The New Age of Marketing Automation: Powerful, Simple, Cost-Effective

Can automating certain elements of our marketing actually make our messages more personal and less “robotic”?

Tony Clark is the chief operations officer and a co-founder of Rainmaker Digital, and a passionate advocate for smart technology in marketing and business.

In this 29-minute episode, Sonia talks with Tony about:

  • The powerful new tools that can make marketing messages more relevant and effective
  • The keys to automation that creates a more enjoyable customer experience — and doesn’t feel robotic
  • Using tags and targeting to send the right messages to the right people
  • How to begin with a simple starter project and expand from there
  • Some of the newest Rainmaker features and how they’re being used


The Show Notes

  • Learn more about the Rainmaker Platform and take a free 14-day test drive
  • Scott Brinker’s Chief Marketing Technologist blog
  • — Bryan and his brother Jeffrey share their many years of optimization experience and deep expertise
  • The Conversion XL blog is another excellent resource for information about optimization
  • Tony’s course (taught with our chief digital officer, Chris Garrett) on automated marketing funnels is available at Digital Commerce Academy
  • Tony’s a behind-the-scenes guy, but you catch up with him on Twitter @nestguy
  • Ask me a question or follow me on Twitter @soniasimone!


The New Age of Marketing Automation: Powerful, Simple, Cost-Effective

Voiceover: This is Rainmaker.FM, the digital marketing podcast network. It’s built on the Rainmaker platform, which empowers you to build your own digital marketing and sales platform. Start your free, 14-day trial at Rainmaker.FM/platform.

Sonia Simone: Hey, there. It is so good to see you again. Welcome back to Copyblogger FM, the content marketing podcast. Copyblogger FM is about emerging content marketing trends, interesting disasters, and enduring best practices, along with the occasional rant. My name is Sonia Simone. I’m the chief content officer for Rainmaker Digital, and I like to hang out with the folks who do the heavy lifting over on the Copyblogger blog. As always, you can get lots more links, resources, free stuff, all kinds of great goodies, and the complete show archive if you head over to Copyblogger.FM.

I’m here today with Tony Clark. Tony, for those of you who don’t know him, is our chief operating officer. He’s also a co-founder of Rainmaker Digital. He has, I have to say, the high honor of being one of the geekiest people in the company. And we’re a really, really, really geeky company. Tony, it’s really good to have you here.

Tony Clark: Thanks, Sonia. I’m glad to be here.

Sonia Simone: Yeah, this is fun. Very much by choice, he much prefers to be behind the scenes. It’s always fun when I can entice him out to talk to the nice people.

Tony has many geek interests in addition to Adventure Time, random classic science fiction series, and everything about comics, but he’s also a major marketing geek. He really is into numbery stuff, data stuff, and automation. Now, there are those of us in the world who maybe more self identify as “creative.” And sometimes, we have a tendency to let ourselves get intimidated by this word, “automation.”

So Tony’s going to be our friendly guide. He’s going to help start us on the path. He’s going to help show us that it’s not as intimidating as we think it is. And he’s going to fill us in because we have some really nifty things going on with the Rainmaker Platform and some new things for those “creative types.” Of course, I believe pretty much everybody in our economy who doesn’t pick up trash or serve French fries is a creative worker.

We’re in a creative economy. This is a creative society. But those of us who might be a little intimidated can move forward with confidence. So let’s get rolling. Let’s start out by identifying what marketing automation even is. What are the kinds of things, the kinds of messages or entities or processes that can be automated when we’re talking about marketing automation?

The Powerful New Tools That Can Make Marketing Messages More Relevant and Effective

Tony Clark: Well really, almost anything can be automated. And marketing automation has now kind of taken on a life of its own. It’s become one of those buzz words that means different things to different people. One of the things that we’ve found is that it can be intimidating because it sounds like it is. Some of the bigger marketing automation platforms are really good at what they do, but they’re really designed to automate leads to get to a salesperson.

Sonia Simone: Right.

Tony Clark: It’s really more of a ‘how to start with a prospect or a visitor and nurture them through the process until they can get on the phone with a sales guy.’ And that’s great. They work really well for that. They have all the tools to do that. But that’s just one aspect of automation. That’s one area where, when people think, “Well everybody’s talking about marketing automation. I should look at some of these products.” And they go look, and they’re like, “Well I don’t have a sales team. I don’t connect to Salesforce, so I don’t need that.”

