Don’t Lose The Human Touch When Using Marketing Automation Tools

Brand Aware” explores the data-driven digital ad ecosystem from the marketer’s point of view.

Today’s column is written by Emily Ketchen, head of Americas marketing at HP.

Automation tools have changed marketing forever and for the better.

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning innovations allow marketers to reach our customers more pointedly than ever. Ninety-eight percent of business-to-business marketers surveyed say automated marketing is a “critical” element of long-term business success. And I count myself among them.

When my team at HP uses signal data to personalize digital ads or web experiences – even slightly – we see improved response rates from our customers. For marketing automation tools to be truly effective, however, we need the technology to be the best version of itself.

What I mean is that automated marketing must be one thing at its core: human.

Picking up on consumer cues

Marketers have to look beyond how AI makes our lives easier or more efficient. We must recognize that the key to automation is learning how to read signals.

In this instance, signals are indications of customer intent or behavior. We see them all the time when customers make purchases, look for products online, click on banner ads or leave comments about a brand on a social media site. Every signal can be tracked to determine if the potential exists to enhance experiences for that customer.

More often than not, automation signals opportunity. If we leverage that tip-off with a more individual approach, our marketing efforts get even better. At HP, we’ve found that when personalized ads or landing pages are combined with humanness, response rates jump an average of 20 to 30%.

Humanizing automation means when a customer not only visits your website but also downloads content about a particular product, someone from your team recognizes that signal as a precursor to a purchase and quickly reaches out to see if they need more help or information.

Waiting more than 10 minutes can decrease the odds of qualifying that prospect by up to 400%. Conversely, if that customer is thinking about buying and, instead, receives a white paper that shows no awareness of where they are in their buying journey, it could turn them off to eventually making a purchase.

Creating opportunities for dialogue

Customers appreciate the ease and speed of online interaction. Most also want authentic, two-way communication with real people at important moments. Their preference, at any given time, will typically be determined by where they are in their buying journey.

Like a modern switchboard, responding to automated signals means collaborating across divisions. At HP, for instance, our teams communicate with one another whenever we see buying signals. If buyers are considering purchasing a desktop workstation, we might also ask if they need laptops. If they are acquiring laptops, we might explore where they could use a new network printer.

In the digital age, with so many useful tools at our fingertips, it is easy to fall into the trap of talking at customers rather than talking with them by reading cues and responding intelligently.

I often think of this with regard to travel. If someone is merely considering a trip to Mexico – maybe they are searching for activities or popular destinations – sending that traveler promotional airfares can be premature. If they are actually price shopping, however, this could be a signal of intent indicating they would welcome such offers, making the timing impeccable.

Automated tools won’t necessarily make such subtle distinctions, at least not without specific programming to flag them. Humans are still more adept at this process.

At HP, we have a sizable data organization within our marketing department dedicated to exactly this. The team is comprised of data scientists who regularly observe where customers are in their journeys and make recommendations to guide our content creation and outreach programs.

Warning signs

In addition to systems for insights and analysis, you also need mechanisms to monitor the effectiveness of automated tools and course correct over time. It is an incredibly powerful asset for any marketing department, but automation technology can easily become a crutch.

The key to avoiding this pitfall is understanding the context within which the signals we are receiving from automation is interpreted. For example, a response to a keyword in the journey can possibly be interpreted as a signal that indicates a customer is in the buying process. The reality, depending on the actual context, is that the same customer could be seeking support. It is critical to marry automation and a human understanding of the data to avoid misinterpretation.

Effective marketers today lean into signals, immerse themselves in customer data and focus on delivering germane content at exactly the right time.

I’ve seen it firsthand: Applying the human touch with just the right pressure ultimately makes automation a smart advantage that marketers and customers alike need in today’s dynamic consumer landscape.

Follow HP (@HP) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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