Marketing machines still need a human touch

Earlier this year Google rolled out a new ads settings feature that allows users to mute ‘reminder ads’; known in the wider digital industry as retargeting ads.  

But why would consumers want to make use of this feature? When managed effectively, retargeting ads should improve the user experience, reminding them about products they have browsed, suggesting viable alternatives, delivering relevant special offers, and otherwise building a relationship between the consumer and the brand. With 92% of consumers not ready to purchase on their first visit, retargeting is a vital marketing tool and is highly effective at encouraging action, be that a purchase or a newsletter sign-up.

The truth is some marketers have relied too heavily on machine learning (ML) algorithms that drive retargeting, forgetting that – while ML is an incredibly powerful development within digital marketing – effective campaign management will always need human involvement.

So, let’s take a closer look at how machine learning is used in retargeting and other types of digital marketing and explore why the human element is still so important.  

Programmatic: enabling individual understanding

Programmatic media buying is one of the key areas of digital advertising to benefit the automated nature of machines. Using vast amounts of data, it allows users to be reached at scale, and with just milliseconds to bid on an impression, ML can crunch the data and determine the investment that can be made on that ad placement.

Traditionally programmatic targets cluster audiences or groups with similar traits or interests, but with the introduction of ML it can now specifically target individuals according to their unique profile and preferences. Using predictive analytics allows for a better understanding of the consumer and delivers personalised, relevant messaging to meet their real-time needs and strengthen the brand relationship.

But using ML in programmatic isn’t as simple as pressing a button and letting the technology do the work. It is only as good as the algorithms upon which it runs, and the data used to feed it. The human touch is necessary to develop and adjust these calculations, as well as to decide on the most appropriate data streams to feed them. The real-time insights available for analysis are broad, from demographic, psychographic, and location data to browsing habits and purchase history – and human intelligence is necessary to determine which combination of points will drive the required outcomes.       

As programmatic ads are served to real people, the human touch is also necessary to factor in the elements of behaviour that machines may never fully understand.

DCO: delivering the most engaging creative

While programmatic reaches the right consumer at the right time, dynamic creative optimisation (DCO) allows the served ad to be specifically tailored to the individual. By combining the most appropriate elements such as images, backgrounds, and calls to action, DCO utilises ML to adapt messaging in real-time, based on various data points including a user’s location, interests, and demographic. The context of the creative can also be customised dependent on the consumer’s position in the path to purchase, such as delivering a brand ad to a new prospect to drive awareness, or a retargeting ad to a previous website visitor to encourage a purchase.

But while DCO can effectively compile ad creative specifically tailored to the individual, humans are still required to design elements with great aesthetics and to determine the level of personalisation consumers will find engaging rather than intrusive. They also need to link DCO technology with relevant systems such as inventory logs to ensure users aren’t being targeted with products that are out of stock or offers that are no longer valid.

Machine learning is revolutionising the digital marketing landscape, making it possible to predict an individual’s real-time needs and deliver the best message at the right moment to meet those needs, but it still requires the human touch. From brand awareness to retargeting, a bespoke, hands-on approach to campaign management is the ideal way to get the best out of the unison of human and machine.  

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Portia Quinn
20 Apr 2018, 10:18 a.m.

What a great article - concise and informative. Exciting stuff!

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