Digital Marketing Robots won’t do the job for us…

… they will just make it easier, (or debating data vs. intuition to drive your digital marketing)

Are our robots are the new superheros?

Our marketing robots, the new superheros?

I read this blog from Noah Kagan recently that, among other things, raises this very catchy fact that says that “only 1 out of 8 A/B tests have driven significant change” (in their case).

Quite an interesting read even if on an online marketing vendor blog. Not a revolution, but good factual feedback from the ground. It tells me something I already know, but that is always good to hear from others.

In these time where we are all about Big Data, strongly believing in Metric-driven online marketing; more and more thinking data scientist is the new specie that will save the world, or at least our online businesses; it’s good to remember these are not the drivers. There is indeed a big tendency to praise analysis now, analyzing all and every single thing, diving into numbers, KPIs, analytics, metrics, reports; a tendency to think these will not only support but lead the marketing discipline. We could even see a tendency for discouraging people to believe in their good sense and their intuition first, to push them to a more “scientific approach” by trying all possibilities. I think this is a very dangerous direction.

Yes, Digital Marketing is nothing without measurement

Don’t get me wrong, I am a big believer that online marketing can not work without measurement. “If you’re not measuring marketing, you’re not marketing” as my colleague Nico likes to say. In some areas (like inbound marketing, demand and lead generation), the only way to know and validate the efficiency of your marketing effort is using measurements and numbers and I’m the first to think any thing you do in that field should be measured.

This being said, while measurements can turn into analysis, or potentially into prescription or recommendation, they can certainly not be in the driver’s seat! It cannot take over our marketer’s brains, ideas and intuition.  It can only help or influence them.

Still, analytics can not replace ideas and intuition (but it can kill them…)

At eZ, I am working a lot on tools that can help optimize digital experiences (aka CXM – customer experience management). There is a big engineering and scientific effort to make tools that will always be better and smarter in order to measure and recommend changes. Technology can be extremely powerful and I am very impressed to see up to where we can take the optimization and recommendation effort!

Still, what Noah Kagan reminds us is that the kinds of tools we build here are nothing without the brain that uses them. One of the biggest risks is to rely too much on optimization tools, up to a point where you could ask your editors to simply write as much content as they can (or even emulate them with robots), letting the platform running a/b or multivariate to pick against the combinations of as many variations the ones that bring the best results. Yes we can do that, but, without the brain picking the right variations, it will go nowhere. It will only generate ever increasing big data and consume computing time as well as human data-scientist time!

Marketing  can only work when you first have well-inspired choices

This approach is dangerous and this might hurt our industry. The risk is that we might not deliver on the promises we generate. Tools and methods like A/B testing or even Marketing Automation can only work when you first have well-inspired choices that you consider interesting, but different, and you want to test them. There might be no need to compare in too much detail small variations, and the game is certainly not to compare all possible variations.

 By giving too much credit to machines, we might put ourselves, web professionals, in danger. If we want our tools to bring value we should clearly say how, and the very important prerequisite is to have digital marketers, creative people and writers crafting content and campaigns with inspiration and intuition. No, the Data-scientists and their robots certainly have not taken over the online marketing arena.

As long as we are always conscious of that, and keep room for it, the technology we will craft will deliver very high value that really helps businesses.

And to conclude on this topic, here is a fresh look at Singularity,

3 thoughts on “Digital Marketing Robots won’t do the job for us…

  1. dtw7

    Roland you bring up a very good point that is all too often lost on the more analytical minded professional – the professional that believes all things can be measured and from that measurement a rule of action can be one of the outcomes.

    Using a marketing information system designed to support marketing decisions is no doubt important but it is still only a tool.

    Jobber (2007) defined a marketing information system or marketing automation solution as we call it today as a “system in which marketing data is formally gathered, stored, analyzed and distributed to managers in accordance with their informational needs on a regular basis.”

