A Radio Shack TRS-80 Taught Me Marketing Automation

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TRS-80 Photo

Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mwichary/

In 5th grade being one of the top three in math had its perks. It meant that Eric, Jeanine and I got to pack into Mr. Hourigan’s sedan and drive to the high school and spend fourty-five glorious minutes being taught BASIC programming on Radio Shack TRS-80 computers. This was the Silicon Valley of our fine city. Staring at the blinking prompter on the screen as dot matrix printers hummed in the background was mesmerizing. What I did not realize was that, in that cinder block walled oasis, I had learned one of the very pillars of marketing automation.

BASIC programming is not an overly complicated language to pick up. It was developed for non-programmers to be able to develop their own software. There is not much syntax to learn to be able to perform complex functions. Our first assignments had us solving math problems, adding and subtracting numbers. It was great, but then I learned the magical function that I would carry with me all the way until today: IF/THEN.

Yes, IF/THEN was fantastic. You can use IF/THEN statements to send a TRS-80 into a death spiral, making it circle around on itself. Or you could use it to produce an elegant solution to produce probabilities for random results – okay, it was 5th grade, maybe not so elegant. But the IF/THEN statement is the bedrock upon which marketing automation platforms are built. You segment your audiences, deliver targeted messaging, determine frequency, and send specified content all using your context, behavioral data, and demographics along with our friend IF/THEN.

IF Ms. Smith is a customer, THEN send her an email that we are having a special open house for customers. IF Ms. Smith doesn’t respond in 5 days, THEN send a direct mail reminder. IF Ms. Smith visits the open house event site, THEN add 5 points to her campaign score. IF Ms. Smith visits the RSVP page, THEN add 10 points to her campaign score. IF Ms. Smith does not sign up for the event, THEN send a reminder email with a free gift offer based on the pages she visited on the event site. IF Ms. Smith attends the event, THEN send a thank you package 4 days after the event.

I’m sorry, I got caught up in all those IF/THENs. Haven’t lost my edge since 5th grade.

Don’t let the simplicity of the IF/THEN fool you though. If you don’t close the loop and have it point to the correct result you can wind up with the dreaded ERROR code – which equals an audience member not receiving anything or worse, a misaligned message. Just like we had to hand write our code and check it line for line, creating a map for any marketing automation campaign makes all the difference.

The IF/THEN statement has the power to guide customers along the path to purchase, gathering and delivering information, creating a conversation of sorts between them and your organization. IF carelessly organized, THEN you run the risk of having your organization seem disconnected and inconsistent. See what I did there?