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Email Marketing vs. Marketing Automation: Choosing the Right Path for Your Business

So, you want to expand your customer base to help grow your business. You’ve heard whispers about AI and machine learning being used to improve email campaigns but have no idea where to start.

Perhaps you’re a small business owner overwhelmed by the modern marketing minefield. Or maybe you’re a seasoned pro looking to push the boundaries of what your marketing campaigns can achieve.

Either way, we’re here to help you understand 2 of the marketing world’s most essential  concepts.

This article explores the ins and outs of email marketing vs. marketing automation and the key differences. Plus, we’ll look at examples of software that can be used to help you decide the right approach for your business.

No matter which approach you adopt, you could be surprised by the additional benefits beyond improving your marketing campaigns. 

Gathering data is a key element of both. You’ll be able to get insights that will form a vital part of your planning strategy and it will allow your marketing team and other departments to make smarter decisions to achieve wider business goals.

What is email marketing?

Email marketing is the process of sending out marketing materials via email to leads, prospects, and customers who have subscribed to your mailing list. It’s the original digital marketing strategy, and companies from all sectors have been using it to great effect for years. 

Businesses use email marketing in various ways, from announcing product launches and advertising sales to communicating business updates. Email marketing is the most commonly used communication method at every stage of the customer journey.

If you’re just starting a business it can be a great tool to help you build a loyal audience and announce updates. Whereas if you’re an established business, consider using it to show how much your customers mean to you, through personalized messages and little giveaways. 

personalized email example from a business using email marketing
Source: The Good Trade

When it comes to personalizing your messages, contacts can be segmented into different lists based on age or gender, with differing communications sent to each segment. This makes sure that customers receive relevant messages.

Even if you send out email blasts, you can personalize them based on purchase history. Offering customers products that are similar to or complement items they’ve previously purchased. 

It’s also possible to send out emails in response to events such as cart abandonment. Encouraging customers to return to the website and complete a purchase, perhaps with a discount code incentive.

All of these can be pulled off with minimal time and effort. Yet they often yield positive results. This makes email the marketing channel with the highest return on investment (ROI). So it’s an attractive prospect for businesses looking to boost their profits.

What is marketing automation?

Marketing automation is the process of automating repetitive tasks associated with marketing to perform them more efficiently.

You can use various tools and technologies to achieve marketing automation, including artificial intelligence (AI) and customer relationship management (CRM) platforms. Marketing automation platforms can incorporate these tools and integrate them with other systems to help marketers achieve automation efficiently and effectively.

Marketing automation can minimize the number of manual tasks associated with marketing. This saves a lot of time and lets you to focus more on higher-value tasks such as designing campaigns. 

It will also give you the ability to make more data-driven decisions. Marketing automation platforms give you access to a wealth of data from their reporting features and customer data collection. This will help you to plan better and more personalized campaigns in the future.

It’s not just email marketing that can be automated, either. It can be applied across multiple channels, including SMS, websites, live chat, and social media.

Email marketing vs. marketing automation: key differences

Email marketing is conducted through one specific channel. But marketing automation can be applied to automate multi channel campaigns with emails, SMS, live chat, social media, and websites. 

marketing automation software layout
Source: Litmus

Marketing automation software can help you achieve both. Some of these platforms have overlapping features and it can be difficult to determine the right choice for your business. 

Many email marketing tools today have marketing automation. But there are some key differences. Let’s explore some of these to help you make an informed choice.

Behavior and web tracking

One of the key differences when looking at email marketing vs. marketing automation software is the data they collect. 

Many email marketing platforms gather information about how recipients interact with your emails. This data is often shown as analytics, such as open rates and click-through rates. These give you some indication of how engaging or persuasive your emails are. 

You’ll be able to see what percentage of your list visited your landing page or made a purchase. This can help you understand the elements of your email marketing strategy that worked or need revising.

A marketing automation platform provides you with that same data and information from other channels a prospect has interacted with your brand online. 

These platforms give you the ability to compile data about your prospects. This means you can conduct multi-channel marketing and track your lead’s journey through every sales funnel stage. 

Either way, tracking such data is essential for making informed decisions. The information helps you to identify new opportunities not just in how you communicate with customers but in areas of growth potential for the overall business.

Lead scoring

Aside from email open, click, and unsubscribe rates, email marketing tools don’t have a lot to go on. So if you want to perform lead scoring, you’ll need a separate analytics tool.

Because marketing automation platforms collect behavioral data and track activity across various platforms, some provide lead-scoring features. This lets you better determine the intent of your leads and specifically tailor campaigns to them to optimize results.

Complexity of automation

Most email marketing tools will feature automation in some form. The features will vary between platforms. Most email marketing tools today allow you to automatically send emails at whatever frequency you choose. But, with the best tools you give you even more control and creativity as you set conditions and use tagging and audience segmentation.

Marketing automation tools offer a much wider range. When it comes to email marketing, this could mean sending out emails in response to specific triggers, such as cart abandonment or, more than this, it can give you access to things like personalized cross-marketing features that provide users with consistent experience from wherever they’re accessing your brand. 

Email marketing automation software

Most software today offers some degree of automation, so you can easily manage workflows. 

Several email marketing automation software can also be integrated with other tools, such as your CRM software. This helps you to contextualize your email marketing within your wider business strategy and makes it easier to manage. 

