Updated January, 2022.

2021 brought a LOT of changes to the world of online business. Consumers are demanding privacy and becoming more leery of online sales tactics than ever before.

The online landscape has already started to change. And that affects relationships that brands have with customers.

The upheaval started with Facebook’s many privacy blunders and policy changes and lead to the sweeping new structure of privacy legislation like the GDPR (read more here). Both of these notable changes have made businesses more accountable for the way they treat people online.

In the end, marketing work is about building relationships. Marketing automation can be used to help build those relationships… but we need practices that are not invasive and impersonal. Privacy improvements are a good thing if they help us build more trusting relationships.


Marketing Automation DONT’S:

  1. Pushing out content
  2. Buy, buy, buy
  3. Unboxing (ugh!)
  4. Impersonal marketing (Hello customer xyz!)
  5. Black Friday specials
  6. Faceless emails


Marketing Automation DO’S:

  1. Be useful
  2. Expose customers to new ideas
  3. Resonate with shared values
  4. Don’t take yourself (your brand) too seriously
  5. Respect your customers’ time
  6. Be genuine


Build Real Relationships

If you’re a marketer who cares about building real relationships with your customers, try a few of these ideas with your automated marketing — whether that’s bots, email marketing, funnels or re-targeting PPC ads.

1. Be useful:

Nobody likes a friend who only talks about themselves: “me..me…me!” We’ve all had one of those friends!  If we don’t like people who behave that way, why would we like a brand that behaves that way? A “me-me-me!” brand is one that always talks about itself and its problems and successes. If you’re building a brand and doing that, stop it right now!  Be a brand that comes from a place of service and share stories your customers can use.

First Round

(Image courtesy of First Round)

“The branding choices you make now are building your company as much as the programming language or CRM software you select.”

— Leslie Ziegler, Rock Health (interviewed by First Round)

2. Show Me New Things

Doing the same old thing is comforting. I love walking to work the same way every day because it feels nice. But science shows us that doing things differently — even changing your route to work — changes your brain. It helps you retain more information and be more successful. The same thing happens when we’re exposed to new ideas.

Be a brand that brings new ideas, challenges your customers, and helps them master their world. Open up those neural pathways and offer something new and valuable.

The Story of Stuff — Bringing New Ideas

A movie kicked off a movement focused on how we buy and use our stuff.

This video about microfibers is a wealth of new information.

“Every time we wash synthetic fabrics, whether they’re made from recycled bottles or brand new materials, super tiny pieces of plastic called microfibers wash off and flow down the drain — up to hundreds of thousands each wash.”“The Story of Microfibers”

Screenshot of the video: The Story of Microfibers

Screenshot from video “The Story of Microfibers”

3. Resonate With Shared Values

We naturally surround ourselves with people who feel like members of our tribe. Most likely this means that we have similar core values. Values are important because they are guideposts that help us make decisions in our lives and remind us what we stand for.

Just as we all have our own personal values, brands also have values. When these values are clearly posted, you quickly get a feel about what the brand stands for. Today values are having a resurgence. It’s becoming clear that not only do you have to state your values, but you have to follow through with actions. Be a brand that takes a stand and lives up to that — in every channel, including your automated marketing channels.

Ride sharing app Lyft promo image

(Image courtesy of Lyft)

Lyft — Sharing Values 

Their values couldn’t be more clear and different from Uber. I love them and what they stand for.

Lyft’s Round Up & Donate initiative is a perfect example.

“The more we ride, the more we raise. Support the causes that you believe will make the world a better place.” — Lyft

4. Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously

Let’s be honest, most companies we interact with every day are not saving lives. They want to be successful, make money and return money to their shareholders. If you’re not a successful business, you can’t survive. But being a successful business doesn’t mean you have to be uptight.

I love a brand that reflects humor, spontaneity and positive messaging in kooky ways. It’s an important part of our daily lives to step back, reflect and inject humor where we can. I like to think of humor as the connective tissue that holds our relationship together. Be a brand that isn’t a stuffed shirt.

MailChimp — Being Lighthearted
An email platform that m
akes everything fun. How can you not love that monkey!

This fun article is a great example of MailChimp showing its playful side!

There was a 34% increase from 2016 to 2017 in total emoji used by MailChimp customers during the holiday season. 🎄 was the top emoji used in subject lines, followed by 🎁 , 🎅, 🎉 and 😍.” — Kasia, MailChimp writer

MailChimp graphic showing the top emojis in subject lines

(Image courtesy of the MailChimp blog)

5. Respect My Time

Don’t make me jump through digital hoops to get on your mailing list. Don’t tease me with content and then not provide it when I visit your website. Don’t send me an automated email newsletter every week just because you should (no you shouldn’t – see Be Useful).

Don’t send out a Black Friday coupon because everyone else is doing it. Be a brand that delivers something meaningful to your customer.

Note to Self podcast email announcement

(Image courtesy of Note To Self)

One of my favorite podcasts, Note to Self, gently prods me when a new podcast is online and always includes other content that’s valuable. They curate for me and save me time.

6. Be Genuine in Your Automated Marketing Campaigns

Stop doing what everyone else is doing. You don’t have the same customers as your competitors. Those customers don’t have the same problems. Everyone’s customers care about different things, so why on earth would you be trying to communicate with them in the same way.  

Be a brand that respects the time I take to read your newsletter and click on your links. And most of all, make it personal so I care.

Sago Mini — Being Genuine 

This brand for kids’ apps and toys is always about being themselves. In this blog post, a team member gives a candid account of how she came up with an idea for a new game.

I started thinking about the brutal but beautiful winters in my hometown of Edmonton, and all of the fun activities we used to do in the snow.” — Teena Saur, Sago Mini Director of Brand & Marketing.

Promo image from Sago Mini

(Image courtesy of Sago Mini)

Building relationships is no easy task.

It’s no longer good enough to sign someone up… it’s too easy to quickly lose them. On-boarding has become a big deal for businesses working online. That’s just one hint at a larger trend — the new standard in marketing automation is a fully personalized experience for your leads and customers. 

You have to look at every customer touch point and engineer the marketing experience way past the point of signup. Who are your real users? Those people are busy, they have families and friends to spend time with, grocery shopping to do, bathroom sinks to clean and time to rest at night. The only way you can stay relevant is to show you really do care. 

Brands and companies who treat their end customers like breathing humans with limited time will be winning. And that makes me happy because the hard work that smart digital marketers are doing every day will be paying off.

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