'Driverless' Marketing: Is Digital Marketing Automation Heading the Right way?

Las Vegas’ 2017 Consumer Electronics Show explored the road to driverless mobility. Self-driving technology is promising better use of your time while arriving at your destination safely. One of the show’s highlights was BMW’s advanced i Vision Future Technology, featuring added sensors that recognise hand gestures. It is marketing/advertising technologies’ vision to understand complex signals from the consumer and within the marketplace, to drive marketing to defined goals (semi-)autonomously – unlocking valuable resources for the ‘driver’. While programmatic is leading the way for AI-powered integrated marketing, the line between martech and ad tech is blurring. Writing exclusively for ExchangeWire, Daniel Skoda, managing partner, Adlicious, cautions, don’t get lost in wrong turns on the road to ‘driverless’ marketing.

As with the autonomous car, there are questions of definitions. Similar to the cars of the future, there are various levels of automation in digital marketing – and, of course, there are risk factors. Will the technology correctly understand consumer signals and steer advertising dollars effectively towards the target? What if the signals are misinterpreted in more complex, ‘high-speed’ tasks?

'Level zero' cars do not possess self-driving technology – while there’s no digital marketing without some automatisation. 'Level one' cars have adaptive cruise control (ACC); advertising technology allows budgeting – pacing, for instance. 'Level two': (limited) ‘hands-off’ driving which keeps you on the right track; in your marketing, at this level, ad tech can steer your message to the right target audience.

Clearly, that is effective technology, established for anyone in, and relying on, the marketing industry. A ‘hands-off’ approach to old-school, manual campaign duties (like media placement) allows focusing on driving your business faster and further. Still, you need to ensure there's traction, as system settings still need to be understood and adjusted by a professional – as a capable driver you bear responsibility for your actions.

Innovation in cars at levels three and four will allow you to take your eyes of the road short-term and focus on something pressing, or even go to ‘autopilot’ for an extended period, relying on data and signals from maps, sensors, and traffic information. Known as ‘without eyes’ and ‘without sense’ for automotive, it’s not possible to imagine we’d allow our marketing dollars to flow without these human controls.

Daniel Skoda, Adlicious talks programmatic in Germany

Daniel Skoda, Managing Partner, Adlicious

Self-driving technology at higher levels is meant to free the driver from time-consuming tasks, like driving from junction A to junction B on the motorway. This is heavily dependent on information from outside your own driver’s seat – the level of risk due to possible misinformation becomes obvious. Furthermore, the technical requirements are high when it comes to connectivity, AI, and servomotors.

In marketing, to get from A, analysis to B, budget allocation, technology can provide valuable segmentation on an automated basis. We’re driving into the land which is generally referred to as martech. Chris Le May figured out that this country’s main resource is data. Is it worthwhile and safe for your business to invest there? For your (at this point, digital) marketing mix, how do you arrive at your goal, without accidents and wrong turns? When will the tech be capable of driving you to your ultimate KPI goal – if ever?

Google, Oracle, and IBM invest an impressive USD$25bn (£17bn) per year in R&D. In comparison, the German car industry alone invests USD$40bn (£27.4bn) per year in R&D – while predictions on when 'level five', fully self-driving cars, could dominate our roads are somewhere around 2030-2040. And do not underestimate the complexity of automated marketing. Yes, Google/Alphabet invest in automotive technology.

In the world of marketing, all proper ‘outward signals’ for going driverless – to at least some degree – are yet to be discovered. Vast amounts of sensors are present in ad tech, but are they placed and configured correctly? How should consumer signals be interpreted, weighed, and factored into budgeting decisions? You don’t want to take the wrong turn and miss out on valuable marketing opportunities because the system doesn’t fully understand the digital map and consumer movement on it.

The programmatic ecosystem is a dispersed marketplace. Connecting a DMP to a DSP doesn’t do the job – there are more than two dimensions to be understood and managed for an effective consumer dialogue. Data collection and processing are one part (aside from legal implementations), but how do you put together sensor data with the appropriate steering of those servomotors, which get and keep digital marketing on the right track – while beating the competition, and not running into vendor dependency?

‘Hands-off’ is proven and tested for numerous sections of the road; but as the marketing driver you’ll have to understand how the automated jobs connect, to keep steering and knowing your way throughout the digital ride. Personal expertise, distinguished situational judgement, and extensive knowledge of the economic and technical world around your vehicle will save you from getting lost or being overtaken.