/ 11 mins
Aug 2, 2023
Looking to boost customer engagement, improve your Shopify store’s conversion rates, or save yourself time on repetitive tasks? Almost 60% of businesses today use marketing automation.
“Shopify has lowered the barrier to entry. Just about anyone with some basic tech savvy and a can-do attitude can create an e-commerce business,” says Nate Warden, an expert in product management and advertising at OpenStore, formerly at Google.
Time spent on marketing a store is one of the biggest recurring challenges, according to the hundreds of Shopify merchants OpenStore has spoken to.
Marketing automation platforms, apps, and technologies allow you to scale your marketing efforts across multiple channels, such as email, SMS, social media, and search engines.
These platforms automate repetitive tasks, processes, and even decision-making.
The purpose of automation is to handle routine tasks and increase productivity, giving you more time to focus on strategy and high-level initiatives to stay ahead of competitors.
For example, marketing automation can help you automatically segment your customer lists based on their activity across your Shopify store and cart, as well as your email newsletters or Facebook ads. This process helps place where the customer is in your marketing funnel (see graphic). From there, you can identify the right activities for cross-selling, upselling, or increasing lifetime value (LTV).
Shopify marketing automation platforms can pull information from customer relationship management (CRM) platforms like HubSpot or Easy Accounts to understand customer impact and preferences, making your marketing efforts much more efficient and targeted.
Here’s what marketing automation isn’t. If a tool requires substantial manual input or doesn't (almost entirely) automate a process, it doesn't technically qualify as marketing automation.
For instance, a keyword research tool for search engine marketing that needs manual interaction followed by implementation of the researched keywords is not an example of marketing automation.
Another tool might suggest the optimal time, target audience, and place for your ads on social media based on customer engagement data, but you might still have to design the creative and schedule the ads manually. In this case, it's a blend of automation and manual processes. For example, using a tool like Hootsuite to schedule organic posts across social media also doesn’t really fit the bill of ‘marketing automation’. Nate summarizes:
“Any solution that’s offering to help save time and be more efficient isn’t really automation, it’s just workflow management software.”
So, if you’re looking for help with your Shopify marketing but you aren’t looking for strictly marketing automation, consider these topics where you can improve your Shopify marketing with tools:
The most popular form of marketing automation for Shopify stores is through email and SMS marketing. These channels are what many Shopify owners think of when they hear ‘marketing automation’ in an e-commerce context.
Shopify email marketing automation involves sending automatic messages according to sets of instructions called workflows. Workflows may include custom-built templates or modifications mid-campaign in an attempt to improve results.
The basic setup for marketing automation entails:
Automated workflows triggered by specific customer actions. If a customer abandons their cart, the system might automatically send them an email or text message after a certain period of time has passed.
Targeting and segmentation to automatically categorize your customers based on behavior, preferences, and other personal details. This segmentation allows you to tailor your Shopify store’s messaging and offers.
Analytics and reports are the backbone of any marketing strategy. You’ll need insight into customer behavior and campaign success in order to adjust your approach accordingly.
Although automated, marketing still requires ongoing monitoring and adjustments. It cannot entirely replace human judgment and creativity, yet (but more on this later).
Here’s a comprehensive guide if you want into dive into email marketing:
There are several Shopify marketing automation apps that can get you started.
After speaking to most of the marketers at OpenStore, I get a clear impression:
Klaviyo is the staff favorite Shopify marketing automation app, at least for email and SMS.
Among the best apps out there and an official Shopify strategic partner, Klaviyo provides an end-to-end solution for your store’s personalized communication to sweeten your customer relationships. From growing your email list to pop-ups with dynamic coupon codes, learn more about how to get started with Klaviyo: three ways to automate Shopify email marketing.
Other top apps with marketing automation features for Shopify stores include:
MailChimp’s email and landing page automation also stands out in a crowd.
Omnisend enables you to create email campaigns, grow your email list, and set up automated workflows.
