Secret Marketer: Automation risks sidelining marketers’ key asset – intuition

The surge towards marketing automation and programmatic is eradicating our ability to use intuition.

Just before Christmas, I commented on my perspective of what makes a world-class client CMO by talking about leadership and orchestration. I used to believe there was a third skill – great judgement – but recent developments have made me think again about that.

Take procurement departments, which are the scourge of many marketers and many more agencies.

Although we have recently seen PepsiCo abolish the role of marketing procurement, this is the exception to the rule and most brands are seeing an increasing jurisdiction for their procurement colleagues. So why is this? Well, they bring a greater level of consistency and objectivity to what has always been a slightly subjective field. Yet for many, this can be seen as an erosion in the confidence of the CMO to make the right decision about the agency that they want to work with.

But this is not new. I remember working in the financial services sector in the 1990s when credit scoring was introduced to lending decisions as a means to ‘help’ bank managers make the right decisions with regard to their customers, spawning the catchphrase ‘computer says no’.

Back to the present, we have seen a surge towards marketing automation and programmatic. The argument for this is that it’s possible to instruct a computer to make the type of decisions that marketers have been making since the dawn of time.

Although this is certainly true, it has also led to a growth in poor targeting and failures to recognise a customer’s illogical responses by a non-thinking computer, which I have ridiculed so often in this column.

Recently, we have seen an increasing number of companies dropping names and qualifications from their application process in order to try to eliminate ‘unconscious bias’ in their recruitment by removing knowledge of where candidates went to school or university.

All of this is in an attempt to remove subjectivity and to systematise everything, but, more worryingly, it is also eradicating the notion of managerial judgement in decision making.

When I talk to my agencies, the one plea that they have is that I train my team to be able to judge great creative. But even here, hall tests, trials and, of course, what the chairman’s wife (or husband) thinks have always been present to scupper the most intuitive of CMO recommendations.

I wonder what 2016 holds in store for us ever-greying marketing directors.

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