Over the last year working with customers I have become aware of a definite split in the market in terms of what is being offered by the Digital Marketing Technology Vendors and what our customers are looking for in the technology they buy. 

The split centers around the level of ‘involvement’ the marketing team will have in the driving of the technology deployed to run their marketing programs.

(I should be clear that when I say ‘technology’ in this context I am including everything from a simple Cloud-based service (like an abandoned basket tool) all the way to full-on, big-data-driven marketing solutions.)

The Robots

On the one hand we have seen the rise of ‘automatic’ solutions that remove the ‘pain of decision making’ from the marketeer, and run entirely automatic programs that ‘learn’ from the customer’s interactions with the site and brand and select and deliver promotions and offers without any intervention from the site’s marketing teams.

In this space we see ‘product recommendation engines’ and ‘A/B testing tools’. 

Effectively “Marketing Robots” that operate as a “black box” selecting offers and creative without the need for any input from the marketeer.

The rules engines

On the other hand we see systems that are typically ‘rule driven’, where the marketing team establish rules for a campaign, that select target customers and deliver pre-defined marketing programs.

These can be quite simple (like an Abandoned Basket program) or really complex involving multiple channels (web, email and phone) and multiple steps.

Here we see the “interaction management systems” and lifecycle marketing solutions, that keep customer histories and use them to drive relevant communications.

The benefits and downsides

Robots rule!

Clearly some marketing programs can only be driven by robots, trying to write enough rules’ to drive a product recommendation program (“people who buy X often buy Y too”) is a practical impossibility – you would need a rule for every SKU.

Robots also reduce the effort required to deploy and manage your digital (or cross-channel marketing campaigns). In today’s world where marketing teams are expected to do more and more with less and less this is clearly a major benefit and strong reason to opt for a Robot.

Throwing the baby out with the bathwater?

On the other hand by passing the marketing buck to an electronic assistant, in the shape of ‘the Robots’, we also remove the marketing team’s ability to exploit their uniquely human insight into their customers and their business. 

There are some things which an automated process can discover and exploit, but there are many things which only a human will spot. 

These insights might be “obvious” based on the knowledge of their business (like the fact that lots of flowers will be sold on Valentine’s Day), or might be “discovered” by a data scientist digging through the big-data of an on-line business who uncoversthe behaviors which tend to precede a customer churn event. 

But both of these marketing opportunities will need to be turned into “a campaign” by the marketing and creative teams, and then probably automated via a marketing tool or service of the “rules-driven” variety.

What’s the right answer?

I suspect different marketing teams will make different choices based on the sophistication of their marketing vision, and the resources at hand. 

Over the course of the last year I think I have seen a change; companies that have deployed a number of robots each addressing a different piece of the marketing mix are looking to find ways of integrating those pieces into a single “marketing platform” to deliver a more joined-up program.

Companies that have traditionally done high levels of data analytics to drive their marketing are recognising that their expertise can be passed along to marketing technologies to automate some campaigns, and tackle more complex multi-channel marketing programs.

The Robots are certainly making marketing teams more effective, but I suspect that if you remove the ability of the humans to make their contribution, we will wind up with less effective campaigns – and a less exciting life!