I’m sorry Laura, I don’t understand the question

5 minute read

Can automation take your place? Firstly apologies to those not following the C4 series ‘Humans’ for whom the subject reference will be meaningless. To set the scene, imagine a world just like today but where every self-respecting middle-class family owns a robotic home helper – a synthetic human, affectionately known as a ‘synth’.



Apart from bright green eyes ‘synths’ look remarkably human-like, and despite their apparent sophistication rather oddly are purchased in order to assist with fairly trivial tasks like preparing dinner and driving the kids to school. There’s no need for details but there’s the usual Asimov-esque plot of the decline of the human race as robots progressively take our place. You get the idea. Anita (aka Mia) is the ‘synth’ owned by Laura and, “I’m sorry Laura, I don’t understand the question”, is her standard response to anything which falls outside of her programming limitations – essentially anything remotely involving human-like intelligence or emotion.

It’s a bit of a jump but Marketing Automation is much the same.

Like Anita, Marketing Automation is great for efficiently and consistently executing relatively simple, linear and repeatable tasks based on a given set of rules. Plan your automated email strategy, collect accurate data and create and assign the appropriate rule-based responses and they work well – in fact really well. Why? It’s because, if done correctly, automation addresses two of the fundamental principles of effective email communication – relevance and timeliness. Automated emails provide a personal 1-1 response to a specific situation or need and they are always delivered at the optimum time – just when the information is needed or likely to have most impact.

Marketing automation can be a single trigger-response-time process. For example, when someone subscribes to your brand (the trigger) send them a welcome email (the response) and do it soon before they forget who you are (the time). You can also chain multiple rules together to create much more complex processes.

There are many potential applications but ‘welcome’ emails, birthday campaigns and abandoned shopping basket recovery are three of the most common. All of these are easy to set up and with minimal intervention can return significant ongoing benefits – welcome emails typically receive four times the average open rate and five times typical click rates, and abandoned basket recovery can account for 60% of otherwise lost business.

As a marketer, automating repetitive tasks has a significant impact on your productivity and even for modest scale applications can be the difference between possible and impossible. There’s a quality benefit too. Create once, use repeatedly – your response is always consistent and error free.

Let’s not kid ourselves – most people are sufficiently email-savvy to recognise that even with some nice personalisation included these are not really a personally crafted response. Anita looks human (spookily so) but we know that she’s not. Automated emails appear highly personal, but whether or not that is understood the point is that to most it either doesn’t matter or in fact it’s welcome. It’s the right information to the right person at the right time.

Your campaign execution may be automated but you’ll still need to ensure that you design systems to collect robust data and to create and apply appropriate rules. Like Anita, your automated campaigns will need periodic review to make sure that they are still fit for their original purpose and eventually they will need to be replaced with a new model. You’ll also need a personal intervention solution. “I’m sorry Laura, I don’t understand the question” – humans being humans, not everybody will follow the rules.

So are you in danger of being replaced? For running perfect birthday email campaigns (and parallel parking your car) – yes, I’m afraid so.