Are Robots changing the central marketing challenge?

Adding to the pressures on marketers is how to maintain creativity and innovation in a world of high automation. With the rise of technology, DSPs and artificial intelligence, how do we find a balance between the demands of managing data with the skills of managing brand?

So we asked the two Rob’s for their perspectives - our Chief Data Scientist, Rob Pardini (RP), and our Executive Creative Director, Rob Martin Murphy, (RMM) what they think will become the crucial skills for navigating the landscape.

Are Robots Changing the Central Marketing Challenge

With access to data, AI and automation starting to have an impact on marketing, how is this changing creative and brand management?

RP: It’s far more an extension of the direction that we’re currently going based on the changes we’ve witnessed over the last few years. Yet I would reject the idea that data and brand management are in any way at odds with each other. If you’re a direct advertiser, you have a certain set of metrics that are relevant. If you’re a brand advertiser, you simply have a different set of data metrics such as brand engagement and affinity metrics. There is still a critical role for data to play in unlocking consumer insights, but also understanding how a brand job is being done by the various marketing levers that are available.

However, the concept of the creative department which is heavily infused and emboldened by AI technology is almost a certainty… it’s just a matter of how long it is going to take. We’re in the early phases of how a combination of AI, machine learning, deep learning and other data driven approaches will affect the creative process and the process of managing brands. IBM Watson for example, has sophisticated natural language capabilities that can be used for writing. There are a range of companies that operate in the space of editing and creating art, including NarrativeScience, Persado and Stupeflix.

RMM: First off, well done on getting two Robs together to talk about Robots. But I digress. I think the great thing about data is that it gives us a wealth of information about intent and behaviour. From here however, you still need good analysts and strategists to uncover interesting patterns and formulate compelling insights. And if you are making brand campaigns, you still need to champion creative thinking to turn all that into an amazing idea (or ideas) that people take notice of. As far as pure automation is concerned, for me the question is – should targeting/personalisation be considered mutually exclusive of creativity/impact? More on that later…

What new competencies should marketers be striving to master?

RP: Anyone working in marketing who wants to future proof their career needs good data and digital skills. I believe we’re already there. If you work in marketing and you don’t have a significant base level of data and digital knowledge, then you probably won’t be a very good marketer. That trend will become more pronounced in years to come. With the level of data visualisation, agency partners can play a big role in making this easier for marketers to access and skill up quickly.

RMM: For me, marketers should embrace the potential opportunities that data, AI and automation could bring. However, they still need the benefit of data whisperers and strategists to paint interesting pictures of their audience and market. I also think marketers need to embrace and master good old-fashioned intuition (remember that?). Despite all the ‘big data’ available to us, creating work designed to push our human buttons, is still vital for a brand’s long term success. 

With the advancement of technology, it’s generally agreed that creative standards are in decline. How will automation continue to affect creativity?

RP: I’m not sure creative standards are in decline. I think there are more creative avenues available now in the fragmented marketing and media environment than ever before and I believe that creates more opportunity for creative thinking.  It’s not hard to find examples of poor creative but I’d argue this is nothing new. . I don’t think that technology, data or automation are in any way culprits for poor creative. Poor application of either technology or data, lack of resource or just lazy work is what is responsible for poor creative. I would argue that any link between the age of automation and poor creative is not causal.

RMM: I don’t believe the rise of technology is the sole reason for the decline in creative standards in our industry. There are so many other contributing factors including how agencies are remunerated, how marketing is viewed within an organisation and how willing and skilled people are to create, push for and back great ideas. To answer the specific question, I think a heavy reliance on automation as a core advertising strategy will drive a brand in a race to the bottom faster than its competitors who use it more strategically as part of their overall marketing mix. 

DSPs and data now give us the ability to deliver endless creative messaging and formats. What role does the marketer and agency play in this automated process?

RP: The role of the marketer and agency partners is bigger than ever. Through DMPs and DSPs we can create dynamic or personalised content, but it is actually a very involved job. It requires advanced segmentation; balancing segmentation with trigger marketing; understanding triggers along the journey and then creating the content to serve the right message, to the right person, at the right time on the consumer journey. Machines can’t do that end to end without steering from savvy marketers and agencies with sophisticated capabilities.

RMM: I read an interesting article the other day from David Golding, group chief strategy officer of Adam & Eve/DDB where he talked about the possibility of our industry dividing along distinct lines with some agencies choosing to create Culture (idea-led, fame-generating, talked about work), while others will choose to create Collateral (media-led, precisely targeted automated messaging that nudges people along a purchase path). Both have merit, but each does have a different risk versus reward ratio, of course. It will be interesting to see how this plays out for our industry in the future. My bet is that the clients who embrace Culture and Collateral will win. But only that well-known data point we commonly refer to as time will tell.

If you were starting in the industry today, what advice would you give yourself on balancing Art vs Science? 

RP: Make sure you develop deep skills and capabilities in something, whether it’s artistic or analytical. It’s tempting to say getting a good balance by moving around across departments and getting a feel for everything is a benefit - and I’m not trying to say that it isn’t – but increasingly in a more and more sophisticated marketing environment, driven by advanced tech and deeper and deeper data assets, people who have a depth of capability in an area will bring the most to the table. Like with any profession, the more it evolves and more sophisticated it becomes, a greater need exists for people who have advanced and specialist expertise. By getting a group of people who have different specialist expertise, you’re going to have a winning team.

RMM: Embrace the science, but don’t forget, we’re in the persuasion business and that will always be an art. As Bill Bernbach said, “We are so busy measuring public opinion that we forget we can mould it. We are so busy listening to statistics, we forget we can create them.” Amen to that.

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