Art versus science – is modern marketing losing its creative soul to automation?

Marketing has always been about creative campaigns. However, the demand to monitor, measure and evaluate concrete data has intensified. Results are more easily quantified, thanks to advances in technology and the ascendance of social media. In turn, the return on investment can be calculated and assessed more accurately.

Data demonstrates how well the creative is resonating with audiences and success is defined by what the data says. Yet still it’s ultimately the creative which helps grab people’s attention and hopefully provokes them to absorb the marketing message.

Nonetheless, marketing automation – simply software that prioritises and executes all those repetitive mundane tasks such as email, social media updates and posts – is a blessing as long as the technology you choose is fit for purpose.

The benefits are many. Automation allows personalised actions to be scaled, which not only saves time but also optimises resources and helps speed up the sales cycle.

It enables marketers to speak to each customer with the right content at the right time, making them feel like they are personally known by the brand. Email campaigns are therefore far more accurate and relevant to each individual, taking a lot of the guesswork out of the equation. That increased authentic engagement – the foundation of customer relationships – can result in higher open rates, which helps businesses capture more leads, and ultimately conversions.

Automation also allows the marketer to still be active on social, for instance Twitter and LinkedIn, at all hours of the day. And it can help with effective upselling with add-ons recommended to the customer when making a main purchase.

Past purchase data allows specific targeting of offers and upsells based on previous buying patterns. Moreover, insight into customer’s activity can be monitored on your website so if a visitor goes to your pricing page and downloads your price guide then you know that individual is very engaged with your service or product. With those triggers, automation can ping a very targeted email, suggesting a product demonstration.

In fact, using triggers can prevent unhappy customers becoming even more unhappy. Marketing automation can help identify those people who need additional attention – something that’s impossible to do at scale without automation.

With this increased use of science, is marketing becoming less of an art? It’s always been a mix of the two but the increasing demand for new quantitative skills directly linked to the rapid evolution of technology has intensified. Data-driven marketing has become the focus. You only have to look at the job specs for new recruits today.

Yet excellent marketing still needs the creative, strategic insight – a blending of art with science to increase brand authority and influence, protect reputation and drive revenue. A key challenge for Chief Marketing Officers is to get the technology right – in other words which software packages to use – but ultimately strategy still needs to determine its usage.

Take website optimisation, also known as A/B testing, as an example. Technology is used to compare two versions of a web page to check which one performs better. The right creative and messaging still needs to be developed but the tech part ensures your efforts hit the right notes with the audience. Technology actually enhances the opportunities to be creative by enabling marketers to understand which channels to use for differing messages, whether for instance video content will work and where to place it.

In terms of search and qualifying leads for business to business (B2B) organisations, automation can be particularly helpful. For example, if your SEO attracts attention, you can use automation to pre-qualify, manage and nurture inbound enquiries, then segment your audiences and set up alerts.

Automation can also be used holistically to manage the whole sales cycle in B2B, from your marketing and communications, through to Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and sales. Concrete systems and workflows can be managed precisely via a calendar which allows the marketer to know exactly when to inject the ‘art’ and ‘thinking’ to rejuvenate client relationships. In effect, the creative process has become automated.

In short, marketing starts with the creative because, without it, there would be no campaigns to actually measure and evaluate. Technology alongside concrete data helps shape and focus the ideas in a more systematic way. It’s a symbiotic relationship, art and science cannot live without each other. And if either art or science were to ever tip the balance completely, marketing would definitely be the loser.

Mungo Park, Co-founder of London-based content marketing agency