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The 7 best marketing automation features in Marketo

Marketing automation software maker Marketo recently celebrated its 10th anniversary.With 4,300 customers, it is among the most widely used marketing tech platforms. Its integration with other SaaS providers via its 550-partner LaunchPoint ecosystem makes Marketo an invaluable tool for many modern marketers.

However, Marketo is packed with features and functionality, and the average user isn't likely familiar with them all. To help you find some of these advanced capabilities, we asked digital marketing pros to share their favorite Marketo features. (For their thoughts on how Marketo could improve its platform, read "4 key marketing automation features Marketo lacks.")

Marketo customers' favorite features

1. Marketo's robust mobile tools 

Last year, Marketo introduced new mobile features that help digital marketers stay on top of the latest mobile trends, according to Jennifer Clegg, director of marketing automation and technology at CA Technologies. Marketers today use more than one device during a typical workday, she says. "This makes it critical that campaign assets created within Marketo are optimized for mobile devices, communication extends to SMS, and that the application itself can be easily accessed on a mobile, tablet or phablet device." Clegg says Marketo does all of these things well.

Clegg cites Marketo Moments, an iOS and Android app that provides mobile access to performance updates on email campaigns, as an example of Marketo's mobile strength. The app "has gained different levels of traction within our marketing team," she says. "Some have been using it since it became available and some don't see the value, since you don't have the full platform at your fingertips. But it's great for accommodating that last-minute, 'Don't-send-that-email' or 'What-was-the-final-email-version?' request, or for having a bird's eye view of email and event campaigns for show-and-tell at a conference." 

2. Marketo's precise A/B email testing

One of Marketo's strongest features is the capability to do A/B testing on different parts of outbound email, according to Rick DeCosta, marketing production manager with SmartBear Software. "In the A/B testing module section, you have the ability to test multiple subject lines, the email-from address, and the date and time of when the email will be sent, and you can test full versions of different emails," he says. "By performing these different kinds of tests, you can increase conversions and discover what kind of email variants can be successful for your audience. These tests can have a substantial impact on your marketing campaigns and drive better results."

[Related: Top 4 marketing automation tools and why you'll love (and hate) them ]

SmartBear uses Marketo's A/B email testing to make sure leads receive email at appropriate times, according to DeCosta. The Boston-based company generates leads from around the world, so "it doesn't make sense for us to send a mass email to all intended leads at 8 a.m. EST, since the leads are located in different regions," he says. "Through Marketo, we've been able to segment our database into certain buckets that we call 'time flights.' With these flights, we can target leads by geographical location." 

Marketo's A/B testing module helped SmartBear increase its email open rates by 15 percent and conversions by 20 percent, according to DeCosta. "By starting with an A/B test of the actual time of the email send, we've moved forward to using time flights with all of our mass email deliveries through Marketo."      

Though "flight" segmentation isn'tunique to Marketo, the platform "makes it easier to go through the process of segmenting the leads and tagging them by location," says DeCosta. "The unique feature within Marketo is the ability to easily send the email to a different flight without having to create a separate campaign for each time zone you may want to have included in the email send." 

3. Marketo 'Engagement Engine'

Marketo's "Engagement Engine" is a "power tool" all of its users should take advantage of, according to Justin Gray, CEO of LeadMD, a Marketo partner.

Within the Engagement Engine, Marketo customers can learn behaviors by "listening" to what a prospect is doing on a particular stream, Gray says. "If someone isn't engaging, you can adjust the frequency to try to increase engagement. Or perhaps you have an industry or persona-specific nurture campaign, and you've identified that within a stream. Engagement programs are flexible enough to work with each other, enabling you to move buyers across streams to better serve relevant content."

The average B2B Marketo user "has tens to hundreds of thousands of leads flowing through nurture programs at any time," Gray says. "And the campaigns are long, often extending beyond a year of content. That can lead to some pretty big missteps if you don't have the right system in place to manage it, and Marketo's Engagement Engine does just that."

