In order to market effectively to your customers, your brand must meet them where they are, which makes online interaction critical to the success of your marketing strategy.

But there are so many ways of reaching people, how do you know which is right for you?

More to the point, what are the best techniques to ensure your message is getting out in a way that speaks to your target audience at the right time and place? It’s easy to spin your wheels trying varying methods (hello, hours of browsing Facebook and answering comments), but while you’re interacting online, who’s running your business? The answer to balancing the day-to-day work necessary to run your business while expanding your customer base is marketing automation.

The trick, however, is to retain personal interaction even in the process of automating your marketing techniques.

Here are three automation options you can use and still keep it real with your customer base.

Email Sign-Up

There’s a certain amount of automation people expect when they interact with a business, and newsletter sign-up is a good example. However, a newsletter is about more than simply greeting customers using “first name” tags in your template setup. The content in your newsletter should be valuable: perhaps a discount they can use, or a link to further content they can download. Even if the email is automatic, it can still bear personal touches based on segmented lists (i.e. separating your email subscribers by category or behavior). An ecommerce company can send information to a customer who’s purchased a product detailing warranty information for that specific item, or replacement parts, services and maintenance schedules and the like.  People are busy and do appreciate a reminder for when their pet needs to have their shots updated or their oil needs to be changed.

By studying your newsletter analytics and click rates, you can see which subscribers best fit in certain segments, and test which subject matter garners the most interest from your target audience. Keep your content about your customer. They don’t care so much about who you are as they do about what you can do for them. By profiling the type of customer they are and segmenting your message to the right group, you’re letting them know you care about what they need rather than using heavy selling tactics from which people will unsubscribe as quickly as they can.

Social Media

Your target audience lives online, and a large portion of that time is spent on sites like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. We are a very visual society, and as a business owner, it’s easy to get overwhelmed trying to keep up with the various social platforms if you have to do everything manually. Spending an entire day talking to potential customers online is not a feasible use of your time or theirs, and while they’d appreciate the personal attention, it isn’t sustainable. Social media schedulers like HootSuite or Buffer can definitely help keep your social media organized across all platforms, but they’re not an all-encompassing solution.

Study your social media analytics to determine the best days and times for interacting with your audience and be there during those times.

“Automated messages bring eyes to your brand, but genuine interaction will keep them there.”

This doesn’t mean you can’t deliver pre-developed content. It just means when your audience is active, you’re active with them. This in turn generates more brand loyalty through conversation and humanization than a bot posting at scheduled intervals.

Personalized Landing Pages

Greeting your customers by name when they return to your website tells them they’re more than Order #932651 in your computer database, but it’s about more than a first name tag, too. You recognize their loyalty in returning to your site, and you are promising to be at their service. By setting your site up to recognize returning customers, you’re building trust in keeping up with their account history should they need customer service for anything they’ve purchased from you. Sure, you have the opportunity to learn more from their shopping habits, but it’s also a chance to provide them more value than a one-time purchase provides. Based on their past browsing data, you can show recommendations to pique their interest, offer discounts on repeat orders, update them on product offers related to their account history, and in general put valuable information front and center. Look into automated tools for your shopping cart software, e-commerce platform, cookies or plugins that allow you to even recognize the geo-location of a prospect when they land on your site so you can display a message such as “How’s it going in San Francisco today?” when your own company is based in Missouri.

Automation is a balancing act. Too impersonal and your customers feel dismissed by a simple trigger action. But not using enough automation requires you and your team to be more hands-on, which can take a significant portion of time and reduce efficiency, or you could simply be missing opportunities to connect at all. Sales pitches are more personal than ever. To reach the widest market possible while still being able to meaningfully connect, smart automation is the answer for using technology to your best advantage, keeping it real and human, and staying competitive in the brand awareness game.