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Automatic, but Not Thoughtless: The Future of Creative Marketing

In a way, marketing has always been an art of following. Whatever technology and innovation we bring to the task of promoting brands and products, marketing has only rarely been in the business of creating audiences. Rather, marketers need to market the way consumers consume – and how consumers consume is always changing.

With newspaper advertising, for example, companies both powered the growth of and grew thanks to print media technology – but the audience was created by the news itself, not the ads. Likewise, when the masses flocked to cinemas in the mid-Twentieth Century, marketers soon arrived to use film technology to reach this new audience in a new way.

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All of which is to say that nobody (and least of all the marketing industry) should be surprised to learn that social marketing has now grown to the point that more than a quarter of Gen Z and Millennial consumers are actively seeking branded content and products on social platforms.

As with those previous technological frontiers, marketing is now in a position to draw on new capabilities to innovate different approaches to it audiences – and, indeed, it can feel like marketers have talked about little but big data, algorithms, and personalization in recent years.

Taking the creative lead

However, we shouldn’t mistake the work of marketing as being entirely about making branded versions of popular content formats. While the business has always followed audiences, it has also led in terms of creating its own creative methodologies and ways of thinking: putting a narrative to a brand or product which lands in the sweet spot of overlapping consumer, business, and cultural needs should not be underestimated as a skill-set.

The smart question, then, is not just how marketing can engage with the digital-first technologies that social platforms open up to it, but where and how those technologies should be applied.

One interesting area in which to explore this question is around the process of creating and running campaigns. Over the years, the number of channels that marketers have been expected to address has consistently grown. Today, with social channels constantly multiplying and evolving, that has become an exponential growth which marketing teams can struggle to keep pace with.

Compared to the reasonably standardized requirements across different newspapers or TV channels, every platform has its own technical requirements and algorithmically favors different approaches. The challenge of creating work which is tailored to different platforms is then only compounded by the possibilities of personalization, where decision-making about what message a particular user will best respond to needs to be backed up with content that communicates that message.

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All the while, the ways of thinking and working that marketing has developed over the decades are still vital:

Exploring the options of digital and social marketing, then, marketers can quickly arrive at a point where they are considering not just a few different cuts of a TV advert, but thousands of distinct versions of an advert – or more.

To return to the question, then, where should technology be applied to make this situation more manageable, productive, and successful?

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Social platforms and digital advertising networks can offer various options, such as product re-targeting, which make for easy on-ramps to more personalized marketing strategies – but, for obvious reasons, these don’t operate across the full spectrum of online options that marketers now need to manage. And, perhaps just as importantly, they don’t tend to hold space for the creative ideation and messaging through which the best marketers make their mark.

Automate what is automatable

It’s perhaps clear, therefore, that advertisers and marketers shouldn’t rely entirely on the tools and processes offered by the platforms themselves – as invaluable as they often are.

Just as admen focusing on newspapers quickly established their own art studios rather than relying on the papers’ internal typesetting, marketing needs its own ecosystem of tools which responds to and fully leverages the possibilities of social media.

This ecosystem needs to be intimately plumbed into the data that social platforms generate, ingesting behavior and intent data to make targeted personalization easy and reliable. It needs to bridge different channels and platforms, making sure that campaigns run across all of the channels it needs to, not just those that the team has resources for. Finally, it needs to flex with the creative process of marketing, automating the generation of site-specific versions of creative work, so that creatives can focus on the bigger picture of their work.

When it comes to social media, the marketing industry’s art of following is already clear for all to see: brand Twitter accounts, short-form videos, and casual ways of speaking which treat the consumer as an equal are now the norm. It’s art of invention, however, still has a long way to go, and the judicious application of automation will yet take the profession to new horizons.

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