The Impact Of Artificial Intelligence On The Future Of The Digital Agency

Every company is in the process of understanding how artificial intelligence (AI) will affect their industry. It can be intimidating and even discomforting to consider the consequences of using machines to make decisions. But if there’s an industry that should be comfortable with this potential shift, it’s the marketing industry.

Making decisions based on data isn’t a new concept. It’s long been at the core of any successful marketing strategy or campaign, including at my own agency. So how can digital agencies use their data literacy to take full advantage of AI? And perhaps more importantly, how can digital agencies use AI to improve agency culture and even inspire innovation?

Digital Agencies Are Already Using AI

Before we dive in, let’s first specify what we mean when we talk about AI. In the context of digital marketing, AI is closely tied to machine learning, where computer systems are capable of learning and improving performance through data analysis without human intervention.

One example of AI already in action can be seen in programmatic media buying using a demand-side platform (DSP) such as Google’s DoubleClick Bid Manager. The programmatic buying platform incorporates a variety of AI features, including automated targeting using real-time bidding models, a simplified buying process, automated budget pacing, and real-time reporting and optimization toward the key performance indicator a campaign manager selects. AI can also be used in serving dynamic creative, as algorithms begin to learn which audiences respond to various creative versions or featured products.

Another example of digital agencies integrating AI into their operations is the use of ad rotation settings in Google AdWords. When using the “optimize” setting, the machine learning technology prioritizes search ads that are statistically more likely to perform more efficiently based on keywords, search term, device and location, among other variables.

Tools like Google Analytics are great for collecting data, but similar to DoubleClick, the real value in AI is its ability to analyze that data and endorse strategic action. PaveAI, for example, is doing more than simply communicating information through graphs and charts. It’s using statistical models to recommend actions that are focused on generating leads and sales as opposed to site traffic.

Facebook has also been a major proponent of AI, with a global team (Facebook AI Research, or “FAIR”) dedicated to helping communities further understand how automated systems and processes can achieve human-level intelligence. Despite the fact that Facebook has recently severed ties with many third-party data providers as a result of its public shakeup, AI-influenced advertising campaigns (“smart ads”) on the social media giant’s pages are still impactful when we consider the wealth of targeting information users explicitly make available to Facebook.

It’s important to note that many applications of AI are still in their infancy, and that’s especially true in the content marketing arena. While organizations like the Associated Press are using algorithms to produce basic content like stock reports, we’re likely still a long way from replacing the entire creative process. But many agencies are exploring how AI can help their content marketing, and some are already delivering personalized content at scale based on collected data and analysis.

AI And A New Agency Culture

Discussing the implications of AI can certainly raise a few eyebrows in the workplace. There are plenty of misconceptions surrounding AI, and perhaps the most prominent misunderstanding is that it will lead to employee layoffs. While not every position is immune to these concerns, the primary objective of using AI for digital marketing is to automate rudimentary tasks like data collection, processing and reporting. From my perspective, the idea is that automating these tasks doesn’t lead to layoffs; it leads to more efficient processes and more time for people to focus on strategic planning.

Let’s consider an employee who spends 16 hours a week processing and reporting data that is collected through common marketing tools. This employee first must process the data, which is simply understanding the information that has been gathered. The employee then analyzes the data, looking for trends, inaccuracies or incongruities. The employee draws conclusions and gives recommendations based on their experience and analysis of the data. This process requires extensive experience and an in-depth understanding of statistics, cause and effect, and historical trends.

If this process was automated through AI and/or machine learning, the agency could benefit from the same accurate and reliable data analysis provided by the employee. While the employee was hired in part for their data literacy, it’s more likely they were hired for their marketing expertise, ability to reason, creativity and business instincts.

In my opinion, this is where the agency stands to gain the most from effective AI integration. With 16 hours a week now available, the employee is free to focus on the critical thinking that leads to improved client campaign performance, experiment with new approaches and build meaningful relationships with colleagues and clients. This concept extends to every branch of the agency, fostering a culture where executives, human resources, management and employees are leading and innovating for the benefit of the agency and its clients.

Digital agencies are in a unique position because of their experience and expertise in understanding and using data to make business decisions. Based on what I have seen, many agencies have already been using AI and machine learning to optimize ads and personalize the customer experience — with positive results. This experience allows those at the forefront to quickly adapt to the effects of AI on their industry.

While AI can be a worrisome topic, it actually presents an amazing opportunity for agencies to help their employees, not replace them. Automating simple tasks gives employees time to focus on the primary business objectives of their clients in order to help them succeed. When this theory is applied across the entire agency, I believe a culture of innovation and progress can take hold — pushing the agency, its clients and the entire industry forward in a way that wasn’t possible before.


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