When Everyone is Using the Same Algorithm, What Happens to Competition?

In the future, the company with the best algorithm will win.

But in some cases, it seems likely that we will all be working with the same algorithm. When that happens, it is unclear who wins. Do we all win? Do we all lose? How can competition exist in an arena where every company is using the same algorithm?

This was a question of some debate at a recent meeting of marketing professionals in New York City. The discussion revolved around the growing role of AI and machine learning algorithms in advertising.

The truth is, a lot of advertising exists on one of only a few large platforms. Consider the fact that 2019 is the year where more than 50% of all ad spend will occur online vs offline. And consider that Google and Facebook control nearly all of the online advertising market.

Each of those companies, along with Amazon, Bing and a large number of smaller platforms, is working on algorithms that better serve the right ads to the right people at the right time. They are doing this because the future of their business relies on advertisers successfully reaching customers and driving sales. And a better algorithm, it’s thought, will be more adept at fulfilling that promise.

But at some point, we must consider that all of the advertisers on Google are running ads on the same platform, and that platform is running the same algorithm (or set of algorithms) to determine when and where to show different ads.

Here are four potential outcomes when this happens:

1) The companies with more/better data will win out over the companies with less/poorer data

When we are all using the same algorithm, the data that we are able to feed into it might determine who succeeds and who does not. Those companies who have the ability to store massive amounts of clean data, data that feeds back into the platform (whether it’s Google or anywhere else), will be better positioned to take advantage of the algorithms of the future. With more data, the algorithm will work more effectively for that company than it may for another.

In this scenario, the real level on which companies are competing is on data.

2) The marketplace will determine winners and losers

This is potentially a dangerous, anti-competitive scenario. But one we must consider. Google and Facebook already have incredible amounts of power. And if they can use their algorithms – intentionally or otherwise – to control what companies succeed in reaching new customers and what companies do not, be careful.

I don’t think any of us wants this kind of a future. Google and Facebook will tell us the same thing. But who is preventing it?

3) Branding will become more important than ever

When there is no real competitive advantage on targeted digital advertising, companies will need to rely on other areas to compete. Brands are one possible area of competition.

While brand loyalty has been trending downwards for some time, it may be that effective branding is going to see renewed importance over time. And that’s because consumers who seek out certain brands will bypass, in a sense, what the algorithms are doing.

4) Pricing will become more important than ever

This one requires very little explanation, because it is similar to #3. And while it might sound like good news for consumers (more companies competing on price and lower prices in the marketplace overall), it spells trouble in the long run.

A price war – with each company trying to lower prices to out-offer competitors – could precipitate a race to the bottom on quality and service. It could also mean that giant companies, like Amazon, undercut competitors to the point that they become near-monopolies.

This scenario is not great of competition either.

The Possibilities Are Endless

These are only four potential scenarios. They all might come true. Or none will come true. There are thousands of other ways this could work itself out.

But if you are responsible for advertising your business, or growing your business in any way, you have to start thinking about the future of competition. Because it may not look like competition today.

Design for Idiots

Website design is not easy. And that fact in itself presents an opportunity. Because you can choose to be better than your competition. And many companies today are finally prioritizing user experience. And design is a major part of experience.

There are many different theories on what makes “good design”. But let me propose one to you that is simple, and in my experience, quite effective.

Design for Idiots

In other words, use the design of your website to guide someone through its use.

Assume that the person landing on your site has no idea who you are, what you do, or how they should interact with your website. Now, this does not make them an idiot, of course. But we are using that term as a stand-in for anyone who does not have the same domain expertise or brand familiarity as you do.

How to Design for Idiots:

1. Keep it simple

The quickest way to design something that fails the effectiveness test is to make it overly complicated. New designers like to show off their design skills and often over-design a page or a site. They add a bunch of graphical elements, and moving parts, using fancy fonts and lots of color.

It might feel to them like good design, because they used a lot of different things that they had learned in design school. But good design is not the sum of all techniques, it is identifying the one or two techniques that will have the most impact. Quality, not quantity.

One or two fonts. One or two colors. A prominent hero image. That is often all you need.

2. Avoid clutter

This may fall under the bucket above, but I believe it deserves its own call out. And that is because clutter kills good design.

White space is your friend. And that’s coming from a marketer (not a designer) who used to try to fill every square inch of white space with copy and buttons.

You know it already. The simplest websites to use are the ones that are clean. They only use color and imagery to assist the visitor, not because they can.

Marie Kondo asks us to declutter our homes by taking each possession and asking whether or not it sparks joy. If they answer is no, she says, throw it out. Apply that same critical thinking to your website. For each element, does it improve the user experience? If the answer is no, it needs to be removed.

3. Easy access to help

For many designers, navigation may not feel immediately like a design element. But of course it helps a visitor find what she is looking for. So navigation is a critical design feature.

An easy-to-use navigation is a tool that your visitors can use to accomplish their goal. And when they get interrupted, or can’t figure out what to do next, we want to give them options.

A phone number (which will be answered), a live chat option, FAQs, a contact form – these are all things you can include so that your visitors don’t feel lost and ignored. Because if they do, you will lose them.

4. Mobile first

Good design accounts for the fact that most of your visitors are likely coming to your website from a mobile device. Browsing behavior is different for mobile users vs desktop users. And any time you design a page, you have to consider first what the mobile experience will be like.

If anything, this only reinforces the items above. The site needs to be simple and easy to navigate. Clickable items must be large enough to fit a thumb. Font needs to be large enough that mobile visitors don’t need to squint or pinch the screen. Try to avoid drop downs or other elements that don’t translate will to mobile devices.

5. Clear calls to action

Your calls to action are not just buttons for people to click on. They are like the road signs for your website. They tell people where to go, and what to expect.

