If you run a small business, you'll probably wear very different hats. Often times, you have very little time to drive traffic to your site, grow your business, or think about selling your products and services, even if it's vital to your success. Marketing automation is software that helps you find your audience, engage your customers and build your brand.

What is the difference between email marketing and marketing automation?

The answer is simpler than you think. While both tools use email as the primary channel to interact with your audience, email marketing only tracks the actions taken by the recipients of your email submissions. Marketing automation software, on the other hand, sees and manages every digital interaction related to your business as a potential. It also compiles your potential customers' past activities and provides you with a 360-degree view.

Most of the differences between email marketing and marketing automation stem from their analytics approach. Email marketing tools track a recipient's behavior in your email campaign. Did the potential customer or customer open your email? Did he click a link? What connection and how many times? And you get aggregated data so you can see what percent of people are doing with your email and what percent of them are doing nothing.

With marketing automation, you get this email data and more. Your potential customer's behavior can be tracked wherever they interact with your company on the web. When they clicked this link, did they go to a landing page on your site? What did they do then? Did they download a document or look at a product? Did they make a purchase? If so, how long did it take? Seeing the full picture of your journey currently allows you to plan more targeted campaigns based on the observed behavior.

When you send an email through an email marketing system, you can tell if the potential customer clicked the link with a call-to-action to buy. Also, you can use your CRM to see if this lead is a customer. But just because a customer opens an email and then makes a purchase doesn't mean they made a purchase simply because of the email. They may have dealt with a dozen additional touchpoints on your site. 78 percent of marketers strive to measure their return on content investment.

With marketing automation, you can keep track of your entire journey and see the exact path to your purchase, including (usually) next actions that take place outside of the email. Instead of making assumptions about purchasing behavior, you can map it. This allows you to see which transactions and assets are actually driving conversions and sales and is a waste of time.

Marketing automation systems go to the next level with smart action based on behavioral analysis. Depending on potential customer behavior, the system can optimize the timing of the communication, the shared message, and even generate suggestions for offline communication such as phone calls or direct mail.

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