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Marketing automation: Friend or foe?

Marketing automation: Friend or foe? You Mon Tsang

One of the primary features of marketing automation is the ability to trigger brand messaging at the right time across multiple channels. Marketers can benefit by having a lot of this work automated, but will that efficiency undermine creativity and humanity?

The question isn't new. It's found in "Jurassic Park," "Frankenstein," "The Terminator," and "I, Robot." The films ask whether advances in science and technology necessarily result in a greater good. Most of them don't. They portray a world in which the potential good is outweighed by the bad. Crichton's dinosaurs get loose. Shelley's monster murders. The robots in "The Terminator" and "I, Robot" try to exterminate the human race.

If the plots sound similar to modern arguments about marketing automation, it's because they are. One side posits the benefits of productivity and the ability to dedicate more time to meaningful work. The other argues that automating messages results in less human, relevant, and creative marketing. Is the latter correct?

The second argument has some merit. It is easy to abuse marketing automation. It can be put on autopilot and treated as a shortcut. Data can remain in stasis and not be used to create relevant, personalized messaging. Email campaigns can go without testing and finessing, resulting in them being dumped into spam folders or responded to with a visceral unsubscribe.

But like most advances, the tech shouldn't be blamed. I believe marketing automation is a force for good rather than evil. If we can learn the warning signs of too much automation and how to combat them, we will be able to use marketing automation to develop relevant and creative marketing consistently.

Here are three warnings from the future to avoid:

Creativity is dead

Marketing automation has been given rule of the place, and it squashes creativity underneath its technical-driven thumb. It is based on mathematical probabilities and analyses. The messaging goes forth for the benefit of the company alone and not because it meets a need or desire found within the target audience, which has been painted with a neon-red bulls-eye.

The irony of painting an audience with a bulls-eye while shooting "me, me, me" automated messaging is that the company and its marketing automation will never hit the center. The only way to do that is to focus on the audience and let creativity run wild. Assess messages, images, color schemes, and timing with split A/B testing. Risk the zany idea. The metrics will say very quickly if it succeeded or fell flat on its face.

The marketers are victims of analysis paralysis

The marketing automation machine churns out data, but it's too much. Marketers don't know what data is important, much less what data points to a pattern of behavior. They are lost in the data and don't know what to do next.

To combat analysis paralysis, marketers need to study a maximum of four metrics. The metrics need to be relevant to end goals and bottom lines rather than to attempted measurements of influence or something of that nature. Once bounded by real metrics, marketers can look at the data and determine if and when goals are or are not being reached.

The marketers are conversing with the robots

Google now penalizes content that is meant for its spiders and bots, but some marketers still act like Agent Smith from the "The Matrix." They share information with no thought to relevancy, context, or humanity. Their information may be good, but if it isn't timely or placed within the right environment, it doesn't really matter.

To return to talking with humans is to become Neo. Data and information is only as good as the time, environment, and audience in which it is placed. The machine of marketing automation can help figure out some great times, places, and audiences, but the human is needed to cut to the right context the most quickly.

Like most software, marketing automation is a tool. How it is used determines its quality. When it's bad, it's bad -- email addresses are scalped. Data is misused. Messages are scattered about, and nothing is personalized, relevant, human, or creative. The robot has gone to work, and it is making a mess of things.

Good marketing automation is creative, human, and relevant. It tests messaging and imagery. It pays attention to data so that goals can be reached. It segments its audiences and heeds context. The robot may be going to work, but it is accompanied by a marketer who wields its intelligence responsibly.

You Mon Tsang is the chief marketing and product officer of Vocus.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet and You Mon at @youmon .

You Mon Tsang is responsible for driving our global product vision and building Vocus’ brand in the marketplace. Prior to Vocus, Tsang was CEO of Engine140, a company Vocus acquired and subsequently integrated into its product portfolio. A...

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