July 22, 2024

KT Business

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AI For Digital Marketing: Playing Field Leveller Or The Cause Of More Divide?

4 min read

Artificial Intelligence within digital marketing is not a new phenomenon. Back in 2011 Google launched Dynamic Search Ads, a format that could take your organic page listings to generate paid ads for relevant searches. Google’s Smart Bidding algorithm was launched in 2018 (do you feel old yet?).

Fast forward to today and AI-enabled campaigns are second nature to any digital marketer, but at the same time it feels like it is just the beginning given the advancements in bidding algorithms and breakthroughs with Generative AI.

The modern marketing campaign is a black-box of unknowns, or the more optimistically phrased “plug and play” – depending on which side of the debate you sit on. Media giants like Google, Meta and Amazon are investing billions of dollars into the development of AI and making it widely available for their advertisers.

Meta already has a suite of AI-enabled tools, such as Advantage+ Creative, which will automatically generate different versions of your ad to personalise to different users. Next year this will expand and advertisers will be able to use Gen AI to change background images or write new ad copy – something inconceivable this time last year.

Paid-for AI technology is also becoming more accessible and cost effective. Code Interpreter is a ChatGPT plug-in which makes data analysis and visualisation effortless. Canva launched a host of Gen AI features, meaning businesses can create new assets with no prior design experience. Midjourney has also seen phenomenal growth. All are easy to use and, on average, cost less than a Netflix subscription.

It is the accessibility and simplicity of AI that creates a lot of opportunities for businesses. SMEs don’t need a bloated marketing team or a deep understanding of bidding auctions to find success in digital advertising.

Instead there are seamless integrations between e-commerce platforms, content creation tech and the marketing platforms themselves. You assign a budget and a goal, and the likes of Google and Meta will do the rest. In this sense the playing field is becoming more even.

But what are the risks with these developments? As a social media user, I am increasingly frustrated by the lack of creativity in ads. I show a strong intent by visiting a particular website and then I am bombarded with ads for similar websites – when all ads feel the same it gets pretty boring very quickly.

As a marketer, I find it difficult to give over so much control. A plug and play mentality is great for businesses testing the water, but for those who have a deep understanding of their customer base and the user journey, black-box algorithms are not always effective. AI cannot replace creativity and originality.

As media platforms release more AI-enabled campaign features, it’s interesting to see advertisers recovering some of this control. “We’ve listened to your feedback” – one media partner, who I leave unnamed, cried when presenting their latest AI development.

Those using Demand Gen from Google can once again select the audience they want to target. Alternatively with Meta’s Advantage+ Shopping Campaigns, you can now guide the algorithm by telling it the value of different audience signals. It is within this control and the ability to leverage business intelligence where we will start to see more sophisticated advertisers thrive. Here are 3 key areas where businesses can gain a competitive edge in the age of AI:

Unlocking creativity

Rather than investing in Gen AI to cut costs, astute businesses will use it to spark creativity. Tools like Midjourney will help with the inception stage, freeing up time for creative testing and innovation. Ads that feel true to the brand will cut through the noise and win users attention. Gen AI will also create an agility not often seen with more traditional businesses, allowing them to easily jump on cultural trends or adjust based on performance insights.

Bidding for what matters

Smarter data activation allows businesses to be more impactful with their marketing budgets. A competitive edge will be found by businesses who optimise for business outcomes. For an ecommerce business, this could mean optimising for profit over revenue, or leverage stock data to stop serving products with low inventory or high return rates.

For a subscription business, it could mean optimising for customer lifetime value or users who stay beyond a free trial. This allows for more competitive bids for the right users, ultimately outcompeting businesses only focused on short term acquisition costs.

Knowing your audience

Predictive modelling can inform marketing strategies to improve customer lifetime value, and there are many out of the box solutions that allow businesses to get a deeper understanding of their customer base in this way. But those wanting a competitive edge will need to go beyond stock solutions.

This means investing in data scientists to understand more nuanced audience signals and micro-conversions. These insights should feed into other parts of the business from creative development, to the content strategy, to the user journey.

I am excited by the recent developments in AI, and by what is already on the horizon. I advocate for anything that lowers a barrier to entry and in this case it means more brands get to reach their prospective audience.

I also welcome the challenge it puts on more established advertisers to stand out and test new ways of working within marketing. While AI may level the playing field for advertisers, only those who harness its power for innovation will thrive. Embrace AI, not just to cut costs, but to create opportunities that ensure you set yourself apart from the competition.

Jess Dickenson, COO of Precis


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