Like almost every other business sector, many in the advertising industry have held at least some level of suspicion or concern that automation represents a direct threat to their employment, fearing that automating key processes will make humans obsolete. While there have certainly been some major shifts in how the industry works as a result of automation, those changes have also driven huge strides in innovation, which not only require some level of human touch but also an entirely new set of expertise.

In fact, automation’s ability to allow us to work faster has been critical for enabling advertisers to explore new opportunities like programmatic bidding. Today, the majority of U.S. digital display inventory is bought and sold this way, including direct setups and traditional forms of real-time bidding that now make up some 84.5% of the digital display market.

But the truth is, we’ve only begun to scratch the surface of automation’s potential, and as advertisers face new pressures, embracing automation may become the key to survival. Those advertisers who embrace it early on will have the strongest advantage for a few reasons: 

1)  Margin compression has become an existential threat to agencies, forcing many to scale back staffing and tighten budgets. That means many are struggling to deliver on client expectations—trying to do more with fewer resources.

Automating manual processes is essential to improving agency efficiency. By allowing staff to work smarter, not harder, automation solutions can accelerate some of the most time-consuming processes, like campaign proposal development. In fact, automation solutions can now help agencies condense a typical 2-3 week campaign planning cycle into just a few hours by automating the entire process, from RFPs to media execution and reporting. This gives agencies a tremendous advantage by being able to launch campaigns more quickly—a key priority for the industry. That means if you have a client who comes to you with $650k to spend before year’s end, it won’t take until year’s end to figure out how to spend it.

Graphical user interface, application  Description automatically generated

2)  Consumers now have much higher expectations for personalization thanks to the “just for you” recommendations they get from the likes of Netflix and Amazon. The illusion of this precision in personalization has set a high bar for consumers who also have short attention spans.

For advertisers, this means if you don’t give the appearance that you’re speaking directly to each individual on a one-to-one level, they’re not interested.

Automation can help accelerate creative development by enabling customization of text, product colors, race/ethnicity, etc. featured in creative. With the right tools, designers can optimize creative performance by quickly turning out 30-40 iterations of the same creative with specific attributes (e.g. different colors of the same car or altering the skin tone or ethnicity of faces) to engage a specific target audience. This enables better personalization and accelerates the creative process—both key demands for marketing and branding professionals.  

A picture containing graphical user interface  Description automatically generated

3)  The proliferation of new media choices has also made automation a necessity. Not only do brands and agencies need to have the capacity to cover all the new channels, but some of the smallest, niche media are also the most effective. Where it used to be that broadcast TV would cover most audiences, now campaigns must include a wider range, from display, mobile, and search, to social and digital out-of-home.

Staying on top of all the options is hard enough, and reporting across such a complex landscape is also a massive undertaking, involving multiple platforms, different dashboards, and a savvy Excel junkie to consolidate it all.

Automation addresses media diversification at both ends of the spectrum. Agencies and brands can now use automated platforms to plan and execute campaigns across more media channels faster, and reach those coveted niche audiences more effectively.

On the performance side, these platforms can also consolidate data gathering and reporting. By providing a single dashboard for tracking, these intelligent automation tools can give account managers real-time data all in one place, where they can easily monitor, report on, and even make adjustments on the fly to optimize campaign performance.

With fewer than 40% of industry professionals using these kinds of advanced analytics tools, that leaves much of the industry still to catch up.

A screenshot of a computer screen  Description automatically generated

4)  The combination of these new pressures, along with the need to pivot quickly as new challenges like COVID-19 arise, means advertisers and agencies need access to real-time fiscal insights. Without real-time reporting across every campaign and every client, brand CMOs and agency CEOs have no idea how much money is in-market.

The only way to find out is to devote a tremendous amount of human resources to compiling spreadsheets that consolidate spending data, which are most likely outdated by the time they’re completed. This makes it hard for executives to get a complete picture of campaign activity or a holistic view of what’s happening across the agency’s client base.

Automation platforms can deliver this kind of real-time insight with just a few clicks, providing critical, comprehensive intelligence to better understand fiscal positioning. By tracking every placement, these platforms give executives access to real-time, high-level data in just a few clicks.

It also allows executives to share intel across different teams and campaigns about what works and what doesn’t. And it frees up talented people to focus on more strategic initiatives, as opposed to slogging away at data entry.

As audience and advertiser expectations increase, it adds new complexities to the media buying process. In the past, adequate staffing was essential to manage the workload. Today, with more pressure to operate leaner and more efficiently, it’s crucial to take as much minutiae as possible off of high-valued team members so they can focus their energy and talent on performance and client strategy.

Automation allows advertisers and agencies to do just that by seamlessly managing media, traffic, creative assets, and talent across all channels. This enables lean teams to do more with less, reduces the time and cost of launching and executing campaigns, and delivers faster, more affordable time to value for campaigns and clients. Organizations that don’t invest in automation solutions soon could risk shrinking margins and losing clients, which no one can afford.

About the Author: Mike Seiman, CEO & Chairman, is the founder of Digital Remedy, a digital media solutions company leading the tech enabled marketing space he co-founded while still a college student at Hofstra University in the early 2000s.