What role will digital marketers play as automation through machine learning algorithms continues to replace the work they do? We had an in-depth discussion with Dennis Consorte, the CEO of Consorte Marketing to find out. Here are Consorte’s thoughts about the future of digital marketing, and what it means for people who have careers in this industry.
Please tell us about yourself and your experience in the digital marketing industry.
In 1997, I graduated from college with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and no marketable skills. With no job prospects, I picked up a book on Microsoft Office and within two weeks, I got work as an office temp. I did that for several years until a company hired me full-time. One of my tasks was to create the company website, and in that process, I learned SEO, web development, and some basic design skills. Shortly thereafter, a friend and I founded a DVD rental by mail company that held the top position on Google for our targeted keywords.
After the acquisition of our company, I began my career as a digital marketer, where I helped other companies grow their online sales, mostly through SEO, Google Adwords, affiliate marketing, an email. Over time, I became better at things like conversion-rate optimization (CRO) and applying marketing best-practices to a digital framework. I’m now a full-stack digital marketer, but my affinity has always been for developing a content strategy that ties together all aspects of the customer journey. Put simply, I’m a digital storyteller.
What is Consorte Marketing?
We are a full-service digital marketing agency that puts content at the center of every marketing strategy that we produce. SEO, pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, affiliate marketing, and social media marketing are just tactics used to pull people into the customer journey, and we apply these tactics effectively. But, quality content is what keeps people engaged, and coming back for more.
What is a “Customer Journey”?
Imagine all of the traffic to your website as groups of people being poured into the top of a funnel. They get there after they become aware of your company through Google, social media, links and advertisements on other websites, email, and referrals from other customers. Most of them get stuck in that funnel, like grinds of coffee in a filter; they have no interest in your products or services.
Those people who are interested in your offerings pass through that filter, and then through a series of other filters as they get deeper into this sales and marketing funnel. Their interest turns into consideration, and eventually, some of those people will convert into buyers. If you provide a good customer experience, then some of those people will move on to become loyal customers and vocal advocates.
There are many ways to describe the customer journey, and this sales and marketing funnel is just one of them. There’s also the marketing flywheel and other visual representations of this process. It gets really convoluted when you start injecting retargeted advertising or try to capture potential customers who are interested in your competitors. I like the funnel because it’s easy to conceptualize. There’s a linear progression from the moment a person becomes aware of your business, all the way to the point of conversion. After that, the cycle repeats.
A lot of the work in developing a digital marketing plan is done up-front, with many components automated.
Can you elaborate on some of the marketing tactics used throughout the customer journey?
Sure. Imagine that Kyle is a Millennial who has been so focused on work that he hasn’t been mindful of his diet, exercise, and overall wellness. He’s gained some weight and has a fleeting thought about living a healthier lifestyle. What does he do?
Kyle’s customer journey might begin on Google. He types in a few health and wellness keywords, clicks an organic search result, and lands on a lifestyle website like 1AND1 Life. He clicks around the website and doesn’t buy anything, but we drop a cookie on his device and he starts seeing banner ads on Facebook, and PPC ads on Google. After a few impressions, he comes back to the website and signs up for our email list.
Now, he’s getting emails that drive him to the company’s blog articles and reviews, and he’s seeing ads that are relevant to his interests. If this website had a paid subscription, then we might plug him into an email drip campaign where he receives a series of emails that drive him closer to conversion. We build interest by offering valuable information through email, and eventually hook him in with a trial offer to gain access to more valuable information.
This can be further amplified by affiliates who promote the website, using tracking links from which they earn commissions whenever a purchase is attributed to them. Depending on the attribution model used, that sale is credited to some, or all of the ways that Kyle found his way back to the website, up until the point of conversion. He may then recommend the company’s products to his friends and family, and those purchases may be attributed to him.
What’s an attribution model?
This is how a conversion (i.e., a purchase), is credited to each of the touchpoints along the customer journey. There are a few popular models.
In a last interaction attribution model, the last ad clicked before purchase would receive 100% credit for the sale. In a linear attribution model, every click would receive the same amount of credit for the sale. There are also more complicated paradigms, like time decay attribution models where the most recent clicks get the most credit, and the earliest clicks get less credit.
