How machine learning can enhance digital marketing

How machine learning can enhance digital marketing

If digital marketing teams don’t understand machine learning or think it is too technical for them to get involved with, it is the right time to start taking a crash course! Digital marketing has gone through several changes in the last decade or so, from SEO dynamics to pay-per-click and programmatic buying with machine learning being the next innovation in the queue.

The reason that digital marketing teams are not fast to adopt machine learning is due to them not truly understanding what it is or linking it too closely to other applications of artificial intelligence such as robotics. However, machine learning is more about optimising traditional marketing processes and making them more efficient and cost effective. It is derived from a data driven approach and digital marketing professionals will soon realise that their strategy is highly dependent on the data that feeds it.

In simple terms, machine learning is about taking historic or existing data and running algorithms which can make future decisions based on that empirical evidence. For example, the predictive search in Google does so by looking at vast data volumes from the previous searches of all of its users. An infamous case at Target a few years ago led to them knowing that a teenage girl was pregnant due to her shopping habits and started sending marketing material before she had told her parents. Whilst situations like that need to be reviewed ethically perhaps, it goes to show how using data and machine learning algorithms can tap into behaviours that would be well out of reach for humans.

The aim of machine learning is not to completely automate everything to do with digital marketing but to support all the monotonous tasks that professionals do in order for them to be more strategic e.g. doing detailed competitor research perhaps or developing commercial tactics. Here are some of the top ways that machine learning can impact digital marketing.

Enhancing the customer experience

Machine learning could enhance the buying experience in several ways. There are algorithms which could change what the customer sees in their journey based on the behaviour of past customers seen in historic data. This in theory is how the Netflix or Spotify recommender systems and although not generally considered, they are forms of digital marketing in that they promote the right movies, shows and music to the right people at the right time.

Beyond this, machine learning bots can offer 24-hour customer service during that journey.

Increased revenue streams

Machine learning has been a major reason for increased revenue streams at Amazon over the last few years. They have said that around 35% of their revenue is generated from the product recommendations provided to their customers whenever they login or via email and the App. This is a perfect example of how machine learning through data is driving the digital marketing strategy.

Amazon can almost predict what customers what before they even know that they want it.

Beyond that, Amazon have been able to focus their attention on other areas like Amazon Web Services, which has been built to offer other companies’ storage and data processing. This has provided a brand-new marketing channel for them on a B2B basis as well as B2C.

Optimising Content

Another key application of machine learning for digital marketing is within content optimisation. It is probably considering Marketing 101 to do activities like A/B testing in order to work out what content works best for you but now machine learning can do that on a continuous, incrementally automated basis.

For example, let’s say you want to test a Facebook Ad and in order to do so, have two ads with different content to start working out what works the best. The algorithms can be used to pick up which ads work best, how people behave when seeing them and make a decision on what should change to ensure an even better engagement rate is achieved.


It would be quite a surprise if a communication you received isn’t personalised in some way, shape or form in this digital age. Most customers probably expect it but there is a difference between doing it and doing it well.

Traditionally, personalisation would have meant starting an email with someone’s name perhaps but now, customers expect you to know their demographics, behaviours and when they want to buy in order to completely tailor the experience. In fact, over 50% of customers say they will consider switching brands if the efforts to personalise are not enough. This is one of the core reasons why we are seeing an end to High Street retail and whilst experiences are face to face, humans don’t know each other as well as machines do.

Ironically, machines are creating a more human experience than humans.

No more wasted campaigns

Beyond all else, machine learning helps reduce wasted digital marketing efforts. In the past, campaigns offered involved a bit of guesswork and assumptions and could be costly if they didn’t ultimately get the return. Using data teams can target campaigns to the right customers, reducing the cost of advertising and maximise return on investment.

Machine learning is here to stay

Machine learning will be a critical part of digital marketing doing forwards. Through data, organisations can truly know their customers and deliver unique experiences that have not been seen before. Being part of the evolution is fundamental for businesses to keep up with the competition else they may go the same way as Blockbuster, Maplin, Toys R Us and Kodak, all of which failed to join to digital train.