AdRoll’s Shopify app helps you automate your advertising campaigns and audiences across different channels, with added email automation capabilities.
Nowadays, marketing automation can go beyond the traditional time-triggered emails or texts. To clarify, these kinds of communication are still highly effective. In fact, cart recovery emails typically boast high open and click rates.
We recommend you get started if you haven’t already, especially if you’re a solopreneur looking to save time. Jack Randall, a communications expert and angel investor with a wealth of experience in marketing across product launches and market expansions, now at OpenStore and formerly at Robinhood, explains what to focus on:
“The most successful campaigns will always be the ones that leverage the most accurate, real-time data on your customer. Customers always love a deal. Offer welcome discounts or promote bundling options like many other Shopify stores do, but delivering on your promises, while leveraging your data, will build trust and engagement.”
The downside of basic campaigns is that they can lack personalization and offer limited data about your customers. So if you’ve already set up and exhausted the above, this is where a comprehensive marketing automation strategy for Shopify can come into play with an app like:
HubSpot is an industry-leading CRM that offers a Shopify app. HubSpot can be used to build full-service automation capabilities — beyond just time-triggered emails — that take into account your audience, products, orders, marketing activities, and customer touchpoints.
Drip is a comprehensive platform tailored for Shopify businesses aiming to foster repeat purchases with email builder, visual workflow manager, real-time customer segmentation, high-quality forms and pop-ups on your website, and ready-to-use templates to simplify email campaigns.
Here’s how to progress to the next stage:
The two experts agree that truly understanding your customer persona is step one. Nate shares OpenStore's first-hand experience of running 40+ Shopify stores:
“Ultimately, the best brands know their customers. Automated or not, your messaging and inbound strategy needs to be intentional.”
“Exactly. Understanding your customers’ behavior will always make your campaigns more meaningful and in turn increase your engagement. Whether your segmentation is based on demographics, customer actions or inactions, website activity, and so on — get very intentional with your audience criteria. Even if you don’t hit your conversion goals, you should analyze your campaigns post-launch and learn from them [more on this later]. Always test and experiment to take your customer insights a step further.”
“The classic lifecycle marketing mantra of reaching your customer at the right place at the right time with the right message is now more attainable than ever” with marketing automation.
Most marketing experts agree that embracing a multi-channel approach to your marketing strategy is critical, but it can be difficult to manage with a traditional, manual approach.
Typically, customers who engage with your brand on multiple channels have a higher LTV and spend more. Managing multiple campaigns across different channels can be overwhelming. Therefore, it can help to use tools like HubSpot for automating your inbound campaigns:
Understand how metrics, such as average order value, lifetime order value, and abandoned cart recovery, relate to your products, customers, and marketing or advertising campaigns across all channels.
For Shopify stores, a multi-channel marketing automation strategy will typically be made up of the following components:
Trigger-based responses are based on specific customer behavior in different stages of the marketing funnel. When it comes to Shopify email automation these responses can take the form of cart abandonment reminders sent via tools like Klaviyo, MailChimp, or Omnisend. These can also be used for paid ads across social, display, and search. Overall, Nate offers advice:
“But it’s not as simple as it sounds. In order to get profitable results, you really need a lot of data — or a lot of conviction — on what triggers to set up and any downstream business logic.”
The importance of tailoring the triggers to your audience cannot be overstated. As Jack, OpenStore’s top communications expert, points out:
“Communications triggered on customer behavior can be very powerful, but it can also be very disrupting if it’s not intentionally built. To Nate’s point, you really need the right data to ensure you're reaching the right customer at the right time with the right message.”
Nate explains that content personalization on landing pages or in a CRM may not always qualify as ‘marketing automation’, but if used in programmatic targeted ads, then it may fit the bill.
Regardless, automation is a powerful tool to increase engagement in your marketing activities based on behavior, location, or other customer preferences. Jack explains how it can go from simple to complex:
Automatically personalize communications based on your customers’ first name, purchase history, or other actions and behaviors.
