Technology and automation have irrevocably changed the world of marketing. Social media, data analysis, and the internet have given marketing a new lease on life, but there’s been very little discussion about the cost of the human element in marketing. At its heart, marketing is about establishing connections between a brand and their audience. But what does our automation-addiction mean for the future of marketing, and the people who create the campaigns? We take a look at some of the areas most affected by the growth of automation, what our programmatic predilections mean for the future of marketing, and how brands can combat the perils of automation dependency.
We all know the best times to post on social media, and now marketers can pinpoint when they get the most response rate. Every company uses automation to an extent. In fact, when used intelligently, it can even enhance the audience experience.
Automation in social media has been both a blessing and a curse for brands. It’s freed marketers up to deliver content outside of working hours, which means a wider geographic audience range as content can be disseminated across different time zones. Simultaneously, it has also been interpreted by many as a green light to schedule their social media at the start of the working day and then ignore their feeds for the rest of the day. Automation might give more freedom to marketers, but it can also inhibit their willingness to pivot a strategy when new content opportunities become available. It can also lead to brands posting dubious or offensive content purely as a result of bad timing. Agile marketing still very much relies on a human element, but it needs marketers to accept that not everything in life can be automated.
A recent Facebook study revealed that 53% of consumers are more likely to shop with a business from which they can message and get a quick response. Meanwhile, a study by Nucleus Research found that marketing automation can drive a 14.5% increase in sales productivity and a 12.2% reduction in marketing overhead. While stats like this give a pretty convincing argument for businesses to explore their own options for automated replies, but it’s important to remember why customers contact companies in the first place.
No other area of marketing requires the human touch more than customer interaction. Chatbots can automate all kinds of tasks, but it would be foolish to think the entire customer service role can be delegated to AI and automation alone. Automation may have streamlined the purchase process for buyers, but as more companies adopt them for their own commercial needs, it’s important to remember that AI still relies on some level of human input. There’s so much variation in humans, be it syntax, spelling or (if you’re relying on voice interaction) dialect. As Abinash Tripathy of Helpshift explained in a recent VentureBeat article, “Chatbots are still highly fallible, and should not be used to replace human interaction. When people want to talk to a human, they need a human.”
As a relatively new concept to digital marketing, data analysis is probably the tool best suited to automation in content marketing. The process of analysing different site metrics, with its heavy quantitative focus, lends itself perfectly to automation. Numerical data on site visitors, the time spent on each page, the channels by which visitors gained site access and many more metrics can help form a picture of your site’s strengths, and most analytics packages provide automated updates as standard.
Developing actionable insights from this data, however, can be more of a challenge. It’s tempting to say that only a human could draw relevant conclusions from human behaviour, but when this behaviour is filtered through the limited actions and access points of a website, it’s not unbelievable that a well-programmed piece of AI software could replace human input. There are already several software suites on the market offering automated, AI-led solutions to your data analysis needs, although the technology is still in its early days.
So while automation and AI can take some of the monotony out of data harvesting (not to mention saving time and money), it’s still a few years off from replacing the company data analyst completely.
Perhaps one of the biggest changes in marketing prompted by the tech revolution is the speed and accuracy with which brands can now target their audience. Consumers can not only find out about the latest company offers within seconds of a new campaign going live, they can receive content customised to their specific interests. Automation has played a huge part in reaching so many in a short space of time, but it still depends on human input.
The thrill of marketing is in that elusive human connection, and part of that comes from maintaining a two-way setup in your communication channels. If you’ve automated your content to go out to every one of your followers simultaneously, the chance of you being deluged with simultaneous replies increases. Likewise, the likelihood of these replies requiring a strong understanding of the nuances in human speech (something AI still struggles with) is high.
This makes following up with a satisfactory reply in a timely manner particularly difficult, largely because good customer service depends on giving the respondent something more than a generic automated reply.
The ironically named Progressive, an auto insurance company, learned this the hard way after replying to criticism of a case involving a customer death. Instead of considering each critic’s unique comment they automated their reply and sent out identical, emotionless responses that only served to anger the public more.
So automation has largely been a positive addition to the marketer’s roster, but there are still a number of pitfalls to watch out for. Marketing today isn’t about blindly embracing every new piece of technology that comes along. It’s about utilising technology while considering how it can be integrated with other methods of marketing. Consumers want to feel like their opinion matters, and this relies on real interaction. Automation has become a crutch for too many brands, seeing it as a way of simplifying their daily routine without taking into account the most integral ingredient, the human factor. By accepting that some of the most inspired marketing campaigns grow from not setting your routine in stone, you can begin to integrate technology with human discretion and see real emotional engagement.