since web activity and behavior is an effective way to segment contacts and results in strong engagement, marketing systems are racing to find and collect that information. And as technology continues to advance, it’s likely that these platforms will continue to add even more predictive and dynamic segmentation options.  

Oracle Marketing Cloud features behavior-based segmentation

Oracle Marketing Cloud is a collection of powerful tools that helps marketers acquire, engage, convert, and retain user-customers, with industry-specific marketing solutions. Several favorite features of this robust tool include artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, adaptive campaign management.

Oracle’s behavior-based segmentation, a hallmark of email automation, can trigger dynamic, action-based engagement activities based on the contact’s online activity across the internet. Lead-scoring and integrations with sales management tools make Oracle Marketing Cloud a leader in marketing automation, second in usage only to Hubspot.

Find out which marketing automation systems are gaining (and losing) popularity in 2020

Email marketing vs. marketing attribution: Web and behavior tracking

Marketers are always looking for new ways to engage would-be customers - and nothing predicts engagement better than the actions and behavior of the prospects themselves.

Tracking behavior on a website, and programmatically responding to it, is important when marketers are trying to engage visitors with related, personalized information. When website visitors read blogs on a certain topic, watch webinars, or click through to landing pages on a company website, they’re signaling interest in a particular issue.

The best marketing tools are quick to capture that interest, and strategically lead the site visitor down the marketing funnel - and ultimately, turn these curious leads into customers.

Email marketing

Email marketing tools can programmatically respond to certain actions that visitors do on a company website: for example, when a visitor visits a blog about creating videos for TicToc, an email marketing tool might trigger a pop-up asking them to register for an upcoming webinar on a related subject, like video marketing.

SendInBlue uses activity triggers to engage contacts

SendInBlue is a relative newcomer that includes features like email templates, SMS (“push notifications”), a CRM, segmentation options, and IFTTT-style workflows triggered by contact actions. Users can also use SendInBlue to create targeted landing pages for a more personalized experience.

Marketing automation

Marketing automation platforms can track information about individual visitors, based on their IP address, and aggregate it with information from other sources, such as whether they’ve opened certain emails. Marketing automation tools can also recognize returning individual visitors.

Salesforce Pardot dynamically tracks web activity

Salesforce may be best-known as a CRM, but it acquired Pardot, a marketing automation platform, in 2012. Salesforce Pardot is popular for AI-driven features like lead nurturing and qualification, automated segmentation, and dynamic content that is personalized for different personas and stages of the buyer’s journey.

Pardot offers email builders, email automation and engagement tools, and robust reporting dashboards.

One important difference between the two types of tools boils down to the level of detail they’re able to capture. Marketing automation platforms can track individual visitors, identify them when they return, and automatically update records in the database with the aggregate information. Email marketing tools generally can’t identify or track leads at the individual level.

In 2020, even the most basic email marketing tools have the ability to segment contacts and programmatically send specific messages to different groups. Email marketing and automation tools are becoming more targeted, sophisticated, and popular - a competitive advantage growing companies can’t ignore.

If your marketing efforts feel limited by the amount of information you’re able to collect, or if you find that your team is spending a lot of time building lists, it might be time to consider upgrading to a full marketing automation platform.

Check out Datanyze’s market share pages to see which marketing automation platforms are most popular, and compare email marketing tools.

*ZoomInfo is the parent company of Datanyze.

About the Author

Charity Heller

Charity Heller is a senior manager of content at ZoomInfo and Datanyze. She is passionate about creating relationships through storytelling, communication, language, and strategy. Charity is a certified project manager with a BA in English literature and professional editing certification from the University of California, Berkeley.

Follow on Twitter Follow on Linkedin More Content by Charity Heller
Previous Article
Coronavirus Cancellations: Alternatives for B2B Event Planning
Coronavirus Cancellations: Alternatives for B2B Event Planning

Is the event you’re planning or attending about to be canceled due to the coronavirus? Read further to see ...

Next Article
5 Presentation Software Tips for Effective Visual Creation
5 Presentation Software Tips for Effective Visual Creation

Visual presentation software can make or break your pitch - and even your brand. Here are features and exam...