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Automatic for the people


In 1913, Henry Ford revolutionised manufacturing by introducing his first moving assembly line. Before this, cars had been put together one at a time. Automation enabled him to cut car prices, double the minimum wage of his staff and produce a shiny new Model T every 10 seconds of the working day.

Good for consumers, good for employees – and good for the company (he managed to turn a healthy profit).

The revolution this started has seen over a century of refinement, yet automation is still widely misunderstood – and in some cases feared. “Will robots take over the job of marketing?” demanded a recent sinister headline, precipitating a flurry of chatter on social media.

So let’s put that fear to bed. Automatons won’t take over the core functions of marketing any time soon, but automation will make your life a whole lot easier.

Marketing’s two functions

Jobs crossing a marketer’s desk can be split into two types. For simplicity, let’s call them creative and process.

Developing big ideas, crafting the way you engage with your customers, choosing the right people to work with who can help you develop your vision – these are the creative tasks. The reasons people get into marketing. Even the wackiest sci-fi movies haven’t given us a robot that can do this.

Then there are the process jobs – the mechanics of executing those big ideas, managing campaign workflows, handling procurement, approving collateral, ensuring the right assets are delivered to the right outlets at the right time. Knowing where those assets are and what state they’re in. Gathering the data that will demonstrate your ROI.

These are the process jobs, and I don’t know a marketer who wouldn’t gladly chuck them over to C-3PO in a nanosecond.

Manual processes

All these process jobs are ripe for automation. As Henry Ford discovered, automation can speed up mechanical tasks, saving you money and time. Time that can be better spent on creative strategy and helping drive your business forward.

Without automation, these processes can eat up a huge amount of your working day. Using emails and spreadsheets to manage your campaigns can be grossly inefficient, leading to lost communications, time wasted chasing suppliers and trying to track down assets. They provide poor visibility of current campaigns and it’s difficult to measure success to inform future campaigns.

Automation in marketing

There are numerous ways automation can give you precious time back. Here are just some of the more obvious:

Campaign planning – much better than spreadsheets, cloud-based campaign planning software enables stakeholders to view and (if permitted) make amends via a browser, so you can access the latest version of your marketing plan from anywhere.

Requests for quotes – using emails and phones to elicit supplier quotes is time-consuming and runs the risk of missing important communications, so it’s easy to fall back on the same suppliers, whether or not they’re the cheapest or best. Automated RFQ software means you can spread your net wider, introducing competitive tension into your supply chain.

Briefing and approvals workflow – one-on-one emails are a poor way to drive your workflow. Using automation software to keep all comms in one place and alert stakeholders of new activity can significantly reduce amends rounds, saving time and money.

Asset management – most companies understand the problems of poor asset management: agencies holding key images, collateral scattered across several computers, regional offices with out-of-date assets. By using asset management software that integrates seamlessly with your briefing and planning software, you can attach the correct assets directly to briefs, saving time and ensuring compliance.

Real-time reporting – applications are available that can analyse all campaign activity and provide granular real-time reporting of operational and budgetary activity. With so much time spent generating reports to justify your marketing spend, handing this aspect of the job to automation makes reporting on your activity and assessing ROI so much easier.

When so much marketing time is devoted to manually dealing with these tasks, it’s hardly any wonder marketers only have limited time to develop long-term strategies and those all-important big ideas.

Advertising guru Sir John Hegarty, co-founder BBH, recently told Marketing Week that “big brand-driving ideas are few and far between”, claiming, “brands today are populated by many marketing people who don’t understand the basics of marketing.”

This analysis is a bit harsh. Marketers bogged down by process, the increasing complexity of managing omnichannel campaigns and the short-term demands of shareholders are necessarily going to struggle when it comes to developing long-term creative strategies.

But Hegarty also says, “technology enables opportunity; creativity creates value.” And here he is spot on.

Technology is enabling opportunities by increasing the number of touchpoints through which you can engage with your customers; but automation technology offers a further opportunity: freeing you from the shackles of managing complex marketing operations, and thus freeing up time to devote to creativity.

And as Hegarty points out: “creativity creates value”.

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