Why Automation Won’t Take the Place of Creativity in Brand Marketing

You know that gut-wrenching scene in Steven Spielberg’s movie A.I. Artificial Intelligence? The one where Haley Joel Osment’s character David—a young robotic boy programmed to love—is abandoned in the woods by his adopted mother in an effort to save him from being destroyed?

He calls out to her, pleading and proclaiming that if Pinocchio could become a real boy, so could he. She tries to quiet him, positing that what he’s referencing is only a story. To which he thoughtfully responds, “But a story tells what happens.”

If you’re not surprised that I’ve managed to tie-in such a relevant motion picture to this article, you should be surprised by the fact that this is not the first time I’ve found a way to mention Haley Joel Osment in an introduction.

Your amazement aside, David wasn’t wrong. Stories hold a great deal of power below the surface; power to influence and change projected outcomes. Fake news, anyone?

What’s important to explore, for the sake of creativity in marketing and digital strategy, is whether it can be replicated by a machine for the sake of efficiencies. Is human ingenuity and idea just another task to be automated?

What is Marketing Automation?

Automation in the world of marketing can be understood across any number of channels—from email to content creation, SEO to ad placements. It serves to more effectively and efficiently connect brands to their online audiences through the translation of data. In theory, through highly personalized content, companies are able to more readily foster customer experiences that convert.

This is typically realized through the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning. To understand language and produce solutions, two technologies in particular often work in tandem:

  • Natural language generation (NLG) is a process by which structure data is turned into text.
  • Natural language processing (NLP) is the analyzing of language by machine, both spoken and written.

While this type of technology has become advanced enough to write almost-award-winning novels, it’s not completely autonomous. Human vision still has a role to play.

A blurry image of a group of women talking to each other.

The Power of Personality

As they exist today, many marketing automation tools make decisions based on events. If this, then that.

They can label and group interactions into definiable customer groups and deliver personalized experiences accordingly—but the lack of true understanding remains. On top of that, what person is ever static and unchanging in their needs and pain points?

When said machine created its novel and submitted it for literary review, it wasn’t without human supervision and guidance. A team of developers set the parameters. They were the ideators steering the ship that took its course.

Translating Data vs. Telling a Story Through Data

There’s a difference between translating data into meaningful insights and using those insights to create a story worth taking action on. Consider for a moment the story of Snickers, Milky Way, and a theory referred to as Jobs-to-be-Done.

When Mars, Snickers, and Milky Way brands were both struggling to drive sales, the first plan of action was to pit them against each other and retire the candy loser. The data showed an equivalent sense of desire (or lack thereof) for both, creating the assumption that reasons for purchase were the same as well.

However, when consumers were interviewed further, a new realization came to be. The Snickers bar was often purchased in times of hunger, while Milky Ways were a form of indulgence.

This understanding led to a complete shift in Snickers’ advertising tactics, focusing less on the qualities of the candy bar itself and more on the outcomes of its ability to satisfy an appetite. Snickers is now known as the highest-selling candy bar of all time; a result of human curiosity, interaction, and creative problem-solving—not automated machines.

A woman is holding a tablet with a graph on it.

The Type of Content is Key

Brand marketing functions effectively as a result of both data-driven audience insights and the messaging that results because of them. While automation tools in marketing may be able to achieve both, their ability to do so across a variety of content types is still limited. It’s the creativity of humans that brings podcasts, videos, and interactive events to life.

Content (and all that is brand marketing) is multifaceted, mirroring the many ways in which you can connect and empathize with another emotion-driven being. The ability of artificial intelligence to produce written words that manages to do such is one thing, but it will never be the whole story.

When it comes to marketing automation, agree or disagree? Will technology ever make the need for branded creativity obsolete?