So we started using words like adaptive content a few years ago to talk about these things. Because really, what we’re talking about automating is anything that you do regularly that can be part of a sequence. And there are two aspects. So emails — you could theoretically sit down and type out an email to everybody. Or you can stick everybody in the CC field if you’re an administrator at a school or a class mom and you’re sending it out to the entire class, and everybody replies to all.

Sonia Simone: And you’re sending my social security number to the other moms, yeah.

Tony Clark: Exactly. “I’m bringing the plates, and by the way, here’s my credit card number if you need to buy more juice.”

Sonia Simone: Yes.

Tony Clark: That’s a very manual way to send email to a group. Another way is to use groups. But really, everybody knows that you use one of these email providers like the AWebers of the world or the MailChimp of the world. With these, you can automate your emails through a sequence, and an autoresponder is a form of automation.

Now, the serious marketing automation people may say, “No, no, no. That’s not what it is.” Well, it is. You’re automating something that is part of your business that you used to do manually but could be done by a machine, or could be automated.

Sonia Simone: Yeah.

Tony Clark: That’s an example. That’s one aspect. The other piece of marketing automation is behavioral or targeting-based automation, or adaptive content, where you’re specifically segmenting your audience based on the interest that they have or the things that they do, versus just mass mailing or delivering the same blog post or providing the same ebook to everyone. Those are really the two aspects of what we talk about.

Again, here at Copyblogger, when we talk here and especially with Rainmaker Digital the company, we talk about it more from an aspect of content, education, and marketing, versus an automated sequence to get people to a salesperson. When you look at it that way, your blog posts could be automated. The things that people do based on behavior could be automated. Emails can be automated.

But really, it falls under two aspects. What are the tasks that you do regularly that could be automated by something, so you don’t have to manually do those things? How do you segment your audience and even test based on segments using a more automated process that is based on behavior and certain triggers?

Sonia Simone: Yeah, and that ‘based on behavior,’ that is exciting. It is pretty new in the scheme of things. Marketers have been segmenting by demographics forever, right?

Tony Clark: Mm-hmm.

Sonia Simone: We would buy mailing lists, like physical mailing lists of, say, people who are between 59 and 64 and they have x income and they subscribe to Golfer’s Digest, or whatever it might be. This is kind of a cool new world of ‘if other people who did this liked that’ and more psychographic, more behavior-based. It’s really cool, but it used to be you had to have an budget to be able to make that work.

The Keys to Automation That Create a More Enjoyable Customer Experience — and Don’t Feel Robotic

Sonia Simone: I want to get into some specifics, but before I do, I want to talk about some of the benefits of automation. Because I think we hear this word ‘automation,’ and we maybe think that it’s going to make our communication feel less personal. It’s going to make something feel robotic. Just the word ‘automation’ makes us think of something that’s less personal.

Can we talk about that? Why don’t we just write a personal email to everybody on our list? Well, hopefully your list is a little bigger than that. Can you talk about that? About this worry, this concern people have that automation is going to make our marketing communication feel impersonal, feel robotic, feel like people are just widgets on some kind of a factory line somewhere?

Tony Clark: Yeah, and that’s a good way to address it, because one of the things that people are worried about is that automation sort of equals robot. But you have to keep in mind that when you’re talking about automation, you’re automating the task, not the content. Think about it this way. The way I like to describe it is if you have a favorite restaurant that you go to. The food is excellent, but a lot of times, it’s the overall atmosphere and the service that is provided, in both the front of the house and the back of the house — based on how they do that.

A lot of that is based on a formula or a system that they have in place. So think about when you go to a place where you do feel like a number. A lot of times, it’s less of an automated thing. It’s more manual. A well-functioning restaurant is really based on a system and formula. A lot of it is automated, especially with some of the new computer systems where ordering and all that goes through. But really, what it allows you to do is you get the manual tasks out of the way so you can focus on the customer.

The same is true for the type of marketing automation we’re talking about, this sort of adaptive content, this sort of behavior-based information content. It allows you to address a specific person by segmenting them.

I always argue when we have these conversations — whenever we have these conferences, as Sonia said, I kind of stay behind the scenes and I like it that way. But I tend to like to do one-on-one coaching a lot. What I’ll always end up at is a table of people. We’re eating and we’ll have these discussions. I love those kind of small-group interactions. One of the things we always end up talking about is this: “Well, how do I test without making it too robotic? How do I automate without making it seem too impersonal?”

