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Demystifying Automation studio in Marketing Cloud

Demystifying Automation studio in Marketing Cloud

Salesforce Marketing Cloud is a B2C [Business to Consumer] Marketing Automation platform for reaching out to customers on their preferred channels at ...

Salesforce Marketing Cloud is a B2C [Business to Consumer] Marketing Automation platform for reaching out to customers on their preferred channels at their preferred time with personalized content. The above activities are mostly customer-facing and performed by marketers, but there are many back-end activities related to Data within the Marketing cloud that support customer-facing activities. These are performed by the system admin or IT team members with technical knowledge of SQL or other scripting languages like SSJS [Service side javascript]. 

As per Salesforce, Automation Studio is a Marketing Cloud application used to execute multi-step marketing and data management activities on an immediate, triggered, or scheduled basis.

The automation studio is also used as an ETL [Extract Transform Load] tool. It helps in slicing & dicing the data, shifting the data from one location to another, transforming the data into another format, segmenting the data, or importing/ exporting data into/from Salesforce Marketing Cloud and Reporting & Tracking.

Automation studio Use cases

Automation studio can be used for multiple scenarios or use cases. Some of the important ones are enumerated below:

  • Send mass emails to customers or prospects after enrolling in a marketing activity.   
  • Use SQL join to create a new Data extension that contains the combination of data based on a unique value in the table.  
  • Send anniversary/birthday email at scale. 
  • Import the data from the external system and save it within the Data extension in Marketing Cloud.
  • Send data from Marketing Cloud to the external system.
  • Export the system data called Data views for reporting and tracking purposes.

Activities in Automation studio

The automation studio performs the various tasks mentioned above with the feature within the Automation studio called Activities. There are more than 10+ Activities with the Automation studio. Below is the list:

  • Send Email Activity
  • SQL Query Activity
  • Import File Activity
  • Script Activity
  • Filter Activity
  • Data Extract Activity
  • Verification Activity
  • Data factory utility 
  • Wait Activity
  • Refresh group Activity
  • Send Push
  • Verification Activity
  • Refresh Mobile Filtered List
  • Fire event

Important Automation Studio Activities

This section will focus on the crucial Automation Studio Activities and describe it along with its use case. 

  • Send Email activity  

This activity is used to send emails to the subscribers by choosing the relevant email template and the user-initiated email definition.

Use case: This activity can be used to send mass emails like Birthday/Anniversary emails.

  • Data Extract activity 

This activity is used to extract data of different types like Data Extensions, Tracking data, etc. from the Marketing cloud and store it in a specified location. The extracted files are zipped. 

Use case: Marketers can extract system data of the email – like open, bounce, click, etc. – to carry out further analysis. They can also extract the engagement data stored in the Data Extension within the Marketing cloud for future use.

  • Data factory utility 

This activity is used to load and transform data from the SQL Server environment to the destination as Oracle/Netezza environment.

  • File Transfer Activity 

This activity is used to securely transfer the required files from the Salesforce Marketing Cloud Safehouse to the FTP location. File transfer activity can also be used to Unzip or/and decrypt a file found in the Marketing Cloud’s Enhanced FTP directory. 

Use case: Marketers sometimes need to send confidential customer information securely to external systems in an encrypted format. File transfer activity thus comes handy.

  • Filter Activity 

This activity is used to filter or segment the data based on the Profile attribute, i.e. profile attributes, preference attributes, filters, and measures.

It can also segments or filter the data based on the data stored in the data extension.

Use case: This activity can be used to filter the data extension to match a certain condition in the attribute of the subscriber like First name or Last name.

  • Import file Activity

This activity is used for importing files from outside of Marketing Cloud into a data extension. These files can be imported from the Marketing cloud safehouse into data extensions. Users can map the columns to import the data correctly. If the file is encrypted or compressed, it is recommended to use the File transfer activity to decrypt or decompress it before using the import file activity. 

Use case: This activity can be used to import the data into the data extension storing the customers’ birthday data to send the birthday emails.

  • SQL Query Activity

This activity is one of the essential activities amongst the list. It helps the user to write SQL queries to suit the specific use case. SQL queries can be used to join two tables to provide relational data. It can be used to filter the data based on specific criteria or insert the data into new data extensions.

Use case: Users want to extract data from the customer master data extension and split it into two separate data extensions based on attribute data. This will help create one data extension with details of the customers who made a purchase between 2018 and 2019 and another data extension with the data of customers who have purchased in 2020. These two data extensions can be used for targeting customers separately. The above functionality can be achieved via other activities, but the SQL query gives you the power to make it very granular, although it requires SQL knowledge.   

  • Script Activity 

This activity is used to write the SSJS [Service side javascript] code and run the activity to perform the automation. This activity requires the knowledge of SSJS and is mostly performed by the technical team. SSJS script can be used to code complex scenarios like development or integration. 

Use case: SSJS activity can be used to send the customer data stored in data extension within Marketing Cloud to external systems like Salesforce Sales/ Service Cloud or external system.

  • Wait Activity

This activity is used to make the automation wait for a specific time before starting for the next automation. This activity is typically used between other automation activities to enable a time gap between their execution.

Use case: Import file activity transfers the customer data file from the Marketing cloud Safehouse to a data extension every morning at 7 am. Wait activity is then inserted to make the next automation run after 6 hrs, i.e., at 1 pm. 

  • Verification activity

This activity is used to avoid error scenarios in an automation activity. It is used by selecting a target data extension and enforcing a set of conditions to be evaluated on that data extension. As soon as the condition is met, this activity will stop the automation or notify the designated user via email or both.

Use case: User wants to set a condition that the row count in the desired data extension should not be less than 10,000. If it is less than 10k, then the automation should stop, and designated users should be notified.

Best practices 

Let’s look at the best practices to follow when working on Automation studio:

  • Automations should be stored in an appropriate folder structure, and the folder structure should depend on the customer’s department or their region.
  • Use relevant nomenclature for the activities as it will be easier to recognize later. 
  • Use verification activity to make sure that the import data file’s row count is as per the desired number. If not, then the activity should at least notify the relevant users.  
  • SQL queries to retrieve data views should be optimized to make sure system performance is not impacted as it may fetch millions of records.
  • SQL queries have a timeout setting of 30 mins, so queries should be written keeping that in mind. SQL queries should be segmented or you can use intermediate tables to optimize it.
  • Wait activity should be used between two automation, if required.

Wrap up

Automation Studio is a potent tool for Marketers, Admins and Tech teams, and it mostly works in the background. But what it essentially does is that it aids in achieving Marketers’ dream of reaching the customer at the right time, at the right place with the right content. 

In this blog, we have covered most of the activities under the Automation studio umbrella along with their use case to help you understand its scope and capability. Coupled with best practices, it will be an excellent asset for Marketers, Admins, and Tech teams. 

We believe that most of the use cases should be catered to with a combination of activities instead of a single activity. For a more detailed understanding of the Automation studio, please refer to the Salesforce help documentation on this link.

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Kevin George

Kevin is the Head of Marketing at Email Uplers, one of the fastest-growing full-service email marketing companies. He is an email enthusiast at heart and loves to pen down email marketing content. You can reach him at or connect with him on LinkedIn.

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