Tag: Digital Marketing

The role of AI in Digital Marketing

gray scale photo of gears
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

There is no doubt that AI (Artificial Intelligence) is going to play an increasing role in our lives going forward. And I can already see that happening in my line of work – Digital Marketing.

Type in ‘Role of AI in Digital Marketing‘ and you will see pages upon pages of relevant results. I spent some time reviewing these, and most of them wax eloquently on how Digital Marketing is going to be (or is already being) transformed for the better due to AI. Some of the areas where AI is presently being used in Digital Marketing include:

  • Content Generation – AI is already being used to write news articles. And with the increasing consumption of visual content in the form of images and videos, AI can definitely help with the creation of content at scale.
  • Audience Targeting – Leading digital advertising platforms that have huge amounts of data on internet users are now providing advertisers with options to target these users based on factors such as their interests and relevant digital activities.
  • Personalisation – Combining both of the above to provide relevant information to individual users at scale.
  • Optimisation – Machine Learning algorithms can help rapidly speed up the process of marketing campaign optimisation.

However, I get worried when I read stuff like how Digital Marketing can help with Consumer Behaviour Analysis, Predictive Analysis, etc. Implied in these statements is the belief that Machines can help provide a better understanding of consumers (and therefore, marketers do not need to spend as much time as present on these tasks).

I completely agree that AI can help with the process of analysis at a speed and scale that humans, even with current processing capabilities of computers, just will not be able to match. But it is important to realise that analysis is just a process and not the end goal.

The end goal, and the key role of any marketer, digital or otherwise, is Consumer Insights. And Insights is very different from Analytics. What does the analysis tell us about the actual thought process of consumers? This requires, in addition to data and analysis, a solid understanding of the business context, industry trends and consumer behaviour. Maybe AI could do all of the above as well at some date, but that’s a topic for another article. My view is that businesses have to be very clear of this distinction between analysis and insights.

The second point that I disagree with is Predictive Analytics. This fundamentally assumes that future behaviour can be accurately predicted by detailed analysis of historical actions. This might well be the case in certain standard activities that change very slowly (financial modeling, risk analysis, etc.) But I am skeptical about the application of Predictive Analytics in Marketing. The landscape, especially media and technology, is evolving so rapidly that I simply do not believe we have enough data to accurately predict future digital consumer behaviour. This article perfectly encapsulates some of these issues.

So, while I am not disagreeing that AI is already playing a useful role in some areas of Digital Marketing, it is not a magic bullet that will automatically help improve your Marketing. I would urge all businesses and marketers to invest time in learning more about the role of AI in Digital Marketing and build their own views on what might be relevant for their specific use cases.

In future articles, I will explore what the impact of this increasing role of AI might be on marketers (and marketing itself).


Digital Marketing is not just Social Media

macbook laptop smartphone apple
Photo by Startup Stock Photos on Pexels.com

A couple of things prompted me to write this article. One was an article I came across on LinkedIn on this topic. The other was a commend made by one of the participants in the Digital Marketing course that I take at Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies (NMIMS), Bangalore.

There is a tendency nowadays to equate Digital Marketing with Social Media. Sure, a lot of users spend a fair bit of time on Social Media. And there could be products and services where it makes a lot of sense to spend a majority of your marketing efforts on Social. But this might not be the case for many brands who might end up missing the forest for the trees by focusing too much attention and effort on Social Media.

The field of Digital Marketing is over two decades old and I have been fortunate to have been associated with this field for over 19 years now. During my professional career, I have been closely involved with multiple facets of digital marketing including website marketing, digital analytics, email marketing, banner advertising, search advertising, community engagement (the precursor to social media), search engine optimisation (SEO), app marketing and of course, social media.

A typical business would need many (if not all) of the above channels to be in play to drive a successful digital marketing programme. A good framework that can be used to understand these channels is the Paid, Owned, Earned Media (POE) framework.

Paid Owned Earned Media Framework

When I advise clients on Digital Marketing, the first step is typically to understand and define explicitly the Customer Value Proposition. This exercise, with the help of analytics and insights, usually forms the bedrock of the marketing strategy. It helps create a good understanding of the brand’s target market, the problem statements of their potential customers and the messaging strategy that can most effectively communicate how the brand can satisfy their needs.

