• Nelly Rinot

The difference between Manual, automated, and autonomous software in marketing-work tech



Potential customers often ask me: "What do you mean by autonomous marketing work, and how is it different from marketing automation?" As the chief evangelist of my company's vision, my role is to explain and help others picture a better view of the future.


First, let's make the basic definitions clear:


  1. All software is automated. Otherwise, it wouldn't be software. So, by using these terms, we don't mean whether the software is automated; we mean whether the software powers the automation of business processes.

  2. Marketing Automation refers to software platforms and technologies designed for marketing departments to market on multiple channels and automates repetitive tasks more effectively. It is the action of placing the output of marketing work in front of the potential audience. Marketing automation can be autonomous (for example, google ads).


In this post, I will be discussing the Automation of Marketing Work. That is automating repetitive tasks and processes that make up the marketing plan and cross-functionally orchestrating marketing programs and initiatives.


Let's begin.


The current marketing work software landscape


Marketing Automation is a crowded space. There are hundreds of great software solutions to help marketers target their audience and deliver the right content to them.


By contrast, the marketing work software space includes a handful of process-specific software and a few generic tools marketing teams can use. The space does not currently have any marketing-first solutions that power and orchestrate marketing work.


So, what do marketers use today? I've listed the main categories and a couple of examples for each type. I call the current landscape "The inferno" because it creates chaos and unnecessary manual work for marketing professionals (you can learn more about it in another post I wrote: NASA Astronauts, Soviet Cosmonauts, and Autonomous Marketing Processes).




Traditional single process tools


This category includes tools professionals use daily like word documents, spreadsheets, email, and slide decks. The tools are intended to do one thing: write a document, handle email communication, or present information in a tabular way. The tools are not exclusive to marketing work and don't "speak" the marketing language. Nonetheless, they are useful. Most strategic marketing plans are created and presented on slides; Many CMOs manage their budgets and marketing models in spreadsheets; The majority of marketing teams still manage their marketing plan - the tactical plan - in spreadsheets, and most organizational communication is powered by an email application.


Traditional single-process tools don't include marketing-specific capabilities. Excel was not explicitly created to build and manage a marketing budget, so CMOs and marketing ops need to develop the budget structure and rules inside Excel. That's manual work - when the user needs to create the process and rules that make up the final product they need. For marketing budgets, that means CMOs are building their own "mini-apps" where they keep drop-down menu items in separate sheets, insert formulas into cells to calculate the outcome, or create customized charts for a quick view of the marketing budget status and spend.


The tools also require the users to update the information manually whenever a change is made. Similarly, new spending needs to be updated in the relevant cells, new programs updated on the marketing plan document, and reports recreated on spreadsheets and copied into slide decks. You can imagine how manual-work-heavy the task is.


Up to 64% of marketing's work is classified as busywork designed to coordinate rather than execute the task.

Single-operation semi-automated tools


This software category was created to solve a portion of the mess made by the first category. Surprisingly, the developers of these tools chose to handle only one specific operation in the marketing work basket. Tools like Allocadia or Plannuh were designed to manage marketing budgets and help budget owners manage their relationships with their finance departments. Other tools focus on DAM - Digital Asset Management - and help graphic designers and studio managers handle requests and manage asset versioning.


Semi-automation means that the tools automate a handful of specific processes within the operation. Requests seem to be the leading activity developers choose to automate in budget and asset management. It is an important ability, to be sure, but it's not the only one that can and should be automated.


Still, much of the operation's work is manual and work-heavy. For instance, Marketing activity spending is updated manually in these tools. In addition, single-operation tools only handle a single step in a complex process that makes the marketing work and are often disconnected from the total marketing initiative efforts. In other words, a few team members have the luxury of automating some of their function's work, while others need to manage with other tools they painstakingly put together.


Nothing is connected, and orchestration is minimal, thus creating even more manual-heavy tasks for the marketing team.

Generic productivity tools


Sometimes software developers have all the good intentions and want to make their users' lives easier, yet they end up sending them into a messy hell. Productivity tools like Asana and Monday promise to create a platform where all work can be orchestrated and collaborated on. Using Agile concepts and friendly user interfaces, productivity tools aim to help us minimize the work about work. In reality, although helpful when it comes to small projects and simple processes, these tools create chaos and more manual work for all users.


Marketing is a complex function that requires marketing science and know-how, the execution of best practices, constant input and feedback loops, and integrating with several marketing automation platforms to work.


You can't build the complexity of your marketing plan into a task management solution.

Furthermore, even though the templated examples Monday and Asana provide may convince first-time users they could use them to build their marketing app, most users end up customizing every tiny element. They spend hours updating hundreds of tasks, creating new boards, and trying to figure out how to collaborate with other team members who may have their unique way of doing things.


A couple of years ago, when I was the VP of Marketing at Hyperscience, I introduced Monday to the company. My team and I were excited to have a single platform to work from, and so we did for about a month or so. When the honeymoon period was over, I took a look at the many boards and workspaces my team created and realized we were patching a bunch of tables together. Each team member had their own methodology of executing an activity (I counted three different processes for putting together a webinar). I needed to manually copy and paste information from team members' boards to mine to have a big picture view of the operation. In the end, I created my own little budgeting app on Monday that required me to manually look for spend in at least ten boards and manually update them in my boards daily. I was proud of myself until I realized I spent over a week of my valuable executive time creating and adjusting it and that the app I made wasn't automating the work I needed. A spreadsheet would have done the job better.


Monday made advancements in its software capabilities and introduced new useful features since my days at Hyperscience. Nonetheless, it is still based on the core functionality of boards, tables, and groups. Look at the software today and imagine a complex marketing operation built on it. You will realize you will be creating a messy platform that will throw your operation into chaos and unnecessary manual work. Monday is actually encouraging the work about work. It has good intentions, yet its users end up in hell. To be clear, the same applies to all other task management solutions like Asana and Trello. They have their uses, but they were created to support a User, not a Department.


What is autonomous marketing work management software?


One of the reasons no software company has launched an all-encompassing marketing work management solution is the notion that the marketing function is too complex and not easy to automate. I don't see it this way. We have the technology to take all the marketing know-how and distill it into best-practice workflows that can run autonomously at every company. Every company needs to launch webinars or create recruiting social media posts. Even though most companies believe they are unique in executing their marketing, most marketing departments operate the same.


Autonomous software means we focus on the program we want to execute, not the components of a task (the way task management solutions do). We create an end-to-end workflow (unlike single operation tools) where users trigger action and the software coordinates and execute the work.


Accordingly, a webinar executed by the product marketing manager will be done the same way as a webinar run by the demand generation manager. We will ensure our marketing department operates under the same best-practice standards and significantly reduces marketing work mechanics. That's my view of the future, and that's what my team at atrea and I are building.


If you'd like to join our design partners and beta testers community, drop me a word here.