Automation has been a central focus in marketing for many years, putting the latest technology to use to reach highly targeted audiences with minimal effort. Concepts such as pay-per-click (PPC), programmatic buying and retargeting have improved the efficiency of the sales funnel, using clustering algorithms and propensity modeling to ensure that every marketing penny counts.
Automation is now also being used to create written content using software. One such program has been developed by US start-up Automated Insights, which claims its product can turn ‘spreadsheets into stories’. Rather than replacing ‘real’ writers, as some may have feared, publications are using this technology to expand the scope of their coverage into areas that would not justify extra human writing resources, such as minor league sports.
Every revolution has its limits
However, while software is vital for the gathering of information and identification of trends, it is less effective at drawing reasoned conclusions from this data and pinpointing the root cause. This means there is certainly still a strong requirement for intelligent input to complement automation. There are even areas where the industry feels automation has gone too far.
The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) recently admitted it had ‘messed up’, stating that display advertising had ‘sacrificed user experience’ in the name of optimization, with the result that many consumers now actively block these ads.
"Through our pursuit of further automation and maximization of margins…we built advertising technology to optimize publishers’ yield of marketing budgets," said Scott Cunningham, SVP of Technology and Ad Operations at the IAB. "Looking back now, our scraping of dimes may have cost us dollars in consumer loyalty."
Although marketers are still utilizing display tactics to reach any customers who have not yet blocked these ads, the message is clear: marketing needs an injection of intelligence that requires a human touch.
Automation in moderation
A survey by Gartner predicted that by 2020, 85% of a customer’s relationship with a business will be conducted without human interaction. The good news for marketers is the remaining 15%.
While automation works under its own steam to a point, even machine learning requires manual setup. In addition, as a recent article by Econsultancy points out, brand personality has yet to be translated into a measurable machine-learnable metric. A real-life marketing team is required to create and curate content, and to provide the emotion and sentiment that cannot (at least yet) be programmed.
However, although social media requires a certain degree of familiarity, marketers should take care not to go overboard. The use of familiar and informal language is no substitute for real connection, and true personality is key to getting results. Indeed, a Salesforce report on the State of B2B Marketing in 2015 highlighted that although 64% of B2B marketers plan to invest more in social media in 2016, this spend will fail to yield results if brands' 'social presence is negligent or too self-promotional'. It stresses that advertising and organic content must work in tandem, bringing the need for human intervention back into focus.
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