Brands Push Forward with Automation, But Privacy and Creepiness Concerns Remain

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This post is the latest in our “Automating Local” series. It’s our editorial focus for the month of April, including topics like artificial intelligence and marketing automation. See the rest of the series here

To the naked eye, marketing automation seems like magic. Connect a few data sources, select a desired output, and voilà—instant development of the types of personalized marketing strategies that generate results. But a quick peek behind the curtain reveals a much more complicated ecosystem, one in which brands are still struggling to outline best practices and navigate ethics and privacy considerations in a new era of digital marketing.

Local automation, powered by artificial intelligence and machine learning, is a high priority for global brands in 2019. More than half of organizations surveyed said they plan to invest in it in the coming year, but many of the decision makers at those organizations don’t yet understand the intricacies and challenges that are involved in integrating siloed systems.

“It’s a dog-eat-dog world for retailers right now, and many are feeling the pressure to keep up with customer demands for increasing personalization and one-on-one experiences,” says JJ Lopez Murphy, technical director and data science practice lead at the software development firm Globant.

Even those brand marketers who are aware of the benefits of local automation are often unsure of how best to utilize the data they collect or what implementation really involves. These marketers are increasingly turning to customer data platforms (CDPs), which collect the data being generated by various first-party and third-party vendors and combine it to create optimized customer experiences.

“Marketing automation is all the rage. Everyone feels like they need to ‘do it’ or they’ll be left behind. That rush to do the latest ‘new thing’ without thoughtful planning often leads to failure,” says Winston Lord, co-founder of Venga, a guest management platform that uses automation to enhance customer experiences. “It’s critical to build a 360 degree view of your client and your strategy before implementing marketing automation.”

Growth in CDPs

CDPs have become one of the hottest trends in local automation, as companies large and small find new ways to use these platforms for marketing personalization and innovation. According to a survey conduced by Forbes Insights and Treasure Data, 54% of marketing executives today are seeking a “common enterprise” view of their customers through their analytics efforts, and 57% believe customer data initiatives generate better-quality and more-targeted campaigns.

Those figures are impressive, but they shouldn’t weigh as heavily on marketing professionals as this: According to the same survey, just 13% of organizations have a high degree of confidence that they are making the most of their available customer data.

“There is a lot of commitment required in terms of processes, tools, and people to achieve a successful AI project, but the most important thing is that retailers focus on the problem they are trying to solve before jumping to solutions,” says Lopez Murphy.

With much of their data still siloed, key decision makers don’t have the full story when they’re making big picture decisions about which marketing strategies their organizations should adopt. Without that complete view, and without the right insights from their own data providers, executives are more likely to take wrong turns on their path toward complete marketing automation.

That’s one of the biggest cons to going fully automated, according to Adam Hildreth, CEO and founder of Crisp, a social media moderation and monitoring vendor that works with global brands.

“We’re seeing artificial intelligence as an effective tool for sorting through the noise on social media, as it can quickly learn patterns and begin to understand what content is threatening and what’s just chatter. That being said however, artificial intelligence can only tell us so much,” he says.

Hildreth has seen the greatest successes when brands combine informed human analysts with automation technology. AI tools can effectively sort through the noise and filter large amounts of data, but the need still remains for humans to effective gauge when certain lines should or shouldn’t be crossed and discern any real risks that exist.

Automation’s Fine Line

Marketing automation is all about removing barriers to create optimal customer experiences, but what happens when those barriers were put in place for a reason, and how is customer privacy impacted when brands adopt the latest in artificial intelligence and automation practices?

“There’s a fine line between creepy and cool,” says Venga’s Lord.

While customers usually appreciate the little touches that enhance their experience—think Netflix’s personalized recommendations or Nike’s custom shoe design options—Lord says brands can easily go overboard.

“In order to continue the surprise and delight associated with personalization, frequency—or lack thereof—is key,” he says. “The more often a personal data point is injected into the experience, the less of an impact it has.”

As a provider of cloud-based unified communications-as-a-service, Fuze has been a pioneer in AI and automation technology. In a presentation at the MarTech West Conference earlier this month, Chief Marketing Officer Brian Kardon spoke about the latest innovations and how companies are using AI to accelerate marketing performance. Smart lead routing, content creation, and predictive email were all cited as examples, but it was some of the next-generation ideas that really got people talking.

Kardon spoke about running data sets with client account histories, and additional attributes like industry, company size, and tenure of CIOs, through a model to identify the most predictive attributes, and then finding target accounts with these attributes. Kardon’s presentation also delved into how to scale personal gift giving by matching email addresses to social profiles and using bots that find images and text to suggest gifts that are likely to be well received.

Industry insiders like Rasmus Skjoldan, chief marketing officer at Magnolia CMS, say the ecosystem is increasingly turning to AI to pair audience and experience. AI is showing strong results when it comes to understanding what sort of customer is visiting a digital channel and what kinds of content they should be shown, he said.

“[Brands benefit] by being able to know customers, and to suggest orders based on past purchases, preferences, and context removes barriers to conversion,” Skjoldan says. “It’s about removing more barriers to create an optimal customer experience.”

Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.Rainbow over Montclair

Stephanie Miles is a journalist who covers personal finance, technology, and real estate. As Street Fight’s senior editor, she is particularly interested in how local merchants and national brands are utilizing hyperlocal technology to reach consumers. She has written for FHM, the Daily News, Working World, Gawker, Cityfile, and Recessionwire.