Let’s look at some email marketing automation software in more detail, starting with simple options.


Mailerlite is an email marketing service to create marketing content, including newsletters, opt-in forms, and landing pages. There’s even a drag-and-drop editor for building emails, landing pages, and even websites. Plus, it has integrations with over 130 other commonly used apps and software.

Mailerlite email marketing service editor page

You can set up automations to send out welcome emails, birthday offers, and nurturing campaigns. You can also automate workflows to trigger in response to specific actions. For example, if a subscriber completes a form to sign up for a mailing list, a welcome email can be automatically sent.

or read our Mailerlite review


If you’re looking for an email marketing tool with a simple but modern interface, Moosend is worth considering. Like Mailerlite, it allows you to build emails, popups, forms, and landing pages for lead generation and to convert website visitors.

Moosend email marketing tool editor page

Moosend lets you segment your subscriber list using conditions, so you can send specific emails to specific groups. There’s also a trigger and action-based workflow creator. 

It features native integration with 42 popular apps, including Zapier, allowing you to connect with over 5,000 further tools and services.

or read our review of Moosend


Mailchimp is a popular email marketing platform, with a focus on sending newsletters and automated emails. Choose from over 100 email newsletter templates, and create sign-up forms, landing pages, and even ads for Facebook and other social networks.

Mailchimp email marketing platform email templates

You can set automation to send welcome emails to new subscribers, cart abandonment emails, and feedback emails using personalized email designs in Mailchimp.

Mailchimp integrates with over 300 apps and web services, including CRMs such as Zoho CRM and landing page builders like Unbounce.

Check out our Mailchimp review for more details

Advanced marketing automation software

Other platforms offer more in-depth features, helping you to automate more aspects of your marketing campaigns.


ActiveCampaign combines email marketing, marketing automation, and CRM features. There are tools to create forms, landing pages, and email marketing campaigns.

ActiveCampaign has 900+ pre-built automation templates to save time building workflows. There are also automation features that enable you to perform advanced segmentation and lead scoring.

Activecampaign pre-built automation templates

You can manage your contacts and view their history as a lead from their contact record. You’ll be able to view your entire sales pipeline and set up automations across your CRM and beyond.

For example, you can establish automation to increase a customer’s engagement score, ranking them higher as a lead when they make a purchase from your Shopify store.

ActiveCampaign provides integrations with over 900 apps and web services, including Shopify, Salesforce, Unbounce, Zapier, and more.

or read our ActiveCampaign review


If you need an email marketing platform that also provides lead generation, lead nurturing, and sales features, try GetResponse. It can help you collect leads and build email lists around them, then automate how you communicate with those leads and help you sell.

GetResponse’s automation features are built around triggers and conditions. You can trigger automations based on your customer’s behavior, such as re-engagement emails or product recommendation emails.

GetResponse email marketing platform automation workflow

GetResponse features over 100 integrations with apps such as Salesforce, Paperform, and Google Ads.

or read our GetResponse review


HubSpot is chiefly a customer relationship management (CRM) platform. But it also provides features designed for sales, customer service, and inbound marketing. 

The HubSpot Marketing Hub has everything you need to perform email marketing, manage ads, personalize marketing, and even a live chat service.

Hubspot crm platform automation workflow

Hubspot’s marketing automation lets you send out perfectly timed drip campaigns for lead nurturing and efficiently score leads, send out follow-up emails, and refer leads to your sales reps.

HubSpot provides integrations with over 1,000 apps and services, including Google Calendar, Gmail, Mailchimp, and Zapier.

or read our Hubspot review

Conclusion: Email Marketing vs. Marketing Automation

Now you should have a clearer picture of the differences between email marketing vs. marketing automation. Both concepts share some common ground, but it’s essential that you choose the right approach for your business’s specific needs.

Email marketing is a useful tool for all businesses, providing solid results and great ROI. If you’re a small business, email marketing software can help you to hit the ground running, providing tools and templates to maximize its effectiveness.

If you want to take your marketing to the next level, marketing automation systems may be the best choice. The most powerful marketing automation tools can help you eliminate a good chunk of the daily repetitive tasks, allowing your team to produce more relevant and engaging content efficiently.

Weigh up how the features offered by both types of software suit your needs and make an informed choice on a piece of software that will help you to find success in your marketing endeavors.


The main difference between email marketing vs. marketing automation is:

Email marketing is the process of sending out email communications to inform customers about your products and services and persuade them to do business with you.

Marketing automation is a range of processes that can be used to reduce the number of repetitive tasks your marketing teams have to perform. 

Marketing automation can be applied to email marketing to optimize the process and make it more effective. It also gives you access to data, reports and insights from across your entire customer spectrum, so you can continue to improve your strategies and strengthen your connection with your audience. 

No, marketing automation isn’t only for email. Marketing automation can be applied to email marketing. But it can also be used on other marketing channels, like SMS, social media, websites, and live chat. Also to aid in lead generation, lead nurturing, sales, and more.

The difference between campaigns and automation in Mailchimp is:

Campaigns in Mailchimp allow you to share a range of different communications with your audience, including emails, ads, landing pages, and other messages. These can all be created and measured in Mailchimp.

Automation in Mailchimp allows you to converge various workflows within the platform and its interactions with apps and services. Automations can be established as part of campaigns, allowing you to send welcome emails, encourage repeat business, and reward customers automatically.