Go Against the Grain of Brain Drain: Keeping Digital Marketing Human

I was struck by an article sent to me recently, in which Google admits the human brain’s ingenuity still beats the company’s algorithms in developing effective personalized solutions to certain challenges.1 This got me thinking: although we are nearing 2014 and technology is advancing at an increasingly rapid pace, and even if there is no doubt that computers are getting better at performing more tasks than anyone could have imagined, the value of human expertise cannot be underestimated.

If a search engine giant such as Google openly acknowledges this reality, then why have certain players in the digital marketing industry hung their hat on the fact that they have computers or algorithms managing their digital campaigns?

To answer this question, let me go back to the early 2000s. I was managing some auto dealer magazines in Southern California when I saw the writing on the wall – our publications were not achieving even close to the circulation they used to have, and our readership was tanking rapidly as potential buyers were going online. I was in a dying industry, and we had to become better at marketing to get the same acceptable results for our dealers. Some cars generated leads from an affordable monthly payment, while other vehicles benefited from a low base price. We would leave the price off altogether on other automobiles and position the camera to capture the sun bouncing off the chrome on the bumper just right.

When I first moved from print to digital in those days, I employed many similar techniques. I built marketing strategies that focused on prices, lease payments, or special dealer-specific offers. I tested multiple ads and found the best way to drive leads to my clients. I spent most of my time on the road working with dealers and the rest of the time creating the best digital campaigns I could. This was a time when you could log in to Yahoo, bid for a specific position, and see what the competition was bidding. At times it might make sense to bid for the top spot, or if your message were particularly strong, it could be more cost-effective to aim for a lower spot.

However, Google soon changed the world of paid search by introducing its Quality Score. This value is formulated through multiple criteria and positions ads in a way to generate not only the best user experience but also the most clicks. With the rollout of Quality Score, search engine marketing campaigns became even more complex, requiring intimate market & product knowledge, strong strategic focus, and advanced analytics & tracking systems to measure results.

The Internet may be driven by content, but it takes relevant content delivered to users seamlessly to create a worthwhile experience. At Search Optics, we see that when building campaigns for a Chevrolet Silverado: our team needs to integrate great content on websites, blogs, display, paid search, and mobile devices with a goal of generating the best results. Our experts draw upon an intimate knowledge of not just how to build a campaign in a bid management system, but also the advantages of the Silverado over the Tundra or F-150. This very human knowledge of what walking onto a Chevy dealer’s lot or seeing the new Silverado on the stand at an auto show is like gets added into the campaign like a special ingredient that pushes it to perform at the highest level. As the campaign matures, knowing what levers to pull to make the critical adjustments that make it run at the highest level is married to real-time data that comes from the technology surrounding it.

Oddly enough, in spite of the need for more human interaction, there are companies that are trying to pull the humanity out of the process in the quest to scale and drive down costs. This is an emerging and disturbing trend in the digital marketing space that is attempting to take out the intelligence and skilled acumen of the human brain. Given the opportunity to truly oversee campaigns in lieu of this automated approach, it is clear that actual people running the show will never fail.

Solely using computers to make marketing decisions results in campaigns that are effective in controlling costs, but that fail to maximize results that matter: phone calls, emails, and leads – the very reason for marketing in the first place. It may seem counter-intuitive, but it couldn’t be simpler: the more complex the digital landscape becomes, the more important it will be to back up the latest technology with a human touch.

- Christian Fuller, Chief Relationship Officer


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