The exponential speed of the adoption of digital marketing, coupled with changes over the past two years in the way everything is bought and sold, is forcing marketers to focus more heavily on differentiation. For a brand to stand out in a noisy and competitive marketplace, thoughtful innovation is crucial.
“A process of creative problem-solving in which teams of creators and strategists conceive, design, produce, and activate business solutions with the assistance of AI, intelligent automation, and data.”
Note the emphasis on human + machine cooperation where human intuition, machine prowess, and creativity are combined. The future is visualized as a place where agencies and other strategists are made stronger and more efficient by gaining the right kind of assistance from machines and software. Not one in which gathering the most data is the end-all goal, as it’s been for the past decade or so.
The myths of digital marketing
The digital marketing industry has also been experiencing a shift, not uncommon in a maturing channel, with brands pushing back on their agencies to get better results. Too often though, the message coming from digital-only agencies has focused primarily on a narrow view of data provability and the illusion of predictability. Massive amounts of statistics and data points are assembled to convince those who control budgets that back-end data alone has all the answers—that it can provide the insights needed to target an audience effectively at scale and when paired with the most basic of creative, can create measurable success (again).
And yet, over the last 15 years, despite the supposed magic of data-driven targeting, average response rates for most digital tactics have remained relatively unchanged.
In contrast, the latest talk in the marketing world, at least among content producers and brand specialists, has been about telling stories—to make an emotional connection with an audience in order to elicit an action and form a relationship. From a human behavioral perspective, this strategy is sound. However, it can fall short in a world driven by scale. Making a human connection also requires a long-term vision and the ability to nurture an audience throughout the entire buying cycle.
But, to businesses that are bombarded by the false message that spending their budgets on massive amounts of data is all they need for a large-scale response, the story-telling approach may feel too subdued or too time-consuming.
Human insight + machine prowess
Which brings us full circle to Forrester’s prediction for the future. They recommend agencies tap into the powerful combination of machine learning for scale and comparison, artificial intelligence for pattern recognition, and human insight for audience resonance and problem solving, which they call intelligent creativity. The definition of intelligence as put forth by Darwin centers around the observation of how efficient a species becomes at doing the things they need to survive. A common definition of creativity is the act of applying novel solutions to elicit human responses.
For digital, media, and marketing agencies, a working model of how to best serve clients moving forward lies in the concept of intelligent creative. This can be defined as the brand, campaign, and assets produced by following the process of intelligent creativity.
“If intelligent creativity is the basis for empathy at scale, as Forrester suggests, then intelligent creative is the means of conveying that empathy to the audience.”
We are at a tipping point with data and digital marketing. As data has gotten better and more accessible and AI continues to recognize important patterns in human behavior, additional opportunities are presented to marketers for fine-tuning digital marketing strategies. For CMOs, it is becoming increasingly important to recognize the kinds of answers you are being given by whomever is managing your digital marketing.
What versus why for your data
Traditional data can be great at giving you the “what” and “how many” data points about a target audience: their interest areas, the devices they use, their geographical areas, their demographic characteristics, their purchase behaviors. Digital and media agencies are happy to set up analytics and source data that will quickly get you thinking about scale, because those kinds of agencies are still playing the impressions game. Even with a low average conversion rate, a huge number of impressions will most likely get you the results you’re looking for. Or, at least provide the metric an agency needs to hit to keep a client interested.
What they don’t want to tell you is that they are likely to set each one of your competitors up with the same data, the same plan, and the same number of impressions. In this world where everyone has access to the same data and the same distribution channels, how do you differentiate yourself, your brand, and your message? You have two choices: Spend more money than everyone else. Or, do a better job than everyone else at engaging your audience and inspiring them to take an action.
Deeper insights bring deeper connection
More advanced artificial intelligence and automation can recognize patterns that start to better define the “who” of your audience. For example, our data partner Resonate uses AI to place populations into groups based on their psychological drivers and personal values, getting us closer to knowing why an audience makes decisions. This is precisely the kind of deeper data and insights (i.e., intelligence) that companies will need going forward to improve their marketing results.
Even at that level, the information is only useful to inform decisions—not to make them. It takes people who are expert at viewing data through the lens of experience, intuition, human creativity, and behavior to recognize the insights that make it actionable. When this kind of information is interrogated, interpreted, and executed by strategists, creators, and marketers, it becomes the basis of deep audience connection.
Intelligent > deep, AI-enhanced data that serves as a base of knowledge used to make messaging meaningful.
Creative > the strategic planning and content produced and activated at scale with the best chance of success at making a brand or a message memorable.
The opportunity to build campaigns that move the needle on digital marketing is here and available today. By implementing a strategy now, you’ll be setting yourself up for a future that will result in more sales-qualified leads and, ultimately, more sales.
Born of curiosity and enthusiasm, we’re a scrappy group of smart, passionate marketers who work hard and play hard. We show up every day and fight for our clients who are making the world a better place. We listen with curiosity, explore deeply, ask hard questions, and sometimes put forth ideas that might make you squirm. Because we believe the status quo is good for growing mold but not much else.
The way we see it, change is the way forward and the magic happens when curiosity, math, science, instinct, and talent intersect.