Will Marketing Automation Replace Human Creativity?


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Every time you upload a post, picture or a tweet, a machine is memorising them and inferring your personality and characteristics!

Everything you do – use the GPS, upload on social media, swipe a card, etc.  creates a data point. And machines are using these data points to analyse humans. Machines are getting to know humans and humans are understanding machines. We have entered the realm of automation and machine intelligence, and the progress we are making regularly has left me in sheer awe.

I read about IBM’s cognitive system – Watson the other day (12 years too late), and it is a paradigm shift for machine intelligence.

Watson is a computer system which is capable of question-answering, that too in Natural Language. It might not seem much, but trust me, it is ingenious. Back in 2011, Watson won a quiz show – Jeopardy, leaving many humans behind. (For those of you who don’t know about Jeopardy, it’s a game where you get clues in the form of answers, and you have to phrase the question). While competing, Watson had no internet connection; just access to 4000 GB of structured and unstructured data.

That was in 2011 when the Watson system was the size of a master bedroom. Today, it’s as big as 3 pizza boxes stacked together, and its performance has increased by 2400%.

Doesn’t it make you wonder about the endless possibilities that come with technology? The conjectures about the future are many and varied. With all the advancements, one daunting yet common concern is that technology will take over jobs and potentially win in the hypothetical “human vs. machine”.

Would technology render humans obsolete?

Now that machines are doing pretty much everything that humans can do, and better, it’s okay to worry about the future. With the constant evolution of automation, Artificial intelligence, virtual reality and what not, marketing as we know it will change.

As estimated by McKinsey Global Institute, algorithms could invalidate the need for 140 million jobs. In fact, did you know that robots are already preparing shipments at Amazon warehouses now? Makes you think, doesn’t it?

But machines and algorithms are and have always been used to minimise tedious tasks for humans. They are helping us in making well-informed and sound decisions, and scale our work.

“The creativity and ingenuity of humans, when freed up from the mundane, repetitive tasks, has always led to innovation, throughout history” – Mike Rhodin (IBM Watson Group).

Here’s another fact: We create approximately 2.5 quintillion (18 zeros) bytes of data every DAY, and we use less than 0.5% of this data. It is humanly impossible for us to analyse so much data on a regular basis, segment it, create campaigns, and hyper personalise the communication. A marketer’s ability to filter through the data and turn it into actions is limited. This is where marketing automation steps in, analyse all that data in seconds, saves time and improves productivity.

So, technology isn’t negating human involvement and isn’t replacing marketers. In fact, with the ability to sift through data, marketers are being empowered. Marketing is considered both, science as well as an art. Machines are evidently transcending in the science aspect of it. The art is left for the humans since there is no substitute for human creativity. It’s not about who will triumph in the end, but about finding the right balance.

Finding the Right Balance

We have established that Marketing Automation has reached unexplored tangents. But we need to admit that this automation doesn’t market for you; it only helps you maximise your efforts. It is the utility knife of really cool things.

Marketing automation includes email marketing, landing pages, web analytics, lead alerts and scores, social media, push notifications, customer relation management, and much more. But like any utility knife, it is only helpful if you know how to use it.

While everything technology does is definite – be it predicting patterns, deep learning, or answering millions of requests in seconds, the term ‘creativity has been pretty indefinable. It is not something that can be explained or taught to a machine. As Mike Fitzsimons says in his book ‘Lobotomy: the Marginalisation of Creativity’ – “Creativity is about the infinite. It’s about things that you have never thought of, and making connections that have never been made before”. 

Machines automate what we already know, giving us the edge to do something innovative with the knowledge we have. Marketing technology is here to enhance our performances with minimal effort, and do the dull and complicated work for us, giving us the opportunity to focus on marketing as an art. Neither marketing automation nor human creativity can work well without the other, and there have been multiple incidents proving the same. Many brands which use marketing automation have left marketing in the hands of algorithms, and disasters have happened.

The Shutterfly Gaffe

Back in 2014, Shutterfly sent congratulatory emails to expecting parents via email automation and ended up sending it to an irrelevant audience. This included people who have had children for years or have been trying to get pregnant or have had miscarriages. It was an epic marketing fail. 

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The Uber Goof Up

Now, with marketing automation, you can pick certain keywords and advertise campaigns on those keyword relevant pages. And this is where Uber made a slip. It advertised on the basis of certain keywords; but unfortunately for Uber, the ad was displayed on a post talking about an Uber driver who tried to break into a passenger’s home. The outcome of this was: 

Uber marketing automation goof up
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On the Other Hand

Customer engagement reflects on the business and is one of the most competitive differentiators at present. And the human touch among bits of data is what makes all the difference. When human creativity and marketing automation work in tandem, we can abandon the linear and dull customer engagement, and work on a more adaptive and personalised approach on a much larger scale. Today, human empathy and creativity are paramount to innovation. Certain examples of the same are: 

YouTube’s ‘Made for You’ campaign

In November 2016, YouTube launched the #MadeForYou programmatic campaign which features 18 YouTube creators (comedians, fashion vloggers, musicians, etc.) and uses data to retarget and select the combination of advertisements which would best resonate with both cinema and online viewers. Now they will show what the audience wants to see.

The director of marketing at YouTube – Richard Waterworth insists that creativity should work alongside automation rather than be consumed by it. He admits that finding a balance between the two is an ongoing challenge. 

The Netflix Recommendations

Netflix is a brilliant example of using data creatively. With AI, one can filter through large datasets, identify patterns, and preempt solutions to your audiences. Netflix collects all the data (ratings, viewer history, preferences, etc.), finds patterns, and recommend similar shows/movies that a viewer might enjoy. This way, Netflix personalises content for every individual and is one of the best examples of brands using hyper-personalization.

Nat Geo’s Genius

National Geographic’s Genius campaign is another example of using marketing automation creatively. They used Facebook messenger to give users a chance to chat with the acclaimed genius and physicist – Albert Einstein himself. They used the Facebook bot to raise awareness about the launch of their series – ‘Genius’, that delves into the psyche of Albert Einstein. You can try the bot here.

Nat Geo's Genius Campaign with Marketing Automation


Nat Geo's Genius Campaign with Marketing Automation
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Since data sets are rapidly expanding, with machine intelligence we can act upon them instantaneously. Earlier we used to rely on small sets of data to market efficiently, but today we’re incapacitated by the extensiveness of data which is humanly impossible to process without technology. Many consider the technological evolution as an existential threat, and the ‘AI apocalypse’ is a hot subject of debate, but with extensive data comes great power. What humans do with this power will change the face of marketing.

Radhika Chugh
I used to be a CA student and then decided to follow my hobby instead, which is writing. After having worked in the automobile and e-commerce industry, I am now curious about different aspects of inbound marketing. I am an avid reader, and thoroughly enjoy going deep into every topic that intrigues me.


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