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Journey Builder or Automation Studio: Which Do We Choose?

Both Journey Builder and Automation Studio are powerful tools that Marketing Cloud customers have access to. However, it’s often times confusing to determine when it’s appropriate to use one versus the other – or even how they work together. Luckily, both Automation Studio and Journey Builder do serve unique purposes; it’s just a matter of figuring out which route is more in line with your particular marketing goal.

Automation Studio Basics

Automation Studio is a marketing automation tool focused on ETL pieces (extract, transform + load). This allows marketers to bring in data from multiple systems and automate tasks for segmentation, as well as deployment of email campaigns . Automation Studio also allows for highly advanced automated segmentation, by leveraging data filters and queries in its arsenal of offerings.   It is an incredibly powerful feature of Marketing Cloud and great to leverage for those regular occuring “wash, rinse, repeat” types of processes.

Automation Studio also allows users to retrieve data extension or data view information using Automation Studio’s SQL Query activity, then storing the results in a data extension. SQL (Structured Query Language) is a reason-based programming language used to manage relational databases and perform various actions or operations on the data flowing between systems.  So, for complex query needs, it’s great that Marketing Cloud can leverage a universally adopted language known by so many.

Journey Builder Basics

Journey Builder is a user-friendly, drag & drop tool that allows marketers to create personalized, engagement-based journeys for their customers. Journey Builder allows individualized, multi-channel communications at scale, as well as providing goal and success measurements as outputs to manage and monitor.

Key Differences between Journey Builder and Automation Studio

While both Journey Builder and Automation Studio offer multi-channel ways to send marketing messages, Journey Builder offers more opportunities to test different strategies and optimize your messages based on engagement and interaction. Since individuals can enter the journey on an individual level (rather than just large batches), the tool is much better suited to watch and act on behavior as it happens in real time, instead of waiting until an automation is finished running.

In Automation Studio, data filters and queries, using SQL, are built and leveraged to assist in segmentation needs.   In Journey Builder, marketers can leverage the drag-and-drop functionality to pull in audience decision splits, create customized wait times, and configure firing events, that allow customers to be injected from almost any data source.  In general, Journey Builder has earned a reputation as a much more user-friendly tool, with easier configuration capabilities and easier ability to iterate and evolve.

Another key difference between the two tools is that Journey Builder offers built-in goal reporting, while Automation Studio does not. In Journey Builder, you can see in real time how your campaign is performing and the ways in which your customers are engaging.

So, how do you decide which one to use?

There are a few questions you can ask yourself when planning out a campaign and determining if Journey Builder or Automation Studio is the way to go.

  1. Can customers individually join the campaign at any time OR will they enter with a larger group on a time-specific basis?

    If they can join the campaign at any time, Journey Builder is the route to take.
    If they’re entering in larger batches, you’ll want to use Automation Studio.


  2.  Do you need to use event/action triggers to determine how you will respond (email, SMS, Ad, etc.) OR will every customer follow a predetermined, fixed path regardless of an action, event, or lack of engagement?

    If you will need event/action triggers, Journey Builder is the right tool.
    If a customer will follow a predetermined path, Automation Studio, is the right tool.

In Automation Studio, you can segment, send email, and then write a query to gather engagement data – BUT engagement-based data is a lot easier to view and act on in Journey Builder than in Automation Studio. You can do this by leveraging the Engagement Split functionality in Journey Builder.


However,  more often than not, the question should not be Journey Builder VERSUS Automation Studio, but Journey Builder AND Automation Studio.

As customers demand more personalized and meaningful experiences, leveraging the powerful capabilities of both Automation Studio and Journey Builder together allows for highly targeted, highly personalized messaging. 

With Automation Studio, marketers can create highly-complex segmentation across a high volume of data and from multiple sources.  Automation Studio is the best option for customizing audience segmentation at scale.

Journey Builder is where you send your segmented audiences through highly-specific, customized journeys based on the data within the Marketing Cloud.  This guides your customers down specific paths that will allow you to create a more personalized experience for them.  

With leveraging both tools, you can actually configure a Journey Builder entry source with an Automation Studio audience. For an Automation Studio audience to be injectable into Journey Builder, it simply requires that the data extension for that audience is sendable.  

Dealing with large amounts of data and powerful automation capabilities can be daunting, but leveraging technical experts to help ensure everything is running smoothly and drive marketing success.


About Lev
We’re a marketing-focused consultancy that’s all about improving the customer experience. We weave strategy and expertise into every solution to enhance customer engagement and drive marketing success using Salesforce

First and foremost, we are marketers helping marketers. As a marketing-focused consultancy,  we sit at the intersection of marketing, technology, and customer experience. We approach every project with the belief that marketing is the glue that holds the entire customer experience together.

As new tools and technologies emerge, the demand for personalized and meaningful experiences from your customers remains at the center. While we know Salesforce inside and out, our first priority is helping our customers figure out what challenges they are addressing before we start designing and building solutions. 

As top brands are on their journey towards digital transformation, we serve as a trusted partner to provide the marketing strategy and technical expertise needed to take the customer experience to the next level.



Bri Jones, Senior Digital Marketing Manager

Brian Dobbs, Director, Solution Consultant

Susan Prater, Associate Principal, Strategic Consulting