We’re not ready for the automation of storytelling

This article is part of a roundtable series brought to you by Shutterstock.

Automation is not new in the world of marketing. Over the years, many marketers have benefited from automating and streamlining their processes to identify potential customers, nurture leads and aid with product recommendation.

Agreeing on the importance of artificial intelligence (AI) and automation to enhance consumer’ experiences was Isabelle Lim, director of corporate communications at L’Oréal Group Singapore. Sharing an example, she said that since product testing is currently not allowed in Singapore due to safety concerns around COVID-19, L’Oréal has used AI technology for its brands to enable consumers to test products.

It has also automated the process of product recommendations at a granular level for a personalised experience for consumers. She added that L’Oréal is looking to explore more of such avenues of automation, especially in the new normal.

While automation has its benefits in the realm of recommendation, when it comes to storytelling, marketers at the roundtable still question its prowess. Primus Nair, head of creative, APAC, The LEGO Agency, said: “It’s very important to understand where automation ends, and where creativity begins.” Nair is of the view that automation is a good tool for brands to sell products and services, but not really a necessity in growing long-term brand equity and love, which banks heavily on content.

The extent of using automation for content should depend on the objective of the campaign – be it for quick tactical executions or long-term brand building. To grow brand love within consumers, he said marketers should still be relying more on human intuition and storytelling skills.

Having said that, he does not totally dismiss the idea of automation taking over parts of the creative process, given the phenomenon of automation crossing the line between brand-building is happening in smaller pockets.

Echoing Nair’s sentiment, Nikhil Rao, regional marketing director – biscuits, Southeast Asia, Mondelēz, said automation should be used if the end goal is for efficiency. This includes getting personalised messaging out quickly to consumers, or quickly checking out the efficacy of several different types of communication.

When it comes to such objectives, there are numerous tools in the market that can help in the process. On the other hand, if the objective is to drive effectiveness ie drive brand equity, motivate consumers or ensure strong brand recall, Rao feels that automation is simply not enough. A human touch on storytelling at scale, however painstaking, helps drives better effectiveness and hence higher ROI .

Adding to the conversation, Filippo Stefanelli, CMO at StashAway, agreed that automation tools are not able to replace a human creator at the moment. Brands may be able to use automation to adapt one single video in 10 different channels, but at the end of the day, they are still unable to create that original video. However, he also sees the potential trend in content creation where an original idea is no longer needed due to automation tools being available.

“We are no longer in the era where we come up with a central idea that sticks in consumers’ mind for 20 years,” he said.

With automation tools, brands can come up with different segments of creative assets, and leave it to automation tools to mix and match until it finds the perfect optimisation that fits the intended goal. In that sense, Stefanelli said these automation tools that technological companies deploy can kill the traditional way of creating creative assets.

Meanwhile, digital efforts of fashion brand ZALORA seems to reflect what Nair and Rao said, with its processes being automated, but its creative works still handled with a human touch. According to ZALORA’s group director of brand communications, Christopher Daguimol, although the brand is a digital native, it does not sacrifice human and cultural insights when it comes to creativity.

Most of ZALORA’s automation efforts are applied to its mobile app, with digital innovations such as shoppable runways and videos to interact with users, as well as data-driven personalised content. “In terms of inspiration and creativity, there is no second fiddle to human insights,” he said.

However, he is also quick to note there are benefits of having data, such as helping brands gain insights into what consumers look for, and identifying which marketing strategies work well for the business overall. For ZALORA, having the final layer of the human touch is imperative for its creative works. This is because the brand is big on localising its content across different SEA markets.

According to Daguimol, ZALORA relies heavily on local insights when coming up with its creative campaigns to ensure the content is relatable to locals in the market. “One image may not work for every region,” he said, adding that in all its works, the team makes sure it has proper representation in every market, ranging from the models it hires to the clothes it showcases. Another important part of having that final human layer is to filter through sensitivities in the content created, which he said automation may not be able to do.

Addressing sensitivities in content

Daguimol points out an important point as the world enters an era of increased sensitivity. The past months have seen brands cop flak because of how their creative assets have been interpreted. In August, Audi was criticised for having a creative asset featuring a young girl eating a banana while leaning on one of Audi’s cars.

We also recently saw Netflix coming under fire for its choice of promotional creative assets of its award-winning film Cuties. It is, as such, imperative that brands not only be sensitive in creative campaigns, but also be in tune with what consumers are thinking.

When it comes to building that connection with consumers, Yvonne Januschka, VP, APAC, Shutterstock, said what is most important is for brands to truly care about their consumers and place them at the centre of their marketing strategies.

She also noted there is increasing competition for brands to engage consumers. To cut through the clutter, brands should stay in tune with the happenings of the world and participate in relevant conversations to humanise the brand. Consumers will find it easier to relate to brands when they have a personality, and when a brand’s creative works are genuine and light-hearted, according to Januschka. However, she also notes that brands should not force themselves into conversations if it doesn’t make sense for a brand to be involved.

Pratik Thakar, director/head of integrated marketing communications, ASEAN business unit at Coca-Cola, seconds this notion. While not all brands need to take a stand on certain issues, he said iconic brands such as Coca-Cola have a role to play in cultural leadership because of its credibility. In fact, he said it is a duty for iconic brands to keep taking stands and having a point of view, even though it can be risky to do so.

“Brands need to be careful not to overdo it when taking a stand, and not trespass the fine line that divides where they have the authority and credibility to address the issue, and where they do not,” he said.

He added that such creative risks are to be decided by the brand marketer, and no research, consultants or automation can be able to fully guide them on what to do. Most importantly, brands need to know what they stand for and not overstep their DNA when addressing issues.

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