The Dark Side of Marketing Automation

Marketing automation is increasingly becoming a goto tool for marketers. ‘Run your business on autopilot’ is a compelling proposition for those looking to increase conversions and retention efficiently or even better automagically. As a result up to 49% of businesses use (some kind of) marketing automation tools. Today’s marketing stacks have the potential to empower sales and marketing teams like never before. The ability to monitor and manage leads through the customer journey is extremely valuable.

But as the popularity of marketing automation tools increases, we are faced with some deeper questions.

Is it always right to be automating? What happens when automation goes wrong? Do we run the risk of alienating customers in the process? For all its benefits, there is a dark side to marketing automation (and bad automation in general).

When Automation Goes Wrong

Does this scenario sound familiar? You sign up for a trial to some SaaS product. You immediately receive a “personalized” welcome email from the CEO. Ok — “Hi Antonio”, is a lot more personal than “Hi” — but how credible is it to get that email within 5 minutes of registration? The following day you receive another, and so on. To search for that unsubscribe button is the immediate reaction as those emails have started to be an intrusive nuisance in my inbox. That well intentioned on-boarding process ends up failing miserably as the automation becomes far too obvious.

The reality is that people are aware of automation. Few people expect the CEO to be actually sitting by his computer sending a personal email to everyone who joins the platform. But poor execution can make us too keenly aware of it and thus breaks the spell.

Similar to how revealing how a magic trick works destroys its mystery, so too does automation run the risk of losing its impact when done poorly. Brands need to be aware of the impact and take steps to mitigate it.

Similarly, automation like advertising retargeting comes with its own issues.

Perhaps this sounds familiar… You search for flights to Rome; a well deserved weekend away with that special someone. You do your research, find the flight you want and then book it. Over the proceeding days, every page you visit seems to feature the same advertising… “Book flights to Rome! Special Offer”. Weeks pass and the onslaught continues. Several weeks pass, you fly to Rome, have a wonderful weekend, return home and… you are still being served the same ads.

Dear internet: I bought that thing I was looking at. You can stop the retargeting now, thank you.(@BenedictEvans) April 18, 2017

That’s why people love ad blockers. Experiences like this are not only irritating but also lead to negative brand perceptions. Though automation is obviously not perfect, when it misses the mark, the reaction is felt very strongly.

Though in time machine learning and automation technologies will improve these experiences, there are some deeper fundamental challenges automation forces us to consider.

The Rise of the Machines

“Marketing is not the art of finding clever ways to dispose of what you make. It is the art of creating genuine customer value.” — Philip Kotler

The more and more we automate, the more we will be forced to deal with two key challenges.

1) Automation breeds complacency

The more we rely on the technology to do all the work, the less likely we are to interject even when that automation seems wrong. As machine learning and artificial intelligence become increasingly prevalent, we tend to defer to their wisdom. This tendency to favor the authority of automated systems even has a name — Automation Bias.

For a practical example of automation bias at work, consider when you follow the recommendations of the GPS, even though you know the route is incorrect…

2) Dehumanizing marketing

As automated marketing becomes more pervasive, we must be careful not to lose touch of what is important. Behind every ID or client number in a system is a real person. A living breathing person like the rest of us. The more we automate, the easier it is to lose track of this truth. In our quest for relevance we must not lose touch with the real human element and importance of the personal touch.

In fact, in a world of automation the personalized touch becomes ever more important. A way to stand out from the crowd is to make sure to deliver memorable experiences along the customer journey and all respective touch points.

Automation has a role to play in this as well, but it’s important to remember it is a tool to help us create meaningful experiences for our customers.

Though finding ways to automate that personal touch is challenging, it is not impossible.

Pensaki for example, have made the personal touch scalable by using intelligent robots to write beautiful handwritten notes. This fusion of automation with the tangible and emotional helps businesses stand out from the noise.

“It takes two to make a thing go right“ — Rob Base & DJ E-Z Rock

Standing out from the crowd requires you to be thoughtful and to automate in a such a way that both the sender and receiver benefit in the process.

Sending a handwritten note is an outstanding idea, but unless the message is personal, compelling and contextually relevant, it will only return mediocre results.

Once we are aware of these dark sides, we can put automation to its best use — to create meaningful experiences for customers and outgrow our competitors.