Once this is in place, I usually advise my clients to be start on their Owned Media channels. These are assets that the brand owns and directly controls and is, in my opinion, the most important part of the media strategy. There is very little point in launching a Paid Media campaign unless your owned assets are not completely primed to communicate and deliver the value proposition and user experience that the customer expects.

A brand’s social media channels are also part of the Owned Media bucket. So, once the website is in a good shape, the focus can shift to the Content and social media channel strategy. At this stage, it is important to understand the specific role of social media (and other channels) within the target customer’s research and decision making process. This should dictate the choice of channel and content strategy.

The attention can then shift to the Earned media bucket. Assuming that a brand now has a good Owned media strategy, they should expect to have some engagement with their customers. This could be in the form of reviews, social media mentions and, of course, email / sms marketing. The brand should be in a position to engage with their customers on these channels in a timely and effective manner.

Finally, Paid Media. It is very tempting, especially if a brand has money to spend, to immediately launch Paid Media campaigns. In my experience, this can be highly sub-optimal unless the other two buckets are functioning effectively. Brands can fall into the trap of jumping to the conclusion that it is Paid Media that is not working efficiently when results do not go their way, without acknowledging or accepting that the fault might well be that they lack a strong Owned (and Earned) Media strategy, or indeed that they might be lacking a strong customer value proposition.

In conclusion, if you are looking for ways to ramp up your digital marketing, take the time to think through exactly what you are trying to achieve, have an integrated strategy across all channels and be prepared to continuously learn and make adjustments on the basis of actual performance data.


Monday Morning Reads – 11/11

For this week, I have shortlisted a few articles across diverse topics.

  • Software Is Reorganizing the World – This is a six year old article, but just as relevant today as when it was written, if not more so. The author, Balaji Srinivasan, states that we humans are increasingly migrating to the ‘cloud’, leading to an “increasing divergence between our social and geographic neighbors”. He goes on to explore what the future of this trend might look like. Fascinating and thought-provoking.
  • The new dot com bubble is here: it’s called online advertising – In this detailed article, authors Jesse Frederik and Maurits Martijn question the effectiveness of digital advertising. At the core of their argument is the distinction between “selection effect (people see your ad, but were already going to click, buy, register, or download)” and “the advertising effect (people see your ad, and that’s why they start clicking, buying, registering, downloading).” They argue that online advertising is not meaningfully contributing to the ‘advertising effect’. It’s very interesting, because digital marketing continues to be sold on the key differentiating factor of measurability. True, we can now measure minute details of the campaigns, but do we know the larger picture of what the campaign truly delivered (incrementally) to our business?
  • Struggle Is What Gives Us Meaning And Makes Us Human – I think (for good or bad), there can be no denying that machines (powered by AI) are going to be a significant (and growing) part of our lives. This leads to the question – what does it mean to be human in this day and age? This is the topic that William Cho has addressed in this article. His answer to the question is ‘Struggle’. Many of us would initially find this counter-intuitive, conditioned as we are to think that the purpose of our lives is comfort, or the pursuit of happiness. However, start thinking deeper, and one might just agree that the author has a point.


The role of judgment in an increasingly automated world of Digital Marketing

text on shelf

One of the key developments in the field of Digital Marketing in recent times has been the rise of Machine Learning led automated tools and processes to simplify the increasingly complex world of Digital Marketing. These automated processes enable marketers to simplify the process of creating, targeting, publishing and optimising their digital ads.

I have been working in this field for over 15 years now and have seen the evolution of this marketing channel at fairly close quarters. This is how I have seen the skills required to be successful evolve:

  • Technical skills – In the early days when the tools were not so sophisticated, it was a great advantage to have some understanding of the technology. Which is why, in my experience, some of the earliest digital marketers came from a technical background.
  • Analytical skills – As the tools become simpler to use, and digital marketing became more widespread, people who had a talent (and interest) in working with numbers started dominating this field. The ability to analyse and interpret data became a source of competitive advantage.
  • Creative skills – It’s safe to say that, for a long time, digital marketers weren’t necessarily the most creative. Creativity was seen as the domain of the ‘brand’ marketer, while ‘digital’ marketers were more analytical. However, with the rise of social media which is typically more visually oriented, we are seeing a change. Digital marketers increasingly need to have good creative skills as well. I am not saying that they need to be good at creating ads, but they need to have an eye for what is likely to be a good ad.

