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Automate Marketing Cloud Engagement Tasks

Learning Objectives

After completing this unit, you’ll be able to:

  • Choose the appropriate automation activity for your task.
  • Schedule an automation for the most effective time.

Meet Automation Studio

If you’re a Marketing Cloud Engagement user, you’ve probably scheduled an email or SMS send. When scheduled, your message automatically sends the right information at the right moment—improving the customer experience and saving you time. And customer journeys take automation even further, allowing you to plot out entire interactions with your customers based on behavior and artificial intelligence. 

These interactions are powered by a vast amount of data. But did you know that your data activities can be automated, too? That’s right. Your data can be send-ready using the power of Automation Studio. In fact, you can automate many of your routine activities in Marketing Cloud Engagement. Automation Studio lets you execute multiple Marketing Cloud Engagement activities in one preplanned, multistep automation. These activities can be scheduled or based on real-time triggers. 

Check out the basics of Automation Studio in this video:

Automation in Action

Let’s consider this example. Outdoor gear and apparel retailer Northern Trail Outfitters wants to launch a campaign. The campaign targets customers from the southeastern United States who opened an NTO email in the past 3 months and clicked a link or made a purchase. Automation Studio can use a Structured Query Language (SQL) Query activity to get the initial batch of subscribers who fit this criteria. 

From there, the NTO team can schedule this activity to run every 3 months to get an updated batch of subscribers. The team can also add in a few activities to filter subscribers for more specific communications and extract tracking information. And just like that—the NTO team has a full-fledged marketing campaign running automatically! In this module, we show you how to use Automation Studio to automate your own marketing tasks.

Automation Studio Activities

Automation Studio lets you chain together multiple activities to create tasks ranging from simple to complex. The building block of any task is the activity. Automation Studio offers several different activity options to help you send messages and move data around.

Example list of Automation Studio activities

Let's cover the main automation activities.

Send Messages

Automation Studio can trigger sends from many different channels, including email, SMS, push, or GroupConnect. You can even send an email from a Sales or Service Cloud account. Drag a Send Email activity, a Send Push activity, or a Send SMS activity into Automation Studio, then select the message you want to send and when. Automation Studio takes care of the rest!

Move Data

One of Automation Studio’s most powerful features is how it can move data around in your Marketing Cloud Engagement account. Import information into your data extensions, extract data from data extensions, or transfer files from Marketing Cloud Engagement to FTP locations using the Import File and File Transfer activities.

Run Scripts and Queries

Automation Studio allows you to use SQL or Server-side JavaScript (SSJS) to manipulate Marketing Cloud Engagement data. Want to delve deep into a data extension to find out which subscribers bought a product in the last week of May 2017, in a specific region, while standing on their head? Activities like the SQL Query activity can get you there. (Although we don’t know how you’d capture the standing-on-head data. We’ll leave that to you).

Pause and Refresh

Automation Studio can even pause your process for a certain amount of time using a Wait activity. While a break may not seem necessary for software, this pause is valuable to ensure that messages send at the correct time and that the system has enough time to import and process new subscriber data. A wait activity gives every process a chance to catch up, grab the latest data or content, and go forward with confidence.

Similarly, a refresh activity ensures that data is up to date and ready to go. You can refresh email groups and mobile lists for accurate sends.


Any standard or custom report can also be run as an automation activity. That means you can have accurate tracking data at your fingertips when you’re ready to review.

Journey Builder

Journey Builder has a couple specific activities you can use in Automation Studio. The Fire Event activity allows you to fire an event that signals new contacts are ready to enter a journey. The Journey Entry Audience activity allows you to update an audience for journeys that use that entity as an entry source.

Knowledge Check

Ready to review what you’ve learned? The knowledge check below isn’t scored—it’s just an easy way to quiz yourself. To get started, drag the description in the left column to the matching activity on the right. When you finish matching all the items, click Submit to check your work. If you’d like to start over, click Reset.

Schedule Activities or Run Them Immediately

Automation Studio allows for an immediate run of activities or a scheduled approach. For example, Automation Studio can execute an automation whenever a file matching a naming convention is dropped into a specified location. The file is transferred to another location and imported into a data extension. After 12 hours, an email is triggered. Here’s how that automation is configured. 

Sample automation in Automation Studio.

Automations can run on a set schedule, run once immediately, or run after receiving a trigger from an API event or a file drop (placing a .zip file in a specified folder location). Once you determine the signal, Automation Studio is off to the races.

Let’s walk through the typical steps to create an automation in Automation Studio.

  1. In Marketing Cloud Engagement, navigate to Automation Studio.
  2. Click New Automation.
  3. Enter a name for the automation, then choose whether to run the automation from a schedule or a file drop. You can choose either option if you plan to run the automation immediately or via an API trigger.
  4. Drag your activities to the step sequence in the order you want them to occur. You can include multiple activities per step.
  5. Configure the activities in each step. For example, you need to choose an email definition for send email activities, and select the amount of time to wait.
  6. Save the automation when you finish. You’re ready to go!

Remember that activities that query or write data to a data extension need to be placed after SQL queries that actually generate the data for the data extension. Don’t put them in the same step, or you’ll get no results.

After your automation is running, you can come back to the screen to pause, stop, skip, or review activity for the automation. 


You can dig deep into the available documentation for Automation Studio—there’s too many possibilities to cover in a single module!

In the next unit, we take a closer look at SQL queries in Automation Studio and use them to dig into exactly the data you need.


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