What's your view on automation? While many see it as running counter to the ethos of what social media and digital connection is all about (i.e. facilitating more personal connection), for brands looking to scale their online activity, a level of automation is likely inevitable. And with ongoing developments in AI, and machine-powered systems learning how to undertake certain processes better than humans ever could, it seems inevitable that automation is coming. At some stage, like it or not, your business will need to consider automating certain elements.
But is that a really a foregone conclusion? And even though you can automate certain aspects of your marketing processes, does that mean you should?
To get a better handle on the broader industry sentiment around automation – and what processes are acceptable to automate (versus those that are not) – we put out the call to our SMT community for their thoughts on where they see things headed. More than 300 people responded to our ‘State of Automation’ survey, giving us a range of perspectives and insights for our first major report of 2019 - 'The State of Marketing Automation'.
This week, we'll highlight some of the key findings from the report from SMT, but you can read the full report at any time at this link.
Part IV: Future of Automation
As noted in a previous element of our Marketing Automation report, content creation and audience research are two tasks which take up a lot of time, and where, ideally, automation tools could help.
But interestingly, for many businesses, they may not even be at the point of understanding whether automation can assist them yet. Following up our question of which elements take up the most time, we asked our readers if they’ve actually researched whether automation tools might be able to help with their key challenges.
The responses were split down the middle – 52% of marketers indicated that they had looked into it, while 48% said they had not.
In this respect, it may be that more communication is required from the providers themselves – maybe, as digital literacy improves more broadly, we’ll see the take-up of automation tools improve, as, in many cases, marketers simply haven’t even got around to investigating their options in this regard.
That also relates to how the systems themselves function. As noted in a previous summary of the data, much of the concern around automation tools relates to how they could impact brand perception, with marketers losing control over key touchpoints which could impede results. But maybe, if businesses understood more about how the technical processes of such systems work, they would be more willing to rely on automation tools for wider purpose – if you knew, for example, exactly how Google’s algorithm decided on search rankings, you’d feel much more confident in your capability to influence them.
Of course, Google’s never going to reveal such (due to concerns such could be used to ‘cheat’ the system), but the same principle applies – if more marketers had better technical understanding of the processes at play, they might be more willing to adopt automated tools, as they would not only have a better understanding of exactly what each potential customer is seeing, but they’d also, theoretically, be able to exert more control over each step of the sequence to ensure optimal results.
That, then, suggests that the next generation of marketers will need to take on more technical capability – and not just in terms of broadly understanding (e.g. ‘I get how social media works’), but in terms of the specifics, the technical processes at play, and how they can influence them.
That either means marketers themselves need greater digital education, or marketing teams need to take on data and systems analysts to make best use of such tools – or alternatively, automation providers will need to provide more educational resources to show their inner workings and ensure that users can both understand and utilize such.
That could be a significant challenge, particularly in the case of smaller organizations who don’t have dedicated marketing teams, but one way or another, it seems that most believe that the expanded implementation of marketing AI is inevitable.
In the final element of our survey, we asked respondents whether they feel automation is coming to their industry - whether they like it or not.
Fairly definitive. That’s not really a surprise, especially given the broader coverage of the implementation of AI and machine learning, and the coming impacts for all industries. But even so, our results also show that even though marketers know it’s coming, they’re not willing to go all-in on automated tools just yet.
Broader adoption will depend on a range of tools for different tasks, but expanded education seems to be the key message of our results - that businesses do understand such tools are coming, and they will change how they do things. But they’re not willing to cede control to machines just yet.
The onus is on both business owners and automation providers to gain and facilitate more understanding of such processes, and not only how they can be of benefit, but how, specifically, they can work to deliver better results.
As with many elements of the new media landscape, digital literacy is key. If we're going to evolve to the next stage – which most concede is coming – then we need to invest in understanding, and develop processes which deliver effective, personalized and responsive performance.
This is possible with automation tools, but it may require a different way of thinking in how they are adopted.
You can download the full SMT 'State of Marketing Automation 2019' survey data and report here.