Gamify the interaction and experience to encourage repeat behavior, depending on the brand.
“You can end up spending a lot of time in this area, but I wouldn’t overdo it. Remember that your customer is likely getting a lot of communications each day — help your Shopify brand stand out, but make it effortless for the customer to interact,” says Jack.
Retargeting not only helps you re-engage visitors who have previously interacted with your store, but also offers insightful analysis of buyer behavior. If automated, this data can be used in high-converting campaigns.
Retargeting is also not strictly ‘marketing automation’ on its own. Rather, as Nate explains, it comes into play when you set up automatically-generated campaigns based on business logic. For example, campaigns can be triggered by customers’ actions (or inactivity) that activate the campaign. Then you can automatically manage spend based on conversion targets.
The idea is to replace high-touch, repetitive manual processes with automated solutions.
When it comes to the effective execution of marketing automation, analytics and data-driven insights play a crucial role.
“Marketing relies on numbers,” Nate emphasizes, “this can range from basic marketing funnel KPIs all the way to way more complex cross-channel attribution solutions.”
Additionally, key questions to assess your marketing automation include:
Is there a consistent influx of new customers? Are you engaging existing customers?
Do you track customer behavior across all touchpoints and marketing channels?
Are your marketing and sales activities aligned on customer interactions?
Do you have a content strategy mapped to the buyer’s journey?
Is there a scalable strategy to nurture your marketing funnel?
Your business needs and challenges should guide what you measure and work on. For example, here are some problem-specific strategies:
Unsure which channels are performing best? Make sure your reporting system in your CRM is in great shape to “avoid losing subscribers and cannibalizing your marketing effectors across channels,” Jack says.
Having problems with Shopify cart abandonment? Consider a tool with robust cart recovery features like Klaviyo.
Broad range of products targeting different customer personas? Consider tools that rearrange content like the Dynamic Yield app for Shopify.
Driving high traffic, but low conversions? Consider reviewing in your analytics where in the funnel or checkout your customers are dropping off. Once you understand that, consider advertising automation or retargeting workflows to improve your return on ad spend.
Are you communicating to your customers when they need you? “Make sure to have the right, always-on workflows — automatically communicate when products are back in stock and have cart abandonment levers — so that you can focus on other things,” Jack adds.
In any marketing strategy, pitfalls are inevitable. Here's three ways OpenStore’s experts Nate and Jack suggest to steer clear of common marketing automation mistakes:
"Don't let perfect get in the way of good," Nate says. It's about making progress and testing.
Learn, ask, test: when in doubt, Google it, ask your peers, and experiment on small audiences.
Keep innovating in this fast-moving space by trying out new apps and tools.
Use generative artificial intelligence (AI): while GPT-4 has both exploded and is still surprisingly underused, Nate recommends leveraging AI products to save you time for cross-channel automation.
“Don’t get intimidated by not knowing something. Get comfortable moving fast and thriving on change, you’ll be surprised how far you’ll grow,” Jack adds.
When asked about the future of marketing automation, Nate explains:
“There are a ton of inputs needed to fuel a Shopify business, especially a steady stream of media assets. Right now, a Shopify merchant who isn’t pretty handy with a design tool is going to find a design contractor or agency for these needs. As generative AI tooling becomes more mature and more integrated, that barrier will erode as well. Still, even with this — hopefully — cheap, but useful content, it has to be activated in a dozen places across the storefront, organic social, paid media, and CRM. For true automation, we at OpenStore focus on the next level of functionality, which removes the need for someone to do all that cross-screen, cross-tool coordination by hand.”
In addition to hands-on, curated brand building, OpenStore also automates marketing across 40+ brands. Being a technology company means being able to achieve significant multiplier effects and true automation. The secret? Engineering, knowing your customers well, and leveraging data from multiple touchpoints.
Tired of the day-to-day grind? Automate your business for one year with OpenStore Drive while you receive passive income payments.
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