4. Marketo micro-targets website visitors

Marketo lets organizations "personalize their Web pages based on user experience, location and special promotions, providing the kind of personalization that consumers have come to expect online," according to Carrie McIlveen, U.S. marketing director of Metia. "It also means that through customizing the user experience down to the individual user level and micro-targeting, you can reduce inefficiency as well as ensure you're reaching your audience with a highly targeted message."

[Related: 12 questions to ask marketing automation vendors (before you buy) ]

Marketo "uses header and footer code to create cookies that track user actions online to constantly gather information," McIlveen says. "This helps build active customer profiles. Say you're conducting a retargeting campaign of people who've already visited a certain page of your website. By choosing that criteria in Marketo, you can speak to these specific people exclusively." 

5. 'Marketing Nation' and 'Marketo Community' 

Marketo's "Marketing Nation," which encompasses its user community and annual summit, is one of the platform's most compelling features and includes capabilities that some users overlook, according to multiple sources interviewed for this story. 

With the capability to create discussions, submit ideas, and dive into product documents, Marketo Community is "one of the most useful features in Marketo," says Alexis D'Alba, email and database marketing manager at LiveIntent. "In fact, a lot of the new features that Marketo rolls out were initially ideas submitted by other users in the community. I log into the community's wealth of resources daily for tips on best practices, troubleshooting help, or just to deepen my understanding of different products."

"Marketo has always provided a robust community that's easily accessible from the platform, but over the last year it has executed a major upgrade and redesign to the Community on the Jive Software platform," says CA Technologies' Clegg.

The company expanded its platform's search capabilities to index all the major sections, including new idea submissions, community discussion, product documentation articles, university training courses and the support ticketing system, according to Clegg. The ability to create private groups lets CA Technologies communicate with all of its Marketo users more effectively, she says.

[Related: 4 key marketing automation features Marketo lacks ]

Cleggs's "favorite, slightly hidden feature" is the ability to export articles on the Community portal as PDF documents. "It saves me from having to take a screenshot or copy and paste a document to share with a colleague who doesn't have a Marketo login."

"If I encounter a problem or a feature on the platform I'm unfamiliar with, I always turn to the community," says DeCosta. "It's a great resource and packed with everything you need to know to get up and running in Marketo," including Marketo University, which offers deeper product training. 

6. Marketo Smart Lists 

The Smart Lists feature in Marketo is designed to help you find groups of people using filters, and it "makes it easy for us to build programs based on persona or other attributes and manage complex campaigns more easily," says TJ Nokleby, demand generation campaign manager with InsideSales.com. (Marketo is an InsideSales.com customer.) "And even if you're just doing large prospecting campaigns, the experience for marketers building and running email campaigns in Marketo is superior to any other platform I've used."

7. Smart List Subscriptions

Marketo's Smart List Subscriptions "allowmarketers to export a smart list and email it to the stakeholders who aren't using Marketo," says D'Alba. "I'm currently using this feature to report on lead database activity, such as new leads created and what actions leads are taking in a certain campaign (such as clicking a link). I'm also planning on using this feature to better understand how many emails leads are receiving in any given time, so that we can identify trends and make any necessary adjustments to our email communications."

2 features Marketo thinks you should know about

In addition to Marketo users, we asked the company's vice president of demand generation, Heidi Bullock, for her take on the platform's most notable capabilities. Here are two features that weren't mentioned by the customers we interviewed.

1. Marketo Beacon integration for mobile customer data, marketing

Last year, Marketo integrated the Gimbal platform for location and proximity-based marketing into its "Mobile Marketing Engagement" platform. The Gimbal platform provides Marketo users with location-based data to help them make appropriate decisions based on opt-in customer-behavior data.

For example, Gimbal's platform and wireless beacons let Marketo users easily track how many people attend company trade show demos, or interact with representatives at events or stores through opt-in messages.

2. Marketo 'Ad Bridge'

"Ad Bridge" integrates Marketo behavior data with Facebook, Google, LinkedIn and other ad platforms, enabling marketers to highly target people on those platforms who might be most receptive to specific ads, Bullock says. Ad Bridge lets you "leverage what you know about your customers" so that you can target ads on social media and other platforms to viewers based on their industry, organization, purchase history, IP address, and more. This lets you "market just to those you care about, instead of to the world," she says.

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