August 22

Un-automated marketers – clearly a primitive people

Will there be life after marketing automation?

Way back in 1974, Cadbury’s Smash ran an an ad campaign featuring a group of mechanical Martian Explorers laughing their heads off at the way humans  prepare potatoes for consumption.

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In March 2016, The Drum invited a panel of ten marketers to reimagine the campaign in a contemporary context. Many of the ideas were brilliant and funny but one by Caspar Schlickum, CEO, EMEA, Xaxis was outstanding. It was the only one to make use of the idea of real-time engagement with audiences:

“I’d use real-time data to build scenarios for these ads. If something significant happens in the world, the Martians will comment on or ridicule the event, whichever is most appropriate. We’d still show them laughing at the stupidity of humanity.”

The combination of a big creative idea that only a human could think of (for now) executed at the micro level using contextual data and real time technology to drive micro-level engagement is a sign of things to come.

Where are we going wrong?

I have no doubt that in the not too distant future we will look back on the way we currently go about marketing and laugh our heads off at the primitive nature of our process.

It goes like this (please read in your best Martian voice):

  • So the ever optimistic marketing director director demand the overworked marketing manager achieve yet another a 60% growth in sales in following quarter (Ha Ha Ha)
  • The marketing manager reluctantly develops subsets of ridiculous objectives and briefs a range of uncooperative agencies to deliver impossible numbers of impressions, traffic, conversions etc. etc. (Ha Ha Ha)
  • Each agency team and discombobulated silo (who all hate each other) responds (eventually) and either challenges or executes the brief (depending on cash-flow targets) across all known but mostly unknown touchpoints on the pathway to purchase (Ha Ha Ha)
  • Three month’s later, a wide range of unaligned campaign monitoring tools and teams analyse the response, evaluate performance and report on the whole shooting match but cannot attribute past last and first click analysis with any confidence (Ha Ha Ha)

If this sound familiar? Don’t worry, you are not alone. This flawed and all too human process is one of the reasons why experts predict robots will take over 30% of our jobs by 2025. While this figure relates to jobs in general, there seems little reason to assume that marketing jobs will somehow remain immune.

I am working out. Are you? 

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According to recruitment company Total Professions, “About 3% of the UK workforce are employed in marketing.” More specifically, the UK Government puts the total number of individuals involved in the core activities of: consumer research and insights; management of client marketing activity and communication plans; targeting of consumers; creation of ads, promotions, PR campaigns; media planning, buying and evaluation at 96,000 people. So that’s over 30,000 of us likely to loose our jobs in the not too distant future. If you are reading this in the office, take a good look at your colleagues. Who is it going to be? You or the individual not reading this article?

With just as much work to do but fewer people to do it, much of what we do now will have to be automated. Marketing automation, even in its current form, is a definite threat to jobs but it is also an opportunity. If you have visited my blog or attended one of my digital qualification classes at the IDM in the past five years, you will know that I have a particular mantra on the business of digital called the RISE agenda. RISE stands for:

Reduced costs, Improved response, Streamlined processes and Real-time engagement.

Finding ways for marketing to reduce costs at the same time as improving response is critical to gaining acceptance with senior management teams that have long held the view that marketing is a necessary evil rather than fundamental to the business.

The wastage in marketing planning, media buying, content production, agency relationships, reporting processes etc. etc. verges, at best, on a reluctance to embrace any aspect of efficiency or at worst behavior that borders on the criminal side of incompetence. While manufacturing seeks to improve productivity while driving down costs, marketing seems distressingly focused on doing the opposite.

As for engaging with genuine target audiences in real-time, all the actionable big data in the world, combined with seemingly omniscient omni-channel data management platforms won’t help. That is if you can only respond to an opportunity following weeks of briefing, weeks of development and interminable layers of approvals before a contextually targeted communication even has a vague chance of arriving on the customer’s mobile phone at an opportune moment.

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Marketing automation will play havoc with our lives

A key aspect of marketing automation, and potentially the most problematic, is the devolution of authority to individuals, systems and algorithms.

The humans involved in the process will need to be customer-centric rather than channel or platform focused. They will also need to function with a degree of autonomy that got many a hedge fund trader into trouble; and bosses admitting that they had no idea what was being doe in their name.

As far as the providers of systems that facilitate marketing automation are concerned (there are a lot of them and they come in all shapes, sizes and backgrounds) the sooner we get past using automated systems as glorified email vending units the better. To really make a difference, we need to embrace an approach that in my opninion meets all the following criteria:

“Where everything we do is focused on our ability to connect digitally, physically and profitably with customers by being useful to individuals when they need, want or desire help finding, exploring, buying, living with and responding to our products or services.” 