I always argue or kind of present the case that what this really allows you to do is make it more personal, because you’re able to segment to a person. You don’t have to write a broad email that covers everything. You can write an email that addresses that specific group. If you read that email that’s addressing that specific group, based on behavior or past purchases or different things they’ve downloaded or types of emails that they’ve subscribed to, it is more personal, because you’re kind of winnowing down to what that person is really interested in, versus a broad email that just tries to cover everything.

What I like to say is you’re automating the tasks, but the actual content that you’re using to interact with people is more personal.

Sonia Simone: Yeah. That’s actually what I love about automation is you can be so much more relevant to what that person’s actually interested in.

At Copyblogger, I always call it a watering hole because we get a lot of different kinds of critters who come to the watering hole. We’ve got folks who are working in marketing teams. We have people who are working for big enterprise companies. We have freelancers. We have fiction writers. We have ebook publishers. We have business owners.

It’s always been a challenge for us. How can we speak to people in a way that’s relevant to them and doesn’t feel impersonal? That’s actually what I love about automation. You can get so much more relevant and so much more pertinent to what they’re actually interested in. And it actually does — it becomes more personal, paradoxically. The more sophisticated your automation is, the more personal and connected you can actually be. It’s kind of cool.

Tony Clark: Exactly.

Sonia Simone: Let’s talk about some of the new treats that the coding team has been coming up for us on the Rainmaker platform. We have been — and by ‘we’ I mean ‘you guys’ — have been working really hard on some very cool new features that really make this exact thing we’re talking about much easier. You want to lay a couple of ideas on us? What’s your favorite new feature on Rainmaker? What does it do? And how is that beneficial?

Using Tags and Targeting to Send the Right Messages to the Right People

Tony Clark: With Rainmaker, one of the things we’ve been working towards is what we needed. We have tried a lot of enterprise-level marketing automation systems because we needed them for ourselves. And none of them did what we really wanted them to do. Some of them did part of it. Some of them did other things. But it really wasn’t designed to kind of allow us to automate things in a way that gave us a better interaction with a customer. We’ve built these pieces into Rainmaker. Chris Garrett and the team have really put together a base suite of tools that allows you to do this stuff, and we’re expanding on it.

To answer your question, one of the things that really excites me about what we can do now is tagging. When somebody does something or when they have an interaction or they sign up for a list, you can actually tag specific visitors that have logged in for that course or downloaded the ebook or whatever they’ve done in a way that allows you to segment very specifically.

And then you can set up specific actions or triggers really easily, it’s all kind of visual, to allow you to set up something where, ‘If this person has this tag and does this, then do this.’ That level of content interaction or adaptive content is really what excites me about what we can do, because like I said, we are our own customer in a lot of ways. Digital Commerce Institute is built on Rainmaker. Copyblogger’s on Rainmaker now. Rainmaker.FM is on Copyblogger.

But what’s interesting about Digital Commerce Institute is we needed certain things to deliver certain courses in certain ways and allow certain triggers to happen based on different interactions. We built this to work in the way that we needed it. We needed something that allowed us to really kind of drill down into what a customer, a visitor, one of our members really needs. By putting these tools in place, you can do things like kind of take them along the process of an educational course. You can allow them to finish one thing and then move onto another thing. Quite frankly, you know this, Sonia, we’ve been looking to be able to do that since Teaching Sells.

Sonia Simone: Oh, yeah.

Tony Clark: I can’t name the number of things we’ve tried, and none of them worked. I’m excited because these are things I wish we had for Teaching Sells all those years ago. Now we finally have them because we had to build them ourselves.

Sonia Simone: Yeah, exactly. That tagging feature. It’s so powerful for the reason we talked about before, because if somebody takes a particular action — let’s say they make a particular download or they click on a particular link — you want to know that and then be able to offer them something that’s relevant to that experience, so that you can honor the path that person wants to take. Rather than trying to jam everybody into your idea of the path to purchase, your idea of, “Well, I want you to read this, then this.” Well that’s nice, but the Internet doesn’t work that way.

Tony Clark: Right, yeah.

Sonia Simone: People are funny like that. They have their own ideas about what they want to do. To me, that’s just super, ultra exciting. And that you can do it without spending a thousand, two thousand dollars a month. And with the enterprise platforms, that’s what you’re talking about. You can do it without having to hire a multi-thousand-dollar consultant to set it up for you. For me, that’s just really empowering because it takes these powerful, powerful tools that companies have been using, companies that have really great budgets. But the freelancer or the person who’s getting started with an online course, they just didn’t have those resources.

