Are Algorithms Bad for Marketers?

06/27/2017 3 min read Written by Roman Kniahynyckyj

Algorithms may have started out simply in math and science classes, but in today’s world of computers and technology, algorithms are all around us. Used to solve various problems, algorithms are simply lists of steps used in calculations. And while algorithms may work perfectly in a mathematics class, some questions have surfaced about the ways that algorithms are being used in the real world to make decisions on practically everything from determining prison sentences to what type of marketing campaign to use. 

For instance, Eric Loomis was sentenced to six years in a Wisconsin prison, partly because of software algorithms. Loomis disagrees with the verdict, asserting that he was not able to appropriately receive due process because of the judge’s consideration of a report based on a secret algorithm by the company’s software. Because the company’s algorithm was secret, Loomis was unable to challenge it, or even inspect it. Only the software company knew what was in its own 'black box.' 

This report recommending a verdict, requested by the justices in the case, was generated by using a series of attributes to determine whether there was a risk that Loomis might be a repeat offender in the future. A prosecutor told the judge that the report showed a “high risk of violence, high risk of recidivism, and high pretrial risk." The judge agreed, told Loomis that he was identified through the Compas assessment as a high risk to the community, and the verdict was issued. While the court insists that it would have come up with the same results whether or not the report was included, the use of algorithms to decide a person’s fate leaves many people uneasy.  

Marketing Algorithm

In our own marketing world, just today Google was fined $2.7 Billion in an E.U. antitrust ruling for favoring some search results over others. At the heart of the the ruling - Google's secret algorithm. Marketers are consistently weary of crafting keyword and content strategies based on Google's algorithm. A robust strategy today can be completely obsolete tomorrow should Google decide to change its algorithm. 

Remember that algorithms are programmed by humans with a set of assumptions and data. Because algorithms begin with a certain set of assumptions, they can come out completely wrong if the original information is faulty. If you build a manual lead scoring algorithm in HubSpot that heavily weights leads that visit your Career or About page and then wonder why those leads don't close as sales, you may have assumed a high level of interest in your company because of visits to those pages. However, although that assumption may be true, the interest might have been primarily because of an interest in working for your company rather than in engaging your company's services. 

As data is shaped into algorithms that makes it effective for suggesting things like books to read or films to watch, one of the most important points to remember related to marketing with algorithms is that people are still human and unique. Algorithms couldn't predict how good Russell Westbrook would be. This means that people will not always fit into the computer world of algorithms and marketing efforts should always consider this. The nuances of humanity should always be factored in - remembering that audience of one. One person that decides to buy your shoes, your service, your book - or whatever type of value you are providing. As code continues to develop and artificial intelligence opportunities grow, marketers should continue to develop their strategies using the latest technology. At the same time, our uniqueness and creativity cannot be challenged by computers. While machines can certainly be used as useful tools for us, human critical thinking and good judgment cannot be replaced.As we seek to answer the question of whether algorithms are bad for us, we can probably answer it in the same way that we do with many other aspects of life. Balance and perspective area always needed. Because sometimes you can have too much of a “good thing."

By: Roman Kniahynyckyj

Roman has been helping clients develop and implement revenue enhancing inbound marketing strategies since 2009. Prior to becoming an inbound marketer, Roman was a management consultant with Ernst & Young, Booz Allen Hamilton, BearingPoint, and KPMG. Roman's relentless focus on client satisfaction and client results has garnered accolades from many clients and teams.

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