Optimizing by Head or Heart

As marketing technology grows, we have to expand our focus and pay special attention to deliver long term value to our campaigns. We no longer have to make assumptions about our audience and user behavior. In fact, the fastest growing segment in online advertising are technologies that enable optimization, location targeting, and user behavior targeting. The most interesting part is the exploration of artificial intelligence and that the majority of this technology is homegrown.

When I first started exploring internet advertising, it seemed like the possibilities were endless. Marketing plans could be created and launched during a single afternoon meeting. By dinner you were live and looking at web logs to pull the data into a spreadsheet to visualize your stats. Alarm clocks were set for a few hours to remind you to launch the second banner and start an A/B test to test which design performed better. Usually the banner with blinking or marquee text with bright colors won!

I think back to the dingy dark room where I executed so many campaigns and can’t help but laugh about the huge CRT monitor I bought for way too much money (despite the fact that it was the envy of all my friends). The desktop computer that I snapped together out of the best components money could buy, sat on a curved desk where I kept my Motorola RAZR flip phone. It was the golden age of digital marketing when ICQ numbers had six digits and instant messengers had obnoxious notifications but we were converting 100 raw clicks to a sale. Ironically, the conversion rate was so good and the money came so easy that most of us left a fortune on the table by not working smarter.

The strategy at the time was to generate free content that engaged users and then advertise a similar premium content product. The idea was to get your user to return to your website every day, if not a few times a week. Traffic trades were rampant where you could ‘trade’ that unique user or click with a partner website for their user and hope the he or she had not already visited your site. Analytics were nearly nonexistent. The best insight came from using a third party tracker to count clicks.

Today, in milliseconds, a computer knows where you are, what device you are using, and there is a better than good chance that it knows your name and favorite color. With a proprietary algorithm and some elbow grease, intelligent marketing will tell you what you want to buy, if it’s a tangible product, how many of your friends own it, and that you can have it delivered to any location in two days or less. Automatically, marketing software will deliver a creative advertisement that will guarantee an action from you and with a small amount of engagement from you, you will buy that product.

Engineers, programmers, analysts, and graphic designers will collaborate and build out hundreds of marketing campaigns and load them onto a server. Powerful software will begin testing each possibility and combination, create prediction models, calculations, and the algorithm will decide the exact image or video to convince you to take an action that will bring a benefit.

The question I have today, has automated optimization and artificial intelligence killed creativity?

We used to brainstorm for hours to come up with the new idea, or at least perfect an idea that would entertain and engage users. It could have been an inside joke or some obscure pop culture reference that was amusing because we had been looking at the same screen for too many hours. Or perhaps a concept that began while we were sitting at the coffee shop and started taking notes on a napkin because we didn’t want to forget the next million dollar idea. Brainstorming sessions before optimization technology birthed some of the highest converting banners and landing pages and concepts that are still used today.

In today’s market, you can optimize any advertising campaign even before it is loaded on a website. The results can literally double and triple your performance without having to manually adjust anything. Is the quick revenue and huge improvements keeping us from the next great idea? When is the good the enemy of the best?

Sean Christian