Automation vs. Augmentation in Local Business Marketing

Back in the early 2000s, consumers didn’t have many options when it came to finding new businesses. Traditional methods of advertising like flyers, posters, billboards, and TV commercials were the biggest proponents of local marketing. Yellow Pages, Google, and word-of-mouth recommendations did the rest of the work to try and put businesses in front of consumers. 

Fast forward 20 years, and consumers are now finding businesses using apps, voice search, connected cars, and smart speakers to name a few. Consumer search behavior has evolved, and smartphones sit on top of the pyramid as the go-to source of information about businesses. Over the past two decades, world population has increased by over 1.5 billion, GDP has almost tripled, and consumers can access information on thousands of new media channels and devices (and if you’re wondering what all this has to do with automation or augmentation, hang in there, it’s right around the corner).

This means that businesses today have a new challenge: controlling content, information, and local marketing across all these digital channels. Consumers can find and choose businesses across hundreds of different touchpoints today. A world that was once full of push marketing is now increasingly pivoting to pull marketing—meaning that the intent of customers across the funnel plays a big role in business selection. Consumers who want to find or choose a restaurant will now voluntarily make a search like “Hey Google, find a burger joint near me”, or head right over to Yelp and filter down restaurants based on their rating, reviews, proximity, and price-point before making a purchase decision.

In other words, businesses need to figure out a way to locally market their business across all these touchpoints, but doing this manually is next to impossible. An enterprise with a thousand physical stores across the globe cannot possibly even consider maintaining local content and data on all these sources. In a scenario like this one, what can businesses do?

Enter automation and augmentation

We’re fortuitous in that technology is finally catching up with us. Local businesses fifteen years ago have surely faced the pain of seeing online taking over, especially Amazon and other online storefronts. Thankfully, local marketing technology has also evolved with consumer search behavior over the past few decades—allowing us to automate local content distribution and management across thousands of different sources at scale.

Scope and demand for marketing AI technology to pave its way into the field of local marketing has been around for quite some time now, but we’re finally living in a period where the supply is high. At the same time, businesses also want to make sure that they have some level of control over what AI does for them, which means that neither fully automated nor fully manual processes can exist in the world of local marketing.

But before we get into that, how can one make a distinction between manual, automated, and augmented processes?

A manual process is one that requires individuals to do the heavy lifting, a step-by-step process that is done by myself without the help of any AI tool.

An automated process gives up all control: operational assistance and decision-making assistance, without any manual component.

An augmented process is what I’d like to call “assisted operations,” where we can seek operational assistance but still have full control over the decision making. It’s guided, but leverages assisted AI.

Take the example of driverless cars. For autonomous cars, the automation is based on a very fixed set of activities and rules that are made behind the scenes, using data points and technology that encompasses overlay maps, objects, paths, and machines. However, it is absolutely necessary to implement functionality that enables humans to intervene manually in cases of emergency, and for decision-making—like in the case of wanting to change the destination location, for instance.

But how does the same concept translate for local brands and local marketing? Well, one easy use-case is how businesses can market to consumers based on the granularity of the search. Let’s say that I, as a consumer, want to find a restaurant nearby. I want to patronize an establishment that caters to my specific tastes. I want to prioritize a restaurant that aligns with my favorite type of cuisine. How can businesses use AI to promote their establishment to me at this moment?

Automated vs augmented: What should you opt for?

At the end of the day, the goal here is the same, irrespective of the type of process that businesses want to implement. Technology needs to aid businesses to connect the dots when it comes to local marketing and allow them to use this information to improve local marketing.

Businesses need to be able to monitor consumer search behavior, derive insights from said behavior, and take appropriate action on the content consumers discover about their brand – all in real-time. It’s about gathering information, connecting the dots, and making updates based on the perspicacity that this technology provides. It all goes back to the performance that drives the success of a business.

These insights revolve around key questions that businesses can ask. What type of content will drive success? What kind of images are most influential in driving a purchase? How many of these targeted customers actually bought the product/service offline? A multi-channel marketing strategy looks at the entire picture, whether someone made an inquiry on Facebook, Alexa, or even their dashboard navigation from their car.

And after being empowered with these insights, choosing to completely automate the process of promoting products/services to the targeted customers or augmenting this process to arm them with a “launch campaign” button is completely up to the business. It all boils down to the nature of the process.

For example, in the context of responding to reviews, businesses can set up a completely automated process that will send an apologetic response to a 1-star review and an ecstatic “Thank you” for a 5-star review. However, they can set up an augmented process that allows the marketing manager to choose from a variety of responses based on the customer’s sentiment for a 3-star review to provide more control over the process.

Focusing on all of these elements and employing these two types of processes in tandem is what ultimately surges businesses to the front and makes them real winners.

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