Many brands are scrambling to implement marketing automation solutions in order to scale personalized market communications through software. The vision of scaling market communications through automated software is inspiring, but many marketers jump in without realizing the tremendous amount of work it takes to make the dream come alive.

In the phrase marketing automation, the word automation is a bit misleading. Sure, the prospect communication handoffs are automated; but at the end of the day, the software is only the messenger. The system is only as good as the content that goes into it, and this is the work that is far from automated.

Before jumping into marketing automation, it's important to understand a few basic requirements you'll need to meet to generate success. 

Define your target personas

One of the most attractive features of marketing automation systems is the ability to deliver the right message to the right person at the right time. This requires a deep understanding of your target audience. Before getting started with marketing automation, you'll need to develop well-researched target-audience personas, and storyboard at least one marketing funnel for each persona.

You'll also need to define the in-points that help the software understand the persona of each new contact in the system. For example, email submissions to download your executive whitepaper probably best go down the executive track. Other form questions such as company size and industry can help the system assign contacts to a specific persona track.

Developing well-thought-out personas with the appropriate form questions will enable your marketing automation software to target individuals and deliver a more personalized message.

Develop a ton of upfront content 

No joke here: You will need to develop a metric ton of content to enable the system to work effectively. This is because most of the new contacts that are entered into your marketing automation system will be so-called top-of-funnel leads. This means that your content must span the entire marketing funnel, with content such as:

- Top-of-funnel content like third-party help resources, guides, or e-books

- Middle-of-funnel content that ties prospect needs and interests to your products and services

- Bottom-of-funnel content that includes specific offers, case studies, or proposal outlines

Spanning the entire marketing funnel is a ton of work, and this work multiplies substantially for every persona track you add. Once this content is developed, however, the marketing automation process is a gift that keeps on giving!

Next week: Filling the funnel

Building your target personas and developing marketing funnel content is setting the table, but now you need some guests to show up for dinner! Next week's article will focus on how to attract target personas to your website through content development and distribution to fuel your marketing automation machine.