By Caroline Graham

Someone I worked with once told me that Marketo is like a Swiss army knife, while the marketing automation tool she was used to was more like a plastic spork. 

If all you have is a spork, you just pick it up and do your best. But with a Swiss army knife, you have options. Do you need a knife? Scissors? Those two tools probably cover 90 percent of your needs, but if you bring a baguette and a bottle of wine camping, that corkscrew and tiny saw will come in handy. 

Like a multi-tool, Marketo gives you options. Every time you dream up a campaign, you have to choose which type of Marketo program to use. Marketo offers four different program types.

What Are Marketo Programs?

To understand programs in Marketo, it’s helpful to back up and think about the anatomy of a marketing campaign. 

Any marketing campaign has creative assets. In Marketo, those are probably emails or landing pages, emails with a subject line, sender, pretty pictures, and delightful copy. A campaign also has certain requirements: you need to decide who should get your emails and when. You should be able to capture information about how people react and when they fill out a landing page form so you can adjust your campaigns and their journeys accordingly.

In Marketo, programs are containers for marketing initiatives. Each of your campaigns or other initiatives lives in a separate program that houses everything you need: emails and landing pages, your list (usually a smart list), smart campaigns which control everything that happens under the hood in order to schedule and send, and reports to track your results. 

Organizing all of these local assets into programs saves time, because programs are easy to clone. Programs are also flexible. They can house many kinds of marketing automation tasks, not just email sends. You can set up operational programs to clean record data, update fields in your CRM, or manage lead scores behind the scenes. You can also have your programs feed into each other by building lists based on past or current membership in another program.

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What Are Marketo’s Program Types?

Because some initiatives have unique scheduling or tracking requirements, Marketo offers four different program types. You can’t change program type once you’ve started building out a campaign, so it’s important to think ahead. 

The four Marketo program types are Default Programs, Event Programs, Engagement Programs, and Email Programs. 

As with the options in a Swiss army knife, some of these options will feel fairly interchangeable. Other times, the choice will be obvious. The challenge is making sure you remember all the powerful tools you are carrying with you. 

Default Programs

Default programs can contain any mix of local assets: emails, landing pages, smart lists, smart campaigns, and reports. They are incredibly flexible, but don’t include some of the built-in options available in other types. 

You could use them for everything, but first, check to see if there is a better tool for your needs. It’s technically possible to open a bottle of wine with a pocket knife, but if you have a corkscrew, why would you?

Event Programs

Event Programs offer extra functionality for live or online events. 

You are probably tracking event funnel stages from invite to registration and beyond, and what stages you have may depend on the kind of event. Event program statuses are defined based on channel (trade show, webinar, and so on). They stay the same across programs, making it easier to report on outcomes over the long run.

This program type is especially powerful if you want to integrate with external SaaS solutions. For webinars, integrations are available with partners like WebEx and GoToWebinar. You can push registration data into those systems and have attendee lists automatically sync back to Marketo. 

Engagement Programs

Engagement programs are my personal favorite in the Marketo multi-tool. They are designed to make ongoing drip nurture easy to manage. 

Say you have a series that you want to send once a week to people at a certain stage in the customer journey. Instead of sending those emails manually, you can add them to an engagement program stream. You then set the stream cadence—weekly, daily, whenever—at whatever time you like. 

It is easy to automatically add people to Engagement Programs on an ongoing basis. For a welcome series, you might use logic that adds people as soon as they receive their initial download email. Once in the program, list members will receive the first email in the stream. It is easy to track how many people have exhausted your program content and how many are still in the middle of their content journey.

Content streams give you great flexibility. First, if you want everyone to receive a holiday email on a particular week, simply add it to the top of the stream and everyone will receive it. Second, you can pause or add emails, and you can adjust your stream cadence as you go. 

You can house multiple streams within the same program and move people between streams. Say you want to send a daily email for the first week, then a weekly email for the next two months. You can set up each stream with a different cadence, then use transition rules to move people over when they complete the first stream. You can also use streams for different stages in the Buyer’s Journey (this discussion shares a few different strategies). 

Email Programs

Just to be clear: All Marketo program types can send emails. But in most, you use smart campaigns to manage your sends. In contrast, the Email Program offers a convenient control panel that gives a cleaner interface for the same functionality. This may feel easier for new users, but for power users, it won’t make much difference.

Email Programs also offer dashboards for email-level interaction data, as well as streamlined A/B testing functionality. You may decide to nest Email Programs within Event or Default Programs to take full advantage of these features. Email Programs can’t nest within Engagement Programs, but you can A/B test emails in those programs using the Champion/Challenger functionality. 

Want to Go Deeper?

As you continue exploring the powerful program types available to you, Marketo’s Program documentation and user threads on the Marketing Nation forum are great resources.

Know which program you need, and want to start building emails? Check out these resources on using snippets and dynamic content


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Caroline Graham

About the author

Caroline Graham was formerly a Marketing Automation Manager based in Indianapolis. She is a Marketo Certified Expert focused on understanding how the digital age impacts consumer behaviors. Read more articles by Caroline Graham.

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