Frictionless marketing: How automation can drive better experiences

James Dyson’s inventions could arguably be used to define what frictionless business looks like. From the hairdryer to the vacuum cleaner, and now onto the electric car, his vision for innovation through simplification is an inspiration to many.

It was with surprise, then, that I read a news article recounting comments he made around how automation will boost employment and “should not be feared”. As a marketing professional I have long held the belief that business is about human interaction.

A survey last year from the Royal Society of Arts shared the sentiment, suggesting that embracing the new machine age could usher in a better world of work.

The fact that automation and robotics is advancing rapidly will raise no eyebrows, but the report’s finding that this will change the substance of jobs for the better I again found a little surprising.

Until I thought it through. From my own experience at a pioneering fintech firm, I’ve seen first-hand how improvements in technology can lead to some jobs no longer being needed, but inevitably others are created – often more fulfilling and better suited to the creativity of the human mind.

In many industries, the benefits of automation are not limited to increased efficiency, cost and time savings. The transition from manual to digital processes is also unlocking previously inaccessible data that has real value for businesses.

In marketing it is no different. The field has evolved tremendously in the last couple of decades thanks to digital transformation.

While once marketers could rely on heavy spending in traditional media like TV, radio, magazines and mail to reach their prospects and customers, digital technologies now offer up a diverse range of media, including email, online ads, websites, social media, blogs, apps and more, all of which demand new approaches and strategies.

Marketing automation tools have evolved to remove much of the manual friction of managing this media—for example, by automating the sending of targeted emails to select segmented audiences.

Meanwhile, the results generated by digital marketing (i.e. the data) are also subject to automation. Digital channels are interactive, allowing audiences to share, like, repost, reply, retweet and even start conversations with brands.

These interactions provide multiple data points that, taken in the aggregate, offer a more complex and nuanced understanding of marketing success, as well as audience mindsets.

This increased visibility enables a higher level of customisation. Customers and prospects are no longer bound to one-size-fits-all messages from brands. For example, instead of receiving a single email targeted to everyone, a prospect might receive a customised email because she’s acted on a previous offer, or because she’s shown an interest in a specific kind of content.

The point being that marketing automation allows brands to more easily address their audiences as individuals, rather than as a group. This is audience-first marketing in action.

That’s important because of the friction that many consumers associate with marketing: the hassle of getting deluged by marketing messages that aren’t relevant to them.

Brands that can eliminate this friction thanks to automation – by talking to their prospects and customers in ways that are of specific interest to them based on demonstrated patterns of behaviour or actions they’ve taken – have a better chance of building trusted relationships with them.

The introduction of General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in May is a further opportunity for brands to revolutionise the way they interact with customers. The new legislation means organisations must now be able to justify why and how they have obtained their customer data and the ways it’s being used, offering transparency and trust, and ultimately improving the relationship between customer and brand.

But regardless of whether GDPR opt ins have been secured, inefficient, ineffective processes can strain any relationship.

Likewise, marketers who aren’t overwhelmed by process have more opportunities to get to know their audiences.

Digital transformation isn’t always about getting things done faster, cheaper and more efficiently, but about helping people find a common purpose and work towards it.

Which is why the statement from the RSA that automation “could usher in a better world of work” is actually bang on the money, I have come to realise. If the mundane tasks can be picked up by robots, it leaves humans to take on the more fulfilling, complex work.

Automation, then, will not only drive productivity – something many believe is the key to a nation’s economic success – but greater prosperity in the long run. This shift in perception is something my colleagues in the marketing industry will no doubt be discussing over the coming months and years.

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