Marketing Automation vs. Email Marketing Software: Which Is Right for You?

By: on December 3, 2015

At Software Advice, we talk to hundreds of software buyers each day, helping them determine the best system for their needs. We gain a lot of insight about different software markets through these discussions.

One pattern we’ve noticed?

Buyers are confused about the differences between marketing automation vs email marketing software.

To help clear things up, let’s take a look at these types of systems and what functionality they offer.

Both email marketing and marketing automation software use email as the primary vehicle for “keeping in touch” with leads, in the hope that some will ultimately convert to paying customers. From that perspective, marketing automation is, in part, an email marketing tool.

Here’s the key difference: While email marketing systems typically only track interactions related to email campaigns, marketing automation software tracks the entire chain of interactions buyers have with a company online.

Marketing automation systems also take intelligent actions based on those behaviors to help nudge leads through the stages of the buyer funnel. And they offer more substantial analytics on how well campaigns are performing across multiple channels (e.g., email and websites).

Here’s an overview of common functionality for both systems (though the presence, depth and strength of these offerings may vary between vendors):

Marketing Automation vs Email Marketing Functionality


Marketing Automation

Email Marketing


Lead capture

Capture lead information from Web forms, landing pages etc.

Basic segmentation

Micro-segment contacts or leads (e.g., by demographic or household attributes)

Email templates

Pre-designed, ready-to-use email formats

Reporting and analytics

Reports and dashboards to measure leads, email performance, landing page performance, Web activity and more

Mass email delivery

Send batch emails to groups of contacts

Track email open rates and click-throughs

Track which emails prospects open and click

Drip (scheduled) email delivery


Send relevant messages over time

Automation & triggers

Limited to none

Automatically send relevant, real-time emails based on prospect behavior

CRM integration

Limited to none

Automatically pull contact information from CRM

| Web behavior capture



| Show which pages prospects visit, what they do on your website and how often they come back |

| Lead scoring



| Qualify leads based on demographics, behavior, interest or engagement |

| Behavior-based segmentation



| Micro-segment leads based on behavior |

| Multi-channel campaigns



| Develop/execute marketing campaigns across more than one channel (i.e., print, email, social media) |

| Content generation platforms



| Generate website content and/or blogs |

| Search engine optimization (SEO)



| Monitor and track how you rank for relevant keywords on major search engines and optimize rankings on search engines. |

What Kind of Buyer Are You?

Now that you have an understanding of each system, the next step is to examine your needs. The main things to consider are: the complexity of your customer base; your desire and ability to produce content; how much nurturing you’d like to do; and how you want to measure the impact of the content you create.

The following chart can help you determine whether your business is likely to benefit from a marketing automation system:


Email Marketing

Marketing Automation

Customer base

You have a fairly homogenous target market

You have a more complex or less uniform customer base


You only want want to create generic newsletters and emails

You want to produce tailored, targeted content

Measuring results

You’re only interested in measuring email campaigns with things like click-through rates

You want to measure the results of marketing across multiple channels and tie it to revenue

Lead nurturing

You already have a steady stream of leads that convert

You want to nurture leads through the buyer funnel

Marketing Automation Helps Businesses Target Varied Customers

If you’re a small firm with limited resources and your target market is relatively uniform, you probably won’t benefit much from investing in marketing automation software.

Example: A dentist with her own small practice has a fairly consistent patient roster. These patients seek fairly standard dental procedures such as cleanings, fillings or cosmetic treatments. This dentist could get by with just a basic email marketing system that allows her to send out appointment reminders and the occasional promotional email (“20 percent off root canals for the month of February!”).

Marketing automation software, on the other hand, makes more sense for an organization with a more varied customer base. Maybe you’ve added more products or services, or expanded into new markets. The more varied your customers are, the more each would benefit from a unique, targeted marketing approach.

Example: A software company sells three different product lines to the three tiers of education (primary, secondary and post-secondary or higher). This requires nine different marketing approaches to appropriately target the entire customer base, since each education tier requires a different type of software.

If you can segment your customers into distinct groups, marketing automation software can help you tailor your marketing approach to each one—and scale to serve them all without a lot of manual campaign setup.

Marketing Automation Helps Produce Content That Nurtures

The final element—and the most difficult one to pull together—is content. Email marketing requires minimal content. You simply set up some standard email templates, add some freshened content (like latest news and special offers) and cycle them out periodically.

But with marketing automation, compelling, targeted content is the gasoline that fuels the engine. A key capability of marketing automation software is lead nurturing, which describes a series of communications designed to push the buyer through the sales funnel. In order to nurture, you often need more compelling and varied content than, say, a generic email newsletter.

If you practice outbound marketing and want to know what emails people are opening, who clicks through and what they visit on your website, you’ll likely want marketing automation software.

You’ll also benefit from this software if you practice inbound marketing and want to know how well your content is engaging customers and where it’s ranking on search engines.

Try Before You Buy

Both email marketing and marketing automation solutions are excellent tools to help companies achieve their marketing goals. But before making the investment in one or the other, it’s important to define those goals and understand which system will be most effective in helping you achieve them.

Here are three things you can do right now:

  • Check out product demos, which many vendors offer for free. You can also sign up for a basic, free subscription just to get a feel for the system. A good rule of thumb: If it feels too complex for your organization, it probably is.

  • Check out our marketing automation buyer’s guide for more information on available systems or for help choosing one that’s right for you

  • Call (800) 918-2764 and speak directly with one of our trained software analysts.