Generally, an affiliate will receive full commissions on the sale if it is completed within a specified timeframe, such as 30 days. However, the attribution model is used internally to calculate the return on ad spend (ROAS) for each tactic used.
You could even apply different values to clicks and impressions. These models are often compared and contrasted in order to inform decisions on ad spend and resource allocation.
This stuff can get really complicated, especially when you’re spending money on things that are hard to measure. That’s where machine learning algorithms and automation can help. Marketers set the criteria and test hypotheses, and the execution is automated. For example, with enough traffic, you can set a targeted cost per conversion in Google Adwords. Algorithms will adjust your bids on individual clicks up or down while displaying ads only to people who are most likely to engage. We used to get better results by manually adjusting these things ourselves, rather than relying on the algorithm. But, machine learning means that over time, algorithms improve, and we’re close to the point where you can just set it and forget it.
Can all of these marketing tactics be automated?
Yes, and no. Automation works best with lots of data. If you’re just starting out, then you’ll need to invest some money upfront to gather data. With enough data, there’s a lot that can be automated. For example, you can feature popular products and content on your website, which products and articles are featured in your emails, which customer segments to prioritize, and to which audiences the majority of your ads are delivered. However, a human being must build, configure, and optimize these systems. For example, a person must develop and curate new content and product offerings. Furthermore, they must also analyze results in aggregate, in order to reallocate resources while they develop new strategies. It’s best if marketing and merchandising experts make the associated decisions, but it’s true that automation is improving rapidly.
How long do you have before your job is automated out of existence?
Automation makes it easier for small business owners to do much of this work themselves. However, larger organizations need individuals and groups to own different aspects of the customer journey. Today, there are automated systems that help these groups to work cross-functionally, effectively eliminating a lot of middle-management positions. Over time, yes, it’s possible that a company’s digital marketing campaign can be automated from end to end, with minimal human interaction. When that happens, I’ll adapt.
We should enthusiastically embrace more automation. Think of the cotton gin. Though there were precursors dating back to 500 CE, Eli Whitney is generally credited with inventing the modern cotton gin used in America in 1793. Prior to that, people in the U.S. were manually separating cotton fiber from seeds. Did it put some people out of work? Sure. Did companies that could afford them have a competitive advantage while they cut their labor costs? Absolutely. But it also freed up people’s time, so that they could perform greater cognitive tasks than picking apart cotton balls.
Furthermore, automation reduced labor and by extension, reduced fabric prices. This gave poor people more access to higher-quality clothing, bedding, and other items. People became wealthier, because of the invention of the cotton gin, and society evolved.
Individuals were afraid that computers would put people out of work, too; technophobia was a thing. Today most of us carry devices in our pockets that are many times faster, cheaper, and efficient than the computers that put people on the moon. Computers didn’t eliminate jobs; they changed the way in which we work.
Automation is no different. It will free our time to perform higher level, more creative work, and smart marketers will evolve in anticipation of this changing landscape.
How have you evolved as a marketer?
We still manage a host of tactics for clients, including some local marketing projects for smaller clients. But, we place the most emphasis on content development. This includes producing high quality, written content, as well as collaborating cross-functionally with other groups that produce different types of content, like video.
Our SEO strategy has evolved, too. Besides video, we dedicate a portion of our content strategy to voice search. This is a more conversational way to find information, and optimizing for the longtail of voice search is an absolute must.
In the meantime, as an individual I am also picking away at a number of personal projects in my vicariously free time. These include a few ecommerce websites built on different platforms, a cryptocurrency news aggregator, a small business networking platform, and some other projects. If there does come a time when my services have been automated into extinction, I will have a cushion. I’m a big believer in multiple revenue streams, and sometimes I test different ideas with my own money before recommending them to clients.
Where can we find you and what will be the best way to contact Consorte Marketing?
If you’re interested in our services, use the contact form on our website, or send me a message on LinkedIn. Don’t call. We get so much phone spam that I’ve considered eliminating our phone number altogether. I know, it’s not very markety of me. If you enjoy hearing my perspective on these and other issues, then follow me on Twitter.