Marketing automation holds a lot of tantalizing potential; every marketer now knows that. You can expect results that include significant improvements in qualified leads and conversions to sales, as well as better customer retention, and increased ability to identify and capitalize on new opportunities from existing customers.

Many marketing leaders, however, apexels-photore discovering that the implementation of marketing technology doesn’t solve all their problems. That’s because marketing automation is a platform, not a strategy. And it’s anything but turnkey.

In a recent study, How Far Along Is B2B Marketing Tech Adoption?, eMarketer explored leading obstacles to marketing technology success according to B2B marketing professionals worldwide. Lack of an effective strategy was the second most-cited obstacle to success, tied with inadequate budget/resources (39 percent). Respondents to the eMarketer study indicated these challenges are preceded only by the complexity of integrating technologies (50 percent).

Hasn’t it always been of primary importance to put a good marketing strategy in place? Today, this must also be followed by a solid content strategy. Question is, why do so many marketing teams struggle with these strategies?

One answer may be because they’re hard to do well, and to make actionable. Not that everything else in marketing technology or automation is easy—not at all. But a good marketing plan goes deep. Bringing sexy back to marketing and marketing automation requires insight, experience, analysis, and action. And it’s the necessary foundation for everything that follows, all with the aim of delivering business results.  There’s the sexy part.

CMO.com cites 15 Mind-Blowing Stats About Content Marketing that indicate marketing automation and digital content are not living up to expectations or are posing new challenges. It is clear this is not solely about the technology. In fact, a report from the Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs, B2B Content Marketing: 2015 Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends—North America, leads with this key theme: If you want to be more effective at content marketing, document your strategy.

Without great content, you can’t expect great leads. And without great marketing and content strategies, you won’t get great content.

So to start with the foundation, here are some essential elements of a good marketing strategy:

• Identify whom you want to reach (target audiences/personas)
• Understand what they value (customer insight)
• Create various ways to express that value (value proposition, messaging)
• Define your offer based on what they will consider valuable (value offer)
• Set your offer apart from the competition (differentiation, competitive analysis)
• Figure out how to reach your selected personas (marketing channels, media mix)
• Determine how to identify potential customers (qualified lead definitions)
• Decide what actions you want customers to take to turn all of this into business results (calls to action, qualified leads, conversions)

Of course there’s more to it than this. For example, you also need to factor in channel strategy, pricing, profitable revenue analysis, budgeting and resources, marketing and sales alignment, and agreements on the definition of qualified leads and sales stages.

One constant in the world of marketing is the absolute requirement for a sound, thorough, and complete marketing strategy that guides a sound content strategy. This leads to effective content and messaging, fed into all marketing channels, that engage your target audiences and satisfy customers through each stage of their journey, and ultimately inspire them to take the desired actions. The hard work behind this may not seem sexy, but the results definitely are.