You will notice the lack of reference to technology and fact that the essence of this approach is to respond to consumers when insight indicates the time is right. Sales are nurtured by individual real-time engagement opportunities rather than driven in generalised full-fontal assaults of entire target groups. Today, the customer journey is more complicated than ever: an average of 27 touchpoints, spread across 20-30 days and up to 10 different channels and devices.

To achieve such a degree of calculated spontaneity in such a fragmented context, the entire marketing process will have to change beyond all recognition. The twelve month marketing plan will be a thing of the past.  We will become marketing existentialists. It isn’t easy to imagine how but perhaps some businesses are getting their head in the game.

Pepsi, for example, have transitioned from using external agencies developing three of four big idea campaigns a year to publishing 4,000 pieces of individual content a year via an in-house facility, most of which is turned around in under an hour. Using an itinerant award winning freelance content editor on $750 a day verses an agency on $5,000 plus expenses is no contest. It is interesting to note that of the 80,000 people currently working in advertising, 16,000 are already freelance. Perhaps they are ahead of the game?

L’Oréal in Canada has also developed a content arm that produce real-time and localised content across a range of products. But to take it to the next level, both Pepsi and L’Oréal will need to build systems that will even, dare I say it, bypass the human content creators completely.

Agencies have responded to real-time pressure, by shifting focus upstream: by building or lending teams to clients, and downstream: by working more directly with channels and publishers. The upstream format is already seen as having a negative impact on creativity and the downstream version seems to ooze conflict of interest.

Hey… these guys are everywhere

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One of the most popular marketing automation software packages already has over 35,000 customers and over 120,000 users. To quote a review of the Infusionsoft platform by Capterra,

“It enables small businesses to create a sales and marketing strategy and map out each step; centralize customer interactions and daily activities; capture new leads and automate follow-up based on preferences and needs; identify the best leads and close more sales faster; and automate repetitive tasks like follow-up, contact management, billing and payment all from one place.”

In terms of being a marketing automation workhorse, Oracle Eloqua, which helps marketers automate content and social marketing, targeting, segmentation, and lead management with Oracle Marketing Cloud solutions, reports over 150,000 regular users.

One of the aspects that makes Eloqua so popular is its ability to help anyone create landing pages, emails, and submit forms using drag and drop placement. No need for specialist programming skills or an agency fort that matter.

Both systems are examples of how the relationship between humans and machines is changing.  Machines I was being there to make individual workers more productive than the next stage is evolution will see machines doing the work themselves.

You can imagine the next phase of this revolution will involve developing systems capable of  observing how we put campaigns together over a period of years. Eventually  these systems will accumulate sufficient knowledge to do the job without us.  It’s not that we are without our merits. It’s just that we are too slow and have an infatuation with subjectivity and self-interest.

We only have ourselves to blame

In the current market, awash with legacy approaches and infused with so much short-termism, many publishers seem to think advertisers exist simply to feed the meter. This selling out to mammon has ensured  that somewhere between 200 and 600 million people around the world have downloaded ad blocking software.

This focus has also created publishing wastelands so editorially toxic that pages are simply vehicles for ramming and cramming in as much titivating link-bait as possible. Relevance to the visitor seems irrelevant. Keep fiddling while Rome burns seems to be the theme tune of our age.

As we move towards a more enlightened approach in which genuine attribution modelling begins to reduce wastage to unprecedented levels of efficiency, it is us mortals who will feel the pinch. Unless we can take comfort in the fact that that the loss of jobs will lead to a loss of consumers which will make the efficiencies of automation counter-productive?Perhaps it is on the originality front that we humans can find a role for ourselves. After all, we can do things computers cannot even dream of right? Wrong.

MIT has already developed an algorithm called Deep Beat that generates poetry and raps to any subject on demand. Algorithmic music is used to score films and ads. AI systems allow procedurally-generated games to invent themselves. Computers write original stories and robots paint portraits. Significantly, an outdoor campaign which “evolves” unique ads based on its audience’s reactions already exists.

If as predicted, robots reach the level of human intelligence by 2029? What next for us? Whatever the outcome of the shift towards real-time engagement, clients will still need to identify and reach individuals with relevant, original and impact-generating communications. I hope.

Rest assured, I will be looking into the forthcoming struggle between human marketer and machine in my Technology for Marketing talk at Olympia 29th September 2016. Despite the fact that I am currently more on the side of the machines, I hope it is us who have the last laugh.  Cue uncontrollable laughter from our marketing automation rivals… (Ha Ha Ha)

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