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What’s the Difference Between Automation Rules and Marketing Automation, Anyway?

Written by Elizabeth Bell on January 23, 2019 at 7:50 AM


Automation rules. Marketing automation. Two terms that sound similar (and sort of are) except for the fact that they tend to be siloed into two separate spheres of community and marketing.

Though it’s a tad confusing, it’s no coincidence that these two key Higher Logic features both use the word “automation,” because it reminds us how closely and effectively the two tools can work together. And for what? Improving member communications.  

To eliminate any potential confusion, let’s look at some expanded definitions – what do these terms really mean?

What Do Automation Rules and Marketing Automation Mean?

Two tools: One (automation rules) that helps you scale actions within your online community, and one (marketing automation) that helps you scale your member outreach. 

Automation rules are a tool within a Higher Logic online community allowing you to automate tasks in your community at scale, like sending a personal email to everyone who has completed a certain task, adding new members to a community, or generating a report.

Related: Automation Rules for Beginners

Marketing automation is another Higher Logic tool used for automating marketing communication, powered by features like lead scoring and email campaigns. It enables you to send a series of emails based on actions that recipients take.

Related: Email Marketing vs. Marketing Automation [Explained]

Aside from both using the word “automation,” the two are similar in a few distinct ways:

  • Both are governed by if-then statements
  • Both automation rules and marketing automation can involve email, but they’re both bigger than just email
  • When it comes to email capabilities, their paths cross

Empower Your Member Communications with Both Tools

With the dynamic duo of marketing automation and automation rules, create a streamlined, informed, member communications program that unites marketing and online community in beautiful harmony.

Read that poetic paragraph again. ^^

How exactly do they work together, though?

Power Play 1: Add Layers of Sophistication

With automation rules, send one email. This email is personalized and saves you a lot of time by automating on a large scale. But if you want to follow up, you have to set up a separate automation rule.

In this sense, automation rules work in the confines of your community platform – but when you use marketing automation, you can apply community data across your organization.

Using that same data that prompted your automation rule, follow-up by creating a responsive, multi-email campaign to lead subscribers down separate pathways based on what they’ve clicked on or not.

Keep in mind though, the community data is the fodder that makes your automated campaigns relevant and personalized. Without that data, and the community filled with relationships and resources drawing members in, what do you have? So don’t ditch one, because they work beautifully together.

TIP: Data from clicks and participation is called “behavioral data.” Learn how to harness it to create an awesome personalized experience.

Power Play 2: Track More Successes, Easier

Another way to use automation rules and marketing automation together is in the analytics department. With automation rules, track successes by viewing rule parameters and seeing who opened the email. You’re able to dig into the data a bit and make connections between who acted on your automation rule. 

What about when you add marketing automation? With it, see what members do with that email (what links were clicked, which webpages were visited), and track this data. If you want to follow up, send another email to confirm your hypotheses about what your members were interested in.

As you continue what’s working and improve on what’s not, you’re growing your member insight and using that data to power engaging communications.

Better Together

You see, using all the behavioral data generated by your community and the powerful tool of marketing automation, send even more advanced, personalized, and relevant communications to your members. Ultimately, this strategy will improve your engagement rates, and give your members something to be invested in.

Pause: If you’re asking yourself the question, “Why does engagement matter so much?” take a look at this post: The Top 5 Reasons Your Members Aren’t Renewing And What To Do About It.

Despite any silos between automation rules and marketing automation, they’re connected – and the more integrated they are, the better your member communication will be. 

So break down those mental and/or departmental barriers keeping marketing automation in the marketing world and automation rules in the online community world. Working together, use these tools to take your member communications to the next level so you’re engaging members better and smarter.

Still curious about how this works in practice? Discovery Education is using marketing automation and online community together. Check out the last page of the case study below to read their example.  


Topics: Communications, Engagement, Marketing, Associations, Marketing Automation, Online Community, Integration

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