Today’s consumer is an online social butterfly, flitting between platforms and devices, checking out flash sales, scrolling through the news, ordering groceries, and researching travel. Reaching them at the right moment on their complex consumer journey is both critical and daunting for marketers. To glean insights and identify and connect with customers in this crowded space, agencies and advertisers are increasingly turning to artificial intelligence (AI).
With finite talent resources, giving a larger role to digital tools helps marketers expand what’s achievable. Not only does AI help agencies move clients’ businesses and strategies forward by powering results, but leveraging AI can help alleviate time-consuming and repetitive tasks. In fact, over 80% of advertisers are now using Google’s AI-powered bidding to improve ad performance.
For a closer look at how agencies are approaching this new mindset, we asked three agency leaders who’ve seen success with AI-driven campaigns to give their perspectives on why AI is crucial for keeping their clients competitive.
Test, learn, and iterate
Agencies are the key drivers behind embracing and testing new AI-driven solutions that clients might not be ready to adopt on their own. However, it often requires a mindset shift, as some clients are cautious about embracing AI. “I’ve heard ‘but if we’re automating this, what will we do?’ numerous times from both clients and team members,” says Hailey Smith, senior director, head of search and performance analytics at Reprise Digital. “But by highlighting the more engaging ways we can invest our time once we’re using AI, we have alleviated this concern.”
One of the key ways to bring clients on board is to create a robust testing plan. “Hand-in-hand with a greater adoption of automation is a greater emphasis on testing,” says Smith. “Our team has pivoted towards more rigorous methodologies and test frameworks as an important investment of our time. This sets us up for an effective rollout and ensures clients are part of the process and feel fully informed.” Reprise Digital also develops annual testing playbooks built collaboratively with clients, and iterates as the year progresses.
Dennis Lui, group account director at Publicis Media, has found that identifying clear business objectives with the client and building pilot programs for testing has accelerated the transition to using Google’s AI. “We introduced using broad match keywords to one of our largest retail clients. This required a transformational shift from previous best practices of tightly controlled campaigns to the acceptance of machine learning to optimize for conversions,” explains Lui. “With the accounts on 100% Smart Bidding, we designed a pilot on one account to test the efficacy of broad match.” Lui says once the test proved successful, the team scaled broad match across all accounts. The results spoke for themselves: incremental clicks increased by 68% and incremental conversions by 74% from queries that wouldn’t have matched with exact and phrase match keywords. “It was having the agility and openness to take that first step from changing what we knew worked, to what we now know works better.”
Leverage productivity benefits
Jeff Bentley, head of search for GroupM, shares the positive impact of AI on his team’s productivity as well as on driving business forward. “Google’s AI has saved our team countless hours, ultimately freeing up time to focus on tasks with higher order impact for our clients’ businesses.” Together with Google, GroupM developed a number of AI-driven Search solutions, eliminating some of the most labour-intensive tasks encountered by its teams. By maximizing the potential of its people and driving efficiency, GroupM was able to focus on priorities with a greater strategic value — which is particularly valuable in light of a potential economic downturn when many clients are keen to achieve more with less.
At Reprise Digital, the team has identified an immensely valuable, but less recognized, benefit of Google’s AI-powered ad tools — an improvement on the team’s psyche and well-being. “We had committed to a widespread effort to mitigate repetitive, manual tasks for our teams. This is coming to life through automation,” says Smith. “The goal is to maximize the joy that Reprisers get out of their day-to-day and to create more time in schedules, which can be reinvested into two forms of upskilling: best-in-class work and personal growth.”
Establish trust and shared goals
When it comes to the uptake of new digital tools, understanding business objectives and building client trust is essential for successful collaboration. Reprise Digital partnered with one of its largest clients to test how Google’s AI-powered solutions could help overcome a long-standing business challenge. “There had always been a disconnect between media results and business results for this client — so there was the constant difficulty of one group thinking they achieved the month’s KPI while the other saw a shortcoming,” says Smith.
When [the client] realized the efficiency gained through our efforts, they were all in on AI going forward
The team overcame this obstacle by connecting their client’s first-party data to Search Ads 360 to allow for more advanced digital optimization. Integrating the data meant more informed and effective automated bidding, and provided an opportunity for a robust A/B testing plan. The outcome was a big success: “We increased the value of the conversions we were driving (return on ad spend increased 104% versus the control), as well as the cost of conversions driven (cost per acquisition decreased by 50% versus the control).”
During one of their brainstorming sessions with a large client, GroupM shared examples of performance improvements made possible through Google’s AI. The team then proposed a dynamic creative optimization (DCO) solution for the client. This approach combined Search Ads 360’s business data, bulksheet management, and ad builder features with Google Sheets, allowing Search Ads 360 to dynamically create and manage responsive search ads at scale. This solution, all managed from a single Google Sheet, allowed GroupM’s teams to ensure that ad copy was consistently up to date with the latest promotional offer. “The client was initially hesitant to commit to such an undertaking, but when they realized the efficiency gained through our efforts, they were all in on AI going forward,” says Bentley.
Unlock the full potential of AI
AI-driven campaigns have emerged as a table stakes requirement for agencies and their clients. To help shift mindsets and demonstrate value, agencies should build on the core principles of cultivating client trust, adopting a test-and-learn approach, and delivering on clear business goals. Applying AI-powered solutions is no longer the way of the future — it’s the way of today.