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Performance Marketers Should be at the Center of AI Transformation

AI AI, Data, Digital transformation, Media, Performance Media 4 min read
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Written by
Adam Edwards
EVP, Performance Media

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The meteoric rise of GPT-4, as well as generative AI tech more generally, has the digital marketing world focused on the wide-reaching implications on our industry. Understandably, the majority of the attention has been on the impact of ideating and scaling creative and content more efficiently. After all, generative AI unlocks the power to generate high quality content, and lots of it, like never before.

Performance marketers have been an underutilized resource to date, but their years of experience using AI for marketing success make them well suited to play a large role in broader AI adoption. Blind disciples of every generative AI shortcut will get burned and those resistant to change will become irrelevant. Nobody knows this more than performance marketers. 

As it relates to the digital marketing AI arms race, Google, and to a lesser extent Meta, weren’t nearly as proactive at highlighting their work relative to Microsoft (the largest investor in OpenAI, the company responsible for GPT-4). The irony is that Google and Meta had been at the forefront of incorporating their long-standing investments in AI, which was already deployed in almost every corner of Google and Meta Ads platforms and products.

Google and Meta represent nearly half of all digital ad spending in the US and represent an even larger share of the typical performance media budget. AI integration in Google and Meta has most prominently centered around machine learning algorithms for bidding and ad serving. That said, there are examples of generative AI as well (suggesting ad copy and creating distinct ad copy from permutations of existing headlines and body copy), and AI’s tentacles can be felt everywhere in the Google and Meta ad ecosystem. Prominent examples include:

  • Performance Max (Google) and Advantage+ (Meta) are effectively end-to-end automated campaigns that use AI to target, generate ads and optimize toward set goals.
  • Automated bidding sets dynamic bids in real time using machine learning to more efficiently optimize toward the highest ROI.
  • Responsive Search Ads (Google) uses AI to mix and match different portions of copy to deliver the best permutation for the individual searcher (right ad to the right audience at the right time).
  • Recent Google Marketing Live (GML) and Meta Connect 2023 conferences announced products around AI-powered assets, AI-generated images, generative AI to create ad copy and auto enhancements to text placement, brightness, etc.

In that same vein, performance marketers, most of whom earned their stripes running or overseeing Google and/or Meta Ads, are particularly well suited to guide advertisers through this next major stage in digital transformation. The nearly half decade of experience most performance marketers have both harnessing and reining in AI tools justify them playing a central role guiding marketing teams in developing and deploying generative AI adoption.

What about this experience gives performance marketers an advantage? 

  • Threading the needle between uncritical adoption and complete resistance to change
  • Understanding of the importance of high-quality data inputs 
  • Understanding the importance of setting guardrails and tweaking those over time 

Bringing healthy skepticism to the table.

Seasoned performance marketers have had to adapt and learn new types of automation many times over, and can share their war stories. From broad match keywords, Meta auto-placements and iteration after iteration of automated bidding on Google gone awry, we’ve seemingly seen it all. Google and Meta were trailblazers in incorporating AI into ad products, and reps would very earnestly push adoption of products that could be buggy and at worst underperform manual alternatives. However, Google and Meta were also diligent about refining those products over time and performance marketers who were not willing to continue testing at all over the last few years were quickly left behind. Broad match keywords, automated bidding, Advantage+ shopping campaigns and many more products delivered more scale at comparable efficiency to non-AI driven products. 

As AI plays a more permanent role across creative, customer journey, audience identification and more, this balance will be crucial. Blind disciples of every generative AI shortcut will get burned and those resistant to change will become irrelevant. 

Garbage in = garbage out.

One of the biggest distinctions in a strong performance marketer versus a mediocre one is her understanding that the inputs to automation can have a profound effect on outcomes. Performance marketers who press the easy button and switch from hundreds of manual bids per week to auto-pilot don’t get strong results. Worse yet, they’re quick to declare, “It doesn’t work!” Data volume and quality are the foundation of an effective AI deployment strategy. Knowing which data sources to use and exclude, and which campaigns to match with each specific type of automated bidding, is a crucial skill. Performance marketers know to incorporate lead quality data to B2B auto-bidding, initiate testing on campaigns with higher conversion volumes, and not to launch immediately after a strong holiday or back to school period.

In this sense, performance marketers have years of “prompt engineering” reps without even realizing there was a name for it. Marketing organizations stand to get AI into market faster, and benefit sooner from the positive results, by tapping into that experience. 

Performance marketers are masters at fine tuning.

The last level of mastery that performance marketers have achieved has to do with learning the intricacies of the algos. We have applied max CPCs, cost caps and negative keywords to rein in the occasionally deleterious effects of AI unchecked. At a high level, AI can be fickle and human intelligence is crucial to avoid these blips. We have seen a top performing ad set stop delivering seemingly out of nowhere, only to have a minor 5% increase in ROAS target return it to normalcy. We’ve learned to mine for insights around how, why and where AI is working:

  • Is stronger performance because we’re seeing increased CTR or conversion rate?
  • Are we getting in front of the same audience more cost effectively or reaching a better audience?
  • Did we create better ads, or did the platforms get better at matching them to the right people?

We ask these questions daily. That curiosity bordering on paranoia allows performance marketers to squeeze the most out of AI, as well as limit downside risk. 

Performance marketers have a feel for AI’s rhythms, like a mechanic knowing just which bolt to tighten to get the rattling sound in the car to stop. This mileage, or put anachronistically “human intelligence,” is tough to replicate. 

This AI mileage and its broad applications are why performance marketers should have a seat at the table. As an agency leader I’m better equipped to weigh in on how we utilize AI to address tasks, reporting, data integration, scripts and implement processes around AI because of that performance DNA.


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The website has been translated to English with the help of Humans and AI