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Email Marketing vs. Marketing Automation: Are You Ready?

Email marketing and marketing automation are often used interchangeably, however, they have many differences. It is important to differentiate them because while email marketing is one component of marketing automation, marketing automation is much more complex and includes more features. This article covers the differences between email marketing and marketing automation, and how to decide which software platform is best for you.

Email Marketing

Email marketing is the process of sending commercial emails with the goal of increasing conversions. Email marketing can be effective at every stage of the consumer life cycle (awareness, consideration, purchase, retention, and advocacy).

In general, email marketing platforms such as MailChimp and Constant Contact offer fairly cheap subscriptions which can be helpful to new or small businesses with low budgets. The low cost is also a bonus because this can yield a high ROI.

“Think of a cake. If marketing is a cake, then email marketing is like the flour inside of the cake. Email marketing is one of the ingredients. You could do marketing automation without email marketing but the cake wouldn’t taste as good” (Jon Dick, Hubspot).

Marketing Automation

Marketing automation is the process of utilizing technology to automate an entire marketing campaign using a single platform. A marketing campaign can include emails, social media posts, text messaging, etc.

The goal of marketing automation is to automate the repetitive processes involved in marketing campaigns while increasing conversions. This results in efficiency, stronger engagement, and increased revenue.

"So the main purpose of marketing automation is to deliver the right messages at the right time rather than just automate marketing activities. Hence, marketing automation software should help you nurture leads and as a result, turn them into customers rather than do the hard sell automatically" (Anthony Miller, millermedia7).

See the graphic below for a side-by-side comparison of both email marketing and marketing automation features.

How to Choose

Now that you understand the differences between email marketing and marketing automation, how do you decide which one to choose?

The answer depends on the stage of your company. While marketing automation may appear to be better because it has more features, you might not be ready to implement it just yet. You will have to consider the number of leads, budget, projected ROI, and the learning curve.

Email Marketing

  • Small Audience

You are able to send mass emails to your audience with customized templates. Though email marketing is less personal to the individual who opens the email, it is a good starting point. Of course as your audience grows, it may be difficult to rely on an static campaign. There are many free or low cost options if you currently have a small audience.

  • New Business

If you are just starting out, chances are your budget is small. If this is the case, then email marketing is definitely the cheaper option. You will pay $15-$150 per month for most subscription packages. With these packages, you will receive useful data from your email campaigns such as open rates and clicks, and continue to build a larger audience.

  • Ease of Use

If you prefer to skip the learning curve, then you're in luck. Email marketing platforms are generally easy to use with many drag-and-drop features.

Marketing Automation

  • Room in Your Budget

Being that marketing automation software is much more complex than email marketing, the cost can be significantly higher. Looking at all of the features offered through marketing automation, you will quickly see that the prices are justified (see the image above). To put it simply, if you have the money to spend, this will be a worthwhile investment.

Pricing across vendors is as varied as apples to oranges, but there are factors that consistently impact subscription terms. These include number of users, number of contacts, and complexity of feature set. Likewise, where multiple software companies compete for the same business type, they may differ in prioritizing functions; hence, the price gap can range from $0-$3,000+ per month (FinancesOnline).

  • Behavioral Based Marketing

Marketing automation uses behavioral based marketing (think of an "if-this, then this" type of system). For example, let's say you send out an email newsletter to 2,000 people raising awareness for your annual sale. There are 500 people who open the email and go to your website, while the other 1,500 do not. Through marketing automation, another email is sent automatically to the first 500 with a countdown to the sale and a code to gain "exclusive access" to certain items. The other 1,500 who did not open the email will receive a new email with some sort of offer (a discount code, free consultation, etc.) with the hopes of enticing them back to your website.

  • Advanced Analytics

Marketing automation software can tell you where a particular customer is coming from. Did they click on a Facebook Ad or did they find your website organically? This information is extremely valuable because you can see where the majority of leads are coming from.

In addition, marketing automation tracks and composes many data sets for you to use. From here you can track ROI and success metrics specific to your business objectives. Most software allow you to easily create reports and bring life to your data. This allows your business to refocus its resources in the places that matter most.


Overall, choose whichever software fits the needs of your business. When understood and used properly, both email marketing and marketing automation provide excellent streamlined communication with your audience. In addition, marketing automation offers an extensive list of features allowing marketing and sales teams to manage more efficiently.

Based on what you know now, which one do you believe is right for your business? Comment below and let's continue the discussion.

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