This is why marketers won’t be replaced by robots

How to use data and analytics to empower human creativity

March 3, 2016

There’s been quite a lot of media coverage recently about the implications of Artificial Intelligence (AI) for your chances of employment in the future. This beautiful (but rather downbeat) film on The Guardian website was a case in point. Automation, algorithms and machines that can learn feel like a real threat to white-collar jobs that were once considered safe from the march of technology. And marketing seems right in the firing line.

That’s why I made a point of saying, in my session at B2B InTech last week, that I don’t believe marketing will ever be run by robots. Given the emphasis that Adobe puts on data, testing and optimisation in its marketing, that might seem a strange stance to take. In fact, it’s my experience of the transformation our marketing has undertaken in the last few years that convinces me it’s true. The closer you move data to the heart of your planning, the clearer it becomes that human creativity needs to sit right alongside it.

Putting a value on human creativity

In the past, creativity was intangible and frustratingly hard to measure. It was also difficult to champion – and essentially risky. The old campaign-based model of marketing invited you to spend a lot of time trying to get the creative for your campaign as perfect as possible before releasing it and then waiting for the results to find out if you were right. By the time those results came in, it was too late to do anything about it – you could just hope to apply the learnings next time around. There wasn’t a lot of room for creative ideas to make it through this process and prove their worth.

Now, the opposite is true. One of the reasons that we have shifted so much of our B2B media budget to social platforms, and particularly LinkedIn, is the way that they fuse analytics with creative opportunity. It’s made these platforms the most efficient way to engage an audience – not because you need fewer people to plan and execute your campaign, but because the analytics provide so much opportunity for those people to try new and creative things. 

How analytics empower intuition

When we started using Sponsored Updates on LinkedIn, we deliberately targeted quite a wide-ranging audience to enable us to test how different content resonated with those different audiences – and enable us to refine our approach. Now our campaigns use combinations of Sponsored Updates and Sponsored InMails for different objectives throughout the customer journey, and across all of this activity we’re continually testing and optimising. Before we release our full budget to a campaign, we run AB tests of everything: subject lines, sender names, the audiences we’re targeting and of course, the content itself.

The great thing about being able to test in this way is that it empowers marketers to use their intuition about the ideas, the style and the tone that will resonate with different audiences. This empowerment happens because we’re not under the same pressure to get everything perfect first time around. However, we can only take full advantage of the opportunity through traditional marketing skills. Real success on LinkedIn or any other platform comes when you have a deep understanding of what your brand means to your audiences and can use human intuition to bring that to life. Such intuition can take you in entirely unexpected directions that a machine analysing on the basis of your previous activity could never have predicted. When you put data at the heart of your marketing, it’s far easier to make these bold calls, because you know exactly what you’re trying to achieve – and you know that you’ll have time to adjust course if your ideas don’t connect in the way you expect.

Remixing the Adobe brand

My favourite example of this is the #AdobeRemix activity that’s been a great source of content in our LinkedIn feed recently (check out this example from Stefan Sagmeister and Jessica Walsh). #AdobeRemix was unpredictable because it involved a company that has always been very protective of its brand and its logo suddenly inviting the creative community to reinvent those assets in any way that they saw fit. It was led by our intuitive understanding of our Adobe community, not by an algorithm predicting what would happen. But it was informed and enabled through data. We knew the value of connecting to our audiences on LinkedIn. We could predict the return that successful content would deliver for us. We knew what role it would play in our target audiences’ decision journeys. And we knew that real-time analytics meant we could trust our essentially human judgment about the best way to achieve those goals – and adjust if necessary.

I’d urge you to do the same. Put data at the heart of your marketing on LinkedIn and elsewhere – not to replace the human beings in your marketing department, but to give them the freedom to do what they do best.