    And Kotler, et al. in 2006 defined it more broadly as “people, equipment, and procedures to gather, sort, analyze, evaluate, and distribute needed, timely, and accurate information to marketing decision makers.”

    NOTE to self: in both cases there is emphasis on the people portion, the implied intuitive portion of marketing in this era of digital marketing.

    Today digital marketing greatly enhances the implementation and the successful outcome of the 4P’s, product, placement (or the distribution of product), pricing and promotion … but still we need to understand the why’s and use our own intuition to get there!!

    Marketing participants often employ strategic models and tools to analyze marketing decisions. When beginning a strategic analysis, the 3Cs
    The Customer
    The Competitors
    The Corporation
    or is it the 6Cs (adding in)
    can be employed to get a broad understanding of the strategic environment. An Ansoff Matrix is also often used to convey an organization’s strategic positioning of their marketing mix. Coupling this with the 4Ps can then be utilized to form a marketing plan to pursue a defined strategy.

    IMHO real-life marketing primarily revolves around the application of a great deal of common-sense. Marketing managers use intuition and experience to analyze data (digital marketing data included) and handle the complex, and unique, situations or opportunities they encounter.

    I will stop now as I am only echoing your thoughts and this is your blog …

    Great work – keep it coming – thank you,

  2. Nicolas Pastorino (@jeanvoye)

    Cool one Roland.

    Full disclaimer for other readers than Roland: Roland has been, and now is again a colleague of mine, and I am leading Online Marketing and Community Management in our company, eZ Systems ( ).

    Chiming-in on this topic I find truly interesting, as it points out the very way to make a difference in marketing, but also more generally in business: the human touch.

    The exact quote I often cite is the following: “If you’re not measuring marketing, you’re not marketing”, the meaning of which is quite different from the interpretation you propose: “Marketing is nothing without measurement”. I am happy that you put this in up a blog-post and detailed your interpretation of my words: this led me to realize that we think alike on this topic, and should maybe speak in French more often 🙂

    At a glance, the dissertation on how this quote reflects what I think is an efficient conception of marketing: Marketing without metrics is not marketing, but Marketing is far from being only metrics. In other words, metrics are a necessary, but not sufficient condition to Marketing.

    There is plenty of room for the human touch, what makes a real difference. A recent example is an excuse email I sent to our entire contact base after having sent a previous one containing erroneous information. The excuse was written in a funny tone, casual, bringing the corrected information and a few bonuses. It got a far better opening rate that the initial one, got a handful of direct replies of recipients who found this second email amusing and had a great laugh.

    The contrary approach is pure-gut-feeling marketing, or business, relying solely on intuition, or irrelevant metrics. Example of such:
    * Tracking only traffic stats in Online Marketing,
    * Tracking only top-line growth at Business level.
    The best part of these two metrics is that people actually believe they have business-driving data at hand and base decisions on them, while these often carry little meaning on their own.

    This is inherent to business, and not only Marketing. Here are two examples of this difference made on the human touch, between companies doing similar business but looking very different in many respects:
    – Southwest Airlines vs. RyanAir: RyanAir is transparent about its initial spark: copy Southwest, in Europe. The outcome is: two very different companies, although having the exact same underlying business-driving metrics,
    – Marks & Spencer vs. Inditex: the former does not put the employees in the value-chain, the latter prevailed in the clothing business by building an extremely agile value chain around employees, their input (Zara).

    Still, both companies rely extensively on metrics and data to drive business, and probably would be anywhere without them today.

    The “Robots won’t rule the world” trend has been widely acknowledged quite some time ago by Google: conversational channels (can hardly be robotized) like social media are now prime influencers of SEO performance.

    Happy if you correct the quote in your initial post Roland,


    1. Roland Post author

      Hi Nico,

      Thanks, sorry for transforming your words 🙂 to me the idea is though very much the same – if your marketing ‘is nothing’, you’re not marketing…
      I changed your words 😉



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