Today, half of the world’s population has access to the Internet and every day a million new users connect to social media sites. It’s safe to say that algorithms embedded in online applications are shaping our lives, including recommendations that drive what we buy, reviews that determine what we eat, social media sites that influence who we interact with, digital mapping services that guide the neighbourhoods we visit and live in, fitness apps that map our routines, to dating apps that determine who we date and even marry.

However, the influence of digital on all aspects of our lives is not all positive. We’re suffering from ‘decision fatigue’—there’s now so much more choice that we’re overloaded. Studies show that the human mind has a limited daily capacity for decision making.

This is why global leaders, like President Obama, and leaders of business empires, such as Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs, adapted their lifestyles to ensure their finite decision-making ability could be spent on understanding and making the complex decisions. Everything from wearing the same t-shirt or polo neck to delegating what to have for dinner, helped these leaders offload small tasks to make cognitive room for bigger decisions.

There is no other domain where this is more needed than marketing. Since 2008, as consumers we’re faced with 120% more adverts. How do we deal with this type and scale of overload?

I recently addressed this topic at the 2nd annual Saïd Business School The Future of Marketing event, jointly organised by the University of Oxford and Teradata. The attendees included experienced marketing leaders from across multiple industries looking to discuss and explore the key trends and challenges facing the marketing industry.

Marketing in the age of the algorithm

Algorithms may have contributed to the increases in marketing overload for the consumer, but algorithms can also be part of the solution. Just like the automotive industry, algorithms can be used to delegate activities to augment human capability. With self-driving cars, algorithms are performing the tasks associated with driving to reach a destination as quickly and safely as possible, whilst giving the you back time and headspace.

In marketing, consumers are looking for similar support to cut through the marketing noise and make effective choices. If we can find the shopping equivalent of the self-driving car, we can have algorithms that anticipate consumer needs and take over decisions in the customer buying journey, to give back time and headspace for more important tasks.

For marketers, this presents a frightful future. A future in which the algorithms become a gateway to the consumer and disrupts marketings one-to-one relationship with the consumer. No longer can marketers directly appeal to consumers, they must target algorithms that are operating on behalf of consumers. However, this is not an entirely new concept—marketers have been marketing to algorithms for years.

For example, marketers have been targeting Google’s search algorithm to carry out Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and ensure their sites and products feature at the top of the Google search results. Also, marketers have been decoding the algorithms behind social media sites, like Facebook, trying to ensure their products and services reach the intended audience.

So, what’s different? Well, some of the technology we are seeing today takes this a step further, from simply surfacing suggestions or ads to the consumer, to actually automating the decision-making part of the buying journey. Think of Amazon Echo, making decisions on brands without consulting you as a consumer – when you ask Alexa to put ‘toothpaste’ in your basket, the device chooses the brand of toothpaste. The algorithm makes that choice. Think of the smart fridge. It doesn’t need the human voice command as it’s anticipating your needs and acting on them, keeping the supplies in your fridge stocked up. The human is being removed from the process altogether.

So, what happens to brands and marketing? If we look at how consumers are acting today, they are willing to forego their concern on brand in return for ease. Also, consumers are no longer driven primarily by brand identity and awareness, in the age of digital and social media they are more likely to shop based on a range of factors, of which peer recommendations is a strong influencer.

Ultimately, algorithms are making decisions on behalf of consumers necessitating change in marketing strategy.

In part two of this blog, we dig deeper into the algorithms that are affecting everyday consumers, their impact on marketing strategies and the best ways for marketers to take advantage of algorithms for the benefit of the products and services they are promoting.

Yasmeen Ahmad

Yasmeen is a strategic business leader in the area of data and analytics consulting, named as one of the top 50 leaders and influencers for driving commercial value from data in 2017 by Information Age.

Leading the Business Analytic Consulting Practice at Teradata, Yasmeen is focused on working with global clients across industries to determine how data driven decisioning can be embedded into strategic initiatives. This includes helping organisations create actionable insights to drive business outcomes that lead to benefits valued in the multi-millions.

Yasmeen is responsible for leading more than 60 consultants across Central Europe, UK&I and Russia in delivering analytic services and solutions for competitive advantage through the use of new or untapped sources of data, alongside advanced analytical and data science techniques.

Yasmeen also holds a PhD in Data Management, Mining and Visualization, carried out at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Gene Regulation & Expression. Her work is published in several international journals and was recognised by the Sir Tim Hunt Prize for Cell Biology. Yasmeen has written regularly for Forbes and is a speaker at international conferences and events.

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