Interview with David Pring-Mill

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AI Is Streamlining the Workflow of Digital Marketers

Many executives view AI as a means of automating tedious processes. Although warnings by Elon Musk and others have prompted fears about an artificial general intelligence that rivals our dominance on the planet, some businesspeople foresee a less frightening possibility: AI will improve the quality of their workdays by handling repetitive, menial tasks.

According to a survey conducted by PwC, executives are most eager to outsource paperwork, scheduling, and timesheets to AI. For digital media planners, some tedious burdens have already been lifted. Programmatic advertising is one example. Programmatic chooses the right sites, screens, and times, in order to ensure that ads are displayed to the consumers who are most likely to be interested.

“You take the brand’s campaign goals, target audience info and advertising formats and put them all to the machine. The platform takes this data and makes instant decisions,” said Oya Yaşayan, a programmatic media expert.

Yaşayan said that programmatic is “about using an automated system to make media buying decisions instead of doing it manually like we digital media planners did for many painful years.”

She explained, “Ever since the first banner ad was released on Hotwired in 1994, life has never been easy for the digital media planner. The share of internet in advertising pie was always small whereas the workload was huge: Get the brief from the client, check the internet measurement research, find the matching sites for audience, make overlapping analysis, create a media plan manually on spreadsheet with 20-30 rows (every row with at least 5 different buying models), call 8-10 ad networks and negotiate, decide on the last budget allocation, send to the client, survive through multiple revisions from the client, get the approval, set up the banner ads with measurement codes, send the insertion orders and banner ads to publishers, test the campaign, create campaign reports and make optimizations throughout the process… Pishhh!”

Fortunately, better times were just around the corner. Programmatic media buying platforms emerged. Yaşayan said that programmatic allowed digital media planners “to get more for every dollar spent on advertising while working far more efficiently.”

Programmatic buying systems now have access to some traditional TV inventory. According to Yaşayan, “It could be better, simpler, and faster with programmatic TV. Pre-programmatic painful processes of digital media planning apply to TV planning, too. Interactions are all manual: requests for proposals, insertion orders, ad trafficking, not to mention the endless emails, spreadsheets, and even faxes (yes, still!). So it’s no surprise that there’s a lot of chatter in the TV industry about whether a digital approach might be more efficient. Of course, everyone wants reduced costs and more efficient work conditions.”

She qualified this by pointing out that “audience targeting and digital automation of the linear TV workflow hasn’t caught up to the level of sophistication in programmatic buying across digital video.” She continued, “The ROI in the industry can increase tremendously after the transition process: buying and selling will be instantaneous and data-driven.”

“If it fulfills the promise of doing something autonomously that I had to tediously do before, then I like it,” Carl Landers, the CMO at Conversica, told me over the phone. “And I wish I had more of those tools in my bag frankly. Because there are still too many tedious things we have to do as marketers.”

Carl Landers is also in the business of streamlining daily workflows, but in a different way. Conversica provides companies with a virtual sales assistant that carefully nurtures leads by sending out AI-powered emails.

“We’re trying to use AI, natural language processing, and machine learning to automate routine conversations that businesses have with their customers or prospects, in the hope of freeing up humans from doing kind of mindless, repetitive stuff,” he explained.

Conversica’s virtual sales assistant can automate routine, back-and-forth conversations, such as the scheduling of calls. Recently, Conversica commissioned a study to track inbound lead engagement efforts by U.S. companies. The study revealed that one out of three companies failed to respond to or follow up with hot leads.

“That’s shocking to me. As a marketer, I would never stand for that,” said Landers. His company’s product tries to overcome this neglect by automating the psychologically-draining process of following up.

When data is leveraged strategically, marketing becomes more effective and workflows are streamlined. Clearly, automation can make life easier for some, but how much automation is too much? The job is easier, yes, but when does the job itself become redundant?

“In the next ten years, managers who are fluent in artificial intelligence and know how to apply it will replace managers who don’t. So, will AI take jobs? Not AI per se but knowledge and facility with AI will,” said Elliott Yama, a business leader at Apttus. His company specializes in AI-powered quote-to-cash software.

He elaborated, “In the future beyond that, who knows? But you know I think humans have always feared technology advancements, always looked to kind of worst-case scenarios only to discover that perhaps their fears were misguided. And that new technology actually creates as many jobs as it displaces and actually adds more. They’re just different types of jobs.”

Conversica found that most of its customers actually need to hire more staff after utilizing their automated sales assistant. Carl Landers tried to explain this counterintuitive finding. He said that the conversational AI capability enables sales teams to convert leads into meetings at a higher rate.

“She’s just more personal, she’s more persistent. Her simple text emails get into your inbox rather than go to spam,” he explained, referring to the automated sales assistant’s female persona. “You’re getting twice as many meetings out of the same marketing spend.”

Landers said that companies expand their teams in order to capitalize on this increased opportunity. He added, “In this particular example, they have to hire more people because the AI has boosted the efficiency of an inefficient process.”