Actionable items are critical elements of any design. But one of the biggest mistakes we often make is trying to be clever or subtle with them. We hide buttons within images or use language that does not clearly state what they will be used for.

If you want someone to use your website without confusion, clearly identifiable calls to action are a must-have.

Writing for Reading

Everyone on the marketing team is a writer sometimes. Whether you are writing copy for the website or advertisement, writing an email to a partner or business associate, or writing the content of an internal presentation, you will become a writer. And it is critical, in those times, to know who you are writing for.

Writers, those who do it for a living, develop a writing style. They write consistently in one way.

But for marketers, our writing style must adapt to the audience. We need to write for the people who will do the reading. No other form is acceptable.

Know Your Audience

The first question to ask yourself whenever you are set forth on a new writing task is, “who will be reading this?” The answer to that question should determine how you write.

I imagine that if you were writing an email to your CEO, it might read a little differently than an email you write to a peer. And that is exactly the point. We cater our messaging to our audience. So step one is – know your audience.

Readability is Key

Once you know your audience, you can begin writing. When doing so, or when you edit thereafter, remember that someone is going to have to read this. And the easier you make the reading, the more likely your writing will be effective.

Think of the copy on your website. Let’s use the product page as an example.

Who is it for? Prospective customers. You are writing for them. You want a prospective customer to read what you have written and then take the next step and complete a purchase, or request more information.

Studies show that the average adult reading level is 9 or lower. Unless all of your customers are literary critics or doctoral students, we must assume that their reading level is a 9 or lower. So therefor, since we are writing for them and not for us, we should write at a 9th grade reading level, or less.

The Hemmingway App is a great tool (and free) for this. You can copy and paste the text from your website (or anywhere else) and it will tell you the approximate reading level of that material. Not only that, but it will suggest ways you can make it easier to read.

The easier your writing is to read, the more effective it will be.

Make an Impact Today

automation.jpg

There is a good way and a bad way to become more productive.

The bad way is to become a box checker. The box checker makes a long to-do list just so they can cross things off the list. It feels good, the act of checking a box. So they maximize that feeling by creating a slew of low level, pointless tasks that they do each and every day. And at the end of the day, when it comes time to sign off and go home, they can rest easy knowing how many “tasks” they completed. They feel productive.

The good way is slightly different. There may still be a long to-do list. But the things at the top of that list are value tasks. These are priorities, both for the individual and for the company. They recognize that these tasks may not be things that can be completed in one sitting, one day, or one week. They may not even be things that can be completed by one person.

But the crucial difference is, when these tasks are completed, they add value to the business. They add an immediate impact to the organization.

These are the tasks that get people promoted, that get teams noticed, and that get individuals raises.

Each and every day, you have a chance to make an impact on your company. Don’t squander it checking boxes. Instead, be deliberate about how you spend your time.

How?

  1. Prioritize your workload, putting those items first that will have the greatest impact

  2. Divide large tasks into smaller sub-tasks and set milestones

  3. Block out time on your calendar to work on those tasks and advance them as far as you can

  4. Set reminders for team members whose input or assistance you need and stay on top of them

  5. Automate or delegate items that don’t add impact, but that must be done anyway

When you focus your efforts on adding value, your company benefits. When your company benefits from the things you are doing, you get noticed. When you make an impact every day, you become indispensable.

Best Algorithm Wins

going up.jpg

The age of AI is upon us. As marketers, we must embrace it. If we do, and if we can find the opportunities to use artificial intelligence to our company’s advantage, there will be nothing but success in our future.

Those who don’t, those who fight back against the changing tide, who insist on doing things the old way, are going to quickly find themselves out of a job. They will be passed over for promotions, will lose existing responsibilities to machines and those who realize their power, and will either go down with the sinking ship that is their company or will be shown the door as their company moves into the future without them.

It’s no longer a question of IF, it’s a question of WHEN. How soon will the algorithms come for your job? Or, put in a more optimistic way, how soon will the algorithms make you better at your job?

First Mover Advantage and AI

The algorithms that will help us become better marketers will help us in a number of ways – from targeting new users to optimizing our offers and pricing. But regardless of what they will do for us, there is one thing that bonds them all. They need data to function. They need data to learn, to grow, and to succeed. That is why there is such a large first-mover advantage in AI.

Those companies with the greatest capabilities at the end of the day will be the ones that are investing in those capabilities right now. If you come late to the party, you may be permanently at a disadvantage. That is because your competitors will have better algorithms than you do, trained on more data, over a longer period of time.

When We All Have AI

When all companies in a place are using artificial intelligence to their advantage, it becomes a question of whose algorithm is best. And there are a number of factors that will come into play:

  • Who has the larger data set?

  • Whose algorithm has been around longer?

  • Who has trained out the initial bugs best?

These are still early days of implementation of machine learning and other technologies in the marketing space. It’s not too late to claim that first-mover advantage.

But what should you do now to set your company up for success in the future?

How to Move Your Company Forward with AI

There are a number of things you can do today that will help your company succeed in an AI-driven future:

  1. Do your research. Find out what other companies are already doing. Talk to experts, attend conferences, and network. There is a lot to learn, and people will spend their whole lives learning the intricacies of this new science. So don’t expect to pick it all up or become an expert overnight. But you can become the go-to source for information and innovation in your organization.

  2. Make the case. Once you have a basic understanding of how companies are going to be using these new technologies to improve their marketing, it’s time to loop in the decision makers. To get them on board, give them real-life examples. How will your company save money? Grow revenue?

  3. Partner with early-adopters. There are a lot of big companies out there that are already making gains with these new technologies, and they are willing to collaborate if it makes good business sense. A great way to get started is to take advantage of the tools that these first-movers produce, and partner with them to expand your own capabilities.