Skills for the Future?

The machine- learning led ‘automated’ tools and processes even today means that users with little technical, analytical or even creative skills can create and run digital marketing campaigns in a matter of hours (if not minutes). So what are the skills that are likely to matter most for the digital marketer of today (and the future)?

This is a topic that I have been ruminating about for a while. And a recent article I came about provided a strong perspective.The article is called “The Simple Economics of Machine Intelligence” and is written by Ajay Agrawal, Avi Goldfarb and Joshua Gans. The article basically postulates that as machine intelligence improves, the value of human prediction will decrease, but the value of human judgment would increase. And I agree with this.

My experience with the automated strategies in Digital Marketing is that while they can definitely save time and effort, they are not yet at the stage where it can be guaranteed that they will deliver better performance that human judgment led campaigns. One of the reasons for this is that all of the machine learning models rely on data. The more relevant data points, the better. And even though the volume of data points is going up exponentially, most businesses still struggle with quality of data. The data might not be sufficient for the specific use case that the marketer is targeting leading to the models extrapolating from the existing data or relying on ‘similar’ data, neither of which might accurately predict what is likely to happen next.

This is where human judgment comes in. An experienced digital marketer might be able to spot trends, or come up with hypotheses for testing that the machine learning models of today might struggle to do. A good marketer should have an innate understanding of their customer’s behaviour which can be translated into campaigns and ads. They would definitely have more information of their overall objectives which would enable them to take certain calls around campaign optimisation that automated models of today are not equipped to do.

The value of judgment also extends to hiring. While the process of hiring is also getting digitised and partly automated, I would argue that, at the end of the day, the hiring team would be able to judge the softer skills far better than any machine. What is the attitude of the candidate? Would the candidate and the hiring manager get along? Would he or she fit in with their immediate (and extended) team members? These are factors that are increasingly going to lead to stronger performances, than the typical ‘skills’ that people have been hiring for. As I am sure you would agree by now, a majority of these ‘traditional skills’ can be better performed by machines, if not today, then in the very near future.

So what are the skills that I would recommend digital marketers to develop?

  • Customer empathy – An ability to really understand your customers, how they behave, how they consume media, etc.
  • Curiousity – Always be asking questions. Why does the customer exhibit a particular type of behaviour? How does this latest machine learning model work?
  • Insights – What is the data really telling me about my customers and how they behave?
  • Ability to unlearn and relearn – The world is changing so rapidly that we need to regularly question whether what we believe to be facts still holds true. Do not let ego blind you.

What are the other skills you would recommend? Please do send in your comments!


Philip Kotler Podcast

greyscale photography of condenser microphone

I am not yet a big fan of Podcasts, but when I came across an email from Marketing Week talking about a podcast with Philip Kotler, I just had to listen.

The name of Philip Kotler, should be familiar to most marketers. I am sure many of the practitioners of this profession would have come across his books at some stage of their careers, either as a student or a professional seeking to know more about the field.

This podcast was probably the first time I had heard him ‘speak’, so to say. And it was fascinating, to say the least. In just 30 minutes, he touched upon many important aspects of business and marketing. Just a few highlights for me:

  • Philip Kotler actually studied to be an economist (under the legendary Milton Friedman, no less). He only switched over to Marketing as he felt the models being used then by economists did not touch upon the emotional aspects of consumer decision making.
  • He was uncomfortable with the prevailing notion at the time that the purpose of a firm is to maximise value for its shareholders. Instead, he advocates that we should be thinking about ‘advancing the common good’, raising the standard of living and quality of life of people.
  • He reveals why he did not want to be CMO – I could certainly relate to his views on this!
  • It was also interesting to hear him say that Firms are slow in moving to the Digital World. I would assume that he is talking about large corporations that have been around since before the Digital explosion, as, in my humble opinion, there are many digital native organisations that are moving very rapidly in this field and setting the bar for others.
  • But in one aspect, I agree with him wholeheartedly, which is to day with the quality of available data.

These are just a few of the points discussed by Kotler in this podcast. Please go ahead and listen to the whole podcast – it will be 30 minutes well spent!