Anyone working in digital marketing is aware that there is need for some level of intelligent automation in their role. Every booth at every trade show mentions AI in some form or other, from personalisation to packing machines. If you are selling at any scale you are looking for tools to help you with that, whether that be pricing, demand forecasting, targeting, or optimising product placement in search and categories, you recognise that scale comes at a cost, as well as a loss of efficiencies, and there is a limit to how many humans we can apply to the problem before we come up against the wall of diminishing returns.
There is more to your business than efficiencies though, right? If we ultimately optimised everything for efficiency then the only remaining differentiators would be product and cost, and you have put in the work, both in marketing and in your product delivery, to build a sense of loyalty and trust in your brand’s integrity.
So how do you introduce machine learning, while maintaining your hard-earned brand? eBay and Amazon product pages can have widgets numbering into the dozens, and they all provide ROI, but unless you are competing purely on price, that is not a viable option for you.
For the last 15 years or so (yes, I know it is longer, but I am trying to cling to my youth) working in personalised search, I had been driving home the message, to anyone who would listen to me, of the integral need for a ’man plus machine’ approach, and that is still as relevant today as it was in 2004, although I am trying to switch my language away from ‘man’ now, so perhaps ‘calculated then curated’ would work better now?
We are well into fourth industrial revolution now, and we need to ensure that we use AI intelligently (pun unintended) to do the heavy lifting and grunt work, without sullying the personality which you, as an expert on your brand, bring to the party.
This is a double win too, because automating work that can be machine-led also frees you up for the work that still needs a personal element, which is not only good for business, it is good for you too. You have can focus your efforts on the things you joined this industry to do, the things you are good at, the things you enjoy. The things that make a difference.
The old analogy is still building an art gallery – carrying blocks around in barrows, moving them in hods, creating walls, building a roof, painting, wiring, decorating and plumbing, and only then placing the sculptures and hanging the paintings. Almost all of that is something that should be outsources – what you are good at, what you love, where you stand out from the, is the selection, presentation, and curation of the artwork. Nobody cares about the piping or the wiring, or how hard you pushed the barrow – those elements need to work, and they need to be efficient, but they are not your brand.
The analogy is still used, because it still applies – your customers do not give a fig what your stack looks like, so long as your website is fast, stable, reliable, and secure. What customers do care about is being able to find your products quickly and easily, and the experience they have on that journey. They want an interaction which feels right to them – that you ‘get’ them – and they want to feel an affiliation with your brand.
That is the human touch, the curation, and it is where you want to focus, and you know that, but what can be hard is knowing how to manage that. It matters not one iota how good AI is at automating jobs, if we cannot embed that automation in your workflows and procedures.
The tactical application of AI, to carry out repetitive tasks and to take the heavy lifting out of data analysis and personalisation, is not just a wish list item anymore, you need it, and every SaaS vendor you talk to will have a solution that will help you. There is work to be done to select the right tools for your business, but the tools are either out there, or are being developed, but be sure that they are truly automating. If a machine can get your search results in the optimal configuration from the data, and all you need to do is tidy them up, then it is working for you, but you probably have thousands of search results pages, so you are still doing some manual work.
Once you have that automation in place, you still need to add your brand on top of that and, unless you know which opportunities need addressing next in your priority queue, you are back to donkey work – pouring over content and results to identify which areas are most deserving of your labour.
To work for your brand, intelligent automation needs to prioritise your opportunities, identify the tasks which will have the greatest ROI in terms of your KPIs and then guide you (and all other relevant stakeholders) through that journey. Without workflows which recognise the areas of your site which have issues, measure them against internal benchmarks, identify and (more importantly), prioritise opportunities and then guide you and your team through execution and delivery, your AI is just another manual tool.
Only with intelligent, prioritised workflows can you trade your site intelligently, focussing on the brand experience and trusting the AI to pick up the heavy lifting and identify your next areas of focus, so that you do not have to push the wheelbarrow around, you can focus on displaying your Kurt Jacksons and Henry Moores.