It’s difficult to venture onto the internet in 2019 without encountering yet another article about artificial intelligence, automation or Alexa. In your local supermarket, the chances are a lot of traditional checkouts and jobs have been replaced by self-checkout devices. Companies like Waymo (né Google) and Uber are in a fierce arms race to create autonomous cars. All the while, there are more services popping up claiming to offer true marketing automation.
I’m not doubting the usefulness of marketing automation; in certain instances such as email journeys can be absolutely essential, but its rise to prominence is oversold.
The key is that most automation services and platforms still need large amounts of human interaction. Having marketing automation experience on your CV is a bonus in 2019, as the buzzword bingo continues. Companies are scrambling to learn the best way to use this relatively new and constantly evolving technology.
But no automated marketing platforms will do important marketing functions without significant human interaction. The robotised future is simply further away than we are lead to believe.
Chatbots are a great example. Have you ever experienced one? Take Facebook. Setting up automated replies for pages can be a great time saver, but anything remotely complex – and people’s Facebook complaints are almost always complex – and the chatbot isn’t able to assist. In terms of providing a quick response to let a customer know you are listening, sure, a chatbot works sometimes. But in my experience, they placate customers who want an immediate answer, but usually, fail in the long term as people value human customer care.
If you’ve ever uploaded a monetised video to YouTube, video game footage, in particular, you too will know that automation can suck. Hard. Their system of recognising licenced content exists for a very good reason, but on so many occasions it requires a human to tell the system it’s gone a bit awry.
Google’s responsive adverts may spell the end of A/B testing and provide excellent results, but it still requires a human user to think of 15 headlines and four descriptions that catch the viewer’s attention, as well as to provide clear calls to action. Only after that will the machine learning provide what it thinks is the best combination.
There’s a Twitter account I follow for the UK distributor of Korean cars… don’t ask why I follow it. Interestingly, the feed is automated, creating a tweet for their profile every time certain publications tweet with their brand name. The result is something devoid of any character. If social media is about engagement, this account has zero. By all means, use a scraping tool, but balance it with a touch of humanity – outside of very strict walled gardens, AI falls over.
Recently, the head of Waymo said that “autonomous cars will always have constraints”. A massive about-turn and makes the whole project seem a bit of a waste. It seems even with the might of Google, world leaders in AI, they can’t make our automated dreams become a reality. Cars that will help us on motorways or in specific urban environments seem inevitable, but it looks like there will always be an element of human interaction.
While I can see the cleverness of AI increasing throughout our lifetimes, I truly believe that 2019 is the year we realise that it will assist but not replace. Forgetting that marketing is a creative talent is easy to do. Remove that spark of genius, the different way of looking at things or the unique human flair, and we are left with flaccid and bloodless messages that do little to inspire.