The age of automation: Why the human element is more important than ever

Chewy Tang / February 2020

In an era of automation, it might surprise you to discover that the human element still has a huge role to play. It might be even more surprising to learn that lesson from the founder of a company whose product can make over 90 million performance updates to Google Ads campaigns in a calendar year.

The age of automation: Why the human element is more important than ever

“Being able to ask clients the right questions is key,” says Morten Barkfeld, co-founder and CEO of Keywordio — a Swedish agency that specialises in automated search advertising. “This is the human element that automation or machine learning can’t replicate.”

Barkfeld’s journey in the digital realm, from Googler to CEO of an ad technology company, has given him plenty of invaluable experience when it comes to the human touch required to make automation work as well as possible.

Adapting to ‘the biggest change in digital marketing’

The digital world is in a constant state of flux; automation and machine learning capabilities are always evolving. “When I started in 2010, of course there were computers, but software, I would say, was in its infancy,” says Barkfeld. “For me, automation has been the biggest change in digital marketing since I’ve been in the industry.”

One of the important challenges for Keywordio is aligning the automation on offer with their clients’ needs, especially when those needs regularly change. “Clients may approach you and have their target, the strategy they wish to pursue. But after almost every Keywordio client meeting, we come out with different goals.”

“For example, we’ve found that when mobile websites don't work well, the conversion rates for our clients are five times lower than those that are optimised,” explains Barkfeld. Automation or AI won’t solve this, but a sometimes difficult conversation with a client, where you outline the need for them to be optimised for mobile, will.

You can talk about B2B or B2C, but in the end, it's all human to human.

Asking the right questions

Of course, while there’s no point in using technology for the sake of using it, there’s equally no benefit in having conversations without a purpose. A recent example for Keywordio happened during a Black Friday campaign.

“One of our clients, a telecommunications company, had one of their best Black Fridays to date,” says Barkfeld. “This happened because we asked the right questions and, by doing so, we found that where they thought they were going, wasn’t actually the way they wanted to go.

“We told them, if you just look at Google Ads, you can say ‘I want to get a return on investment of this’ or ‘I want to get a cost per conversion of, say, €50’, okay? But you may exclude the people who are coming back to your website through direct or organic, and they may tell their friends and so forth.

“So, our client underestimated the return effect, because Google coincides with other channels and impacts them. By asking them what their return effect was, and then changing the targets, we got 50% more conversions and a 27% lower cost per acquisition (CPA).

“We did that by asking the client the right questions and then using our product, instead of just saying, ‘Oh, the target is €50? Okay, we'll run after €50.’”

The power of automation

Where automation proves its worth, however, is its ability to keep up with the ever-changing nature of seasonal campaigns. Where once we had Black Friday, now it’s Black Weekend, and soon it will probably be Black Week.

“In 2019, over the Black Friday weekend we made 10 million changes to our clients’ various campaigns. Next year that could double,” says Barkfeld. And while no human could keep up with that pace of change, the beauty of automation or machine learning is that it can handle so many subtle changes, across a range of campaigns.

This extends to automation in business intelligence, too — using sophisticated software to analyse data and uncover invaluable hidden insights, and then applying them to campaigns. The power of automation is ever-growing and certainly something to be embraced.

“But there’s only so far you can rely on software,” says Barkfeld. “You need to have a conversation and figure out your strategy with the client, and engage in custom-built software that isn't one size fits all, and take it from there.”

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