How to Begin With a Simple Starter Project and Expand From There

Tony Clark: Yeah. I like the fact that one of the things that we tried to do is make it so that it’s easy enough for somebody who’s just starting out to do a few basic things. Because a lot of times, that’s all you need. A lot of people are afraid to start because they think they have to have this massive campaign. Chris Garrett and I do a funnel course at Digital Commerce Institute based on marketing automation followers.

Because really, that’s what we’re talking about here, is how to move people along, keep that scent moving along through the process. One of the things we talk about is how you just have to start. People are so afraid to start because they think they have to have this massive funnel with all these different branches where all this stuff happens. When the reality is, you can set it up pretty basic. You know, subscribers sign up for something. They sign up for something via a form. You can have triggers that are set up when that person has signed up. This is what I like about Rainmaker, because it’s all there.

If you’re using Rainmaker email, it’s all built in right there. A lot of times, you can only go so far because your email is somewhere, you have a plugin that links into your automation thing, maybe you have this other plugin that does this, plus you have a spreadsheet. So you have this stuff all over the place. What I like about Rainmaker is that it’s all in one place. So you can actually set it up so that when there’s an action they do on a page or when they download something, you can actually move them to another list or tag them on a list for your email.

Something simple like that is really not that hard to do. It allows you to start. Because that’s the big thing, is starting somewhere. Start something, do something. Let’s start getting people onto a list and let’s start segmenting that list. Bu then, down the road, as you want to make things more sophisticated, you have all kind of branching and things that you can do. One of the things I love about the Rainmaker approach is it’s simple.

When I say simple, it doesn’t mean that you’re just going to open it up and suddenly know how to do things. Just like anything else, there are some basic instructions. You learn the basic instructions, but once you do that, you’re like, “Okay. Well now I get the gist of how this works. Now I can do this, this, and this.” Once you set that up, that may be all you need. You get your lists set up. You get tagging set up for some specific kinds of content. And then you maybe move people to a list of leads that you’re eventually trying to get to a paid product or something. That’s relatively easy to set up.

Sonia Simone: Yeah. I say this all the time. The best way to learn these things is by doing them, but you have to have a small project you can do. If you want to learn one of the big automation systems, that can be quite a bit trickier. The learning curve has that major Everest-sized slope right at the beginning that you have to scramble up.

Yeah. The best way to learn it is to do it. And then you realize, “Oh. Wait, but what if I did …” And that’s when you’re kind of off and rolling. As soon as you’re saying, “Well what if I just change that one thing?” What I’ve observed is that’s when the momentum starts to kick in and you end up with something that looks quite complex. But it started from a simple starting point.

Tony Clark: Mm-hmm, yes.

Sonia Simone: Let’s talk a tiny bit about email, because I think not everybody listening to this realizes how it used to be that on Rainmaker platform, you could plug in your AWeber or your MailChimp into Rainmaker and it would integrate. But email and Rainmaker are kind of in a new world these days. Can you just let people know what their options are with Rainmaker and email right now?

Some of the Newest Rainmaker Features and How They’re Being Used

Tony Clark: Yeah. And you can still do that, but we’ve been testing over the past few months in the labs feature. One of the cool things about Rainmaker is we have a labs feature that allows you to kind of get early access to things. Google has labs and Apple has labs. We kind of stole their ideas. We have a lab so you can kind of get in and try stuff.

So we’ve actually had email there, but through this labs feature, we’ve been able to kind of really refine how it works. Now the latest release, it just went out to everybody. So now it’s available to everybody. We basically have our own integrated email system for Rainmaker now. You no longer have to have a separate system. The first up to, I think, 1,000 or 999 comes with your initial sign up. You just activate it and you can start using it. The fees for the Rainmaker email are actually very competitive.

I’m very happy with where we ended up with that. But one of the things that I like is that we built, with partners behind the scenes, a real solid platform for email that allows us to grow and tag things and do things in a way that we’ve always wanted to. But we always had to have workarounds whenever we were working with somebody else’s email provider, which is fine.

MailChimp may be perfect for a lot of people, AWeber does a good job, but we needed something where things worked the way we needed them to work because we have all these complex funnels and all this stuff we want to do. We built what we needed, and then, knowing that the bulk of our audience would also be using this, we wanted to make sure that we integrated it in.

Sonia Simone: Yeah. It’s so cool. Yeah. Speaking of somebody who pays way over a hundred dollars a month for an AWeber account that I don’t mail to, which I realize says a lot about me. But no, it’s like it’s another login, it’s another project, and if you could have it all in one dashboard, in just one kind of workspace, I think that things are much more likely to actually get done.

Any other features, especially along the lines of this kind of automation or delivering the most relevant content at the most relevant time? Anything else that you want to point people to that they might not have seen?

Tony Clark: No, I think that there’s a lot there that you can do. One of the things I really like is how it all ties into the different modules of Rainmaker. So the testing, and the educational pieces with the LMS, and things like that, it’s all integrated and it allows you to really think through how you want your customers to proceed through the relationship with you. That goes from a visitor who is unknown all the way to a paying customer that will now maybe be a repeat customer. What do you want that relationship to look like?

It allows you to evolve how you interact with that visitor who becomes a customer and how you develop that relationship all using an automated system. That’s what I like about it, is you can sit down and think through a piece of paper, line map, or some kind of flow chart. Or just list things out, a checklist of things you want people to make sure they see when they do things.

You take that and you’re able to automate so much of that, that it allows you to move people through so you can focus on developing the content and delivering it in the format that they need, versus also trying to figure out how you’re going to get the content to them.

Sonia Simone: Yeah, exactly. I actually ran a content marketing department for five years for an organization before we had this journey. Looking back, I’m like, “Dang. That was a complete pure content play. That’s pretty cool.” But how to get everything listed on the site, delivered to the customers, and tracked and updated? I mean, holy cow. The tools have come so far.

And as you say, the reason Rainmaker works the way it does is we do this stuff all day long. This is what we do, and we had so many frustrations with either the complexity of the tools — unnecessary complexity that wasn’t getting us closer to where we wanted to be — or it just didn’t work. In some cases, it didn’t work the way it was supposed to.

I want to just shift gears, let people know that we’ve been talking a lot about Rainmaker Platform. It is our turnkey content marketing and business platform. It’s got email, which is so awesome. I’m so excited. It’s got content libraries. It’s got places where you can host your products. It’s super duper cool. You can go play with it for free for 14 days, if you’re into that, over at We do have some other things that people can avail themselves of.

Do you want to talk about your favorite resources? You do have a course on our Digital Commerce Institute. That’s just You can check that out.

Are there other cool things that people can use to learn more about these ideas and start to see how they would work?

Tony Clark: Yeah, if you want to kind of look at the larger landscape of marketing automation, go to Scott Brinker’s site. He’s at and Chiefmartec on Twitter. He really has his finger on the pulse and has for years. He was early into the marketing technologist approach to things in marketing automation. He’s done a tremendous job of educating people about how this stuff works and the importance of it.

A lot of his focus is more on the enterprise side. A lot of the things he covers are the big enterprise packages. However, the concepts and the things that he covers are one of those things where you start to say, “Well I could use these things in my business. Is there a scaled-down version of this?” A lot of that is. That’s what we put in Rainmaker. It’s sort of the same concept, but it’s a simpler approach. That’s a good thing.

Of course, then the Eisenbergs, Bryan and Jeffrey over at We’ve known them for a while, a long time, and they always put really solid information about the general concept of behavior. They focus a lot on conversion rate optimization, but there’s a whole aspect of attraction, retaining, and conversion that really revolves around the behavior of people in the buyer’s journey. They talk a lot about the buyer’s journey. That’s a great resource for information.

And then Conversion XL is another good site. Again, it’s really geared towards conversion optimization, but a lot of this is relevant to this because ultimately, what you’re trying to get to is a conversion funnel. Whether that conversion is getting somebody on a list, or getting them to sign up, or getting them to buy, you’re trying to develop a relationship and you’re using automation to help with that process. There’s a lot of good information about that over there too. Of course, we have our core set at Digital Commerce Institute at

Sonia Simone: Yeah, good stuff. I will give all of you folks links to those over at Copyblogger.FM. If you didn’t catch one of those, we’ll have the complete set. You can follow Tony in all his geeky magnificence at Nestguy on Twitter if you’re into it.

Tony, part of me wants to sit here and just shoot the breeze with you all day about automation, but I think we’ve probably given people enough to get started without giving them a massive headache. Thank you so much. I really appreciated talking with you.

Tony Clark: Thank you. I’m glad I was able to help.

Sonia Simone: Take care, guys, and we will see you next week.